Quran Linked to Start of Islam Displayed at World’s Largest Book Fair

A rare and ancient copy of the Quran will soon be available for public viewing at the Sharjah book fair in the United Arab Emirates. The 1,350-year-old document is a copy of an original manuscript written sometime between 468 and 645 A.D., and is widely believed to be one of the oldest copies of the Quran in the world.

The document will now be shown to an international audience for the first time since it reappeared suddenly in the archives of England's University of Birmingham several years ago. Islamic scholars said the documents could date back to the era of the Prophet Muhammad himself.

"According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Quran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death,” David Thomas, a professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham, said at the time the text was discovered. “The tests carried out on the parchment of the Birmingham folios yield the strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterwards.”

The manuscript was written on four pages of animal skin in Hijazi script, an early Arabic alphabet, and had been forgotten in the University of Birmingham's archives since the 1930s, only to resurface in 2015. Experts say it is almost certain the document dates back to at least the time of the first three Islamic Caliphs.  

Researchers are now aiming to determine if the pages are part of another rare Quran manuscript archived in Paris. The French documents, which are missing exactly four pages, were originally taken from Egypt and brought to Europe when Napoleon’s army occupied Africa in the early 19th century.  

Some also speculated that the manuscript could be fragments from the world’s first complete version of the Quran, which was commissioned by the Prophet Muhammad’s companion Abu Bakr and is believed to be similar to the version of the Quran contemporary Muslims read today. 

"These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Quran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed," Thomas said at the time. 

The manuscript was wildly popular when exhibited previously in England. 

“The manuscript was a star object in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s new ‘Faith in Birmingham’ Gallery, where it was displayed for six months," said Rebecca Bridgman, curator of Islamic and South Asian Arts at Birmingham Museums. "It was [a] huge draw, particularly for Muslim communities, and was seen by over 65,000 visitors.”

The Sharjah book fair is one of the world’s largest and has been held in the United Arab Emirates each year since 1982. Over 1.5 million books will be on sale at the venue, and visitors will be able to use interactive touchscreens to explore the writings of the ancient document. 

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