The Quran is the most widely transmitted book in the history of the world. No other book has been written and memorized by more people, in part or in full, than this scripture from God. In addition, we have manuscripts dating back to its inception. Below is a list of some of the oldest and most notable manuscripts we have to date.
Birmingham Quran manuscript (610–645 CE)
The Birmingham Quran manuscript is a single sheet of parchment on which two leaves of an early Quranic manuscript or muṣḥaf have been written. The parchment contains verses 17–31 of Surah 18 (Al-Kahf) on one leaf, while the other leaf contains the final eight verses 91–98 of Surah 19 (Maryam) and the first 40 verses of Surah 20 (Ta-Ha). The manuscript confirms the present-day sequence and conforms to the standard text. In 2015, the manuscript was radiocarbon dated to between 568 and 645 CE / 56 BH and 25 AH. Since carbon dating is not an exact science, and we know that the first revelation of the Quran was not revealed until 610, we can speculate that this manuscript is between 610-645 CE, and could have been very well written during the prophet’s life.
Samarkand Kufic Quran (610–855CE)
The Samarkand Kufic Quran was thought to be the oldest copy of the Quran. It is believed to be written between 595 CE – 855 CE. Radiocarbon dating showed a 95.4% probability of a date between 775 and 995 CE. However, one of the folios from another manuscript (held in the Religious Administration of Muslims in Tashkent) was dated between 595 and 855 CE, with a likelihood of 95%. As the Quran was not revealed until 610, we can narrow the date to between 610 – 855 CE.
This manuscript is revered by the Muslim community as it is believed to be part of a group of Qurans commissioned by the third caliph Uthman in 651 CE. Uthman wanted to produce a standard copy of the Quran 19 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. This belief has been challenged by research that shows the manuscript came long after the 7th century.
The manuscript begins in the middle of Sura 2 verse 7 and ends at Surah 43:10. This constitutes ~81% of the total Quran.
Topkapi Manuscript (651–mid-8th century)
The Topkapi manuscript has been dated to about the early to mid-8th century and is a nearly complete text of the Quran, containing more than 99% of the text of the Quran. In that respect, it is most likely the oldest near-complete Quran in existence. But this date is challenged as this manuscript is also claimed to be attributed to the compilation done by Uthman ibn Affan (d. 656), pushing the date back to potentially 651 CE.
Codex Parisino-Petropolitanus (1st Century Hijra)
The Codex Parisino-Petropolitanus is a 98 folio Quran manuscript dating back to the 1st century Hijra, late 7th or early 8th century. The manuscript contains ~88% of the entire Quran with 70 folios at Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; 26 folios at the National Library of Russia in Saint-Petersburg, Russia; 1 folio in the Vatican Library; and 1 folio in Khalili Collection in London.
Sana’a Manuscript (632–671 CE)
The Sana’a manuscript was thought to be the oldest manuscript of the Quran in existence. The manuscript was first discovered in 1972 during renovations of the Great Mosque of Sana’a in Yemen. Construction workers uncovered a large cache of Quranic and non-Quranic manuscripts and parchments that were poorly preserved and heavily damaged.
The manuscript was identified as part of the Quran in 1981, and since then, the Yemeni Department for Antiquities — with help from foreign universities — has worked to restore the fragments. It has been radiocarbon dated to between 632 CE – 671 CE, with the lower codex dated with 99% accuracy to 671 CE.
Tübingen Fragment (649–675 CE)
The Quran fragment from the University of Tübingen in Germany has been dated to a period between 649 AD – 675 AD. This date means the manuscript was written about 20 – 40 years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death. Pieces of the manuscript were analyzed in a lab in Zürich using modern C14-radiocarbon and dated within a 95.4% statistical probability.
The Blue Quran (9th–10th Century)
The Blue Quran is believed to have been written in the late 9th century to early 10th century. It is written in Kufic script and contains ~30% of the entire Quran. Originally it is believed to have been about 600 folios of which it is estimated that about 100 of the folios are located in the National Institute of Art and Archaeology Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Tunisia; 67 folios in the Musée de la Civilisation et des Arts Islamiques in Raqqada, Tunisia; 1 folio at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California, USA; and the other folios are scattered worldwide at various museums.