On the face of it, it’s a little unlikely. But not long ago, what may be the oldest copy of part of the Qur’an was discovered in the Cadbury Library at Birmingham University.
The two parchment leaves had been bound together with leaves of a similar Qur’an manuscript, which is datable to the late seventh century. These, however, are earlier. Radiocarbon analysis has dated the parchment – prepared animal skin – on which the text is written to the period between AD 568 and 645. Mohammad himself is generally thought to have lived between AD 570 and 632, raising the intriguing possibility that it could have been written in his own lifetime.
The fragment contains parts of suras (chapters) 18-20, written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. So far, so fascinating: it’s like finding a copy of one of Paul’s letters from 40 AD, or a Matthew’s Gospel from 80AD. From a historical point of view, it sends goose-bumps up the spine – and for a Muslim, even more so. The chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque is reported to have said: “When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes. And I’m sure people from all over the UK will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages.”