Sunday, May 15, 2005

private and public libraries (continued)

It would be appropriate to mention here some of the public and private libraries that have been mentioned in history:

1. Maktabat al Khulafa’ al-Fatimiyyah, Cairo

This library of the Fatimid Caliphs of Cairo was one of the most famous one of that time. This was a wonderful library containing the finest copies of the Quran and other books, of which there were 2 million in number, although Maqrizi is of the opinion that it comprised 1.6 million books.

2. Dar al-Hikma, Cairo

Instituted by Hakim ibn Amrullah, this library was inaugurated on 10th Jumada of 365 AH, when its building was decorated and the floor draped with the best carpets, and the supervisory and managerial staff assigned. It was a magnificent collection of books, quite unlike any that a monarch had made before. It had forty sections, each comprising eighteen thousand books, including all kinds on ancient sciences and arts. It was open to everyone. Some people would go there for study, others to copy books and yet others only to acquire knowledge. Stationery of every description was supplied to the visitors of this library free of charge.

3. Bayt al Hikma, Baghdad

Another such library was Bayt al Hikma of Baghdad, founded by Harun al-Rashid which reached its peak during the rule of Ma’mun al-Rashid. It was similar to a university where people would discuss, read and write together. It used to have scribes and translators who would translate books acquired by Harun al-Rashid and Ma’mun al-Rashid after the Conquests of Ankara, Amuriyyah and Cyprus. Ibn Nadim related that there was lengthy correspondence between Ma’mun al-Rashid and the Roman King whom he had defeated in some battles. One of the conditions of the treaty between them was that the Roman King would allow the translation of all the books in his dominion and the translation work would be undertaken by those whom Ma’mun would appoint for this purpose. So it was, and the entire Roman stock of books was rendered into Arabic. It is golden example in history that a conqueror gave no greater importance to a conquest than the transfer of sciences and arts for the benefit of his people and his nation.

4. Maktabah al-Hakam, Andalusia

This library was very spacious and magnificent. It is said to have comprised 250,000 books. Its catalogues were very nicely prepared and gave every detail so much so that the catalogue of the collections of the poetical works alone comprised forty-four sections. The expert scribes were permanently employed there. Similarly, the services of the book binders were also available, with the result that Andalusia came to have a larger stock of books than ever before or ever since.

5. Maktabah Bani `Ammar, Tripoli

This library was a sign from the signs of Allah in terms of its spaciousness and grandiosity. The number of scribes alone was one hundred and eighty, who copied books within the stipulated time. They had shifts of duties around the clock, so that the copying business might continue uninterrupted. Banu `Ammar had such avidity for collecting new and rare books that he employed some officers and traders to tour different parts of their own country and also other countries to collect books for their library. Opinions differ regarding the number of books in this library although an accurate opinion is that it comprised a million books.

The Islamic world was full of private libraries, both in the East and West. There was hardly any learned man not possessing a library of his own comprising thousands of books:

1. Library of Fattah ibn Khaqan

Among such personal libraries that of Fattah ibn Khaqan (d. 247 AH) is very well known. It was a very spacious library. He had appointed the best learned man of his age, `Ali bin Yahya al-Munajjim, to look for and collect books. These books were not to be found elsewhere.

2. Library of Ibn Khashshab

The library of Ibn Khashshab (d. 567 CE) also comes under this category of libraries. He was an expert in nahw [syntax] and had good knowledge of tafsir [Quranic commentary], hadith logic and also philosophy. His love of books touched the limits of madness. This mad love for books compelled him to take to certain evil practices also in the collection of books. When he went to the bookseller and wanted to purchase any good book he would tear off certain pages of that book by stealth while pretending to examine it and then compelled the bookseller to sell the damaged book at a much cheaper price. Similarly, when he borrowed a book from some friend, he would usually pretend to have misplaced it and then keep it for himself.

3. Library of Jamaluddin al-Qifti

The library of Jamaluddin al-Qifti (d. 648 AH) was famous. He collected innumerable books. Due to his generosity, people from all sides would come to his place. Books were his first and last love, almost his craze, and he had dedicated his life to them. For this reason he did not marry because of the apprehension of being tangled in managing a house and looking after a family. At the time of his death he bequeathed his collection of books to Nasir. It was worth fifty-thousand dinars.

4. Library of Banu Jaradah

The library of the learned men of Banu Jaradah of Aleppo is also famous. One of these persons, Abu al-Hasan ibn Abi jaradan (d. 548 AH) wrote books to fill three libraries with his own hand – one for himself, one for his son Abu Barakat and a third for his grandson `Abdullah.

5. Library of Mawfiq ibn al-Matran

Mawfiq ibn al-Matran Damishqi (d. 587 CE) also had a famous library. He showed great fortitude and ambition in the procurement of books. At his death his collection of books on medical sciences and other disciplines comprised ten-thousand volumes. He had employed three scribes who were always busy copying books for his library. He paid them salaries and provided other necessities also.

If the hearts are filled with happiness when discussing the spread of libraries across the Islamic world in the glory days, then it should be filled with sadness and remorse when discussing the fate of these libraries as they were exposed to ruin and fire, the loss of which cannot be counted. Millions of books were destroyed and humanity is now deprived of them. It was the most expensive intellectual tradition of Islamic Civilization…

Dr Mustafa Siba`i
(from Chapter 11: Private and Public Libraries)


*this marks the end of my sharing of this book. i apologize for the lengthy entries, but it sure is a good read.
*i am currently perusing through THE CHINESE DILEMMA (ye lin-sheng), which was given to me by my mom, while *lazily* trying to complete dr malik badri's book on 'tafakkur' (CONTEMPLATION: AN ISLAMIC PSYCHOSPIRITUAL STUDY)... care to join? how bout sharing your current reading material?

rabbana na`uudhu bika min `adhaabin fin-naari wa min `adhaabin fil-qabr
[Our Lord, we take refuge in You from torment in the fire and punishment in the grave]


At 8:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jazaak Allahu khairan, akhi. May Allah elevate your status in jannah for each word of knowledge you convey to us.


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