The Arab World
In terms of sheer number of items, pride of place in the section
must go to the immensely influential Arabic-language collection,
although defining its scope narrowly by language obscures its
brilliance and diversity. Representative of the intellectual heritage
of twenty-two modern Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle
East, it extends to publications and manuscripts in Arabic from
many non-Middle Eastern countries to which Islam's roots spread
of the holiest of sites for Islam, today still revered places
of pilgrimage, are Medina, from which the Prophet Muhammad
fled, and the Kabah in Mecca, the sanctuary to
which Muslims turn in prayer and to which they go on pilgrimage.
These shrines are illustrated in this 1718 manuscript of
Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli's (Morocco, d. 1465) Dalail
al-khayrat (Signs of blessing).
The Arab people have been known for millennia in the lands of
the Middle East. Mentioned in monuments of the ancient Assyrians
and Persians, they first grew prominent in the early days of the
Roman Empire. The lost pink city of Petra, now in Jordan, was
capital to the wealthy and important Arab Nabataeans. Palmyra,
the Arabized rival to Rome, and its exotic queen Zenobia stirred
the imagination of Roman historians. Arab merchants and travelers
dominated the trade routes well before the Prophet's time.
"Al-Fatihah," the opening chapter of the Koran, is here
depicted in an ornamented fragment from an early, as yet
East Section, housed in the Conservation Office)
The year A.D. 622, marking the Hijrah, was one of the true watersheds
in the history of the Middle East. In that year the Prophet Muhammad
fied from Mecca with his followers to the welcoming city of Medina.
Revelation came to the Prophet at the same time his conquests
grew in number and in A.D. 630 he took Mecca. Muhammad's triumphant
return accelerated the Islamization of the entire Arabian Peninsula.
By A.D. 640, Syria, Iraq, and Persia had been subdued. By the
year 732, exactly one hundred years after the death of the Prophet,
Egypt, Nubia, all North Africa, Spain, and Southern France, as
well as much of Anatolia, were either directly in Muslim hands
or under the influence of Islam. In all its facets, Islam had
triumphed and was firmly rooted in the Near East. From A.D. 644
to 656 the third caliph, Uthman, compiled the text of the Koran,
the Word of God, revealed to the Prophet through the angel Gabriel.
The era of monumental literature composed in Arabic had begun.
Although much of the Arabic-language collection of monographs,
newspapers, manuscripts, and microfilms is concerned with Islam
in all its manifestations, the collection's scope is by no means
limited to religious matters. Its balance of subjects and chronological
range include contemporary Arab life in all its facets.
Copied in exquisite Thuluth script
and complemented by spare rondels of gold, this fifteenth-century
manuscript is opened to the text of al-Burdah (The
mantle), by Muhammad ibn Said al-Busiri (Upper Egypt, 1213-95).
The poem, a panegyric to the Prophet Muhammad, reads, in
part: "Oh, noblest of mankind! I have none but you with
whom to seek refuge when doomsday comes."
The Library has made a point of collecting manuscripts, early
publications, and the literary products of nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century authors, historians, and political leaders from
the entire Islamic world. Early imprints from Europe include a
Psalms of David (Rome, 1614), Erpenio's Testamentum
Arabice (Arabic New Testament) (Rome, 1616), and al-
Coranus (The Koran) (Hamburg, 1694). From Calcutta, India
comes al-Shirwani's al-Ajab al-ujab fi-ma yufidu al-kuttab
(The wonder of wonders to benefit writers) (1845), and from Aleppo,
Syria, the second or third Arabic book published in movable type
by Arabs in the Middle East, Kitab al-Injil al-Sharif al-Tahir
(The Holy Gospel) (1706).
The various artistic, literary, and
calligraphic traditions of the Islamic world have continued
into the present century, demonstrating continuity as well
as originality. This splendid amalgam of pictorial art and
the poetry of Fadwa Tuqan, published in 1990, is a visual
tour de force of calligraphy and painting by the contemporary,
internationally known artist Diya al-Azzawi.
(Reproduced with permission of Diya al-Azzawi)
The international renown of the section's Arabic manuscript collection
has also grown in the time since 1945, when the collection of
approximately 1,300 manuscripts and 3,700 books assembled by Shaykh
Mahmud al-Imam al- Mansuri, professor of religion at the al-Azhar
University in Cairo, was purchased by the Library of Congress.
These supplemented the manuscripts and other precious items that
had been acquired in the 1920s and 1930s from the New York art
dealer and authority on Near Eastern manuscripts, Kirkor Minassian,
whose collection was especially rich in Islamic materials, prized
among which are a Koran written in Kufi, the earliest
of Arabic scripts, from the eleventh century and an extraordinarily
executed manuscript cautiously attributed by some scholars to
the father of Turkish calligraphy, Shaykh amdullah (A.D. 1437-
1520). Nor is the Minassian collection restricted to things religious.
Arab intellectuals, inheritors of the ancient received tradition,
were responsible for the translation of, commentary on, and cultural
transmission of innumerable classics of antiquity, many of which
exist thanks only to their efforts. The collection thus consists
of valuable historical, scientific, and literary manuscripts as
well, some with exquisite illuminations.
eleventh-century manuscript on vellum of verses 73-78 of
Surah 28 ("al-Qasas," or The narration) of the Koran is
a striking example of Kufi script. The text reads:
"Seek, with which God has bestowed on thee, the Home of
the Hereafter. Nor forget thy portion in this World; but
do thou good, as God has been good to thee. Seek not mischief
in the land; for God loves not those who do mischief."
Arabic serials, numbering in the hundreds, underscore the utility
of the Arabic collection as a whole. They contain information
on virtually every subject needed by scholars and researchers
of the Middle East, while at the same time they cover the most
recent developments in the Arab world. The Library's collection
of literary and political materials is counted among the world's
finest. Examples of some historical serials collected are: al-Muqtataf,
(Lebanon/ Egypt, 1876-1952); al-Hawadith (Tripoli,
Lebanon, 1911-); al-Dawah (Egypt, 1906-49); and the most
important periodical for Sunni Orthodox Islam, al- Azhar
The brilliance of the early Arabic literary tradition often
transcended the merely religious. Inheritors of the classical
Mediterranean tradition, the Arab intelligentsia not only
translated important texts of classical antiquity, they
also astutely commented on influential works spanning a
multitude of disciplines. Depicted is a thirteenth-century
manuscript of Sharh fusul Abiqrat (The aphorisms
of Hippocrates) with commentary by the eleventh-century
Arab physician Abd al Rahman ibn Ali ibn Abi Sadiq.
The section focuses as well on the acquisition of magazines,
journals, and newspapers from prominent Arab communities in Europe.
These mushroomed during and after the Lebanese war of 1975-76,
and include al-Mustaqbal (1977-89); al-Watan al-Arabi
(1977-present); and al-Baith (1978-present). Mere
possession of these vital documents is not enough. A much-needed
program was initiated by the Near East Section in 1968 especially
to ensure their preservation. To date, well over one hundred newspapers
have been filmed thanks to this effort, thus guaranteeing their
continued availability to researchers both now and in the future.
scientists and physicians, often more advanced than their
European counterparts, were important not only for the traditions
they transmitted but also for their own unique and important
contributions to the sciences. Witnesses to this are the
first two pages of a manuscript, copied on March 24, 1497,
of al-Adwiyah al-marufah al-mustamalah (Known and
used medications) by Najib al-Din Muhammad ibn Ali al-Samarqandi
(d. A.D. 1222).
The section also boasts about two hundred magnificent Arabic
calligraphy sheets, among which are fragments of the Koran in
the Kufi script of the ninth and tenth centuries, exquisite Islamic
bookbindings, and priceless articles such as a linen tunic from
the Islamic world covered with the text of the Koran written on
its front and back meant for a warrior to wear under his armor.
Researchers into the Arab world have at their disposal many essential
nonvernacular collections of supplemental materials. Among these
are antique and modern maps in the Geography and Map Division,
legal materials and works relating to law and Islam in the Law
Library, and photographic collections in the Prints and Photographs
Division. The Arab and Islamic musical traditions are well represented
in the Music Division, which recently acquired the Arabic sound
recording of an anthology of nawbas (suites) presented
as a gift by the Morrocan government.
The astronomical and astrological sciences played a vital
role in the life of the Middle East from remote antiquity
up to, in many ways, the present. [Right] The constellation
Draco, the Dragon, slithers across a page of the work of
Abd al-Rahman ibn Umar al-Sufi (Iraq, d. A.D. 986) entitled
Suwar al-kawakib (The depictions of [celestial]
constellations). [Left] The table on the left-hand
page of the manuscript, copied in A.D. 1417, names and locates
the various constellations. (Near
The Manuscript Division provides many important collections for
our researchers. For example, the Arabic, English, and French
personal papers of the Lebanese academic, philosopher, author,
and diplomat Charles Habib Malik (1906-87) as well as the English
manuscripts and correspondence of Ameen Rihani (1876-1940), one
of the most prominent Arab-American writers and poets, are to
be found there.
Of special note is the Library's attempt to record and preserve
the voices and works of contemporary Arab poets and authors as
part of its Archive of World Literature on Tape.
Among those recorded reading their poetry are the Egyptian poet
Salah Abd al-Sabur (1931-81), Nobel prize laureate Najib Mahfuz
(1912-), and the contemporary author Tibah Ahmad al-Ibrahim, a
Kuwaiti woman. These are available for study by researchers in
the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.
Taken in its entirety, the Arabic collection and Arabica in the
Library of Congress combine to create a celebration and a commemoration
of the culture of the Middle East as a whole.
[Left] - Title page of volume 1 of the influential
Lebanese/Egyptian journal al- Muqtataf.
[Center] - Arabic calligraphy has long been recognized
for its subtle beauty and expressiveness. An example of
the Near East Section's major collection of these prized
creations is this sparsely yet richly decorated example
in Taliq script from Persia, the text of which
provides the rationale for its obvious artistic merit: "He
who writes in beautiful calligraphy In the Name
of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate enters paradise
[Right] - The cover of one of the seventy-two compact
disks that form the anthology of nawbas titled
Anthologie al-Ala: musique andaluci-marocaine.