The Birmingham Qur'an Manuscript

This page provides information on frequently asked questions about the Birmingham Qur'an Manuscript held in the Cadbury Research Library which made news headlines in July 2015.

Briefly what is the Birmingham Qur'an Manuscript?

A four-page manuscript made of parchment, written in ink, containing parts of Surahs 18,19 and 20 of the Qur'an. The manuscript's catalogue number is 'Islamic Arabic 1572a'.

Why has it recently been in the press?

The manuscript hit the headlines when results of radiocarbon dating of the parchment, on which the text is written, was revealed as being in a date range of 568 -645 with 95.4% probability. Read the University of Birmingham's full press statement.

How did the manuscript come to be in Birmingham?

It was bought by Alphonse Mingana in the 1930s with funds from Edward Cadbury, the Birmingham-based Quaker philanthropist and businessman who was building a world-class manuscript collection in Birmingham. Cadbury named the collection 'The Mingana Collection' after its first curator. 

How did the manuscript come to be in the University?

The Qur'an is part of the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts, which was gifted to the University in 1999 by the Edward Cadbury Charitable Trust, following the University's merger with Selly Oak Colleges.

Who owns the manuscript?

The University of Birmingham owns the manuscript.

Who was Alphonse Mingana?

Mingana described himself as a 'writer and curator of oriental manuscripts'. Born in Iraq in 1878, he emigrated to the UK in 1913, settling in Birmingham where he worked with J Rendel Harris the Director of  Studies at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. Harris introduced Mingana to Edward Cadbury. Mingana died in 1937, before he was able to complete the four catalogues of the 3,000 manuscripts he had acquired for Edward Cadbury. The first three catalogues were completed during his lifetime. The fourth catalogue of the Islamic Arabic manuscripts in the collection was completed by Mingana's successors and published in 1963 and a revised edition in 1985 (currently out of print). An online summary of the contents can be found here on Fihrist (this is still being added to). 

Who was Edward Cadbury?

Edward Cadbury was the grandson of the founder of the chocolate company. He was a Quaker with an interest in philanthropy. We acquired the manuscripts to raise the status of Birmingham as a centre for religious study and theological scholarship. He founded the Chair of Theology at the University of Birmingham in 1936, which continues to this day. The Edward Cadbury Charitable Trust was founded in 1945.

What is the Cadbury Research Library?

The Cadbury Research Library (CRL) is the name of the University of Birimingham's special collections department. The CRL holds collections  of over 4 million manuscripts and 200,000 rare books. 

Are there any articles published about the manuscript?

The Qur'an is documented in the following catalogues and articles:

1961, D. Hopwood, 'The Islamic Manuscripts in the Mingana collection', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society XCIII/3-4.

1982, K. 'Awwad, 'Aqdam al-makhtutat al-‘arabiyya fi maktabat al-‘alam (The Oldest Arabic Manuscripts in the World's Libraries), Baghdad, 1982.

1985, H. L. Gottschalk, D. Hopwood (eds) et al. 'The Islamic Arabic Manuscripts in the Mingana Collection' Volume IV.

1997, L-A Hunt, 'The Mingana and Related Collections. A Survey of Illustrated Arabic, Greek, Eastern Christian, Persian and Turkish Manuscripts in the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham'.

2009, Gerd-R. Puin: “The Alif in Qur’anic Orthography: Vowel letters and ortho-epic writing variants

2009, F. Déroche, La Transmission écrite du Coran dans les débuts de l'Islam. Le codex Parisino-petropolitanus. (Leiden – Boston).

2011, A. Fedeli, The Provenance of the Manuscript Mingana Islamic Arabic 1572: Dispersed folios from a few Qur'anic quires' in Manuscripta Orientalia, Vol 17, No 1, June 2011 pp.45-56.

 2017, Y. Dutton, Two ‘Ḥijāzī’ Fragments of the Qurʾan and Their Variants, or: When Did the Shawādhdh Become Shādhdh? in Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 8 (2017) 1-56.

Are there any other early Qur'ans in the Mingana Collection?

Yes. There is another Qur'an manuscript written in Hijazi script and believed to date from the later seventh century, with the catalogue number Islamic Arabic 1572b. There is a ninth-century Qur'an written in Kufic script, with the catalogue number Islamic Arabic 1563. For further information about manuscripts in the collections which may be of interest to you please contact us.

How did it come to be 'discovered'?

The manuscript is not a new discovery. It has been in the Mingana Collection since the 1930s. In 2013 the Cadbury Research Library decided to have a folio radiocarbon dated to add to the emerging body of information on the physical evidence of early Qur'anic text. Previous to radiocarbon dating we were aware of the early Qur'ans in the collection, however they were not in the public eye, but well-known to scholars in the field of Qur'anic study.  Researcher, Alba Fedeli, came to the University of Birmingham specifically to study these early Qur'anic manuscripts for her PhD, which she completed in 2015. In 2013 Alba's detailed palaeographical study of the manuscript identified the handwriting was Hijazi and this led to the Cadbury Research Library reclassifying the manuscript as seventh century, when it had previously been considered eighth-to-ninth century. 

What is the radiocarbon date result?

OxA-29418  Parchment, MS1572 Cadbury Research Library, d13C=-21.04  1456 ± 21 BP

The calibrated date range is shown on the graph: OxA-29418 R_Date (1461,21) 95.4% probability 568 (95.4%) 645 calAD

Where was the radiocarbon test carried out?

The University of Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art.

When was the radiocarbon test carried out?

The result was received in March 2014.

Will the results be published?

The result will be published in Datelist in the University of Oxford's journal Archaeometry number 36.

What is Radiocarbon dating?

A method for determining the age of an object made from organic material using the properties of radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon. 

Who was the scribe?

It is not possible to say who was the scribe.

When was it made?

It is not possible to say with certainty when the manuscript was made. Combining the palaeographic analysis with the radiocarbon dating result we would describe this manuscript for the purposes of the catalogue as mid 7th century.

Where was it made?

It is not possible to say with certainly where this manuscript was made. From the handwriting we can deduce that it may have been created in the Hejaz area to the west of Arabian Peninsula, which includes the Islamic sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. 

What is the manuscript made of?

The manuscript is made of parchment. Parchment is animal skin, which has been de-haired and treated with an alkali solution, such as lime, and left to dry under tension. This process gives it the creamy white colour. This manuscript is probably made of goat or sheep skin, which were  used for early Islamic parchments.

What size is it?

The pages measure 343 mm (height) x 258 mm (width) at the widest points.

Is it a palimpsest?

No. There is no evidence to suggest the manuscript is a palimpsest. A palimpsest is a parchment that has been reused, with the original ink washed off and new writing over the top, usually at 90 degrees to the original. While there are other manuscripts in the collection which are clearly palimpsests, the Birmingham Qur'an Manuscript is not a palimpsest.  There is no evidence of any underwriting.  In some photographs reproduced on the internet and in press coverage what appears as a shadow of writing is the handwriting from the other side of the page showing through.  There is writing on both sides of each sheet, which can be seen through the thin parchment. This is evident on inspection of the original manuscript.

Have you dated the inks?

No. Radiocarbon analysis will not provide a date range for the time the ink was created or applied. This is not a process that has been carried out on any other early Qur'ans to date.

What is the brown ink?

The brown ink could be made from a carbon-based pigment. We have not analysed the pigments.

What is the red ink?

The red ink could be made from kermes lake pigment. We have not analysed the pigments.

Do you provide a radiocarbon dating service?


What parts of the Qur'an does the manuscript contain?

Parts of Surahs 18 - 20. 


Surah 20 Ta-Ha verses 13-40


Surah 19 Maryam
‘Mary’ verses 91-98
Surah 20 Ta-Ha verses 1-13


Surah 18 Al-Kahf
‘The Cave’ verses 23-31


Surah 18 Al-Kahf
‘The Cave’ verses 17-23

Where is the rest of this Qur'an manuscript?

It is proposed that a further 16 folios of the manuscript are held in the Bibliotheque nationale de France, in Paris, with the catalogue number BnF Arabe 328c.  It is not known where the remainder of the manuscript is, or if it survives.

Where can I see online images of the manuscript?

It can be viewed online on the Cadbury Research Library's Flickr pages and in the Virtual Manuscript Room

What other manuscripts are in the Mingana Collection?

There are about 3,000 manuscripts in the collection, as well as some early artefacts, more information on the contents of the Mingana Collection can be found here.

Can I come and see it?

The manuscript was on display until 3 August 2016 in the Faith in Birmingham Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, free admission, open daily.