Supposedly, a Koran written and dated to 12 years after the death of Muhammad (may peace not be upon him) has been found in Birmingham, England. The academics on the project, many of them understandably Muslim, can barely conceal their school boy giddiness at the find:
Prof Thomas says the dating of the Birmingham folios would mean it was quite possible that the person who had written them would have been alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad."The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally - and that really is quite a thought to conjure with," he says.
I remember some years ago, historians discovered one of the small and seemingly random scraps of paper recovered at Nag Hammadi contained a sentence from the Gospel of Mark. The paper had been dated to about 45-50 AD. Instead of something analogous to the response above, we were told "this isn't Mark's Gospel, this is the tradition that later people used to make up Mark's gospel," a dish of cold shoulder followed by a dessert on the "historical Jesus."
Interestingly, the article does not speculate about Muhammad and Islam in the same way academics loosely speculate about early Christianity. Islam is fertile ground for speculation. If the dating of this Koran is indeed authentic, it would have to indicate a tradition formed around nomadic tribes living near mercantile areas in Arabia rather than the expansive Arab Empire that filled the void left by the Byzantines and their enemies. There is no mention of Muhammad, the Koran, or the religion in the documents, letters, and archaeological record of the various regions of the Arab Empire, which we are to believe conquered vast expanses of Africa and Asia to spread this new faith, for a century after the fact. In all likelihood, the Empire already existed and used this local tradition as the glue to bind a culturally diverse expanse of territories.
Christians already populated enough of Rome during the time of Nero to be worth persecuting and mocking. They wrote letters, they built churches, and they recorded what they did, yet we still hear about this fictive "historical Jesus." This artifact, in contrast, is the first evidence for Muhammad's existence before the mid-eighth century. When will we get to hear about the "historical Muhammad", who might have existed after all?