Ancient copies of the Qur'an available online for the first time

Posted on Wednesday 8th July 2009

Two of the oldest known copies of the Qur’an will be available to researchers and scholars across the world today (July 8th 2009) – as part of a major project to digitise one of the richest collections of Eastern manuscripts.

The two Qur'ans, one of which may date from the 7th century A.D, are part of the priceless Mingana Collection, which is housed by the University of Birmingham.

The University's Special Collections department has painstakingly digitised more than 10,000 pages from the collection As well as the Qur'ans the documents now online include unique illustrated manuscripts from the 16th century and early Arabic poetry.

The Mingana Collection Online will be officially launched at a special event today (8th July 2009) at the Barber Institute, University of Birmingham. The project has been generously supported by JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) and The Edward Cadbury Charitable Trust

Dr Peter Robinson from the Department of Theology, who has led the project, comments: “We’re delighted that for the first time some of the oldest and rarest Arabic manuscripts will be available for the public and scholars to view and enjoy.

“The Qur'ans are astonishing: one (number 1572) may date from within a century of the death of the prophet Mohammed.  This would make it one of the oldest copies of the Qur'an in existence. However, the collection also includes poetry, illustrated texts and even coins covering nearly 1000 years.

“The process of digitising these fragile manuscripts can be painstaking, but the result is something that is a beautiful reproduction of the original.”

The Mingana Collection is unique, spanning more than 3000 manuscripts in 11 languages across nearly 1000 years of history. The team is now intending to continue the project to complete the digitising of the 3000 texts that make up the collection.

Another key part of the project is the Virtual Manuscript Room, which aims to make the manuscripts accessible to scholars and the general public across the world. This is done by embedding information about individual pages and passages of text.

By making searching for information far easier and more effective the Birmingham team hope that scholars will be able to comment on the works, add them to other websites and share them with the world.

Dr Robinson adds: “We don’t want these fabulous documents to be a static archive that is hard to access and use.

“A collection like Mingana ought to be viewed, commented on and added to. Technology provides an ideal opportunity to create an archive like that.

“We sometimes have very little information about the history of individual documents so we want to share them and get opinions and input from across the globe.”

Ben Showers, programme manager at JISC said, “There is a lack of high-quality digital material available for those studying Islamic Studies. The Mingana manuscripts, presented via the Virtual Manuscripts Room (VMR), will therefore be a valuable resource for researchers and teachers, both in the UK and internationally.

“Their presentation online is a crucial part of JISC’s £1.8 million ‘enriching digital resources programme’, a set of 25 projects which enhances the use of online content for teaching, learning and research.”

The virtual manuscript room can be found here:http://www.vmr.bham.ac.uk

Additional information can also be found on the University Special Collections website:

For further information contact: Ben Hill, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, Tel 0121 4145134, Mob 07789 921163

ENDS

The Mingana Collection

The Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts is housed in the University of Birmingham’s Special Collections. It is the largest collection of illuminated Middle Eastern manuscripts, after the Vatican and the Bibliothèque Nationale in France.

The Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic EditingThe Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham is at the cutting edge of research developing digital tools and editions. Its staff are involved in editions of many of the world’s great works, including the New Testament, The Canterbury Tales, Dante’s Divine Comedy and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.See

JISC

JISC funds services and projects to promote the innovative use of digital technologies for education. JISC has received £1.8 million of funding from the Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales to enhance existing online digital collections of national importance www.jisc.ac.uk/digitisation. The Virtual Manuscripts Room for the Mingana Collection is part of this programme of work.