If men are so wicked with religion,
what would they be without it.” Said Franklin
What may be the world’s oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham.
Radiocarbon dating found the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence.
The pages of the Muslim holy text had remained unrecognised in the university library for almost a century.
The British Library’s expert on such manuscripts, Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, said this “exciting discovery” would make Muslims “rejoice”.
The manuscript had been kept with a collection of other Middle Eastern books and documents, without being identified as one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the world.
(The fragments were written on sheep or goat skin)
When a PhD researcher, Alba Fedeli, looked more closely at these pages it was decided to carry out a radiocarbon dating test and the results were “startling”. The university’s director of special collections, Susan Worrall, said researchers had not expected “in our wildest dreams” that it would be so old.
“Finding out we had one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting.”
The tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran.
“The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad… he would maybe have heard him preach.” Prof David Thomas, University of Birmingham
These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645. “They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” said David Thomas, the university’s professor of Christianity and Islam.
Prof Thomas says the dating of the Birmingham folios would mean it was quite possible that the person who had written them would have been alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. “The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally – and that really is quite a thought to conjure with,” he says.
Prof Thomas says that some of the passages of the Koran were written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels – and a final version, collected in book form, was completed in about 650.
He says that “the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death”.
“These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran 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.”
The manuscript, written in “Hijazi script”, an early form of written Arabic, becomes one of the oldest known fragments of the Koran.
Because radiocarbon dating creates a range of possible ages, there is a handful of other manuscripts in public and private collections which overlap. So this makes it impossible to say that any is definitively the oldest.
But the latest possible date of the Birmingham discovery – 645 – would put it among the very oldest.
Dr Waley, curator for such manuscripts at the British Library, said “these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three caliphs”. The first three caliphs were leaders in the Muslim community between about 632 and 656.
Dr Waley says that under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, copies of the “definitive edition” were distributed.
Muhammad Afzal of Birmingham Central Mosque said he was very moved to see the manuscript
“The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Koran required a great many of them.”
Dr Waley suggests that the manuscript found by Birmingham is a “precious survivor” of a copy from that era or could be even earlier.
“In any case, this – along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script – is news to rejoice Muslim hearts.”
The manuscript is part of the Mingana Collection of more than 3,000 Middle Eastern documents gathered in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest born near Mosul in modern-day Iraq. He was sponsored to take collecting trips to the Middle East by Edward Cadbury, who was part of the chocolate-making dynasty.
Muslims believe the words of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel over 22 years from 610
It was not until 1734 that a translation was made into English, but was littered with mistakes
Copies of the holy text were issued to British Indian soldiers fighting in the First World War
On 6 October 1930, words from the Koran were broadcast on British radio for the first time, in a BBC programme called The Sphinx
The origins of the Koran (Discover how the Koran became part of British life)
The local Muslim community has already expressed its delight at the discovery in their city and the university says the manuscript will be put on public display.
“When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes. And I am sure people from all over the UK will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages,” said Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque.
The university says the Koran fragments will go on display in the Barber Institute in Birmingham in October.
Prof Thomas says it will show people in Birmingham that they have a “treasure that is second to none”.
By: Sean Coughlan (22 July 2015)
“If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, then error will be. If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy. If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will. If the power of the gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of this land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.” (Said: Denial Webster, one of the best orators of America)
“The world organisation debates disarmament in one room and, in the next room, moves the knights and pawns that make national arms imperative.” – E B White
Why is the United States embarking on a trillion dollar nuclear modernisation programme that is highly dangerous, directionless, expensive, and does nothing to make the country safer? This is a question being asked by a number of strategic experts but no satisfactory answer has yet been provided.
It is clear now that the US will be spending almost $1 trillion maintaining and modernising its nuclear arsenal over the next thirty years which will do nothing to address the real security threats from the non-state actors. According to a 2014 report published by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), the US is devoting more than three percent of its annual budget to its nuclear arsenal. The Obama administration intends to use this money to modernise all three legs of its nuclear triad in the coming decades which, in the views of many nuclear experts, is totally unnecessary strategically.
The unfortunate fact is that the Obama administration continues to build up an already bloated American nuclear arsenal which is not only wasting US taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year but also aggravating the risk of nuclear terrorism. The Obama administration’s plans to go ahead with this costly plan, despite wide-ranging opposition, is a recent manifestation of US nuclear hypocrisy and has undermined the Obama administration’s ability to take effective action against North Korea’s nuclear misadventures.
In April 2009, US President Barack Obama gave hope to nuclear disarmament activists around the globe, affirming his commitment to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction. The promise he made is worth recalling, especially since it has largely been forgotten now:
“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act… So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I’m not naïve. This goal will not be reached quickly- perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now, we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can…”
What he told a cheering crowd of more than 25,000 people in Prague’s historic Hradcany Square was one a laudable objective but, unfortunately, President Obama yielded to the pressure of the American nuclear establishment and could not commit to the goal of seeking total elimination of nuclear weapons. Only one year later, in 2010, President Obama bowed to the nuclear establishment, earmarking approximately $185 billion to modernise nuclear warheads and delivery systems in the bargain for smooth passage of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia.
I have argued previously on these pages that powerful lobbies in almost all nuclear weapon states have developed stakes in vast nuclear establishments, spending budgets of billions of dollars. These vested interests always resist efforts to cut down nuclear weapons. The majority of experts agree that the US could maintain an effective nuclear deterrent without any further spending. According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates, the US has currently 1,620 strategic warheads deployed on ballistic missiles – 1,150 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMS) and 470 on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
President of the Ploughshares Fund Joseph Cirincione has explained very clearly in his recently-published book that the US nuclear arsenal is still configured to counter the threats of any kind of nuclear attack from Russia. Rather, in his view, reconfiguring nuclear force to combat the actual twenty-first-century threat environment could reduce force numbers without sacrificing vital military missions.
But the US administration is not ready to reduce its nuclear arsenal, failing to appreciate the fact that nuclear weapons are becoming strategically irrelevant in today’s world. The truth is that US nuclear deterrent could make Russian troops pull out of Ukraine and spending more money is not going to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from challenging the US in Europe.
Another manifestation of American nuclear hypocrisy is its open support for Israel’s undeclared nuclear status. US successive administrations have always refused to pressure Israel over its nuclear programme. After 2002, much media attention has focused on the hysteria surrounding the Iranian nuclear enterprise while Israel’s rapidly growing nuclear capabilities have been largely ignored. There is no strong evidence to suggest that Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal helped increase its security or bring stability to the region. Rather, it has been a destabilising force.
In fact, Israeli governments have repeatedly made threats of a nuclear attack on Arab countries in order to further Israel’s negative ambitions in the Middle East. Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister, is often quoted as saying, “Arabs may have the oil but we have the matches.” More alarmingly, the US policy of acquiescence in Israel’s nuclear programme has provided an impetus to Iraq, Syria, Iran and other Arab nations to explore the possibility of nuclear weapons – universally acknowledged as a threat to human survival on this planet.
Israel’s nuclear status gave Saddam Hussein a strong incentive to pursue a nuclear weapons programme in the 1980s and early 1990s. Israel has always refused to ratify the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Israel’s refusal to join these treaties has not only undermined the global non-proliferation regime, its worst consequences have appeared in the form of mass proliferation of biological and chemical weapons in Egypt, Syria and Iraq with the purpose to offset Israel’s military dominance in the region.
Israel’s possession of chemical and biological weapons has seriously undermined the moral authority of the US stance, which requires Iran to comply with the NPT and international law. The US cannot assume a leading role in ongoing global nuclear nonproliferation efforts without discarding its hypocritical stance.
By: Rizwan Akhtar