koran older Muhammed
© Wikimedia Commons"DiezAlbumsStudyingTheKoran" by unknown / (of the reproduction) Staatsbibliothek Berlin/Schacht - Dschingis Khan und seine Erben (exhibition catalogue), München 2005, p. 266.
Scholars believe a copy of the Koran held in England may be even older than the Prophet Muhammad.

Carbon dating of a fragment from a Koran stored at a Birmingham library suggests that the book was produced between 568 and 545 A.D., said scientists at the University of Oxford, but Islamic scholars generally believe Muhammad lived between 570 and 632 A.D.

If the carbon dating is accurate, the Koran was made before the first formal text was assembled on orders from the caliph Uthman in 653 — and it could date from Muhammad's childhood or even before his birth, reported The Times of London.

That's comparable to the discovery of gospel sayings dating from Jesus Christ's infancy, academics say.

Muslim scholars strongly dispute the findings, which contradict most accounts of the prophet's life, but some historians say evidence was mounting that traditional accounts of Islam's origins are unreliable.

"It destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Koran emerged — and that in turn has implications for the historicity of Mohammed and the Companions [his followers]," said Tim Holland, the author of In The Shadow of the Sword.

Other very old Korans suggest that holy verses circulated in written form before Muhammad's death.

Keith Small, of Oxford's Bodleian Library, cautioned that carbon dating was done only on the Koran's parchment and not its ink, but he said the dates were probably accurate.

"If the dates apply to the parchment and the ink, and the dates across the entire range apply, then the Koran — or at least portions of it — predates Mohammed, and moves back the years that an Arabic literary culture is in place well into the 500s," he said.

Small said that would lend credibility to the historical view that Muhammad and his followers collected text that was already in circulation to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than receiving revelations from heaven.

"This would radically alter the edifice of Islamic tradition and the history of the rise of Islam in late Near Eastern antiquity would have to be completely revised, somehow accounting for another book of scripture coming into existence 50 to 100 years before, and then also explaining how this was co-opted into what became the entity of Islam by around AD700," Small said.

Muslim scholars, however, said the dates confirm that the Koran had faithfully preserved for more than 1,350 years the words passed on by Muhammad to his followers.

"If anything, the manuscript has consolidated traditional accounts of the Koran's origins," said Mustafa Shah, from London's School of Oriental and African Studies.