Art And Culture

World’s Oldest Library Holds Priceless Islamic Treatises

World’s Oldest Library Holds Priceless Islamic TreatisesWorld’s Oldest Library Holds Priceless Islamic Treatises

In the heart of Morocco’s ancient city of Fez, stands the world’s oldest working library. 

As early writings from the Arabic-speaking world have come under increasing threat from extremists, the Qarawiyyin library is home to priceless treatises in Islamic studies, astronomy and medicine. 

Last year the Islamic State group burned thousands of rare manuscripts at the Mosul library in Iraq, and in 2013 extremists torched countless early writings from the Islamic world and Greece in Mali’s Timbuktu. 

The Qarawiyyin library has just emerged from years of restoration, although no date has yet been fixed for a public opening.

“All that’s left to be done are a few finishing touches,” says Boubker Jouane, the library’s deputy director, AFP reported. 

“A house of science and wisdom”, according to its founder Fatima Al-Fihri, the library was one of the Arab world’s largest centers of learning. 

Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Al-Qayrawan in Tunisia, established the library, the university that originally housed it and a mosque in 859 AD. 

  Manuscript Room 

Today the university has moved to a new location, but the mosque -- which shares an emerald-green tile roof with the library -- still stands. 

The library as it appears today was built in the 14th century under sultan Abu Inan, and completely restructured under the king Mohammed V, the grandfather of Morocco’s current monarch. 

Over the centuries, sultans, noblemen, princesses and wise men have contributed works to its shelves. 

Under an imposing ceiling of wooden arabesques and a huge copper chandelier, the main reading room contains some 20,000 books. 

The manuscript room is hidden behind two heavy metal doors and protected by an alarm system and surveillance cameras.  Its wooden window shutters are closed to prevent sunlight from entering. 

The precious manuscripts are each bundled in a grey-colored cardboard file and displayed on standard metal shelves.  Around 3,800 titles are kept here, some of them priceless. 

One example is a treatise on medicine by philosopher and physician Ibn Tufayl from the 12th century. 

Another is a handwritten copy of historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun’s “Book of Lessons”. The treatise in history has been signed by the 14th-century thinker himself. 

“Praise Be to God, what is written belongs to me,” a line he wrote reads in elegant handwriting. 

A 12th-century manuscript -- a treatise in astronomy by philosopher Al-Farabi -- shows the course of the planet Jupiter, complete with drawings of astonishing precision. 

The library counted 30,000 manuscripts when it was founded under Abu Inan. But many were destroyed, stolen or plundered over the years, says Jouane. 

“There’s only very little left of what once was, but today we carefully watch over these priceless treasures.” 

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