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The importance of historical context

According to Muslim belief, the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad began in 610 when the Angel Gabriel appeared to him. Muhammad had revelations until his death in 632. According to the traditional narrative, companions of Muhammad acted as his scribes by writing down the revelations.

Shortly after his death, the companions compiled the Qur’an into a codex. Caliph Uthman, the third caliph, later established a standard version which is considered to be the model of the Qur’an we see today. The Birmingham Qur’an shows little variation from the standard text, prompting some commentators to suggest that it may be one of the five authoritative texts. The Sana’a manuscript, which is a palimpsest, is particularly interesting in that its upper text largely conforms to the standard Qur’an of Caliph Uthman, whereas the lower text contains variants to this standard text.

Along with those Qur’anic manuscripts which have been radiocarbon dated, there are a number which are believed to be early but have not been radiocarbon dated. In considering early Qur’ans within their historical context it is important to look at other primary sources which survive from the period including inscriptions, coins and papyri.

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This article is from the free online course:

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

University of Birmingham