For cross-referencing, see also the Quran section.
How to get started?
For centuries Islamicate societies were fervent producers of written texts. These texts were handwritten, a custom that remained in fashion even after the printing press was introduced. That in essence is what a manuscript is, a hand-written text. Within the scope of handwritten texts, every imaginable topic is covered and the quality of manuscripts, in terms of content, material, hand-writing etc. varies enormously. Hand-written texts have some peculiarities that are not or less present in printed text, to learn about these, the online learning tool Mouse and Manuscript can get you started. You will also need to learn how to locate manuscripts within libraries museums etc. The online databases and catalogues mentioned underneath can offer you some ideas, but in many cases you will also have to refer to manuscript catalogues, which only exist in print still.
The high number of Islamic manuscripts in the world, mainly in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, the wide dispersion of collections and the multiplication of conservation projects make it all the more necessary to consult specialized newsletters and websites.
The Islamic Manuscript Association organizes conferences, trainings about Islamic manuscripts. Since 2010, the association is publishing the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts. You’ll find a lot of useful links regarding bibliographies, cataloguing tools, online manuscripts catalogues.
The University of Michigan Library’s website offers, among its many research guides, a online guide which is devoted to Islamic Manuscript studies with numerous resources for the studies of manuscripts produced in the Islamic world and the manuscript cultures they represent. It is particularly useful to consult the list of online collections of digitized Islamic manuscripts sorted by region and then by country and the list of manuscripts catalogues online with a similar structure.
AMIR – Access to Mideast and Islamic Resources, you’ll find an Alphabetical list of Open Access Islamic Manuscripts Collections.
Saramusik – A database of Arabic manuscripts on music, led by Anas Ghrab at the University of Sousse.
The Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA has put online a helpful Introduction to Islamic Manuscript Culture with recorded lectures and other resources.
Some Collections/ Libraries
Middle Eastern Libraries
The following indications mainly concern catalogues that can be searched online. It should be noted, however, that many print catalogues of Arab libraries are downloadable from Markaz Wadûd li-l-makhtûtât
Manuscripts center – Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Egypt)
The Institute of Arabic Manuscripts (Egypt) is dedicated to gathering and indexing Arabic manuscripts. With the expertise of the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies, they are currently cataloguing the Süleymaniye manuscripts collection. More than 3000 manuscripts have been catalogued so far.
The Union Catalogue of manuscripts in Iran:
Dirāyatī, Muṣtafā. Fihristgan̄n: nuskheha-ye khaṭṭī-ye Īrān, ed. Mujtabā Dirāyatī. Tehran: Sāzmān-i Asnād wa Kitābkhāne-ye Millī-i Jumhūrī-ye Islāmī-ye Īrān, 2011-
The Union Catalogue of manuscripts in Iraq:
Dirāyatī, Muṣtafā. Muʿjam al-makhṭūṭāt al-Irāqiyya. Tehran: Sāzmān-i Asnād wa Kitābkhāne-ye Millī-i Jumhūrī-ye Islāmī-ye Īrān, 2019-
The Oriental Library of Saint-Joseph University. The library’s website provides online access to the catalogues of the manuscripts held in its collection.
Mabktabat al-Malik Fahd al-Wataniyya (Saudi Arabia) with a catalogue in Arabic and English
European and American Libraries
FIHRIST – Union Catalogue of Manuscripts from the Islamicate World. A UK-wide union catalogue, it is a free on-line catalogue for manuscripts descriptions. It is not a digital library but if a digital copy exists on-line, a link is provided.
The British Library has nearly 15,000 manuscripts in Arabic, 9,000 in Persian, and nearly 1,000 in Turkish. Only some of these are listed in the Library’s general catalogue, which can be searched online. For all the collections, the paper catalogues, inventoried and, for some of them, downloadable for Arabic, Persian and Turkish, should also be consulted.
The French National Library (BnF), which preserves very important manuscript collections, gives an online access to 7,324 manuscripts from the Arabic collection, 234 manuscripts from the Persian collection and 743 manuscripts from the Turkish collection on its portal Gallica.
Catalogues of Arabic manuscripts :
- Catalogue des manuscrits arabes 1 à 4665
- Catalogue des manuscrits arabes 4666 à 6753
- Index arabe 590 à 6835
- Index arabe 6836 à 7214
- Arabes chrétiens 1 à 323
- Arabes chrétiens 780 à 6933. Index
- Arabes musulmans 590 à 1120
- Arabes musulmans 1121 à 1464
- Arabes musulmans 1465 à 1685
- Index arabes musulmans 590 à 1464
Catalogues of Persian manuscripts :
Catalogues of Turkish manuscripts :
The Near Eastern Collections of the Royal Danish Library. You can access digitised Arabic and Persian manuscripts.
Libraries of Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht, inventories made by J.J. Witkam.
Leiden University Library – Islamic World Special Collection : collection guides available for Arabic, Berber, Turkish and Persian manuscripts and also for individuals scholars and collectors’ collections.
Oriental manuscripts in Germany have been systematically catalogued and published since 1961. The Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts in German Collections (Katalogisierung der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland = KOHD) has an online database cataloguing. The database contains descriptions of manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Old Turkish, …, owned by seven different German institutions.
Database of Oriental manuscripts at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Access to Catalogues
University of Michigan – Islamic Manuscripts Collection
Cornell University Library – Middle East and Islamic Studies Collection
Princeton University Library – Princeton Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts. You can find over 200 digitized manuscripts.
The National Library of Medicine (Washington D.C.) – Islamic Medical Manuscripts, over 300 manuscripts.
Other collections/ Images
OPenn – a website of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. You’ll find high-resolution archival images of manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and other institutions, along with machine-readable TEI P5 descriptions and technical data. Among collections available: Manuscripts of the Muslim World with more than 500 manuscripts in Arabic and Persian, along with examples of Coptic, Samaritan, Syriac, Turkish, and Berber.
BINA – The University Library of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (BULAC) inaugurated its digital library (BINA) in January 2019 to enable the online availability of its corpus of Arabic, Turkish and Persian manuscripts (the second largest in France after BnF with nearly 2,160 cotes). The work of identification and digitization is in progress and the library will be progressively enriched with the aim of systematically and exhaustively processing its corpus. These documents will be integrated into Gallica. In October 2019, the library will offer 159 Arabic manuscripts, 110 Persian manuscripts and 250 Ottoman Turkish manuscripts.
World Digital Library – The World Digital Library is a project of the Library of congress and is supported by UNESCO and institutes and libraries around the world. It intends to increase digital availability of significant primary material from around the world. Here it is included in this list because of its wide selection of manuscripts, but the WDL also offers a variety of other materials.
Al-Furqan Digital Library offers a very extensive manuscript portal with the ambitious intention to collect information on all the holdings of islamic manuscripts around the world. Per library or per city you can find information like the number of manuscripts in islamic languages that are available in a library or institution and whether these have been catalogued. The website is intended as a portal so most of the information is not stored locally but through the website you are redirected to websites that hold more information on these manuscripts or give access to digital versions if these are available.
Online library of works devoted to Arabic manuscripts (catalogues, tools for text editing): Markaz Wadod
On the MELCOM International site a very extensive list of manuscript collections around the world is available.
Islamic manuscripts reference library on the Islamic manuscripts website moderated by Jan Just Witkam. Numerous articles published in journal or periodical publications to download. The section also contains the full contents of Manuscripts of the Middle East and older catalogues of Islamic manuscripts, out-of-print.