How Saudi Arabia’s King Fahad National Library is preserving Islamic history for posterity

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King Fahad National Library has been playing a key role in ensuring that present and future generations continue to benefit from Islam’s contributions to civilization. (Supplied)

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  • Institution in Riyadh holds more than 6,000 rare and original manuscripts and over 73,000 transcripts
  • Kufic Qur’an, written on deer skin and dating to the 9th century CE, is among the library’s collection

RIYADH: The big truth about history is that it inevitably fades into the past, but history can also be captured and preserved for posterity.

In fact, it can be housed and lovingly nourished and tended to withstand the onslaught of time.

Saudi Arabia’s King Fahad National Library has been undertaking this endeavor for the past three decades, playing a seminal role in the preservation of Islamic heritage and ensuring that present and future generations continue to benefit from Islam’s contributions to civilization.

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Established in 1990 in Riyadh, the library is home to more than 6,000 original manuscripts — many of them rare and ancient, including the exquisite Kufic Qur’an, dating to the 9th century CE — and a total of 73,000 paper and electronic transcripts.

“The King Fahad National Library has been interested in preserving manuscripts and heritage since its establishment in 1989, to a point where a royal decree has been issued to the library for the preservation of manuscripts,” Abdulaziz Nasif, the head of the manuscript department, told Arab News.

“The library estimates the manuscript’s value and sets its price when we receive it. Regarding the possession of manuscripts, we welcome everything that is presented to us and everything that is worth owning.”

FASTFACT

  • King Fahad National Library has 6,000 original manuscripts and nearly 73,000 photocopied transcripts, with 7,000 of them digitized for online readers.

The Kufic Qur’an at the library, distinguished by its Kufic calligraphy, has one of the oldest scripts in Arabic, a highly angular form of the Arabic alphabet used in the earliest copies of the Qur’an.

It originated in Kufa, a city in southern Iraq, an intellectual hub during the early Islamic period, now known as Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.

“It’s not written on paper but on deer skin,” Nasif said. “Having holy verses written on leather is a form of honoring the text. But the cover is new.”

The Kufic Qur’an was bought from the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula almost 20 years ago and recently rebound to increase its longevity.


AL IGNAA LITALI AL INTIFAA 
Written by Moussa bin Ahmad bin Al-Hijjawi in 968 AH.
Transcriber: Abdullah bin Suleiman bin Ahmad.
Font type and transcription date: Naskh, Friday 16 Shawwal 1901 AH
Observation: An important copy in two volumes, on the sidelines of which are many clarifications. The edges of its first pages are damaged and restored with adhesive tape. ​​​Black ink was used for writing and red was used for the heads of chapters. It has a modern binding.
Number of sheets: 177+149 Sizes: 30.5×20 cm
Number of lines: 29
Saved under: 699/ Al-Ifnaa

The library has other Qur’an manuscripts written in ancient script, besides special books such as the poetic works of Al-Ahnaf Al-Akbari, a famous poet in Baghdad who died in 995 CE.

It also has a copy of Ibn Daqiq Al-Eid’s book “Ahkam Al-Ahkam,” written in the late-14th century. Al-Eid is counted among Islam’s great scholars in the fundamentals of Islamic law and belief.

In addition, the library also owns “Yatimat Al-Dahr,” a book by Abu Mansur Al-Thaalibi, a writer of Persian or Arab origin famous for his anthologies and collection of epigrams.

Once the library acquires a manuscript, a rigorous and exacting approach to its conservation and maintenance is adopted.

“Each manuscript is first sent to the restoration and sanitization department and then returned to our department to be indexed,” Nasif said.


HOLY QUR’AN WRITTEN IN KUFIC SCRIPT IN THE 3RD CENTURY HEJIRA
Holy Qur’an, written on vellum (the skin of animals). Its writer took care to present it in a delicate and beautiful manner. The Qur’an manuscripts were produced on horizontally oriented vellum, a common form for such Qur’ans and eras.
It was written in black ink. Short vowels are marked in red ink. The letter
Hamza is written is yellow ink and the shaddah in green ink.
This Qur’an begins with verse 50 of Surah Al Imran and ends with
the end of Surah Abasa.
The two existing binding covers date back to a later time.
Number of papers: 165 Dimension: 25 x 17.5 cm Number of lines: 17 Archive No: 2500/library

However, not every manuscript is sent for restoration “because, sometimes, it can ruin (it),” he said.

The restoration is followed by the indexing process, which is a thorough exercise.

Nasif explained: “To fill the index card, we use information that is listed on the first page, starting with the title, the author’s name, the manuscript’s sizes (height and length), the transcriber’s name (the person who wrote it), and what is written at the end of the manuscript, so that we are able recognize one manuscript from the other having the same specifications.”

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