This is according to Michael Marx, German researcher of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (BBAW) and manager of the Corpus Coranicum project, which is currently underway at the academy.
Michael Marx paid a visit to Iran a few weeks ago to give a couple of academic lectures on Corpus Coranicum, the project’s latest findings, analyses of old Quran manuscripts and use of empirical methods, in particular carbon dating, to study the history of the Quran.
IQNA conducted an interview with the researcher during his visit to Tehran on the carbon dating of the old Quranic manuscripts and some other relevant issues.
Below is a rough transcription of what the German researcher said.In the framework of the ongoing German-French project called Coranica, which is being jointly conducted by Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres in Paris and die Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin, we have been enquiring about the manuscripts that were once in the Mosque of Amr Ibn Al-As in Cairo, Egypt. The project is funded by French and German research foundations. We want to explore Quran fragments which are spread over many countries.
If you want to engage in a historical approach, you have to know time and place. That means we did a large campaign on radiocarbon dating. Maybe it is the first systematic campaign dating more than twenty early fragments supported by the German Research Foundation (DFK) in a German-French project labeled Coranica.
For the time being, we know a little bit that we have very early witnesses. It’s also good to see where this early evidence is, how old the available kufic and Hijazi manuscripts are, and where they are likely to be found.
We are in contact with 8 great renowned Quranic collections in Iran and hopefully we can get some knowledge here. Sometimes the collections have catalogues. In this case we try to order images and in some other cases they do not. So we try to find information for them. We engage at the moment to find out if there is any kind of possible cooperation with interested scholars and Institutions.
We hope to obtain permission to study Quran collections kept in Iranian libraries in Tehran, Qom, and other places because this will help us to understand the development of the rich cultural heritage of a very important text, and to discover where these earliest manuscripts of the Quran are coming.
Above all, it is up to Iranian Quranic manuscripts collectors to decide and respond to our request and whatever the decision would be, we will accept it with respect.
Historic enquiry into religion is not anymore exotic in Germany as we have five or six million Muslims in the country. They have a strong community and there is a sincere interest on the German side to know about Islam and its main scripture. In Germany, one way to deal with a new thing is to enquire history.
Our project is simply academic and does not concern political or social issues. It is being conducted by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (in German, die Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften or BBAW). We are not controlled by the government. We are funded by money from the tax payers in the German system which is completely different from the money owned by the Government. The government is not allowed to influence or control us because the report of our activities is submitted to the German Academy of Sciences and we do not report to the government or any ministry.
We receive budget based on our scientific priorities. For instance, I am now working with an Iranian colleague that is working with our team with a dedicated budget. I think that it is a good move to check the Quranic collections here in Iran. I could have spent the budget for other countries like Mexico or South Africa but I refused invitations from these countries because it is difficult to justify the spending as there are considerably fewer old Quranic manuscripts in these countries than in your rich country, Iran.
Some rich and large collections of early Quranic manuscripts accessible for us so that we could study and experience so far are from Russia, England, France, Germany, Denmark, Chicago, and Madrid. But we would like to extent our research especially with Iran because we know that Iran has large Quranic collections. I have the impression that neighboring countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia have fewer collections pertaining to early Islamic era. But this is only an impression.
Sometime there is huge neglect about cultural heritage as we do not really care about our history and culture, and this has nothing to do with religion. For some, Quran is only a sacred text used exclusively for religious and spiritual purposes. They think sacred scriptures should not be investigated or put under scientific or laboratory experiments. This is a specifically historical approach and completely legitimate. I think that most Iranians are interested in scientific researches and discoveries including advancements in identifying and determining more precisely than before Quranic manuscripts by means of top notch technologies and methods such as carbon dating.
It is worth noting that Coranica is a big project that has been jointly conducted by Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres in Paris and die Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin
The Coranica project gives priority to an empirical approach, contributing to the history of the Quranic text based primarily on material evidence, distributed chronologically, and less on the data of the Arabo-Islamic tradition. As part of its empirical approach, Coranica aims to take into account current developments and the latest discoveries. These include continuing and amplifying the research on older written witnesses of the Quran.
Coranica provides a platform for cooperation between those in the fields of antiquity and Islamic studies. The project brings together researchers from various disciplines from Germany, France, England, Austria and Italy. Coranica began in 2011, and is directed by Christian Robin and François Deroche (AIBL, Paris) and Michael Marx and Angelika Neuwirth (BBAW, Berlin).
The Coranica project supports and complements the Corpus Coranicum project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences.
Corpus Coranicum was created in 2007 by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, with the goal of completing three objectives by 2024:
Textual documentation by collecting the oldest Quranic manuscripts and analysis of oral transmission as described in the Muslim tradition, especially that of the tenth and eleventh centuries.
Second, the project has already analyzed known religious and literary sources dated to Late Antiquity (Texts from the Environment of the Quran). This provides a reconstruction of the spiritual and religious environment of the first Muslim community in western Arabia.
Third, following the approach of Theodor Nöldeke (1836-1930) and Angelika Neuwirth, Corpus Coranicum produced a literary commentary, designed with reference to the textual and contextual documentation of the text, in order to describe literary forms within the corpus of the Quranic revelations. The issue of internal chronology of the Quranic text is also covered in this part of the project.