Can I see the manuscript?

Will the manuscript be on public exhibition? Can I consult the original?

The manuscript is not on public exhibition due to the long-term preservation requirements. A replica of the manuscript is on display in the Cadbury Research Library reading room.  There is also a digital display about the Birmingham Qur'an story. This includes a high resolution reproduction of the manuscript on a touch-table in the atrium exhibition area of the Main Library. 

Free images of the full manuscript can be downloaded for private study from the Cadbury Research Library Flickr site. For publication please contact the Cadbury Research Library Imaging Services.

The manuscript is not available for consultation by the public at the Cadbury Research Library. If you have a strong research requirement to view the original manuscript which is not fulfilled by the digital images made freely available, please put your request in writing to the Director of Special Collections, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.  Please be aware that you will need to have a particularly strong case to view this manuscript due to preservation issues. Your research access request will be considered by the University and you will be informed in due course.

I have more questions about the Qur’an, who can I speak to?

Please contact the Press Office 

About the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript

What is the Birmingham Qur'an manuscript?

The Birmingham Qur’an manuscript is a two-leaf (one bifolio), four-page manuscript made of parchment, written in ink, containing parts of surahs 18, 19 and 20 of the Qur’an. The manuscript forms part of the University of Birmingham’s Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, held in the Cadbury Research Library. Its catalogue number is MINGANA Islamic Arabic 1572a.

The manuscript contains verses 17-31 of surah 18 Al-Kahf; verses 91-98 of surah 19 Maryam; verses 1-40 of surah 20 Ta-Ha. A full transcription of the manuscript from Hijazi script into Modern Standard Arabic produced by Dr Alba Fedeli as part of her doctoral studies is available online.

To look up the relevant verses in English we suggest: Abdel Haleem, M. A. S. 2004. The Qurʼan. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

How old is the manuscript?

The parchment of the manuscript has been radiocarbon dated by the University of Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit to the date range 568–645 with a 95.4% degree of confidence. This places the parchment on which the text is written close to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (who is generally thought to have lived between 570 and 632). 

Is it the oldest in the world?

It is impossible to say whether this is the oldest Qur’an manuscript in the world. However, researchers have concluded that the manuscript is among the earliest written textual evidence of the Qur’an known to survive. We also believe it to be the oldest Qur’an manuscript in the UK.

How did the manuscript come to be in Birmingham?

The manuscript was bought in the 1930s by Alphonse Mingana with funds from Edward Cadbury, the Birmingham-based Quaker philanthropist and businessman. Mingana was building a world-class manuscript collection in Birmingham. Cadbury named the collection the Mingana Collection after its first curator. The collection came to the University of Birmingham when it merged with Selly Oak Colleges in the late 1990s.

How did the discovery come to light?

Since the 1940s the two pages had been bound alongside seven leaves of a similar Qur’an manuscript in the Mingana Collection, thought to date from the late seventh century. The possibility that a section of this manuscript could be even older came to light during in-depth palaeographic study of the document by Dr Alba Fedeli during her PhD research at the University of Birmingham. Dr Fedeli identified the script as Hijazi, an early form of Arabic from the seventh century which has few diacritical marks and no vocalization. The Cadbury Research Library decided to have the leaves radiocarbon dated independently through a commercial service at Oxford University's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in 2014. This was following interest in the manuscript from the Berlin-Brandenburg and Paris Academies. They were investigating early textual evidence of Qur’anic manuscripts for a project called Coranica, which coincided with Dr Fedeli’s research into the handwriting. 

What are the origins of the manuscript?

It is not possible to say with certainly where the manuscript was made or who the scribe was. 

It has been suggested on palaeographic grounds that the fragment matches sixteen pages held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France and catalogued as BnF Arabe 328c, and that they form part of the same original manuscript codex. The folios held in Paris are believed to have a provenance from the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As at Fustat, south of Misr (Cairo), which was built in 642 – the first mosque built in Egypt and Africa.

Are there any articles published about the manuscript?

The Birmingham Qur'an manuscript 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.

2018, T. G. F Higham et al., ‘Radiocarbon dates from the Oxford AMS System: Archaeometry Datelist 36’, Archaeometry 60, 3 (2018), pp. 628-640.   

2021, S. Kilroy, 'The Birmingham Qur'an: an introduction to the conservation and radiocarbon dating' in Matthew James Driscoll (ed.), Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 17, Proceedings of the 17th international seminar held at the University of Copenghagen 11-13th April 2018, Museum Tusculanum Press ISBN 978-87-635-4687-4

The parchment and ink

What is the manuscript made of?

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

What is the radiocarbon dating result?

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

The calibrated date range is as follows: OxA-29418 R_Date (1461,21) 95.4% probability 568 (95.4%) 645 calAD

The result is published in T. G. F Higham et al., ‘Radiocarbon dates from the Oxford AMS System: Archaeometry Datelist 36’, Archaeometry 60, 3 (2018), p. 634.

Do you have any information about the ink?

The brown ink on the manuscript is iron gall ink, which was used from the fifth century onwards and would have been applied by a scribe to the surface of the parchment with a reed pen. The red ink is red lead, an ancient pigment used from 300 BCE onwards. These results are determined from XRF analysis combined with multispectral imaging. This was carried out on the manuscript at the Cadbury Research Library in 2018 to identify the pigments in the inks. The full report will be published in 2019. The inks have not been age-tested as there is currently no scientifically reliable method of dating inks.  A short film of multispectral imaging analysis of the parchment and inks can be viewed on the University's YouTube channel.

The Mingana Collection

Who was Alphonse Mingana?

Mingana described himself as a ‘writer and curator of oriental manuscripts’. Born in modern-day Iraq in 1878, he emigrated to the UK in 1913 and settled in Birmingham, where he worked with J Rendel Harris, then 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. A revised edition was published in 1985 (currently out of print). A summary of the contents can be found online.

Who was Edward Cadbury?

Edward Cadbury was the grandson of the founder of the Cadbury’s chocolate company. He was a Quaker with an interest in philanthropy. He 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 Birmingham’s Special Collections department. The CRL holds collections of over 4 million manuscripts and 200,000 rare books. 

Are there any other early Qur’an manuscripts in the Mingana Collection?

There is another Qur’an manuscript written in Hijazi script in the Mingana Collection, which is believed to date from later in the seventh century. It has the catalogue number Islamic Arabic 1572b (please note access restrictions apply). The parchment of this manuscript was also radiocarbon tested. The quality of the sample was not sufficient for it to survive the necessary pre-treatment process so there is no radiocarbon result for this manuscript. The Cadbury Research Library does not intend to repeat the testing. The diacritical marks on the Hijazi script suggest that this manuscript is later seventh century.

There is a ninth-century Qur’an manuscript written in Kufic script, with the catalogue number Islamic Arabic 1563.