An ‘Umayyad’ Fragment Of The Qur'ān From 1st Century Hijra

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First Composed: 6th November 2008

Last Updated: 8th November 2008

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Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

Side A
Side A (detail)
Side B
Side B (detail)



Figure: (a) Details of the ‘Umayyad’ fragment in a private collection. (b) A fragment from the same codex which appeared in Sotheby's catalogue in 2004.


Second half of 1st century hijra / late 7th or early 8th century CE.

Additional and corroborating evidence was obtained by radiocarbon dating the fragment at University of Oxford. Two calibration data-sets, viz., INTCAL98 and INTCAL04 were used. The results are as follows.[1]

Results with INTCAL98 calibration data-set: The radiocarbon age of 1363 ± 33 BP yielded a 68.2% probability that the parchment in question dates to between 647 and 685 CE (i.e., 26–66 AH), a 95.4% probability that it dates to between 610 and 770 CE (i.e., twelve years before the hijra to 153 AH), with that range being broken down into a 90.5% probability that it dates to between 610 and 720 CE (i.e., twelve years before the hijra to 102 AH) and a 4.9% probability that it dates to between 740 and 770 CE (i.e., 122–53 AH). This suggests, as the report from the University of Oxford Radiocarbon Acceleration Unit put it, that ‘it is most likely that the parchment was made between AD 610 and AD 720’, that is, broadly speaking, from some time within the first century of the hijra.

Results with INTCAL04 calibration data-set: Since the time of this test in 2001, a newer calibration data-set, INTCAL04, has yielded slightly narrower results for the same radiocarbon age (i.e., 1363 ± 33 BP), namely, a 68.3% probability that the parchment dates from 644–75 CE (i.e. 25–56 AH), and a 95.4% probability that it dates from either 609–94 CE (i.e., thirteen years before the hijra to 75 AH) (95.2%), or 702–6 CE (i.e., 83–7 AH) (0.006%), or 748–65 CE (i.e., 131–48 AH) (0.042%). It would therefore seem acceptable to revise the afore-mentioned estimate to read ‘it is most likely that the parchment was made between AD 609 and AD 694’, and therefore used for its present purpose some time in the first 75 years of the first century AH.

It is interesting to note that the results here lie within a rather narrow range of dates for 95% probability level – 160 years for the INTCAL98 result, and 156 years for the INTCAL04 result. On the other hand, we have seen that the radiocarbon dating of the so-called ʿUthmānic codex from Tashkent yielded a wide 260 year range (595–855 CE) at the 95% probability level. Likewise, the test on E20 Qur'anic manuscript in St. Petersburg yielded a 220 year range (775–995 CE). In these two cases, neither of them help very much in establishing a narrow and possibly an accurate date for these particular manuscripts.

Inventory No.


Size & Folios

Approximately 25.5 to 27.3 cm high x 51.5 cm wide. It is a partially damaged parchment folio which is now mounted behind glass in a wooden frame. The text is written in a dark brown ink.

Script & Ornamentation[2]

Written in bold kufic with the longer upright strokes, such as those of lām and alif, having a distinct slant to the right. The script is a lot squatter, and has a much stronger horizontal quality to it, than the ḥijāzī scripts typically associated in the literature with the term māʾil. The text is unvocalised. Consonants are sparsely differentiated. In this fragment we also see the feature of 'line-fillers', i.e. horizontal dashes used to fill up the end of a line, where there is insufficient room to write the next segment of the word in question. (see Side A, lines 4 and 7, and Side B, lines 2, 8 and 10).

Every tenth verse is marked (in addition to an ordinary verse-marker of diagonal dashes in three out of four occasions, but once without), by a square-shaped rosette, or cartouche, consisting of a quatrefoil motif in green on a brown background outlined by a double-lined square frame and further decorated by green semi-circular devices in the middle of the outer edge of each side of the square.

Traces of ornamented sūrah division bands can be made out at the top left of Side A and the bottom right of Side B, marking the junctions between Sūrah al-Muddaththir and the preceding and following suras, i.e., Sūrah al-Muzzammil and Sūrah al-Qiyāmah, respectively


This fragment is remarkably similar to two other published folios and it has been concluded that they all come from the same codex. The first folio MS 678 in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, was published by Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Munajjid.[3] The second folio comes from the collection of the Hartford Seminary, Connecticut (USA),[4] which was put for auction by Sotheby's in 2004.[5] It was also illustrated in a catalogue prepared by Sam Fogg to accompany an exhibition of Islamic calligraphy held at the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin, in 2006.[6] This folio is written in exactly the same script, unvocalised and with the same limited consonantal pointing, and with exactly the same type of individual verse-markers, five-verse alifs and ten-verse 'rosettes', not to mention the same end-of-line fillers, and even the same traces of vertical folding at the half- and quarter-way points. It can be considered as coming from exactly the same manuscript as the radiocarbon-dated fragment.[7]

In summary, all three folios can be linked on a visual level in having the same squarish shape, the same unvocalised script showing broadly similar norms for the pointing of consonants, the same spelling conventions, the same end-of-line fillers, and the same style of verse-marking, particularly the ten-verse markers. Assuming that all three folios are, indeed, from the same manuscript, it would seem that the original manuscript measured approximately 48 × 54 cm, with probably 25 lines to each page.[8]


The contents of the fragment are - Side A: Sūrah al-Muddaththir, verses 1-27; Side B: Sūrah al-Muddaththir, verses 34-56.

The Sotheby's 2004 fragment contains Sūrah Hūd, verses 73-95.


In a private collection in London, United Kingdom.

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[1] Y. Dutton, "An Umayyad Fragment Of The Qur'an And Its Dating", Journal Of Qur'anic Studies, 2007, Volume 9, No. 2, pp. 57-87, especially pp. 63-64.

[2] ibid., p. 58 and p. 61.

[3] S. al-Munajjid, Dirāsāt fī Tārīkh al-Khatt al-ʿArabī Mundhu Bidayatihi ilā Nihayat al-ʿAsr al-Umawi (French Title: Etudes De Paleographie Arabe), 1972, Dar al-Kitab al-Jadid: Beirut (Lebanon), p. 88, Plate 45.

[4] D. A. Kerr, The Illuminated Manuscripts Of Hartford Seminary: The Art Of Christian-Muslim Relations, 1994, Hartford Seminary Bookstore: Connecticut, p.12.

[5] Sotheby's, Arts of the Islamic World, 2004 (13th October 2004), Sotheby's: London, pp. 10–11.

[6] M. Fraser & W. Kwiatkowski, Ink And Gold: Islamic Calligraphy, 2006, Sam Fogg: London, pp. 18–21.

[7] Y. Dutton, "An Umayyad Fragment Of The Qur'an And Its Dating", Journal Of Qur'anic Studies, 2007, op. cit., p. 66

[8] ibid., p. 75.

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