Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One of the most important collections of ancient Islamic texts is in Israel

From Ha'aretz:

The National Library in Jerusalem is to begin displaying old Muslim religious texts from its collections, including some that are quite rare. Among the texts to be displayed as part of a special series on the history of Islam, are also two Korans from the ninth century, just 200 years or so after the writing of the first Koran.

In addition, the public will be able to view three Korans from the 11th and 12th centuries that come from Antalya, Andalusia and Persia. Most of the manuscripts are part of the collection of the Jewish scholar Abraham Shalom Yehuda. Upon his death, Shalom Yehuda, a prominent early 20th century Islamic studies researcher, donated his collection to the National Library. The collection includes 1,184 old manuscripts, of which around 100 are Korans, and is deemed one of the Western world's most important collections of ancient Muslim manuscripts.

Several of Shalom Yehuda's are among the most beautiful of the ancient Korans and feature unique decorations. "He had a great eye for books," says Dr. Raquel Ukeles, the curator of the National Library's Islam and Middle East collection and the initiator of the series.

The rare manuscripts will be displayed as part of a series of seminars at the library. Each day of the program will also feature the participation of researchers or Muslim clerics. According to Ukeles, there were no rejections of her invitation to come to the National Library from Arab clerics, only enthusiastic favorable replies. "Most Jewish Israelis, and even the Muslim Israelis, don't know much about Islam. For me, it's an opportunity to create an encounter between the university and other worlds, where they can get acquainted with each other," she said.

The program is part of the library management's relatively new policy which is aimed at opening its collections to the general public and not just to researchers. However, Ukeles also notes that even Muslim scholars are unaware of the Shalom Yehuda collection and its importance. "I discovered that it's a secret of sorts; hardly anyone knows about it. Part of the fun in the series is that we are opening it to the general public," Ukeles said.
Abraham Shalom Yahuda was one of the most important collectors of Islamica in the world before his death in 1951.

If some of those ancient Korans deviate at all from  today's accepted text, this could become very interesting.