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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsSPEAKER: It's not possible for us to say with absolute certainty where the Birmingham Koran manuscript was actually made or indeed, who had it made or for what reason. Analysis of the handwriting has shown that it's written in a Hijazi script, which derives its name from the Hijaz region where it was developed. Hijazi script is a collective name, so it's a name for a number of early Arabic alphabets that developed in the Hijazi region of the Arabian Peninsula, which actually includes the cities of Mecca and Medina. This type of script that you'll see in the Birmingham Koran is very sloping, it's very angular.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 secondsIt's very distinct from latest styles and it's very beautiful, very simple, and it's got a great strength to it as well. Well there we can identify the type of script, and the fact that the manuscript was written in the script doesn't necessarily mean that the manuscript came from Hijaz. [? Treatings ?] show a comparison of the characteristics of the handwriting in parchment. It's proposed that the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris holds a further 16 pages from the same Koran manuscript that the Birmingham Koran originated from. This is really interesting in helping us to understand the provenance of the Birmingham Koran, as the Paris folios have a really well-documented provenance.

Skip to 1 minute and 32 secondsThe Paris folios were part of a lot of pages from historic Koranic manuscripts at the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As in Fustat, brought by French orientalist Jean-Louis Asselin De Cherville when he served as vice consul in Cairo during 1806 to 1816. After his death, the bulk of his manuscript collection was sold to the Bibliotheque Royale in 1833, then becoming the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, as discussed by academic Francoise Deroche If we agree that the Birmingham Koran and the Paris folios are part of the same original manuscript as many academics actually do, then we've got a potential provenance of the Birmingham Koran back to the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As in Fustat, the ancient Islamic capital of Egypt, and the first mosque in Africa.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 secondsInternational research continues on the Birmingham Koran, with a variety of views as to its possible place of manufacture and who commissioned it and why. Most recently, Yasin Dutton, an associate professor of Arabic in the School of Languages and Literature at the University of Cape Town, has suggested a Syrian base or orthography to some of the words used in the Birmingham Koran. The study of orthography and the study of language and the way that it's expressed and written, when combined with all the elements of material evidence with the radiocarbon dating, gives academics key insights into the potential origins of the manuscript.

Skip to 3 minutes and 10 secondsKnowing that the Paris Koran, and potentially therefore the Birmingham Koran, has a provenance back to the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As in Fustat, we might then consider whether there is any relationship to the mosque's founder, Commander Amr ibn al-As, who lived between 585 and 664.

The origins of the manuscript and where it was produced

When watching this film consider these points:

  • Why is it sometimes difficult to know where a manuscript might have originated from?
  • For Research Libraries, it can often be problematic to understand the provenance of such manuscripts by visual examination alone. What sort of specialist staff might Libraries need?
  • Why do Research Libraries want to hold and make available such complex collections as the Mingana Collection? This is an issue we will pick up again in Week 4.
  • The story of the Birmingham Qur’an proves to us that learning never stops. New research techniques and methods can continue to potentially unlock stories in manuscripts which have been previously seemingly exhaustively researched.

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This video is from the free online course:

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

University of Birmingham