Importance of the Islamic Manuscripts
As Islam rapidly spread out of Arabia, bringing into its fold wide areas of Asia and Africa, Islamic civilisation began to flourish and Arabic became widely spoken throughout the expanding world of Islam.
Advancements were made in almost all aspects of human life. Scholars in all fields received moral and material encouragement and support from various groups and institutions. Travel for learning was an important part of a scholar's education.
As printing had not been invented yet, books, discourses, and essays had to be written and copied by long hand. An author would dictate his book at his circle of teaching, where scores of students and scholars would be writing down. Such manuscripts were carefully preserved and handed down from generation to generation.
Works of particular importance were sought after and copied. Works by famous scholars were copied time after time in different areas and generations. There were also professional copiers, many of whom excelled in their art. Thus, there could be many copies of the same book in the same town or city.
Islamic manuscripts constitute a particularly important part of Islamic heritage. During the fourteen centuries of its history, Islamic civilisation has produced a vast number of written works, mostly in Arabic and Persian, but also in Turkish, Urdu, Bengali, Malay, Swahili and others.
These works number over three million and cover practically every field of thought, from Qur’anic commentary to jurisprudence, from history to astronomy, from geology to technology, from poetry to rhetoric, etc. They were produced throughout the Islamic world, from western China and the Malay archipelago, to Andalusia and the Maghreb.
On the other hand, wars, political conflicts, social upheavals, natural disasters, negligence, and elements of wear and tear and lack of resources essential for their maintenance and preservation, all led to the disappearance of either whole libraries, or individual manuscripts. For example, at the time of the invasion of Baghdad by the Tatars, who came from Central Asia in the 13th century, hundreds of thousands of manuscripts were deliberately thrown in the Tigris river. Even in the 21st century, the invasion of Baghdad claimed the Awqaf library among its victims, as the library was burnt down.
Despite all these elements, it is estimated that three million Islamic manuscripts survive today. Islamic manuscripts are to be found not only in every Islamic country and in countries with large Islamic minorities, such as India, the Soviet Union and China, but also throughout Europe and the Americas, as well as in Japan, Australia and some non-Muslim African countries. There are very few countries in the world in which there are not at least some Islamic manuscripts.
These are normally held either in private collections or public libraries. They are always highly valued by their holders. Some private holders may remain unaware of the value of what they have in their collections; yet they are often reluctant or unwilling to share information. It should be said that manuscripts could range from text books to voluminous works by distinguished scholars.
This enormous treasure, the most important intellectual and scholarly heritage in Islam, is – in many areas - in danger of being destroyed through social upheavals, political conflicts, natural causes or simply lack of proper care. It is therefore of the utmost importance that it should be documented as soon as possible, and that every attempt should be made to preserve it for posterity. It is also important that its treasures should be made available to the world.
Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation was established in 1988 by the Yamani Cultural Foundation, to achieve these goal, aiming to preserve and study the Islamic written heritage.