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The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

Explore the history and significance of the Birmingham Qur'an, and its journey from late Antiquity Middle East to contemporary UK.

3,153 enrolled on this course

The Birmingham Qur'an manuscript
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Discover the story behind one of the oldest Islamic manuscripts in the world

The Birmingham Qur’an is one of the oldest surviving Islamic manuscripts. This course will explore the origins and the journey of the Birmingham Qur’an from the Islamic heartlands, the significance of the Birmingham Qur’an, the methods used to determine its age and how it is cared for at Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham. Learn how to identify features of Qur’an manuscripts and how they influenced the arts of the book in Islamic manuscript culture. You will also learn more about the Mingana collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts and their relevance to the 21st century.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds SUSAN WORRALL: On the 22nd of July, 2015, the University of Birmingham made an announcement that captured the world’s imagination. A Quranic manuscript held at the University’s Cadbury Research Library had been radiocarbon dated to the early seventh century making it one of the earliest examples of the Islamic holy book in existence. The news quickly spread around the globe generating unprecedented media coverage and sparking huge interest amongst the public, both Muslims and non-Muslims. The message was clear, by holding a fragment of the Qur’an for which parchment had been radiocarbon dated to a period correlating closely with the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad, the University of Birmingham held within its collections a manuscript of global significance.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds At a time when so much of the world’s cultural heritage is being deliberately destroyed or threatened, this announcement captured hearts and imaginations worldwide. This journey will tell the full story of the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript from its possible origins in the Islamic heartlands more than 1,400 years ago to its current place as part of Mingana Collection in Middle Eastern manuscripts in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham. It’s a remarkable journey. What can a 1,400 year old Quranic fragment teach us today? What stories can it share with us? How do we care for such a sacred manuscript. How can we use scientific techniques to reveal its secrets.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 seconds And how can we assure that it and the rest of our collections are cared for and are still relevant and appropriate to people and communities today? We’ll explore developments in calligraphy and the arts of the Qur’an. We’ll look at these questions and many more together as we investigate the Birmingham Qur’an.

What topics will you cover?

Week 1 The Journey of the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript; How the radiocarbon dating of the manuscript became a world-wide news sensation; The significance of the dating and its origins

Week 2 The Qur’an and the Arts of the Book; How the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript relates to the development of the Arabic written tradition; Qur’an manuscripts and Arabic calligraphy; The Arts of Qur’an manuscripts and Islamic manuscript culture

Week 3 Using radiocarbon dating to date manuscripts; Modern technology in the research and analysis of historic manuscripts; Techniques and preservation methods in the conservation and care of historic manuscripts; The value of primary historic sources as a valuable resource for research

Week 4 The Birmingham Qur’an and other historic manuscripts of the Mingana collection; The Islamic Arabic & Persian manuscripts in the Mingana collection held in the Cadbury Research Library as a collection of international importance; The relevance of the Birmingham Qur’an and other manuscripts to the contemporary world, local communities, researchers and academics; The ethics of collecting from different cultures

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore and understand the historic and cultural significance of the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript dating
  • Develop an appreciation of the religious, social and community importance of the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript
  • Engage with the journey of the Birmingham Qur’an from the Islamic heartlands to Birmingham University
  • Investigate the features of the Birmingham Qur'an manuscript and understand how they relate to the Arabic written tradition
  • Demonstrate an ability to trace developments in Arabic script, calligraphy and the decorative arts used in Qur'anic manuscripts
  • Assess the benefits to research through consulting primary source materials
  • Explore and appreciate the size, variety and importance of the Mingana collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts
  • Debate the morals and ethics of western collecting from other cultures
  • Evaluate and consider the relevance of historic manuscripts to the contemporary world
  • Reflect on how radiocarbon dating and modern technology can be used to date and analyse manuscripts
  • Compare and identify techniques and preservation methods used to care for historic manuscripts

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone who has an interest in the history of religious texts, the study of Islam, manuscript culture, Islamic arts, how historic collections are cared for, and their value for research

Who will you learn with?

I am Director of Special Collections, for the University of Birmingham, responsible for the Cadbury Research Library.
I am the lead educator for 'The Birmingham Qur'an' course.

Education Consultant and Honorary Lecturer in Special Collections at the Cadbury Research Library.
Interested in community participation and the social impact of engagement with historic collections.

I am curator of Islamic manuscripts and a researcher at the University of Birmingham. My research involves codicology, Qur'an manuscripts, and the transmission of Arabic literature to medieval Europe.

I am Head of Conservation for the University of Birmingham, overseeing the technical analysis and conservation treatment of the Birmingham Qur'an manuscript. Educator for The Birmingham Qur'an course

Who developed the course?

University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is a public research university, consistently listed as a leading UK university and ranked among the top 100 in the world.

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  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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