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

(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 reponse to this christian article.



Christian article = blue

Islamic response = black





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-MakhTűTât 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 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.


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



Recommended sites:












Rebuttals and exposing the lies of the "Answering Islam" team.

Respones to the so-called "contradictions" in the Noble Quran.

Responses to the so-called "textual errors" in the Noble Quran.

Brother Karim's section.

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