Quran: Sana’a manuscript

Sana’a manuscript

“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message (Quran); and We will assuredly Guard it (from corruption). (Quran, 5:9)”

“It is upon Us to collect and compile it (Quran) and to promulgate it: (Quran,75:17)”

The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters (sūrahs) of varying length, revealed in Arabic language. The Qur’an, comprising 6236 verses (ayah) is unrivalled in its recording and preservation. The Prophet (peace be upon him) not only orally passed the Qur’an to the people of Arabia, he also made elaborate arrangements to ensure that its contents are preserved. The companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) participated in this preservation process in large numbers, through writing and memorizing the text and safely transferring to the next generation.  During the period of 3rd Caliph (644-656 C.E) Uthman, a large number of non-Arabs also embraced Islam, who were found to be reciting Qur’an in varied dialects. Uthman in consultation with all the companions, got the copies of Qur’an written in accordance with the dialects and calligraphic style of the Quraysh, and these copies were placed in the major cities of the Muslim Caliphate, the expert reciters (Qari) to elucidate and teach the correct recitation were also made available. These copies served as the master copies for all the Muslims and numerous copies were prepared and circulated. Two of the master copies prepared by Uthman are still available in museums at Tashkent, and Istanbul, which are identical to any copy of Qur’an found in Indonesia, China, America, Australia, Morocco, France, Nigeria or any other part of the world. Thus the contribution of Uthman is not that he compiled the Qur’an for the first time, as is generally misunderstood, he in fact united the Muslims on one standard recitation of the Qur’an. …. keep reading >>>.

Was there something wrong with early Qur’anic fragments/specimens found in the great mosque of Sanaa in Yemen in 1972?

By Karim (He is a new convert to Islam, from the Netherlands)

Some christian missionaries quote Gerd Puin’s (old)  theory about the early quranic manuscripts found in the Sanaa mosque in Yemen, Gerd Puin assumed (not stated) that these found manuscripts differed from others quranic manuscripts , and therefore christian missionaries argue that the quran was changed in history etc. First i will quote the article about this issue commonly used by  some christian missionaries, after this i will give a response to this christian article.

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A Qur’an Palimpsest from the Sanaa Qur’ans

One of the big formate Hijazi Qur’ans, found in the Great Mosque in Sanaa, is a palimpsest from early 8th century. Here is a picture of one of its sheets:

Palimpsest of Codex Sanaa 01-27.1, Dâr al-MakhTûTât al-Yamanîya, Sanaa, (Photo: Gerd-Ruediger Puin; 1)

This codex is one of the Qur’an fragments/specimens which were found in 1972 in the loft of the Great Mosque in Sanaa, Yemen. [/b] These Yemeni Qur’ans were an object of scholarly research from 1980 onwards. Under the supervision of Dr. Albrecht Noth, Professor at the University of Hamburg, Dr. Gerd-Ruediger Puin was in charge of the scholarly as well as practical organization of the project from 1981 until 1985, when he was succeeded by his colleague Dr. Hans-Caspar Graf von Bothmer for another two years (2).

 The above piece of the palimpsest codex shows two layers of script. Both scripts are of the Hijazi type:

 Firstly, a dark brown script is part of surah 20:1-10 (surah Taahaa or al-kamiyl).

 Secondly, with some patience you will realize that under the darkbrown script traces of a light brown script are recognizable. This latter original script was washed off from the parchment so that it might be used again. The chess-boardlike pattern of the substrate is an artifact of the scanning procedure.

 Without applying special technical means the older script is not readable, but it is undoubtedly a Qur’anic text, too. This is to be seen easily by a peculiarity of both layers of writing: The washed off script as well as the second writing display verse separators, i.e. some simple geometrical point patterns. Even in the above small piece of the palimpsest one may recognize such separators in both layers of writing. Additionally at least one separator of surahs (two parallel lines crossing the page from right to left, again with some patterns between them) clearly can be recognized in the original script of the palimpsest codex (to be seen in the above piece). Such separators were used only in Qur’ans. There seems to be not any exception in non-Qur’anic texts within other early-Islamic writings.

 Why the older layer was wiped out cannot be said definitely untill it can be read in detail. But there is hardly any other explanation for this replacement of a Qur’anic text by another one conceivable than that the older text version might have scandalized theologians or other people in power or charge. This doesn’t necessarily imply an alteration of the very text, since the formative period of the Qur’anic text already may have been completed, when the first script was written. Most probably the arrangement of the surahs was altered. And this hypothesis is corroborated by the fact that amongst the findings in Sanaa there are indeed Qur’ans with an arrangement of surahs different from the transmitted Qur’an.


 1. Hans-Caspar Graf von Bothmer, Karl-Heinz Ohlig,  Gerd-Ruediger Puin:  “Neue Wege der Koranforschung”. magazin forschung (Universitaet des Saarlandes, Saarbruecken) 1/1999, p. 33-46; courtesy of Dr. Gerd-Ruediger Puin.

 2.  Gerd-Ruediger Puin  : “Observations on Early Qur’an Manuscripts in San’a'”. – Stefan Wild (ed.), The Qur’an As Text, Leiden/New York/Koeln (E. J. Brill) 1996, p. 107-111

 Source; http://www.christoph-heger.de/palimpse.htm


As regard to the Sana’a Mss, there is nothing “shocking” about its discovery. At most, it is claimed that there is a fragment where the end of sura (chapter) 26 is followed by 37. But this amounts to nothing, since it is permissable to place suras in any order in a partial mushaf. So this is hardly “news” or a “shocking” discovery.

Moreover, after the publication of the Atlantic Monthly,  Puin wrote a letter in which he revealed:

“The important thing, thank God, is that these Yemeni Qur’anic fragments do not differ from those found in museums and libraries elsewhere, with the exception of details that do not touch the Qur’an itself, but are rather differences in the way words are spelled. This phenomenon is well-known, even in the Qur’an published in Cairo in which is written:

 Ibrhim next to Ibrhm

Quran next to Qrn

Simahum next to Simhum

 In the oldest Yemeni Qur’anic fragments, for example, the phenomenon of not writing the vowel alif is rather common.” 

Prof. Azami comments:

“This deflates the entire controversy, dusting away the webs of intrigue that were spun around Puin’s discoveries and making them a topic unworthy of further speculation.” 

Source: Puin’s letter and Prof. Azami’s comments cited from: M. M. Azami, The History of the Qur’anic Text from Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, UK Islamic Academy, 2003 pp. 12

Some extra info:


Why would manuscripts have to be washed off or erased? What was wrong with them if the parchments were fit to be washed and then have the Quranic text rewritten upon them?


This was a common practice in ancient times. When enough of a manuscript’s writing wore off (ink does not bond to parchment like it does to paper), all of the writing was washed off to make the expensive parchment usable for a new text. This was an ancient way of recycling. The washing, fortunately for us, was not complete: that’s how earlier texts can be seen using ultraviolet light underneath newer texts. I believe a Christian manuscript (at St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai?) was examined a few years ago under ultraviolet light to reveal an earlier, lost Greek work.

Joh Bourdon:

What we have today in our hands is the Mushaf of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

source: J. Bourdon, The Collection Of The Qur’an, 1977, Cambridge University Press, pp. 239-240.

Recommended sites:

  1. http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/burton.html
  2. http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Mss/
  3.  http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/
  4.  http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sana’a_manuscript


Watt, Bell and Hewer on the preservation of the Qur’an

William Montgommery Watt was a historian and Emeritus Professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at Edinburgh University. Considered one of the most influential Western thinkers on Islam by non-Muslims and Muslims alike he was indeed a revered personality in the field of Islamic studies.

Richard Bell was a scholar of the Arabic language at Edinburgh University who was and remain as an important source of reference for those interested in the field of Qur’anic studies especially those who are in the business of critiquing the Qur’an.

Chris T. Hewer is grounded in Christian theology, Islamic studies and education. He is the St. Ethelburga Fellow in Christian-Muslim Relations in London.

The following are excerpts of views on the Qur’an by the above mentioned non-Muslim scholars two of whom(Watt & Bell) are very critical commentators on the Qur’an who do not shy from making critical remarks about it. None of them ever believed in the tenets of Islam. One can easily conclude that they had no hidden motives to promote Islam.

Is the Qur’an that we have today the Qur’an that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)?

Watt & Bell: “The very fact that varying and even contradictory deliverances have been preserved is strong proof that, with perhaps minor exceptions, we have the whole of what was revealed to Muhammad“ [1] (emphasis added)

“On general grounds then, it may be concluded that the ‘Uthmanic revision was honestly carried out, and reproduced, as closely as was possible to the men in charge of it, what Muhammad had delivered.” [2]

So that means the Qur’an that we have was meticulously preserved in the time of Uthman?

Watt & Bell: “Whatever may have been the form of the Qur’an previously, it is certain that the book still in our hands is essentially the ‘Uthmanic Qur’an…the commission under Zayd must be adjudged to have achieved a wonderful piece of work.” [3]

Is the Qur’an well preserved?

Hewer: “The earliest manuscripts of the Qur’an, which probably date from the early eighth century, are preserved in museums in Tashkent, Sanaa and Istanbul. It must be emphasized repeatedly that the primary deposit of the Qur’an was and still is in the hearts of the memorizers, for whom any written form acted only as an aide memoire. This emphasis prevents any thoughts of discrepencies entering into the recited text. This process of memorization and compilation and compilation of the written form means that the science of manuscript criticism, which is central to New Testament scholarship, is almost non-existent in Islam, as almost no variant readings in ancient manuscripts exist.” [4]

Can the writing style of the Qur’an be imitated?

Hewer: “The Qur’an says of itself that God will preserve it intact without error for all time (Q. 15.9). This is regarded as the primary miracle of Islam. It also challenges those who doubt it, to bring forward ten verses of comparable eloquence of their own composition (Q. 2.23); 52.34). Scholars are agreed that this has not been done. The Qur’an is written in a style that is party poetic but truly unique and unlike any other form of literature in the Arabic language.” [5]

For more information on the preservation of the Qur’an please refer to our article on the subject Preservation and Reliability of the Qur’an


[1] Watt, W. M. (1970). Bell’s Introduction to the Qur’an. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 56

[2] Ibid. p. 51

[3] Ibid. p. 44

[4] Hewer, C. T. R. (2006). Understanding Islam: the First Ten Steps. London: SCM Press. p. 52

[5] Ibid.


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