Libraries of the Muslim World (859-2000)

by Zakaria Virk Published on: 26th November 2019

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The Muslim World acquired the art of paper-making in the eighth century in Persia, ultimately Muslims brought papermaking to India and Europe. Public libraries appeared in Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba where books were made of paper. As the graven images were forbidden, calligraphy became one of the elegant aspects of Islamic books.

“I cannot live without books” Thomas Jefferson

Public Libraries were first introduced by the Greeks.

Libraries are considered teachers of the teachers. The word Library is derived from the Latin word liber, meaning book, whereas bibliotheca is a Greek word for the library used in German and Romance languages.

The Muslim World acquired the art of papermaking in the[1] eighth century in Persia, ultimately Muslims brought papermaking to India and Europe. Public libraries appeared in Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba where books were made of paper. As graven images were forbidden, calligraphy became one of the elegant aspects of Islamic books.

Public Libraries in the Muslim world were known by various names like Bayt al-Hikmah, Khizanat al-Hikmah, or Dar al-Hikmah, or Dar al- ‘ilm, Dar al-KutubKhizanat al-Kutub and Bayt al-Kutub, kitab-khana (Iran), kutuphane (Turkey). There were madrassa libraries, public and private libraries,[2] Palace libraries, Imperial libraries, and libraries attached to hospitals.

First Arab library was founded by Umayyad Caliph Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufiyan (602-680) in Damascus.[3] Much of the book industry revolved around the mosque. Most of the small libraries were part of the mosques, whose primary purpose was copying of books from Greek, Pahlavi, Syriac and Sanskrit into Arabic. Lectures, debates and discussions on a wide range of religious, scientific and philosophical issues of the day were debated at mosques, which also served as courts. According to 14th-century legendary traveller Ibn Battuta (1368), the Damascus booksellers market was close to the Great Umayyad mosque; in addition to books, the merchants there sold all the tools of the literary trade, from reed pens, inks, leather, hard paper, glue, to fine paper. Traditionally Muslims bequeathed their book collections to the mosques.[4]

There were three great libraries in the Muslim World: the Abbasid library ‘House of Wisdom’ in Baghdad, the library of Fatimid Caliphs in Cairo and library of Spanish Umayyad Caliphs in Cordoba.

ConstitutionsFigure 1. There are 62 countries in the Muslim World, population 1.6 billion, around 2000 libraries.

Since the 9th century, many more libraries housed books of exact sciences. Some of these libraries were privately owned, while others were established by Caliphs, Emirs (governors), Sultans and Viziers. For instance, in Abbasid Mosul there existed a large library called Khizanat al-Kutub. Similarly, a wealthy textile trader, Ali b. Muhammad al-Bazzaz (942), was said to have possessed a Bayt al-‘ilm (library; lit. house of science or knowledge).

By the 10th century, there was a proliferation of libraries and schools, which had been founded in Basra, Isfahan, Nishapur, Rayy, Damascus and Cairo. Some of the books in similar libraries were listed by Ibn al-Nadim in his bibliographical compilation Kitab al-Fihrist and in Ibn al-Qifti’s biographies of scientists and philosophers, Ta’rikh al-Hukama’, Ibn Abi Usaybiyah’s ‘Uyun al-Anba’ fi-Tabaqat al-Atibba’ and, for Muslim Spain, by Ibn Juljul’s Tabaqat al-Atibba’ wa’l-Hukama’. These works provide biographical and bibliographical information about Muslim scientists and philosophers of all ethnic backgrounds up to the 13th century. Modern historians and bibliographers of Islamic science, including George Sarton (d1956), Carl Brockelmann and Fuat Sezgin, have identified and described manuscripts and printed books on the history of Islamic science.[5]

  1. Al-Qarawiyyan, one of the oldest libraries in the world

The al-Qarawiyyan library was established in 859, in Fez, Morocco, by Fatima El-Fihriya, daughter of a rich immigrant from modern-day Tunisia. Considered to be the oldest library in Africa, the Al-Qarawiyyan also holds the distinction of being the world’s oldest working library, that is, it has been in continuous use since its establishment. El-Fihriya (d880 فاطمة الفهرية) was well-educated; a scholar and devout Muslim woman who decided to dedicate her rich inheritance to the advancement of religious and science education. She established an educational Centre and a library, holding ancient manuscripts in theology, law, astronomy, & grammar that date as far back as the 7th century.[5]

Most notables are Ibn-Khaldun’s 14th century “Muqadimmah”, a 9th century Quran written in Kufic calligraphy, and a manuscript on the Maliki School of Islamic jurisprudence by Spanish jurist and philosopher Ibn Rushd (1198). The Al-Qarawiyyan complex enlarged over the centuries today includes a mosque, library, and university. According to UNESCO, this is the oldest operational educational institution in the world, with a high-profile role call of alumni.

Mystic poet and philosopher Ibn Al Arabi (1165-1240) studied there in the 12th century, historian and economist Ibn Khaldun attended in the 14th century, while in medieval times, Al-Qarawiyyin played a leading role in the transfer of knowledge between Muslims and Europeans. Over the centuries the building had fallen into disrepair and environmental factors ravaged its contents but the historical manuscripts always remained accessible to scholars and academics.

Recently, the Moroccan government commissioned a Moroccan-born Canadian architect Prof. Aziza Chaouni, to renovate and rehabilitate the library to its original splendour. Dr Chaouni who teaches at the University of Toronto, undertook the delicate and ambitious task of restoring the main features of the building such as the courtyard fountains, intricate tile work, and a 12th-century cupola, to look as close to original as possible.

The library has been working on the digitization of ancient manuscripts to make them available to the world and about 20 per cent of them are now available in electronic format. The restored library, which took nearly four years to complete and is climate-controlled for the preservation of manuscripts, re-opened to the public in May 2016.[6]

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  1. Baytul Hikma (House of Wisdom) Baghdad

“The House of Wisdom was founded by Caliph Harun al-Rashid (ruled786–809) and culminated under his son Caliph al-Mamun (r 813–833), who is credited with its formal institution. Al-Mamun is also credited with bringing many well-known scholars to share information, ideas, and culture in the House of Wisdom. Based in Baghdad from the 9th to 13th centuries, besides Muslim scholars, Hindu, Jewish & Christian scholars were allowed to study here. They translated books into Arabic and preserved them, and scholars at House of Wisdom made many remarkable original contributions in diverse fields.


Figure 2.

Baytul Hikma consisted of a library, translation bureau, observatories, reading rooms, and living quarters for scientists & administration buildings. One of the scholars employed here was Elan al-Sha’oobi, under his supervision ancient manuscripts were copied. Abu Sahal and Abu al-Fazal bin Naubakht were delegated with the task of expanding the library. The influential minister Yahya bin Khalid Barmaki invited Hindu scholars and had Sanskrit books translated into Arabic. Because Yahya Barmaki was Iranian, he had many Persian books translated into Arabic by Abu Sahal and Abul-Fazal. When Haroon al-Rashid received books from his adventures in Rome and Amudiyya, he instructed physician Yohanna ma-Sawiyya to translate these Greek works into Arabic.

Baytul al-Hikma had in its treasures works on almost every subject and in every language. Haroon al-Rashid sent envoys to various countries to procure books.[7] Besides rare manuscripts in Arabic, he acquired manuscripts in Sanskrit, Zend-Avista, Persian, Syriac and Coptic languages by paying the top prices for each book.

Attached to the library was the translation bureau where famous scholars and eminent translators rendered books into Arabic. There were Hindu, Christian, Jewish and Parsi scholars who were equally deemed estimable. They were paid handsome salaries. Ibn al-Nadeem (990) in his famous Kitab al-Fihrist (Index of books up to 987) and Ottoman scholar Haji Khalifa (Kâtip Çelebi 1657) in his Kasha al-Zanoon have listed all the books that were translated here. copy of Fihrist at Queen’s U. Kingston Canada

After the demise of Caliph Harun al-Rashid (809), his successor Mamun al-Rashid (833) purchased rare manuscripts for the library such as Poems from the pre-Islamic era, and eulogies, government documents, letters and agreements between states. For instance, there was a loan payment agreement signed by Abdul Muttalib bin Hashim (578), grandfather of Prophet Muhammad (saw). Caliph Mamun requested the ruler of Sicily to send all those books that were locked up in an abandoned house on the Island and no one had access to it. Upon receipt of the books, Mamoon gave this treasure to Sahal bin Haroon for translation as he was director of the library at the time. When Mamoon prevailed in the war against the Byzantines, he stipulated in the peace treaties that certain Greek manuscripts be sent to Baghdad. For this purpose mathematician and translator, al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf ibn Matar (833) was nominated to bring this treasure to Baghdad for Bayt al-Hikma. (Fihrist Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Nadim)

Note: Statute of Haroon al-Rashid, 5th Abbasid Caliph was destroyed by ISIL/al-Nusra in 2013 located in al-Rashid Park, city of Raqqa.

The staff of Bayt al-Hikma, included a director, scribes, translators, astronomers, scientists and bookbinders. Ibn Abi al-Hareesh was a famous bookbinder here. People belonging to different faiths like Parsi, Christian, Jews and Hindus were employed here, of which Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Hakim Royani, Yohanna ma-Sawiyya, Qusta ibn Luqa, Sahal bin Haroon and Abu Jaafar bin Adi, Musa al-Khwarizmi, al-Fadl ibn Nawbakht, Mashallah are most celebrated. Instruction here included theology, algebra, geometry, physics, biology, medicine, & logic.

Figure 3. – Kitab al-Fihrist online

Figure 5. Modern-day Baytul Hikma, Baghdad

  1. Haroon al-Rashid’s vizier, Yahya ibn Khalid Barmaki (806) had a vast personal library which was adorned with Greek, Coptic, Sanskrit and Farsi volumes. There were 3 copies of each book. When a new book came out, it was first shown to Yahya Barmaki as he was the only one who would pay one thousand dirhams for any new book. Under his influence, the Caliph invited to Baghdad many Buddhist scholars from India, who prepared Kitab al-Budd, a biography of Buddha. The philosopher of the Arabs and the first Muslim scholar to reconcile faith and reason, Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (866) had a rich personal library which was confiscated by jealous Banu Musa brothers; it was restored to him subsequently.
  2. Caliph Mutwakkil‘s (822-861) boon companion Fatah ibn Khaqan (861) established a library in Baghdad whose director (sahib khazanatul kutub) was famous scientist Ali ibn Yahya Munajjam. Khaqan was an avid reader and “the greatest bibliophile of his day”.[8] Ali ibn Yahya had his personal library, so he transferred many of his books to the Ibn Khaqan library. Many scholars penned books, especially for the library, one of whom was prose writer & zoologist Abu Usman ibn Jahiz (869). Doors of this library were open to all. It was pillaged by soldiers of Tughral Beg Saljooki (d1063).
  3. Ali ibn Yahya Munajjam (888) was director of Ibn Khaqan Library. His personal library in Baghdad was called Khizanatul Kutub. People from foreign countries came to see this library, stayed there and benefitted. All expenses were borne by Ali Ibn Yahya. It is said that the greatest astrologer of the Abbasid court Abu Ma’shar al-Falki (886) while going for Hajj from Khurasan especially stopped over in Baghdad to visit this unique library.

Figure 6. Page from a manuscript of the Algebra (Maqālah fi al-jabr wa-‘l muqābalah) of ‘Umar Al-Khayyām (1048-1131). Manuscript on paper, 56 leaves, 13th century. Columbia University Libraries, Smith Oriental MS 45.

  1. Library of Ishaq Mosuli (850) was an accomplished musician and a master of Hadith and grammar. His library in Baghdad housed incomparable books on grammar. Abul Abbas So’alab saw 1000 epistles in the library which had been studied by Mosuli.
  2. Vizier Sabur bin Ardsher (991) established in 894 in Karkh district of Baghdad a library which was called Dar’ul Ilm. Jurji Zaidan says there were ten thousand titles in this library. Every author donated a copy of his book. The library housed 100 handwritten copies of the Glorious Quran by famous copyists Khattat Banu Maqla. Leading scholars, philosophers and intellectuals of Baghdad gathered here to debate and discuss. Renowned blind writer, philosopher and poet from Aleppo, Abul A’la al-Ma’arri (1057) made use of this library, in fact when he visited Baghdad he spent most of his time here. (Biography of al-Ma’arri, page 34)[9]
  3. Muhammad bin Hussain al-Baghdadi’s library housed rare manuscripts and documents. No one had access to it except a few scholars. Ibn Nadim writes that he got permission from the owner with great difficulty. Ibn Nadim has given details of this library in his celebrated book al-Fihrist.

There were numerous libraries in monasteries and colleges of Baghdad. One of the colleges-Madrassa was Nizamiyya, its owner scholar and vizier of Seljuq Empire, Nizam al-Mulk Tusi (1092) had deposited here his valuable collection. The director of this library was Allama Abu Zakaria Tabrizi.

  1. The Library of Mustansariyya madrasah was founded by 36th Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir Bi’llah (1242) in 1227 on the left bank of the Tigris River. Upon completion, its opening ceremony took place with much fanfare. Leading scholars and jurists were appointed to give lectures. All the books from the royal library were loaded on 130 camels and deposited in the magnificent library. There were 80,000 rare and valuable manuscripts, one of which was a handwritten copy of Tarikh-e-Baghdad wa-Madinatul Islam (24 volumes, 7831 biographies, including titles of books and names of authors) by Abi Bakr al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (1071). The building was renovated in 1961.

Figure 7. Madrassa Mustanariyya, main entrance, Baghdad

The library survived the Mongol incursion. It was merged with that of Nizamiyah Madrasah in 1393, although this collection was subsequently dispersed or disappeared. After the Ottomans captured Baghdad in 1534 A.D., books from the palaces and libraries were taken as the spoils of war to become an important part of the royal library in Istanbul, and Al-Mustansiriyah was closed. .. The Mustansriya Madrasah is still functioning in a new building, and is now part of the Al-Mustansiriya University (Wikipedia)



  1. Libraries of Cairo Fatimid Caliphs (909-1171) were patrons of scholars and bibliophiles. Caliph Abu Mansur Nizar al-Aziz Bi’llah (955-996) was himself a scholar, wrote poetry, copied books and established a library in his palace in Cairo Khazai’n al-Qasoor, consisting of 40 rooms full of books on jurisprudence, grammar, literature, science of Hadith, history, astronomy, and chemistry. There were 200,000 volumes, of which 6000 were on mathematics and astronomy. There were 30 copies of Khalil ibn Ahmad Nahvi’s “Kitab al-Ain”, one-volume handwritten by the author. There were 1200 copies of Tarikh-e-Tabari, and 2400 copies of The Glorious Quran. Some books had binding of gold, with silver paintings. There were 2 globes, one made of silver which cost 3000 dinars and another made by Greek astronomer Ptolemy. The doors were open 24 hours for students. After the death of al-Aziz Bi’llah (r975-996), the collection was transferred to his successor al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah’s (996-1021) library.

Figure 8. Quran manuscript possibly from Fatimid royal library

Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah established a library in Cairo Darul Hikma (hall of science and wisdom), its objective was to propagate the Shi’i faith. Renowned scholars, jurists, and physicians took part in its inauguration. Patrons were allowed to not only read books but copy them also if needed. Pen, ink, paper were provided for this purpose. Many physicians, jurists, logicians, astronomers and mathematicians were employed here full time. Once Hakim bi-Amr Allah invited these scholars for a debate, after which everyone was given large sums of money. He had several houses and shops under ‘waqf’ – endowment – so as to look after the expenses of the library. It is estimated there were 100,000 volumes.

Jami’ah al-Azhar was founded in 970 during the time of Caliph Muizz al-din Allah (r953-975). Its library housed more than two hundred thousand volumes. Students from Turkey, Zanzibar, India and Afghanistan would travel to Cairo to study at the world’s oldest degree-granting University. Students received free housing, uniforms and no fee. There was no other library like al-Azhar in the entire Muslim world.

All the old schools and libraries in Egypt were destroyed except this one. During the time of al-Mustansir bi-Allah (r1021-1036) Turkish soldiers plundered the library, and hundreds of books were thrown mercilessly in the River Nile or burnt. Those that were saved, formed a heap in an open space which afterwards was called Tilal al-Kutub (heap of books). Despite this hundreds of books from caliphal libraries survived so much so that Sultan Salah al-Din ibn Ayub (1193) bestowed on his secretary and counsellor al-Qadi al-Fadil 120,000 manuscripts for his madrasah Qaf.[10]


Figure 9. al-Azhar library

“Although Al-Azhar University was founded in 1961, its library was established in 1005 by the ruling Fatimids; almost 600 before Oxford’s Bodleian Library and 440 years before the Vatican Library were established, respectively. By some counts, its collection includes 9,062 books and 595,668 manuscripts, dating to at least the 8th century”.

Mahmudiyya library of Cairo housed hundreds of rare items. Although it had a collection of 4000 volumes, but many were handwritten by the authors. Several prominent scholars were directors of this library, one of whom was Shaykh al-Islam Hafiz ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (r.a. d1449) who prepared two catalogues of this library. One catalogue was alphabetical and the other one according to subject matter. The library was part of madrasah Mahmudiyya which was founded by an Egyptian statesman Jamal al-Din Mahmud, a close advisor of Sultan Malik al-Zahir Sayf al-din Barquq (r1382-1399).

Egypt National Library (Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya) has 3 million printed books, 80,000 manuscripts, and a great number of papyri and coins. It was founded in 1870 and in 2002 was joined by Alexandria library as the Egyptian National Library.[11]

  1. Libraries of Iran

Adud al-Daula (r949-982) was emir of Buyid dynasty (934-1062) who at his height of power ruled an empire stretching from Makran as far as to Yemen and the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Friday sermon (khutba) was read in his name in Baghdad. He is widely regarded as the greatest monarch of the dynasty. The monarch is credited with sponsoring and patronizing scientific projects during his time. An observatory was built by his orders in Isphahan where astronomer Abd al-Rahman Sufi (903-986) worked. He built a famous public hospital known as the Al-‘Adudi Hospital.

In Shiraz, he established a glorious library with books written from the beginnings of Islam to his time. It was located inside the royal palace. There were a large number of tall bookshelves; the wood was painted with gold color. There was a separate room for each branch of knowledge. The library was looked after by a treasurer, and a director. Only reputable scholars had access to the library.

Figure 10. The Abdus Salam Library at the Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran 2012, was named after Prof. Dr. Abdus Salam (1926-1996) Muslim World’s first Nobel Laureate in physics 1979.

  1. The Library of Abu’l-Fadl ibn al-‘Amid (970) was also in the city of Shiraz. Its director was Ibn Miskawayh (932-1030) who was a chancery official of theBuyid era, philosopher and historian from Rey, Iran. He worked as a secretary and librarian for a number of viziers, including ‘Adud al-Dawla.

One of the secretaries of Adud al-Daula was abul Qasim Isma’el (Sahib ibn al-Abad) who had a stupendous library. He was not only interested in collecting books, but he was accompanied by poets, writers, & debaters. In his youth he was a companion of Abul Fadl ibn al-Amid, therefore he was called Sahib. After the death of ibn al-Amid (970) he was appointed minister of state. When Samanid ruler Nuh ibn Mansur offered him ministerial post, he excused himself by saying that my library is so big, that it could not be loaded onto 400 camels.

  1. Library of Tus – Tus is one of the oldest cities in Iran. It has produced great men like Niazm al-Mulk, Naseer al-Din Tusi and poet laureate Firdausi. The library of Tus was founded by Nizam al-Mulk, founder of madrasah Nizamiyah Baghdad.
  2. Mashhad library was attached to the mausoleum of Hazrat Ali Ibn Musa al-Raza, the 8th Shia Imam (818). The library was established around 974. There are books on Quran, Hadith, philosophy, logic and jurisprudence. The catalogue of the library is “fihrist kutub khana Astana Quds Rizvi”, in several volumes. Currently TheCentral Library of Astan Quds Razaviis a large library in MashhadIran. It holds over 1.1 million volumes. It is an international center for Islamic research, containing numerous manuscripts and rare works of the antiquity of Islamic history. Ali ibn Simjour endowed in 974 AD the oldest Quran to the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (AS). (Wikipedia)
  3. Library of Shiraz

“Islamic libraries were”, says Stuart Murray, “rich in diversity, allowing scholars from other lands to share the facilities. These libraries were known for their attractiveness and comfort, many adorned with the classic Islamic dome, some surrounded by walkways and landscaped by ponds. Among the most legendary library was that of Persian city of Shiraz, where there were more than 300 hundred chambers furnished with plush carpets. The library had thorough catalogs to help in locating texts, which were kept in the storage chambers and organized according to every branch of learning.”[12]

  1. Libraries of Syria

In all the major cities of Syria like Damascus, Aleppo and Tripoli there were libraries. Damascus was center of Islamic learning for many centuries. Umayyad princes Khalid ibn Yazid (704), Caliphs Abdul al-Malik bin Marwan (705), Hazrat Umar ibn Abd al- Aziz (720), established libraries here. Khalid was a book collector; he facilitated translations into Arabic of the existing Greek literature on alchemy. The Library of Ğāmi’ Banī ‘Umayya al-Kabīr – Umayyad Mosque housed rare & precious manuscripts, as well as a rich collection of documents. This mosque was founded by Caliph Walid I (715) at an immense cost. Mashaf-e-Osmani (copy of the Quran prepared by Hazrat Osman (r.a) was stored in this library for a long time. Ibn Batuta had seen a copy of this Quran which was sent by Hazrat Osman (r.a.) to the people of Syria.

Figure 11. Courtyard of Umayyad Mosque Damascus

During the 16th century there were 30 madrasas and 20 libraries in Damascus. Ibn Jubayr Andulasi (1217) says in his Rihla – (travelogue) that of all the madrasas Nur al-Din Zangi madrasah was the most elegant and awe-inspiring. Besides religious studies, physics, mathematics, astronomy and literature was taught. There were four medical schools and one engineering school. Each school had its own library.

  1. Library of Tripoli (Lebanon)

During the rule of the Shia family of Banu Ammar (Emirs of Tripoli -theoretically vassals of the Fatimid caliphs in Cairo), Tripoli was a major center of learning. The city became a lighthouse of learning, knowledge and literature. The city developed during the rule of Hasan bin Ammar, he founded a school with a stupendous library attached to it. By virtue of this library knowledge spread throughout the city, the city was called Dar al-Ilm. The library employed 180 copyists, of whom 30 copied books day and night. Emissaries were sent to other cities to buy books. It is estimated that there were 130,000 volumes, 50,000 copies of the Glorious Quran, and 20,000 commentaries of the Quran. When crusaders captured Tripoli, this library was plundered and burnt.

  1. Library of Aleppo

Aleppo’s main attraction for a long time was its glorious libraries. It is said Prophet Abraham lived here, had a herd of goats whose milk he used to go to people free. Milking in Arabic is Halab, that is how the city got its name Halab (Aleppo). Different families ruled over the city, one of which was Banu Hamdan whose ruler Saif al-Daula founded a library in the city. Saif al-Dawla was interested in literature; therefore most of the books in the library were on literature. One of the royal scientists of Saif al-Dawla was philosopher, and mathematician Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Farabi (872-950). Director of this library was eminent poet Muhammad ibn Hashem and his brother. (Maqalat-e-Shibli, Volume 6, page 161)


Figure 12. The Travels of ibn Jubayr 1184

Besides public or private libraries there were 80 libraries attached to educational institutions. Ibn Jubayr (1217) says in his famous travelogue (Rihla) that the library of Madrasah Khalifa was elegant and glorious, just like the grand mosque of Halab. There were grapevines in all the surroundings of the school; vines were so much laden with grapes that students could easily pick grapes. One of the rare books in the library was Mujammal al-Lugha ley ibn-al-faris. This rare manuscript was copied by Ibn Maymoon al-Baghdadi (546ah), from Baghdad the manuscript arrived in Aleppo.

  1. Libraries of Samarqand and Bukhara

Samarqand (Uzbekistan) occupies a special place in the history of book collection, dissemination and conservation. A Paper mill was established in this city in 751. Later on paper was produced in Baghdad in 793 and Cairo in 900. Introduction of paper made it possible to produce books easily, and it was a major factor in the spread of knowledge to far off places. Hulagu Khan (1218-65) established an observatory in Maragheh (Azerbaijan) in 1259 at the behest of his science adviser Khawaja Nasir al-Din Tusi (1274). Hülegü obtained a first-rate library and staffed his institution with notable Muslim and Chinese scholars. Funded by an endowment, research continued at the institution for at least 25 years after al-Ṭūsī’s death. All those books that were saved during the sack of Baghdad (1258) were moved to Samarqand.

Bukhara and Samarkand were the two cultural centers of the Samanid Empire (819-999). The city has long been a center of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion. Muhammad al-Bukhari (870), author of Hadith collection Sahih al-Bukhari, was born in this city. Bukhara was home to Prince of Physicians Shaikh Abu Ali Ibn Sena (980-1037).

Figure 13. A splendid view of Bukhara

Samanid ruler, Sultan of Bukhara Emir Nuh ibn Mansur (r976-997) had founded a fabulous library here. Prince of Physicians Ibn Sena (1037) gained much of his knowledge here. It is stated in Ibn Khallikan’s biographical dictionary:

Abu Ali … frequented his library, which was of incomparable richness, as it contained not only all the celebrated works which are found in the hand of the public, but others not to be met anywhere else and of which not only the titles but the contents were unknown. Here Abu Ali discovered treatise on the sciences of the ancients, and other subjects, the essence of which he extracted, and with the greater part of which sciences he became acquainted. It happened some time afterwards that this library was consumed by fire, and Abu Ali remained the sole depository of the knowledge which it contained. Some persons even said that it was he who set fire to the library.” ( ibn khallikan biographical dictionary)

“In Bukhara, there was a public library”, states Ehsan Masood,

“where scholars could simply drop in ask the librarian to get them a particular book from the library stacks off to the sides of the main hall, and then sit down to make notes.[13]

  1. Library of Ghazni (Afghanistan)

During the reign of Sultan Mahmud (r.998-1030) Ghazni’s library was considered one of the best in the world. Sultan Mahmud turned the city of Ghazna into a wealthy capital of an extensive empire by ransacking the riches from wealthy India. Though Mahmud waged ruthless campaigns and terrorized the people who came in his way in India, he patronized scholars, intellectuals, and scientists like al-Biruni and philosopher al-Farabi. An ardent patron of the arts, Mahmud attracted poets from all parts of Central Asia. Among these were Uzari, Asadi Tusi, & Unsuri. The distinguished poet Ferdowsi (1020), presented the epic poem Shahnameh (book of Kings) to him. It consisted of 60,000 verses, and it took him 27 years to compose it. Two historians Utabi and Bayhaqi were also his royal historians. Though he loved money passionately, he also spent it lavishly. A library, a museum, and a university were endowed at Ghazni.[14] Read more at

  1. Libraries of Islamic Spain

After the establishment of Islamic rule in Spain, Cordoba became the jewel of the Caliphate. The city was 24 miles long and 10 miles wide. Its population was one million. There were 380 mosques, 800 madrasahs and numerous personal and 70 public libraries. It was the center of learning and intellectual life, it was known as the city of bibliophiles; people who love books. The people of Cordoba also collected books for their homes. Those who owned personal libraries were regarded as important figures in Cordovan society. Books were stored in sandalwood cabinets; with a list showing books in each cabinet. Leather was used for bookbinding; some books had silver or gold lettering. One of its most famous buildings was the Cordoba Mosque. This building housed the largest university in Europe [15]at the time with over four thousand students. In the Dar al-Kitabat, there was a flock of scribes engaged in copying books, and an equal number of bookbinders. Librarian was given a salary. There was a market where only books were sold.

Lubna of Cordoba (984) was director of Cordoba library with 400,000 volumes, its catalogue was in 44 registers with 20 sheets each. It was in the palace of Cordoba, managed by eunuch Bakiya. Lubna was responsible to reproduce, write and translate new volumes. She was also palace secretary of Caliph Abd al-Rahman III (961) and his son al-Hakam (976). According to Arab chronicles at the time of al-Hakam II, there could be in some areas of Cordoba more than 170 women copying books, which not only gives the idea of culture, but also the place of women in the reign of enlightened Caliph.[16]


Figure 14. Ibn Rushd (1198), polymath from Islamic Spain holding a book. This statute is in the Jewish quarter of Cordova, which the author visited in 2000.

Dutch Arabic scholar Rheinhart Dozy (1883) opines that every person in Islamic Spain could read and write, while in Europe only priests and some aristocrats knew how to read and write. The rest were all illiterates.[17] According to Jurgi Zaidan there were 137 madrasahs and 70 libraries in Granada. Historian Maqqari said “people of Andalus have excelled in having libraries. There are many wealthy who are illiterate but are proud to have libraries in their houses.”

Caliph Al-Hakam II (A.D. 961-976) library was the most celebrated.

Not only did he patronize scholars”, says Phillip Hitti, “but he was a scholar in his own right. … he is credited with having founding 27 free schools in his capital, endowing chairs in the university started by Abd al-Rahman I in conjunction with the mosque, and enriching it with a library unequaled in content. … in quest of manuscripts his agents ransacked the bookshops of Egypt, Syria and Iraq… The Caliph maintained a private collection in the palace and left in his own hands marginal notes on some of its contents.”[18]

 Books written in Persia were dedicated to him. A descendant of Ummayad Caliph Abul Faraj al-Isfahani was sent one thousand dinars for his book Kitab al-Aghani. Library clerks, many of them women, carefully hand-copied the books while calligraphers and bookbinders created beautiful text and cover designs. Al-Hakam’s library was said to have contained more than 400,000 books, whose titles filled a 44-volume catalogue. There were universities in major cities Cordoba, Seville, Toledo and Granada equipped with vast libraries. The prestige of the royal library led to a spirit of competition between the viziers, and deputies, each wishing to attract scholars and the rarest library talents. When al-Hakam was pressured by the local clergy to forbid the wine drinking, however, he was reminded by his chief treasurer that it was largely the sin tax on wine which was paying for a new wing of Cordoba library.

As one historian observes:

Andalusia was, above all, famous as a land of scholars, libraries, book lovers and collectors…in Cordoba books were more eagerly sought than beautiful concubines or jewels…the city’s glory was the Great Library established by al-Hakam II…ultimately it contained four hundred thousand volumes…on the opening page of each book was written the name, date, place of birth and ancestry of the author, together with titles of his works, Forty eight volumes of catalogue incessantly amended, listed and described all titles and contained instructions on where a particular work could befound” Richard Erdoes, 1000AD Berkley, Seastone 1998, pp60-61

The Maliki Judge (Qazi) of Cordoba Abu al-Mu’tarrif ibn Futays Abd al-Rahman (1011) was a great collector books, had six copyists working for him. He never lent a work but would get it copied and make a gift of it. His library had so many valuable works that when it was auctioned, it fetched 40,000 dinars. A poor teacher of Cordoba Allama Muhammad ibn Hazm had his personal library open to the public. He penned several books one of which was Maratab al-Ijm’a, a handwritten manuscript is in Khuda Baksch Library, Rampur, India. There were many women scholars, like the daughter of Prince Ahmad. She was an outstanding poet, & a fine orator. There were women who had forsaken marriage, and dedicated their lives to book-hunting; they were employed by royal libraries in this age.

Libraries of Islamic Spain brought about a resurgence in European thought and sciences. “

Over a period of roughly a hundred years (1150-1250) all of Aristotle’s writings were translated and introduced to the West, accompanied by a formidable number of Arabic commentaries… this amounted to a vast new library. The work of assimilating and mastering it occupied the best minds of Christendom and profoundly altered the spiritual and intellectual life of the West… such masterful Arabic commentaries as Avicenna and Averroes- who emphasized the unreligious and unspiritual character of the philosopher’s thought – precipitated a grave crisis for the intellectual leaders of the West. … harmonizing all of it with the Christian faith constituted a tremendous task … it inaugurated a period of unparalleled intellectual activity that reached its climax in the 13th century, especially in Paris and Oxford.” Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church NY: Doubleday, 1979, 172-173

Figure 15. Ibn Sina encyclopedic book Al Qanun Fi Al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) was translated into Latin at the end of the 12th century CE, and became a reference source for medical studies in the universities of Europe for 500 years.

  1. Library of El Escorial, Spain

The largest collection of Islamic handwritten manuscripts is in El Escorial Palace Library, 45 km from Madrid. The Escorial was founded by King Phillip II in 1563 both to serve as a palace and a monastery. A room on the upper floor contains books banned by the Inquisition which had burned 70,000 volumes. This remnant includes more than 1,800 Arabic titles acquired by the expulsion of Muslim from Spain. [19]

  1. Libraries of Sultanate of Delhi (1206-1526)

Before the advent of the Mughal period, Razia Sultan (r1236-1240) was the ruler of the Sultanate of Delhi. In fact, she was the first female ruler of India. Razia was a major matron of learning, establishing schools and libraries across northern India. She was conferred the title of Aalem Nawazpatron of scholars by leading religious scholar of the time Maulana Minhaj-e-Siraj Juzjani, author of 23 volume elaborate Islamic history book Tabaqat-e-Nasiri completed in 1260.

During the 13th and 14th centuries all the ruling princes of the time had their own private collections and it was common for them to spend time every day in their personal libraries. No separate building was earmarked for the library; it used to be an integral part of the palace, though it was sometimes attached to the mosque.[20] Founder of the Khilji dynasty Sultan Jalal al-Din Khilji (1296) established the Imperial library in Delhi and appointed eminent mystic & scholar Amir Khusraw (1325) as the librarian. The office of the librarian carried much prestige and its occupant was considered a valuable officer. Sufi saint Nizam al-Din Awliya (1325) established a library in his khanqah in Delhi by raising public donations.[21] It was a public library with a large quantity of manuscripts.

  1. Libraries of Mughal India

The Mughal rulers were fond of books and used to take pride in collecting rare manuscripts for their personal libraries.

First library in Mughal India (1526-1857) was founded by King Zaheer al-Din Babur (1483-1531). Although a successful military leader, he was a bibliophile as well. Babur established the Imperial library in his palace in Delhi, which would be supported & enlarged by subsequent emperors. When he invaded India, he brought with him rare volumes some of which were works of painting. His homeland Uzbekistan was home to a galaxy of scholars and intellectuals. Cities like Samarkand, Farkhana, Khurasan & Herat were great centers of learning and knowledge that attracted scholars from far off places. Many famous scholars occupied his royal court. Himself a scholar, he was an expert calligrapher. Whether he was on an expedition, or at home in Dehli, a major portion of the library travelled with him. The Mughals stocked their libraries with Persian books on language, literature, and science.

In January 1526 Babur’s army defeated Ghazi Khan Army in Lahore. In the war booty, Babur received a lot of valuable things from Ghazi khan’s fort, but the best of all was the precious books some of which he sent to Kabul. Babur’s library contained two types of books, the one he brought with him to India, and others he received during the capture of various Indian cities.

Babur’s son Emperor Mirza Nasir ud-din Baig Humayun ruled India only one year 1555-56. He had a lifelong passion for collecting fine books. He was interested in astronomy. Inside the Old Fort in Delhi, there was a notable building Sher Mandal, on the second floor was Humayun’s personal library with stone shelving, which was his observatory as well. It is one of the first observatories of Delhi. Sher Mandal, a two-storied, octagonal tower, is associated with the death of Humayun as he was watching Venus in the sky; he missed his step on the steep stairs, fell headlong and died in 1556.

Emperor Jalal al-Din Akbar (1543-1605) consolidated the imperial library founded by his grandfather. It consisted of manuscripts written and engraved by skilful penmen. From his Persian mother, he inherited his princely manners, his love of literature and the arts, and a Persian delight in philosophical discussion. He created a separate department for libraries; acquisition, processing, storage, and retrieval were organized on new lines. He established a new library for education of all women in Fatehpur Sikri. The Imperial Library was located in the big hall of the Agra fort.

The volumes in his library numbered 24,000 costing Rupees 6,463,731 or valued at $3,500,000. A translation bureau called Maktab Khana was established in the Diwan Khana of Fatehpur Sikri. Every author was obligated to send a copy of his book to the royal library. Many a works he received during his expeditions, i.e. after the conquest of Gujrat he received all the books belonging to Etimad Khan Gujrati. Some were donated to the royal library, and some were gifted to his Navaratnas (9 Jewels) i.e. Allama Abdul Qadir Badau’ni received Mishkat al-Anwar of Ghazali. Akbar took over all of 4,600 books from the library of Shaikh Abul Faiz Faizi, an eminent Persian poet & scholar.[22] These books were on medicine, music, astrology, astronomy, mathematics, tafsir, hadith and fiqh. The Jesuits brought European books or books received from western traders were added to the Imperial library.

Figure 16. Sher Mandal, which housed Humayun’s library, and was one of the first observatories of Delhi.

Akbar’s court included many scholars and talented artists. He fostered a lively literary culture and encouraged translations of all kinds. Massive numbers of classics were rendered into Sanskrit and Hindi. Also, religious literature was translated into Persian from other languages like Chaghatai Turkish, Sanskrit and Arabic. Akbar’s school of translation made a lasting impact on Indian cultural life.

Akbar formed a department for cataloguing the library’s 24,000 titles. He did much of the work himself, classifying the books under three main groupings. Bookbinding became a high art, producing beautifully decorated covers. He also established a library exclusively for women. Despite his passion for libraries and education he could not read nor write.[23] He would listen daily to the perusal of books by paid readers. His evenings were spent listening to experts on scientific and literary matters.

Once Prince Saleem (Emperor Jehangir d1627) once went to historian Abu al-Fazl Allami’s house and noticed 40 scribes copying the Glorious Quran and its commentary. Akbar was fond of painting; there were top class painters in his court. At his behest 12 volumes of Dastan Ameer Hamza were presented to Akbar, consisting of 1400 illustrations. Similarly, Changez Nama, Zafar Nama, Iqbal nama, Razm Nama, Ramayan, Kaleela wa dimna and Ayyra Danish were illustrated at an astronomical cost. There was in his library an illustrated copy of “Tarikh Khandan Taimuriya” with 112 illustrations. This is now in Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library, Patna, India. The chief librarian was Emperor Akbar’s poet laureate Allama Fayzi and Abdul Qadir Bada’uni. Hundreds of madrasah were founded during Akbar reign which needed books. There were 225 courtiers in his royal court; each one had his own personal library.

Emperor Mirza Noor al-Din Jehangir (1569-1627) was educated in mathematics, science and language. He was an illustrious writer who wrote his autobiography in Persian Tuzke Jehangeri (Jahanirnama) giving details about the history of his reign, including his reflections on art, politics, and his family. He collected art for the library. He continued the tradition of his father in expanding madrasahs and libraries. He passed a law that if a rich man dies without heirs, his wealth should be donated to monasteries and madrasahs. His library contained 60,000 works; its chief librarian was Maktoob Khan. Shaikh Abd al-Haq Muhaddith lived during his reign who authored 100 books on various subjects. Allama Shibli Noamani says that Jehangir’s opinion about a book was diligent and authoritative (Ijtehad). He personally used to instruct his librarians how to catalog the books.

Emperor Mirza Shahab al-din Baig Khurram Shah-jahan (1666) rule was the golden period of Mughal architecture, as well as learning and scholarship. The size of the imperial library grew further. Like his forefathers he patronized scholars. He had gathered a large number of calligraphers at his court. His royal library was decorated with twenty-four thousand finest volumes on mathematics, geography, astrology, medicine, politics, logic, history and agriculture. Lahore, Delhi, Jaunpur, and Ahmadabad were major centers of learning. During Shah-Jahan’s rule, many scholars had their own personal libraries. For instance library of Mulla Abdul Hakim Sialkoti was famous for its rare volumes.

Aurangzeb Alamgir (1618-1707) preferred the company of scholars and intellectuals. He developed a love for books from a young age. His imperial library was a treasure house of Islamic law theology and jurisprudence. He constituted a board of 50 distinguished religious scholars to formulate a compendium of edicts (fatawa) according Hanafi fiqh. Reference books were provided to them from Imperial library. It was completed in 8 years at a cost of 200,000 rupees. Fatawa Alamgiri was published from Cairo in six volumes, each volume 500 pages. Some of the books are still available in the Sho’aba Habib Ganj- personal library of Maulana Habib al-Rahman Sherwani, AMU, Aligarh. Aurabzeb was an outstanding writer and an excellent calligrapher. He was a Hafiz (memorizer) of the Quran and used to calligraphy the Noble Quran in his free time. His personal letters are a unique form of biography. Sialkot was the hub of paper industry, there was huge library in the city.

Muhammad Taher writes:

“imperial library was greatly improved by the last great Mughal Muhiyaddin Aurangzeb Alamgir. Apart from other languages he knew Hindustani too well and popular sayings in that language in history. Aurangzeb patronized Hindi poets; … hence the imperial library must have had a variety much larger than that of Akbar in major languages of the east and the west. He patronized Hindu scholars of Persian literature. … Which library other than the Imperial library these scholars had access to, if they were really patronized by the emperor of Mughal India. The library added its collection and became the basis for the emperor literary activities.

Fataw’ay Alamgiri the greatest digest of Muslim law in India was compiled by board of eminent jurists under his personal supervision. This compilation would have required accumulation of various books relating to law in the primary Islamic languages. In Deccan trips the Mughal armies could find the library of Mahmud Gawan. This was transferred to Delhi and added to imperial collection on the order of Aurangzeb. His reading tastes were a replica of his own ancestors, and it is reported that his reading hour started at 2 pm every day. … The Nazims of the Imperial library who have been mentioned in history included Muhammad Saleh ibn Isa Khan, Syed Ali Tabrizi, and the muhtamims are named as Muhammad Mansur, Syed Ali al-Hussaini, and Kabir Khan.”[24]

In the Mughal household, there were female poets, bibliophiles, & authors like Gul Badan Begum (1603), Salim Sultana Begum (1612) Maham Anang (1562), Nur Jehan Begum (1645), Mumtaz Mahal (1631). A book by the daughter of Babur’s daughter Princess Gul Badan Begum, who wrote poetry in Persian and Turkish.

Figure 17. above: Islamic calligraphy specimen

  1. Library of Zayb al Nisa / Abd al-Rahim Khane Khana

 Mughal princesses were also deeply engrossed in book reading and collection. Aurangzeb’s eldest daughter Zaib al-Nisa’s (1638-1702) was trained in the serious study of religious doctrine. She was known as an excellent scholar in several academic areas and as a literary figure and patron of some renown. She sang well and composed songs and planted many of the gardens of her day. Her royal court was an academy (Bait al-Uloom) where scholars in every subject were busy composing and compiling books. Books were dedicated to her. She had a large collection in her library. Her Diwan-e-Makhfi contained four hundred and twenty-one ghazals and penned the following books: Monis-ul-Roh, Zeb-ul Monsha’at and Zeb-ul-Tafasir. (Wikipedia) – Ziad, Zeenut (2002). The Magnificent Mughals. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195794441.

The Mughal era saw an increase in the number of libraries developed by the nobles/elites. Each wished to beat out the other in the building of the library and in increasing the size of its collection. In Delhi Abd al-Rahim Khan-e- Khanan was raised in the household of Emperor Akbar. He was conversant in 5 languages including Portuguese. He developed a fabulous library. He had the privilege of having access to large collections in and outside the kingdom. His collection was used by many scholars and learned men. This bibliophile excelled in patronage of literature. Books from his library have been preserved in Raza Library Rampur, Khuda Bakhsh Library& Asiatic Society Library Calcutta. Mir Baqi was Nazim (director) of his library, and Kitabdar (librarian) was Maulana Ibrahim Naqqash. Library had 95 men on its staff. Muhammad Ameen Naqqash, a book-binder from Mashhad, Iran was a regular on its staff and was employed on a salary of Rs. 500/- per month. Shuja of Shiraz was one of the scribes (katib) in 1590. Mulla Muhammad Hussain was an expert book-binder at the library.

Similarly, Nawab Ibrahim Khan, an influential noble of Delhi, had a rich library. Each book had the seal of the library owner. Shaikh Faizi, a Persian scholar had a rich collection of medicine, poetry and philosophy. Khushro (1622) son of Emperor Jehangir regularly purchased books. Dara Shikoh (1659) paintings album is in India Office Library, London. As an erudite scholar, he had a huge collection of notable works. An example of his penmanship is his translations of 50 Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian. The library established by Dara Shikoh in 1643 still exists on the grounds of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha UniversityKashmiri Gateand Delhi. [25]

The scholars of Lucknow, Daryaabad, Murshidabad and Bilgram had large personal libraries. People donated their books to the mosques, whereby places of worship became public libraries.

Personnel of the Imperial library included Nazim, Muhtamim, Sahhaf, Warraq, Jildsaz, Naqqash, Khushnavis, Muqabila Navis, Mussahih (proofreader), Katib (scribe)

  1. Library of Tipu Sultan (1752-1799) Ruler of Kingdom of Mysore, India

Tiger of Mysore had the gift of judging everyone’s talent. He founded a school for liberal education, with a library on a wide array of subjects. There were books brought from Bijapur, Golconda, chittur, Savanur, and Kadapa as well as from the Maharajah of Mysore. All Sultan volumes were bound in leather. There was a training college for military officers, with a large library. The college in Sarangapatam Jamee al-Umoor had in its collection volumes on religion, politics and other subjects. In his personal library there were two thousand volumes, some he had authored himself or purchased from Europe. On 29 December 1786, he received a book from Europe containing information on thermometers. He instructed that this should be translated into Persian and presented to him. After reading a book he would stamp the book, so many were thus stamped. Each book was stamped Sultanat-e- Khudadad (Government given by Allah), or with his name Tipu Sultan. His collection had a rare copy of the Quran calligraphed by Emperor Aurangzeb, which later found its place in British Royal Library in Windsor Castle UK. Upon his defeat in 1799, about two thousand books, some having a binding of jewels, were recovered by the English. In 1838 these books were shipped to England.

Library of state of Rampur, India

During the rule of Mohammed Saeed Khan (1840-55) royal library was called Kutub Khana Riyasat-e-Rampur. Nawab Hamid Ali Khan had the library staff compile a list of Arabic and Persian books and manuscripts in 1928. Famous scholars like Ameer Minai, Hakeem Ajmal Khan, Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi were its chief librarians. The library had in its collection 9347 books in 1889, 24,117 in 1927, and currently 55,000 of which 15,000 are rare manuscripts. (Taher, page 85)

  1. Libraries of Ottoman Empire 1299-1922

Ottomans ruled over Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. New mosques, colleges and libraries were established in the 17th century. Book collection grew by leaps and bounds, mainly on account of waqf – endowments for the public good. Libraries had salaried staff. In 1678 a library was established in Istanbul in a dedicated building. Topkapi Palace had built up the largest collection of Arabic manuscripts.

“There are about 14,000 manuscripts in the library. There are close to 18,000 miniatures, most of which are in the Treasury Library, which exhibit the characteristics of the various schools and styles, spread over a broad geography, of Islamic representational art. Albums and books of miniatures representing the finest work of Arabic, Seljuk, Mongol (Ilkhanid), Timurid, Uzbek, Karakoyunlu and Akkoyunlu Turkmen, Safavid, Mamluk and Ottoman palace calligraphers make up the most valuable section of the palace library. With miniatures in some 600 albums and books on science, history, religion and literature, the Topkapi Palace Museum Library has one of the richest collections in the world. The palace collection of illuminated manuscripts produced for prominent patrons of art throughout the Islamic world during its history through gifts, plunders and purchases, was further enriched by works produced by palace artists, not to mention all the Ottoman sultans who devoted to the art of the book.”[26]

  1. National Library of Pakistan

The library was officially inaugurated in its new building in 1993. It is a depository library, is responsible for the collection, preservation and dissemination of national literary heritage. The collection includes 130,000 volumes, 1000 magazines, and newspapers. A significant part of the collection is made up of manuscripts and rare books. One of the departments is Model Children’s Library with 9000 books in English and Urdu, including titles in Braille. The library has space for a million volumes, and its reading facilities accommodate 500 patrons. There is an auditorium for seminars
workshops and conferences, including for training of librarians.[27] A major portion of NLP’s vast collection includes publications about Pakistan, its people and culture, and books written by Pakistanis living at home and abroad.

Quaid-e-Azam University Library – The Central Library of QAU is named Dr. Raziuddin Siddiqui Memorial Library to recognize services of the first Vice-Chancellor of Quaid-e-Azam University. In addition to a large multidisciplinary collection with over 230,000 books and audiovisual material and 35,000 volumes of research journals, the library is a depository for United Nations Publications for many decades. There are eight seminar libraries in various departments with excellent collection and services. [28]

Punjab Public Library -A librarian from New York Asa Dickinson founded the Punjab Library Association in 1915. The training program developed at Punjab was the formal library school in The East.[29] One of Dickinson’s students Khalifa Muhammad Asadullah (1890-1949) was the first qualified librarian of Government College Lahore. Later he rose to become a librarian at the National Librarian of India.

Punjab library has many sections: technical, acquisition, circulation, reference, Baitul Quran section, children section, oriental, computer section and e-library. Baitu al-Quran section was established in 1968, it has in its treasures several manuscripts of the Holy Quran, some dating back to 500 years. The section houses copies of handwritten and printed Holy Qurans collected from all over Pakistan, e.g., the photocopies of the Quran remained under recitation of Hazrat Usman Ghani, Imam Jaffer Sadiq, Maulana Rome, Tipu Sultan and a handwritten Quran by Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir.

Figure 18. Punjab Public Library, Lahore, Pakistan

  1. Bibliotheque de l’institut Islamique (Islamic Institute Library) Dakar, Senegal

Figure 19. Library of the Institut islamique

Created in 1964 and situated in the enceinte of the Grand Mosque, the Institut Islamique is a public institution under the direction of the Senegalese Minister of Education, dedicated to Islamic research and teaching. The library of the Institute, named for Prince Naef Ben Abdelaziz Al-Saoud was opened on 9 October 2004.[30]

McGill Islamic Studies Library, Montreal

The Islamic Studies library was founded, along with the Institute of Islamic Studies by Prof. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, in 1952. The library has grown from a modest departmental collection to a very well regarded library of over 100,000 volumes covering the whole of Islamic civilization. This sizable and rich collection is quite unique in Canada.[31] The Islamic Studies collection can be divided into three major categories: printed, manuscript and audio-visual materials in European and Islamic languages.

Through the Islamic Heritage Project (IHP), Harvard University has catalogued, conserved, and digitized hundreds of Islamic manuscripts, maps, and published texts from Harvard’s renowned library and museum collections. These rare—and frequently unique—materials are now freely available to Internet users worldwide. IHP is made possible with the generous support of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. Under manuscripts, one can read entire manuscripts on 17 topics like biography, astronomy, mathematics, logic, philosophy, and poetry.

  1. Mama Haidara Commemorative Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Timbuktu was a sprawling city with buildings in elegant shapes and arches. The Grand Mosque of cut stone and mortar had its own library. Timbuktu collections included manuscripts about art, medicine, philosophy, and science, as well as priceless copies of the Quran. The number of manuscripts in the collections has been estimated as high as 700,000.

The majority of manuscripts were written in Arabic, but many were also in local languages. The dates of the manuscripts ranged between the late 13th and the early 20th centuries. Their subject matter ranged from scholarly works to short letters. The manuscripts were passed down in Timbuktu families and were mostly in poor condition. Most of the manuscripts remain unstudied and un-catalogued, and their total number is unknown, amenable only to rough estimates.

Figure 20. The ancient city of Chinguetti, in the west-African nation of Mauritania, is home to around 6,000 ancient manuscripts

A selection of about 160 manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara Library in Timbuktu and the Ahmed Baba collection were digitized by the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project in the 2000s. With the demise of Arabic education in Mali under French colonial rule, appreciation for the medieval manuscripts declined in Timbuktu, and many were sold off.[32] Time magazine related the account of an Imam who picked up four of them for $50 each. In October 2008 one of the households was flooded, destroying 700 manuscripts. Islamic University in Fez, Morocco contained one of the largest and most valuable Quran collections of the day.[33] Timbuktu’s profit from the book trade was lower to trade in gold and salt.

Ahmad Baba Institute, Timbuktu was established in 1970, named after a 16th-century influential scholar who wrote 40 works in Arabic. There are around 30,000 manuscripts which are being studied and catalogued. In 2013 ISIL recruits set the library on fire and more than 20,000 manuscripts were burnt.[34]

  1. Khuda Baksch Oriental Library, Rampur India

This library was founded in 1891 by Maulvi Muhammad Baksch of Bihar, his son Khan Bahadur Khuda Baksch (d1908) inherited 1400 manuscripts. Khuda Baksch scoured every nook and corner of India to add more books to the library. His agents in the Middle East searched the book markets of Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, and Tehran for 18 years. Many wealthy people of Patna donated books to this library in 1904. Work on the cataloguing of books lasted from 1904 to the partition of India in 1947. In 1950 complete catalogue was published in 22 volumes. There are more than 340 rare manuscripts, including Timur Nama, containing 112 paintings.[35] Shah Nama, Diwan-e-Hafiz, Safinat-ul-Auliya. There is a page of the Noble Quran written on deerskin. There are over 250,000 books in the library.

Virtual Libraries

With the dawn of computers, virtual libraries have become prevalent in the Muslim World. A virtual library is a collection of resources available on one or more computer systems. User does not know where resources are located – virtual. In a digital library[36] a person has access to catalogues to find library materials. There are website where readers can read books in pdf format online in their homes. i.e.,,, People who travel long distances listen to audiobooks in their cars. In a short book, the format has changed, but man’s love for books has not diminished in any way.


  1. Mohamed Taher & D.G. Davis Junior, Librarianship and Library Science in India: India 1994 … –
  2. Mohamed Makki Sibai, Mosque Libraries, a Historical Study, Mannsell, 1987 -174 pages,
  3. Stuart Murray, The Library an Illustrious History, American Library Association, Chicago 2009
  4. Leila Avrin, Scribes, scripts and books, Chicago, American Library Association, 1991 pages 208-210
  5. Banks, Medieval Manuscript Bookmaking, Meutchen, Scarecrow, 1989, 45
  6. Dr. Mohamed Taher, the Book in the Islamic Civilization.
  7. M. Lesley Wilkins (1994), “Islamic Libraries to 1920”,Encyclopedia of Library History, New York: Garland
    ISBN 978-0-8240-5787-9
  8. Olga Pinto: `The Libraries of the Arabs during the time of the Abbasids,’ in Islamic Culture 3 (1929), pp. 211-43.
    As well in Pakistan Library Review 2(1-2):46 March 1959 Translation by F. Krenkow
    (I could not find this article on the internet.)
  9. Fred Lerner, Library through the Ages, New York, 1999
  10. R.K. Bhatt, History and development of libraries in India, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 1995
  11. Z. Virk, 111 Muslim Scientists, past and present Urdu, Nia Zamana Publications, Lahore 2014
  12. Ehsan Masood, Science and Islam, a history, London, 2009, page 53
  13. J.L. Breggren, Episodes in the Mathematics of Medieval Islam, 1986, NY
  14. Mohammad Makki Sibai, Mosque Libraries: a historical study, NY 1987. Ph.D. dissertation Indiana U. 1984


[1] Stuart Murray, The Library – an Illustrated History, American Library Association, Chicago, 2009

[2] Shi’i scholar Jarudi Zaydi (944) wanted to move his library, it amounted to 600 loads, and cost 100 dinars. Quoted in Medieval Islamic Civilization, An Encyclopedia, Editor Josef W. Meri, Rutledge, London, 2006, volume 1, page 453!/download/fyXEdg5ku4e/iXe183nhp7dc4v4r pdf file.

[3] Caliph Muawiyah (ra) had a personal collection (bayt al-hikmah) that was enlarged by his successors throughout the Umayyad period.… This first major library outside of a mosque was known to include works on astrology, medicine, chemistry, military science, and various practical arts and applied sciences in addition to religion (Wikipedia)

[4] Mosque of Imam Abu Hanifa (767) in Baghdad had a large library. Exegete Al-Zamakhshari (1143) bequeathed his private collection to the mosque. Historian al-Waqidi (822) left 600 bookcases, Imam Ibn Hanbal (855) library amounted to 12 ½ camel loads.


[6] Contributed by Mrs. Asma Khan, Karachi University Library Science Alumni Association, Canada, online magazine Jan-Jun 2015.

[7] J.L. Berggren, Episodes in the Mathematics of Medieval Islam, 1986, NY, page 4 & 23. There are large collections of Arabic manuscripts at Berlin, Dublin, Leiden, Escorial, London, Oxford, Paris that were procured through purchase, gift, theft, spoils of wars and copying.

[8] Hugh Kennedy, When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA 2004, p 252

[9] Quoted by Shafiq Qaisar (1939-1979) Rabwah, Kutub Khanay, Amritsar, India, 2009, p214

[10] Hitti, Capital Cities of Arab Islam, page 124

[11] International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science, page 421

[12] Stuart Murray, The Libraries, page 56

[13] Ehsan Masood, Science and Islam, a history, London, 2009, page 53

[14] When Mahmud invaded Rayy he had some of the books owned by Sahib ibn al-Abad (995) sent to Ghazna & some burnt. Sahib’s library contained 400 camel loads. Mahmud also plundered all the treasures of Buyid Sultan Majd –al-Daula including 50 loads of books.

[15] At Canterbury (UK) the library, built over the Prior’s Chapel, was 60x 22 feet. In 1508 a number of books were sent to be bound or repaired, that it contained sixteen bookcases, each of which had four shelves, meaning it had 2000 books

[16] Z. Virk, (Link)

[17] Muhammad Shafiq Qaisar, Kutub Khanay Urdu, Amritsar 2008, page 246

[18] P.K. Hitti, Capital Cities of Arab Islam, Minneapolis, 1973, page 154

[19] Stuart Murray, The Library, page 86. (I visited Escorial in 2000 during my visit to Spain. Pantheon was impressive.)

[20] Dr. Ramesh Kumar Bhatt, History and development of libraries in India, New Delhi, 1995, page 29

[21] I had the pleasure of visiting & praying at the dargah Nizam al-Din Awliya and Amir Khusrow in Nov 2013

[22] Azad Bilgrami, Tarikh-e- Hindustan, Vol. 5, 1918, Aligarh, page 994,

[23] Stuart P. Murray, The Libraries, page 104

[24] Mohamed Taher, Librarianship and library science in India, Delhi 1994, page 94



[27] Stuart Murray, Chicago, 2009, page 280-281, I studied it in Franklin Public Library, Franklin, WI, 027.009.M984 July 29, 2016

[28] This information was extracted from Karachi University Library Science Alumni Association online magazine, Editor M.H. Shahid. Jan-June 2015, brief description of other libraries in Rawalpindi-Islamabad is given as well.

[29] Stuart Murray, Library an illustrated history, page 210 – circulation in US public libraries was 2.46 billion in 2010




[33] Stuart Murray, The Library, 2009, page 100

[34] Zahida Hina, Urdu column daily Express Lahore, July 31, 2016. Zahida has detailed a list of libraries that were destroyed from 1901-2014 during the wars and regional conflicts.

[35] M. Shafique Qaisar Rabwah, Kutub Khanay Urdu, India, 2009, pages 310/311

[36] ‘World Digital Library’ has been in operation since 2005 by UNESCO, its aim is to make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical score. As of 2015, it lists more than 12,000 items from nearly 200 countries, dating back to 8,000BCE.

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