Salvaging a letter from the Prophet

A copy of the Holy Quran handwritten by Aurangzeb and a rare letter ostensibly addressed by the Prophet to the ruler of Egypt are among the 1,500 manuscripts being scanned and digitised in Deoband

 Salvaging a letter from the Prophet
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Aas Mohd Kaif

Arare letter from Prophet Hazrat Mohammed addressed to the Egyptian King, the holy Quran hand-written by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, handwritten copies of the Torah (Hebrew Bible in writing), Vedas, Geeta, Mahabharat and are among the rare manuscripts being digitized for the first time at Darool Ulum, Deoband. Many of these manuscripts, handwritten in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Sanskrit, have not been opened for half a century or more because of their fragile state.

The exercise to preserve the 1,563 rare manuscripts and other books began during the lockdown earlier this year. One lakh pages have been digitized so far, informs the librarian Maulana Shafique. But 50 lakh pages remain to be digitised. The library at Darul Uloom was established in 1866 and a new library building is coming up at a cost of Rs 20 Crore. Once digitized and laminated, most of the manuscripts will be shifted to the new library building.

One of the reasons for the slow progress of digitization is the decision to do the exercise on its own. Several agencies including the National Archives of India, Malyasia and Saudi Arabia had evinced interest in the project and the Iranian Cultural Centre had offered to do it at no cost. But their condition was a copy of each manuscript by way of fees. The offer was politely turned down.

Many of the manuscripts are 500 to 800 years old. There is a large collection of books on Sufism, Jurisprudence, law, Biology, Unani medicine, Astronomy, Culture and Theology. There is also a 750-year old hand-written book on Botany. There is an equally large collection on Tasawwuf or Islamic mysticism, most of them handwritten and the latest just 300 years old.

An overwhelming majority of the books, possibly as much as 95%, were gifted to the library during the last 150 years. Established in 1866 the library has a collection of over 200,000 books, twenty percent of which are related to the syllabi followed at the internationally known seminary. With research scholars coming from across the world, says the librarian Maulana Shafique, the library is being technologically upgraded and the digitisation of the older books and manuscripts is part of that upgradation. “Our conservation project includes books of every religion written in about 20 languages,” he added.

Successive Vice Chancellors and the faculty, he said, had paid enormous attention to the library and recalled the oft-quoted lore in the campus about Late Shaikh-ul-Hadith Maulana Anzar Shah Kashmiri. On a visit to Egypt he chanced upon an ancient book which he wanted to bring back for the library. But the owner of the book declined to part with it. The Maulana then borrowed the book for reading and memorised the entire book in just one night. When he returned, he re-wrote the book “Nurul Aza” which is part of the Seminary’s curriculam today.

A large part of the credit, he pointed out, should go to the present Vice Chancellor Maulana Abdul Khalique Madrasi, who himself visited the National Archives and arranged for teams to get trained in preservation of manuscripts.

A large part of the credit, he pointed out, should go to the present Vice Chancellor Maulana Abdul Khalique Madrasi, who himself visited the National Archives and arranged for teams to get trained in preservation of manuscripts.

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