This Qur'an leaf is one of the earliest fragments of the Qur'an ever produced. It was almost certainly written in the second half of the 1st century hijra (second half 7th century AD) in Madina. It may well be part of the codices of Uthman, the first officially written copies of the Holy Book that were sent to the main cities of the fledgling Islamic state and may even be copied by one of the companions of the Prophet. It is a relic of the utmost religious and artistic significance.
The leaf is writen on a large sheet of white vellum in dark brown ink in the vertical format which preceded the horizontal format of kufic Qur'ans of the 9th-11th centuries. Beneath the script the original text may clearly be seen. Presumably the earlier text was scraped off the vellum, but the iron gall ink has corroded the vellum and left a clear trace. The fact that this is a palimpsest is very significant, as the cleaning off of Qur'anic text would not normally be considered appropriate. It suggests that the original manuscript may have been written before the Uthmanic codices had been ratified. Thereafter, no changes to the text were permitted. Vellum was a rare commodity and would have been reused.
The text is part of sura al-baqara, the recto of the leaf from the word al-zakat in verse 277 to the words illa an in verse 282; the verso from the word tijarat in verse 282 to the words nasiyna aw in verse 286.
The earlier text is also from sura al-baqara, the recto from the last two words of verse 206 to the second fihi in verse 217; the verso from the word kabir in verse 217 to harthun lakum in verse 223.
The collation of the Qur'an
During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (632-4 AD) many of the muslims who knew the Qur'an by heart were killed in the wars that followed the death of the Prophet. 'Umar feared that parts of the Qur'an would be lost and commissioned Zayd ibn Thabit, a former secretary of the Prophet to collect the Qur'an. It was copied onto sheets and sent to 'Umar when he succeded to the Caliphate and then to his daughter, Hafsa, one of the Prophet's widows.
The second impetus came during the Caliphate of Uthman (644-56 AD) when it was decided to produce a a definitive version of the Qur'an in order to prevent further disputes among believers. Again it was Zayd ibn Thabit who supervised the task. The revised version was compared with Hafsa's copy. Several copies were made and sent to the main centres of Islam. It is not known whether the copies belonging to Hafsa survived. Even if they did not, they were not forgotten. The kitab al-masahif of Ibn Abi Dawud (d. 928 AD) discusses the various non-canonical readings of the Qur'an. It is accepted that the authorised version was produced around 650 AD.