P. Camb. UL Inv. Michael Pap. 893 – A Papyrus Being A Register Of Debt Acknowledgement, 48 AH / 667-668 CE

Islamic Awareness

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

First Composed: 29th April 2020

Last Updated: 1st May 2020

submit to reddit

Assalamu-ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:



Figure: (a) Picture of the papyrus and (b) its content. [] encloses letters supplied to fill a lacuna.


48 AH / 667-668 CE.[1]


16.8 cm x 17 cm.

Accession No.

P. Camb. UL Inv. Michael Pap. 893


The translation of text is given below.

  1. [In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Act establishing] the claim of Yuḥannis bin Thiyudur upon [Qurra bin …
  2. [… up to] the end of eight and forty, year of the decree of the believers.
  3. [Qurra bin … testified against] himself, as well as Jamīl bin al-Ḥārith. Written.
  4. [Act establishing the claim of … upon] … up to the end of seven and forty, year [of the decree of the believers].
  5. […has testified against himsel]f and has written.
  6. [Act establishing the claim of … upon …] up to the end of eight and forty, year of the decree
  7. [of the believers … has testified] against himself. Written


Papyrus fragment, light brown in color. The reverse of the papyrus is blank. The document is written in the typical ḥijāzī script and the letters are drawn rather inexpertly. The text seems to have been written by three different hands. The papyrus is a register of debt acknowledgments, apparently three, concluded exclusively between individuals, one of whom is a Christian. Tillier and Vanthieghem say that the name of the debtor has been deliberately erased as it is the case with the other registers of this kind.[2]

This document belongs to the category of acknowledgement of debts. There are a growing number of very early papyri that can now be placed into this category whose geographic scope is early Islamic Egypt and Palestine. A unique aspect of these group of documents is that they bear witness to a previously unattested calendar designation, expressed variously as abbreviated sanat (year/calendar), to qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn (decree/reckoning/jurisdiction of the believers) and sanat qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn (year of the decree/reckoning/jurisdiction of the believers). qaḍāʾ has been variously interpreted as jurisdiction (Rāġib), reckoning (Shaddel), and decree (Tillier and Vanthieghem), each of which carry their own specific nuances.[3] All agree however that the phrase references a calendar system.[4]

Based exclusively on the earliest documentary evidence available, there can be no doubt that the calendar system adopted by the early Muslims, however it may have been designated, began in the year 622 CE (i.e., year 1). Excluding Arabic-only papyri, there are dozens of Greek, Greek-Coptic and Greek-Arabic fiscal papyri showing a hijra year in addition to a Byzantine indiction.[5] Likewise, similar examples can be found in Christian Syriac manuscripts showing hijra dates alongside the Seleucid era.[6] There is also a unique triple dated early inscription from 662 CE, showing a hijra date, Byzantine indiction and year of the colony of Gadara.[7] When the dates of all the aforementioned documents are independently calculated and calibrated against each other, they almost always correspond to 622 CE / 1 AH.[8]

Documents containing the abbreviated phrase sanat or qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn or sanat qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn have come from around 20 AH, 42 AH, c. 44 AH, 48 AH, and two (1, 2) from 57 AH.


University Library, Cambridge University (UK).

Bookmark and Share


[1] M. Tillier & N. Vanthieghem, "Recording Debts In Sufyānid Fusṭāṭ: A Reexamination Of The Procedures And Calendar In Use In The First/Seventh Century", in J. Tolan (Ed.), Geneses: A Comparative Study Of The Historiographies Of The Rise Of Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism And Islam, 2019, Routledge: London, pp. 148-188.

[2] ibid. Summarized from the above article.

[3] Y. Ragib, "Une Ère Inconnue D'Égypte Musulmane: L'ère De La Juridiction Des Croyants", Annales Islamologiques, 2007, Volume 41, pp. 187-207; M. Shaddel, "“The Year According To The Reckoning Of The Believers”: Papyrus Louvre Inv. J. David-Weill 20 And The Origins Of The Hijrī Era", Der Islam, 2018, Volume 95, Issue 2, pp. 291-311; M. Tillier & N. Vanthieghem, "Recording Debts In Sufyānid Fusṭāṭ: A Reexamination Of The Procedures And Calendar In Use In The First/Seventh Century", in J. Tolan (Ed.), Geneses: A Comparative Study Of The Historiographies Of The Rise Of Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism And Islam, 2019, op. cit., pp. 148-188.

[4] Bruning disagrees and asserts that s.n.t. should be read as sunnatan and proposes P. Louvre Inv. E 7106 contains a previously unattested validity clause that is identifiable in three different versions - that is, not a previously unattested calendar designation. Here the shorter variant sunnatan ("in accordance with normative precedent") is present. The other two versions that are contained in documents dated 42 AH and 57 AH respectively are sunnat qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn ("in accordance with the normative procedure of the believers") and qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn ("in accordance with the procedure of the believers"). Their purpose is to state the validity of the aforementioned financial transaction. See J. Bruning, "A Legal Sunna In Dhikr Ḥaqqs From Sufyanid Egypt", Islamic Law And Society, 2015, Volume 22, pp. 352-374.

[5] K. A. Worp, "Hegira Years In Greek, Greek-Coptic And Greek-Arabic Papyri", Ægyptus, 1985, Volume 65, Issue 1/2, pp. 107-115; R. S. Bagnall & K. A. Worp, Chronological Systems Of Byzantine Egypt, 2004, Second Edition, Koninklijke Brill NV: Leiden (The Netherlands), p. 300.

[6] S. Brock, "The Use Of Hijra Dating In Syriac Manuscripts: A Preliminary Investigation" in J. J. Van Ginkel, H. L. Murre-Van Den Berg, T. M. Van Lint (Eds.), Redefining Christian Identity: Cultural Interaction In The Middle East Since The Rise Of Islam, 2005, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta - 134, Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oosterse Studies: Leuven (Belgium), pp. 275-290.

[7] Y. Hirschfeld & G. Solar, "The Roman Thermae At Hammat Gader: Preliminary Report Of Three Seasons Of Excavations", Israel Exploration Journal, 1981, Volume 31, pp. 203-205.; J. Green & Y. Tsafrir, "Greek Inscriptions From Hammat Gader: A Poem By The Empress Eudocia And Two Building Inscriptions", Israel Exploration Journal, 1982, Volume 32, pp. 94-96; Y. Hirschfeld, The Roman Baths Of Hammat Gader (Final Report), 1997, Israel Exploration Society: Jerusalem, pp. 237-240; M. Sharon, Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, 2013, Volume V (H-I), Koninklijke Brill NV: Leiden (The Netherlands), pp. 284-286.

[8] Where they do not match, on occasion it seems to be a mistake on behalf of the scribe caused by a lack of familiarity with the hijra calendar (e.g., lunar not solar calendar).

The images above are reproduced from the stated sources under the provisions of the copyright law. This allows for the reproduction of portions of copyrighted material for non-commercial, educational purposes.

With the exception for those images which have passed into the public domain, the use of these images for commercial purposes is expressly prohibited without the consent of the copyright holder.

Back To The Arabic Papyri