Education & Family

Prince Charles warns of cultural destruction on UAE visit

Prince Charles Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prince Charles has presented a replica of the Birmingham Koran on his visit to the UAE

The Prince of Wales, on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, has warned of the deliberate destruction of "mankind's cultural heritage".

Prince Charles was presenting a digital replica of what could be oldest fragment of the Koran, discovered last year by the University of Birmingham.

In a written foreword, he hailed this "extraordinary" manuscript.

But he warned "so much of mankind's cultural heritage is being deliberately destroyed or threatened".

Prince Charles said these "remarkable leaves... represent a sacred document of immense of religious and cultural significance to people across the globe".

The display launches a year of cultural collaboration between the UK and the UAE, with the replica of the Koran fragments being presented to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

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Media captionHow the BBC broke the news of the discovery of the ancient Koran

Prince Charles said the manuscript's discovery had "captured the world's imagination".

"At a time when so much of mankind's cultural heritage is being deliberately destroyed or threatened, we can only be heartened by the discovery of a previously unrecognised treasure," he wrote.

The so-called Islamic State group has deliberately smashed historical artefacts and cultural sites in Iraq and Syria.

Symbolic return

The original Koran fragment, at least 1,370 years old, remains in the University of Birmingham.

The university had held the manuscript since the 1920s, but when it was radio-carbon dated last year it was found to be much older than anyone had expected.

The range of dates, established by tests carried out by the University of Oxford, showed that the manuscript was among the earliest surviving fragments of the Koran and could be the oldest in existence.

Image caption The manuscript in Birmingham is one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the world

The parchment, with verses of the Koran written on either sheep or goatskin, was put on public display in Birmingham.

But for the first time, a digital replica of the manuscript has been taken out of the UK and is being put on show at events in the United Arab Emirates.

It will also mark the symbolic return, at least in replica form, of a manuscript that was made in the Middle East in the earliest years of the Muslim faith.

An investigation into the likely origin of the Birmingham manuscript showed that it was related to a similar document held in Paris, which had been brought to Europe by a vice-consul of Napoleon.

'Huge significance'

The Birmingham manuscript had been acquired in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, an Assyrian, from what is now modern-day Iraq, whose collecting trips to the Middle East were funded by the Cadbury family.

The university's vice-chancellor, Sir David Eastwood, said the Birmingham Koran manuscript was of "huge significance to Muslim heritage and the academic study of Islam".

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Image caption The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall visited a mosque on their visit to the UAE

But he said that there might be other "hidden treasures" in the Mingana Collection at the university, which represented one of the biggest collections of such material in Europe.

There have been claims that the fragment in Birmingham is of even greater significance in the history of the Koran.

Jamal bin Huwaireb, managing director of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, an educational foundation set up by the ruler of Dubai, said that he believes the pages discovered in Birmingham are from the first Koran commissioned by Abu Bakir Al Siddiq, the first caliph after the Prophet Muhammad, who reigned between 632 and 634.

"I personally examined this ancient parchment. In my opinion these fragments of the holy Koran were neatly written on a special material and have been produced for someone important such as the caliph.

"What is most particularly crucial is that the words in this ancient document perfectly match the words we Muslims read in the Koran today," said Mr bin Huwaireb.

Image caption 1: In summer 2015 two leaves of an ancient Koran at the University of Birmingham were identified and dated as being much earlier than anyone had anticipated and among the oldest in the world. 2: The National Library of France, Paris has leaves from the same Koran, brought from Egypt by a vice consul under Napoleon. 3: The Mosque of Amr ibn al-As in Fustat, Egypt. The fragments of the Koran in Birmingham are believed to have come from this ancient mosque. 4: Alphonse Mingana was born near Zakho in modern-day Iraq in 1878. He brought the manuscript to Birmingham from the Middle East on a collecting trip in the 1920s funded by the Cadbury family.

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