Old Manuscripts of the Qur'an

Old Manuscripts of the Qur'an


Most of the early original Qur'an manuscripts, complete or in sizeable fragments, that are still available to us now, are not earlier than the second century after the Hijra. The earliest copy, which was exhibited in the British Museum during the 1976 World of Islam Festival, dated from the late second century. [Lings, M. and Y. H. Safadi: The Qur'an, London, 1976, No. 1A. See also plate 6] However, there are also a number of odd fragments of Qur'anic papyri available, which date from the first century. [Grohmann, A.: Die Entstehung des Koran und die altesten Koran-Handschriften', in: Bustan, 1961, pp. 33-8.]There is a copy of the Qur'an in the Egyptian National Library on parchment made from gazelle skin, which has been dated 68 Hijra (688 A.D.), i.e. 58 years after the Prophet's death.

What happened to 'Uthman's Copies?

It is not known exactly how many copies of the Qur'an were made at the time of 'Uthman, but Suyuti [Makhdum, 1.: Tarikh al-mushaf al-'Uthmani fi Tashqand, Tashkent 1391/1971 p. 17] says: 'The well-known ones are five'. This probably excludes the copy that 'Uthman kept for himself. The cities of Makka, Damascus, Kufa, Basra and Madina each received a copy. ' [GdQ, 111. 6, Note 1.]There are a number of references in the older Arabic literature on this topic which together with latest information available may be summarised as follows:

The Damascus Manuscript

Al-Kindi (d. around 236/850) wrote in the early third century that three out of four of the copies prepared for 'Uthman were destroyed in fire and war, while the copy sent to Damascus was still kept at his time at Malatja. [GdQ. 111, 6. Note 1.]

Ibn Batuta (779/1377) says he has seen copies or sheets from the copies of the Qur'an prepared under 'Uthman in Granada, Marakesh, Basra and other cities. [Salih, op. cit., p.87.]

Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1372) relates that he has seen a copy of the Qur'an attributed to 'Uthman, which was brought to Damascus in the year 518 Hijra from Tiberias (Palestine). He said it was 'very large, in beautiful clear strong writing with strong ink, in parchment, I think, made of camel skin'. [Salih, op. cit., p.88.]

Some believe that the copy later on went to Leningrad and from there to England. After that nothing is known about it. Others hold that this mushaf remained in the mosque of Damascus, where it was last seen before the fire in the year 1310/1892.' [Salih, op. cit., p.89; Muir, in 'The Mameluke Dynasties' also writes that this manuscript was burnt in Damascus in 1893; see Abbott, op. cit., p.51.]

The Egyptian Manuscript

There is a copy of an old Qur'an kept in the mosque of al-Hussain in Cairo. Its script is of the old style, although Ki6, and it is quite possible that it was copied from the Mushaf of 'Uthman. [Kamal, op. cit., p.56.]

The Madina Manuscript

Ibn Jubair (d. 614/1217) saw the manuscript in the mosque of Madina in the year 580/1184. Some say it remained in Madlna until the Turks took it from there in 1334/1915. It has been reported that this copy was removed by the Turkish authorities to Istanbul, from where it came to Berlin during World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which concluded World War I, contains the following clause:

'Article 246: Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, Germany will restore to His Majesty, King of Hedjaz, the original Koran of Caliph Othman, which was removed from Medina by the Turkish authorities and is stated to have been presented to the ex-Emperor William II." [Israel, Fred L. (ed.): Major Peace Treaties of Modern History, New York, Chelsea House Pub., Vol. ll, p.l418.]

The manuscript then reached Istanbul, but not Madina. [The same information about this copy was published in a Cairo magazine in 1938 (Makhdum, op. cit., p.l9). Surprisingly the standard book Geschichre des Qorans, the third part of which was published in Germany in 1938, i.e. well after the Treaty of Versailles, although discussing the 'Uthmanic Qur'an and old manuscripts in detail, makes no reference whatsoever to this event. Also, the writer of the History of the Mushaf of ' Uthman in Tashkent, indicates that he does not know what to make of this reference.]

The 'Imam' Manuscript

This is the name used for the copy which 'Uthman kept himself, and it is said he was killed while reading it. [Ibn Said: al-Tabaqatal-kubra, Cairo, n.d., Vol. 111, (1). pp. 51-2.]

According to some the Umayyads took it to Andalusia, from where it came to Fas (Morocco) and according to Ibn Batuta it was there in the eighth century after the Hijra, and there were traces of blood on it. From Morocco, it might have found its way to Samarkand.

The Samarkand Manuscript [Makhdum, op. cit., p.22ff.]

This is the copy now kept in Tashkent (Uzbekistan). It may be the Imam manuscript or one of the other copies made at the time of 'Uthman.

It came to Samarkand in 890 Hijra (1485) and remained there till 1868. Then it was taken to St. Petersburg by the Russians in 1869. It remained there till 1917. A Russian orientalist gave a detailed description of it, saying that many pages were damaged and some were missing. A facsimile, some 50 copies, of this mushaf was produced by S. Pisareff in 1905. A copy was sent to the Ottoman Sultan 'Abdul Hamid, to the Shah of Iran, to the Amir of Bukhara, to Afghanistan, to Fas and some important Muslim personalities. One copy is now in the Columbia University Library (U.S.A.). [The Muslim World, Vol . 30 ( 1940), pp.357-8.]

The manuscript was afterwards returned to its former place and reached Tashkent in 1924, where it has remained since. Apparently the Soviet authorities have made further copies, which are presented from time to time to visiting Muslim heads of state and other important personalities. In 1980, photocopies of such a facsimile were produced in the United States, with a two-page foreword by M. Hamidullah.

The writer of the History of the Mushaf of 'Uthmtln in Tashkent gives a number of reasons for the authenticity of the manuscript. They are, excluding the various historical reports which suggest this, as follows:

In other words: two of the copies of the Qur'an which were originally prepared in the time of Caliph 'Uthman, are still available to us today and their text and arrangement can be compared, by anyone who cares to, with any other copy of the Qur'an, be it in print or handwriting, from any place or period of time. They will be found identical.

The 'Ali Manuscript

Some sources indicate that a copy of the Qur'an written by the fourth Caliph 'Ali is kept in Najaf, Iraq, in the Dar al-Kutub al-'Alawiya. It is written in Kufi script, and on it is written: "Ali bin Abi Talib wrote it in the year 40 of the Hijra'. [Attar, D.: Mujaz 'ulum al-qur'an, Beirut 1399/1979, p. 116]