Islamic manuscripts

history, origin, blooming, destruction and estimation of value

  • Haso Popara, hifz


Under expression of the Islamic manuscripts in this work, we mean books written and copied by hand in Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Bosnian languages before discovery of the printing machine. Islam from the beginning payed a great attention to the sciences, making knowledge and search for it a strong obligation to each Muslim, male and female. It could be seen from the first verses of Revelation ‘ Read in the name of God, who created everything…’ as well as Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) comparison of ink of scholars with the blood of martyr, giving preference to the first. Induced with treatment of Islam toward sciences, Islamic rulers, princes, governors, rich people, merchants and other patrons competed among themselves in giving more to support sciences and learned people. That is, what made the first century of Islam so produc-tive in translation and copying of the books.

Initial spread of Islam was followed by quite big cultural and civilizational development based on strict Islamic monotheism (at-tawhid), on one side, and civilization on the other side. Muslims are, namely, conquering territory of the Fertile Crescent, Persia and Egypt, already from the first century of Islam have in possession not only a big geographical land but also the oldest centers of civilization in the world, with which they inherited an ancient culture with long tradition originating from Greek, Roman, Persian, Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian time.

Thanks to institutions of endowment (waqf), in all bigger centers of Islamic world up to third century of Hijra, many public, semi-public, and private libraries which mainly were within mosques, taqiya, schools and the others educational institutions at that time were founded. In those institutions very often were copying workplace, bureo for translations, bookbinding equipment, workshop for paper production as well as galery for decoration and gilding surface of the manuscripts. Some of these libraries counted hundred of thousands and even a milion of manuscripts.

In addition to the original work in Arabic language, there where a numerous translations from the Greek, Aramaic, and Persian languages. Translation from the Arabic language, among the other, particularly where supported by khaliph al-Ma’mun in Bagdad ( 813-833), el-Hakam II in Cordoba ( 914-967), al-’Aziz in Cairo ( 975-996) and Seyfuddawla al- Hamadani in Halep (916-964). Many of these works, especially from the field of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, pharmacology, chemistry, later on from the Latin language where translated in Arabic language and for a long time were used as a textbooks at the universities in Europe. It was thanks to these that European cultural revival and Renaissance were made possible.

Unfortunately, many manuscripts from the golden period of devel- opment of Islamic culture and civilization perished due to either internal clashes or conflicts with outside enemies. Significant numbers of islamic manuscripts perished during those periods. Crusades, reconquista in Spain and Mogal plunder of Baghdad. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, invasion of Eugene of Savoy in 1697 and the latest agrression on Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1992-1995 were periods of significant loss of valuable manuscripts. Oriental institut and National and University library in Sarajevo burned down during war.

In terms of estimation of their value, manuscripts are divided into three categories of which those related to natural and applied sciences are the most expensive.

For each category, a table is provided which gives approximate value in US dollars and in gold.

How to Cite
Popara, H. (2005). Islamic manuscripts. Anali Gazi Husrev-Begove Biblioteke, 13(23-24), 117-154. Retrieved from