[dropcap]A[/dropcap]An ancient copy of the Koran found at the University of Birmingham this summer may have belonged to Abu Bakr, one of the world’s first ever Muslims.
Radiocarbon dating carried out in July found the fragments to be at least 1,370-years-old, raising the possibility that it could be the oldest copy of the Islamic holy book in existence.
Now Jamal bin Huwareib, managing director of the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation for Islamic studies, has suggested that such an early document could have been commissioned by a very small number of people – the most likely of them being Abu Bakr.
Abu Bakr is widely understood to be the first person to convert to Islam outside the Prophet Mohammed’s direct family. He served as a friend and trusted advisor to the prophet and became the first ever Muslim caliph in 632, ruling for 27 months until his death 634.
The age of the Birmingham Koran means it is likely to have been created in Islam’s very earliest years, when the world’s global Muslim population was only in the low hundreds.
“I believe this is the Koran of Abu Bakr,” Mr bin Huwareib told BBC News, adding: “It’s the most important discovery ever for the Muslim world,”
The quality of the Birmingham Koran’s parchment and handwriting suggests the 200 leaf document could only have been created for an incredibly important figure, he said.
“This version, this collection, this manuscript is the root of Islam, it’s the root of the Koran…This will be a revolution in studying Islam,” Mr bin Huwareib went on to say.
Not everybody is so convinced that the Birmingham Koran was Abu Bakr’s personal version on the holy book, however.
David Thomas, Birmingham University’s professor of Christianity and Islam, said Mr bin Huwareib’s claims amounted to “a very big leap indeed”, adding that he believes the radio carbon dating suggests the manuscript was actually created around 20 years after the first caliph’s death.
While he concedes that “the person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad”, Professor Thomas believes too much emphasis has been placed on dating the document on “graphical evidence”, such as handwriting trends.
The Birmingham Koran was found at the city’s university earlier this year after being lost for more than a century.
It is widely considered the most important discovery of an Islamic text for hundreds of years.