Highlighting a recently published article by Dr. Eliza Tasbihi, Specialised Cataloguing Editor of Islamic Manuscripts at McGill Library

This blog post highlights a recently published article by our colleague, Dr. Eliza Tasbihi: “Visionary Perceptions through Cosmographical Diagrams”, in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabi Society, 2021.

Eliza Tasbihi is a Specialised Cataloguing Editor of Islamic Manuscripts at McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections. She completed her M.A. in Islamic Studies from McGill University and her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Concordia University. Her main areas of research are classical Islam, classical Persian literature, Ottoman studies and Ottoman Sufi literature, and Sufism and Sufi literature.

In her recent article, Tasbihi studies the Mystical knowledge of Heydar Amuli in his work the Text of the Text (Nass al-nusus) by highlighting his cosmographical diagrams, which she believes is the most important part of his work. She also explores the influence of Ibn Arabi’s thought upon Amuli, as well as areas where their doctrine differed.

The paper is divided into several sections with the first providing a brief biography of Amuli, who was a Shi’ite mystic and a Sufi philosopher from 14th century, followed by Ibn Arabi’s influence on Amuli’s thought and work.

The main section discusses the overall importance of circle shapes (dawai’r) in Islamic cosmology, with the application in cosmographical diagrams in Amuli’s work of Nass al-nusus. Here Tasbihi discusses the implication of circle shapes (dawai’r) in Amuli’s diagram as an indication of the “science of balance and its correspondence between the spiritual and corporeal worlds” and that dawair brings balance to the world. Tasbihi goes on to discuss how Amuli used circular forms not only to explain difficult esoteric concepts, but also to refer to specific theological topics in his work, such as prophethood, Imamhood, “spiritual friends of God” (awliya) and Prophet’s ascension.” She notes that, “the diagrams are employed as clear and efficient methods of presenting cosmological ideas”, in addition to the inter-relations that connect these diagrams.

diagram 9, the central small circles represent 7 prophets who are identified as ‘spiritual poles’ (aqṭāb, sing. quṭb), whose central figure is Muḥammad, the source of spiritual knowledge for the 6 other surrounding prophets..
Tasbihi, Eliza. (2021). Visionary Perceptions through Cosmographical Diagrams : Mystical Knowledge from Ḥaydar Āmulī’s (d.787/1385) Naṣṣ al-nuṣūṣ fī sharḥ Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam. 69. 31-83.

Tasbihi consulted four manuscripts to study and clarify Amuli’s argument and details of the diagrams. Diagrams numbered 1, 7-11 are drawn from Amuli’s commentary on Ibn Arabi’s Fusus al-hikam. She also highlights Amuli’s interpretation of the presence of the number 19 represented by its sacredness and by its relation to the awliya. The number 19 is said to resemble the 19 letters of the basmala, which opens all but one Quranic Sura. Further, the number 19 is present within the awliya (the chain of prophets and their spiritual representatives/spiritual friends of God) consisting of 7 prophets and the 12 Imams who spiritually received divine knowledge. Amuli’s dedicates one diagram to the 12 Imams, which emphasizes how Amuli’s Shi’a doctrine influenced his understanding of Ibn Arabi’s Sunni text of the Fusus.

diagram 10 reflects Āmulī’s Shīʿa theology by demonstrating that only the heirs of the Prophet Muḥammad are the qualified awliyāʾ and through them alone is the line of mystical knowledge carried. Diagrams 10 ( Figure 4) and 11 ( Figure 5) demonstrate the correspondences that are affected between the 19 levels of cosmology and 19 levels of Imāmology and prophetology, each indicated by one of the 19 letters of the Basmala. In other words, the diagrams show the correspondences between the corporeal world…..
Tasbihi, Eliza. (2021). Visionary Perceptions through Cosmographical Diagrams : Mystical Knowledge from Ḥaydar Āmulī’s (d.787/1385) Naṣṣ al-nuṣūṣ fī sharḥ Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam. 69. 31-83

Tasbihi summaries by arguing that, on the one hand Amuli’s thoughts were influenced by Ibn Arabi, as in his definition of the perfect man (Insan Kamil) and divine knowledge, and on the other hand Amuli borrowed Ibn Arabi’s cosmological concepts in order to develop his “esoteric-allegorical aspects of Shi’a theology”. Therefore, she concludes that Amuli’s Text of the Text (Nass al-nusus) is a Shi’a interpretation of Ibn Arabi’s Fusus al-hikam.

Access the Tasbihi’s article at McGill library here: https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/v2/oclc/607401882

To know more about Dr. Eliza Tasbihi and her works please click here: https://independent.academia.edu/ElizaTasbihi

Ibn Arabi’s فصوص الحكم /‏ Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam can be found here: https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/v2/oclc/122782398

A highlight of the Islamic Studies Library research guides

Seizing the opportunity of the start of this new academic year, I decided to highlight the Islamic Studies Library (ISL) research guides that library staff conscientiously developed over the past ten years, and keep updating regularly. But before diving into the details, let me start by defining what a research guide is: a research guide -also called ‘subject guide’- is a curated list of resources focusing on a specific topic, discipline, or field of study. The research guides include both resources owned by the McGill library available only to the McGill community, and Open Access resources that are freely accessible to anyone on the internet. Our guides were developed by library staff with the help of graduate students, course lecturers and faculty of the Institute of Islamic Studies.

  1. How to access the ISL research guides?
    There are two ways you can access our research guides. Either you go to the Islamic Studies Library main page and look for the ‘Key resources’ menu:

Or you go to the main library webpage and look for the ‘Humanities’ tab in the ‘Subject guides’ column:

2. Which disciplines or fields are covered?
Originally, we had only two guides, but over the years we added ten more in the aim to cover the broad range of topics and disciplines taught at the Institute of Islamic Studies. Currently, you will find the following guides:

3. How can research guides help me?
Research guides list and link to selected resources such as reference materials (encyclopedias, dictionaries), periodicals, monographs, primary sources (archives, government documents, photographs, maps, etc.), websites, databases, etc. In addition, our guides include a number of tools that will be useful to Islamic and Middle East studies scholars like date converters, virtual keyboards for Arabic Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Urdu, as well as romanization and transliteration tables for these languages in non-roman scripts. As such, these guides are excellent starting points to dive into a topic, and familiarize yourself with the McGill library collections.

4. Where to go beyond research guides?
Within each research guide, you can access the library online catalogue (Sofia) to search for more resources on your topic(s) of interest at McGill, in Québec, and worldwide. If you need help doing so, you are invited to contact your liaison librarian (me) either by email or phone (+1-514-449-1952), or to make an appointment for a consult using the scheduling tool accessible from the guides:

University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriot Library: Middle East Digitized Collections

University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriot Digital Library offers over 350 digital collections, containing over 1 million digital photographs, maps, books, videos, audio recordings, and other items. Among these collections are the Middle East Digitized Collections.

I. ARABIC PAPYRUS, PARCHMENT, AND PAPER
The Arabic Papyrus, Parchment & Paper Collection is the largest of its kind in the United States, The collection was acquired by Prof. Aziz Suriyal Atiya, founder of the Middle East Center and the Middle East Library.

Time Period: A large number of pieces date to the period between 700 and 850 CE. The collection includes a significant number of documents from the pre-Ottoman period.

Collection size: It contains 770 Arabic papyrus documents, 1300 Arabic paper documents, and several pieces on parchment.

Coverage: A unique source on the political, economic, religious and intellectual life of Egypt during the first two centuries of Islamic rule and the period up to Ottoman domination.

II. AZIZ SURYAL ATIYA PAPERS
Dr. Aziz S. Atiya was the founding director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah. He was the author of many books and articles and editor of the Coptic Encyclopedia.

Time period: Papers document the life and work of Aziz Atiya (1927-1993)

Coverage: Papers include curriculum vitae, memorabilia, and personal correspondence and financial records. Also include materials relating to his career as a teacher, scholar and author, including lecture notes, student papers, publication contracts, royalty information, materials relating to the publication of the Coptic Encyclopedia, articles, newsletters, offprints, clippings, research files and maps.

III. MIDDLE EAST COLLECTION
Highlighted in this collection is an eighteenth century Quran produced in Bukhara and a Persian manuscript of poetry by a Mughal princess.

Time period: dating from as early as 800CE/183AH

Collection size: 3,000 printed books from and about the Middle East.

Coverage: It includes manuscripts in Arabic, Coptic, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish.

Items in these collections can be downloaded, shared on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, reference URL is also included.

The Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia (A Center for Islamic and Iranian Studies)

The Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia started in 1981 as a scientific research institution aiming to publish general and specialized encyclopedia.

To achieve their goal a group of scholars and researchers from different fields were called and after carefully studying best practices in the world of encyclopedias, Great Islamic Encyclopaedia- دائرة‌المعارف بزرگ اسلامی was compiled as their first project. Later the center expanded to a research institution with a broader mandate in research and publishing and developed a digital library as well as published various other encyclopedias in different topics such as culture, Iran’s folk culture, Islam, Iran’s Geography, etc.

Some of their encyclopedias are open access and available via The center’s website, Encyclopedias such as:

Image credit : https://wikinoor.ir

Encyclopedia of Iran which is a resource about Iran’s folklore culture and provides information about values, customs, beliefs, superstitions in Iran’s society as well as documenting the oral culture for historical and sociological research. So far 6 volumes are published, this encyclopedia is published in Persian language however each entry has a roman phonetics as well as a label with the corresponding topic of the entry or name of the Author of that entry.

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Image credit: https://fa.wikipedia.org

Great Islamic Encyclopaedia- دائرة‌المعارف بزرگ اسلامی which is known to be a comprehensive encyclopedia on Islamic topics is also available online. This encyclopedia has been translated to English, Arabic as well but only the one in Persian is accessible online. Each entry besides providing access to the entry article, also provides corresponding volume number in the print version for that article. Islamic Studies Library of McGill has the print version of the book and can be accessed here   .

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دانشنامۀ فرهنگ مردم ایران  is another open access resource from this center, encyclopedia of Iranian people culture, which explores various aspects of Iranian culture from past to contemporary era and is a useful resource for sociological, historical and anthropological research.

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دانشنامه تهران بزرگ  The Greater Tehran Encyclopedia is a detailed and specialized encyclopedia designed to compile a comprehensive, credible information about  all aspects of the material and spiritual life of Greater Tehran. It is estimated that the Great Encyclopedia of Tehran will contain about 12,000 articles, which will cover various topics from the aspects of political, social and cultural life of Greater Tehran, especially in the last 200 years.

The Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia website also lists the most recent added articles from each of the mentioned encyclopedias as well as the most viewed articles, access here.

Islamic Studies as Sacrificial Listening

Islamic Studies as Sacrificial Listening is the research blog of Dr. David Vishanoff, Associate Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma. His research interests lie in how individuals “understand religious others, and how they understand sacred texts—both their own and those of other religions.” Launched in 1997, when Dr Vishanoff was still a student, the blog is still active in 2021.

The blog is used as a platform for publishing some of his presentations , and publications. For presentations, Dr. Vishanoff generally gives access to his notes, PowerPoint Slides, and YouTube video link (when available). For publications, he provides -when copyright allows- access to PDF files. When copyright does not allow, he just links to the publisher’s website.

The blog also gives access to a number of courses syllabi that may be of interest to scholars looking for readings on particular topics:

If the Islamic Studies as Sacrificial Listening blog is very focused in terms of resources, it is a nice example of a dynamic, and user-friendly research blog, that could serve as a template for scholars interested in using blogging to promote their work.

Khazaaen

Khazaaen archive is a voluntary independent association, centered in Jerusalem, where it first started as an initiative in October of 2016. Khazaaen considers itself as a societal project where people’s efforts contribute in building the archive.

“Each paper has a story”

The archive is interested in gathering ephemera materials; which is basically any material that was produced for a short-term and specific objectives. Khazaaen has managed to gather up to 60 thousand documents, where most of the materials are either daily publications, advertisements, brochures, pamphlets, posters, business cards, postal cards, wedding invitations, commercial, political, or artistic. Khazaaen believes it’s important to gather such materials as they serve as basic information in understanding local and social histories and a collective memory of the society’s day-to-day interactions. Moreover, these materials contain honest and real information about certain events in certain points in history and they enable us to understand the social experience and the alterations that occurred across different eras.

Individual Contributors/ People’s cabinet (khazaneh)

Khazaaen has several collection centers located in Amman, Beirut, Doha, and Algeria. The Technical Team will sort out received materials and make a second copy to send it to another archive in order to have back-up copies. Then scan the original and create a digital surrogate. Hard copies are kept in antioxidant files to preserve them.

Ottoman Archive
77 Materials
British Mandate Archive
1201 Materials
Palestinian Publications Archive
3785 Materials
The memory in 5304 Materials

Khazaaen hopes that it would be able to protect and preserve as many of the daily publications as possible and make these materials available to researchers and the public. In addition, Khazaaen aspires that its digital archive will contribute in starting a social and cultural discussion around critical political and societal issues in the hope of creating a better tomorrow.

All the material made available on Khazaaen’s website have been uploaded with special permissions and agreements with different institutions and individuals with the aim of making it available to the public. To read more, check Terms of use.

AlKindi : a union catalogue of written religious and cultural heritage of the Middle East

AlKindi: is a union catalogue of written religious and cultural heritage of the Middle East, that combines in one catalogue the collections available in Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies, Institute of Arabic Manuscripts and Fscire Research Institute and Library on the History and Doctrines of Islam (Palermo).

Each of the three library holds rich collections of resources on Islamic topics, culture, heritage, authorities, and the intellectual work of prominent Islamic scholars.

            The library of the Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies (IDEO, Cairo) focuses on the Arabic Islamic sources of the first millennium Hiǧrī. IDEO’s library houses 150,000 monographs and about 1,800 journals and periodicals covering various disciplines such as Arabic language, Quranic exegesis, theology, law and jurisprudence, history, philosophy, sufism, history of sciences.

            The Institute of Arabic Manuscripts focuses on manuscripts in microfilm or in digital format and presents manuscripts in the field of classical Arab manuscript heritage.

            The Fscire Research Institute and Library on the History and Doctrines of Islam (Palermo) focus is on exhibiting the linguistic, doctrinal, and cultural diversity of Islam.

Alkindi created a searchable index for accessing bibliographic information on various valuable resources available at the above-mentioned libraries. Thus, scholars and researchers can map various primary and secondary resources. Alkindi also “aims to describe the genealogy or literary descent of a medieval work through the links that the works foster between them.”

Alkindi has launched a new version that complies with the conceptual model proposed by the International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) called FRBR. This new version provides 4 level of information for items and creates connection between different levels of information for items which provides users with a better search result.

On the search result page, bibliographic information is presented in the language of the source which can range from Arabic, English, French to Spanish and other languages. Moreover, the type of the material is specified whether it is series, early work or a monograph.  

bina : collections patrimoniales numérisées de la BULAC

bina is the digital collection of the Bibliothèque Universitaire des Langues et Civilisations (BULAC), an academic library established in 2001 to centralize the “Oriental” collections of nine parisian academic and research libraries. The wide-range of geographical areas covered by BULAC go from the Balkans, to Oceania passing by the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and Asia. BULAC’s mission revolves around three axis: gathering these “Oriental” collections in a single location, promoting and supporting open access, and facilitating worldwide scholars’ access to the materials.

The Middle Eastern, North African and Central Asian collections of BULAC include 235,000 monographs and over 800 periodicals. In addition, the library owns approximately 4,000 “Oriental” manucripts and rare books dating from the 16th to the 19th century. The online cataloguing of these rare collections started in 2013 and the digitization in 2016. At the time of our visit (June 2021), 248 Ottoman Turkish, 150 Persian and 61 Arabic manuscripts and archival documents had been scanned and were available in bina.

The XML-EAD standard initally used to describe these rare materials was not fit to reflect the linguistic and paleographical variety of the collection and the multiple transliteration systems used to transcribe non-roman scripts. Therefore, BULAC worked in collaboration with the Agence bibliographique de l’enseignement supérieur (ABES) to develop bibliographic descriptions and authority records matching the codicological and onomastical specificities of these collections. Those interested in learning more about this cataloguing project can read the following articles (in French):

Navigating bina digital collections can be done in three different ways. The simple search available from the top-right corner of the page will search simultaneaously the title, author, date, description, format and subject fields. The advanced search available either by clicking on the “Rechercher” tab or opening the drop-down menu in the simple search will allow to target specific fields and cross-search them. The Index search allows to browse materials by author, language, type of document and call number.

The metadata is divided in four categories: Notice (bibliographic data), Matérialité (physical description), Contenu (content) and Conservation (location).

The online viewer allows to browse volumes, jump to a specific page, display a single page, double pages or a gallery. It is also possible to save pages either as image of PDF (one page at a time), share (with a permalink) or embed the image elsewhere. Unless otherwise stated, all materials are out of copyright and free of use. For more technical and legal information, you may visit this page.

bina interface is in French.

The Digital Collections platform at The Aga Khan Library, London.

The Aga Khan Library, London houses invaluable resources for Islamic studies produced in different regions and different periods of the Islamic world. The collection of rare materials consists of manuscripts, artworks, out-of-print publications, photographs, and maps, a wide range of research materials on the history, politics, customs, and beliefs. In addition to these materials, the Aga Khan Library is a current custodian of several research collections and personal archives donated by acclaimed scholars in the field of Islamic studies.

Aga Khan Library Digital Collections offers a digitized copy of some of the rare books in the Aga Khan Library, London. Therefore, becoming a member of the library will grant members a full access to the library collection. It is also possible to create a personal account for nonmembers, which will allow users to save books, chapters, images or other items to view later, organize saved items into folders, email and export citations and save searches.

“The Digital Collections platform is a significant milestone in the services of the Aga Khan Library to promote scholarship on Islam, past and present. The platform also supports the Aga Khan Library in its essential role as a facilitator of teaching and research at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, and the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, its parent institutions.”

Digital Collections

Ottoman Collection

There are 109 items available for browsing, mainly in Ottoman Turkish Language and mostly published in Turkey. Disciplines include history, archeology, linguistics, literature, law, religion and mythology. Highlights of the collection include Osmanlı Tarihi, an encyclopaedia of Ottoman History; and Türkçülüğün Esasları, Principles of Turkism, a work published in 1923 by Ziya Gökalp.

View collection

Ismaili Printed Materials

There are 62 items available for browsing, chiefly in Arabic and some in Gujarati and other languages, mostly published in India. Disciplines include Religions, Mythology, History, Archeology and Literature. One of the highlights of the collection include works by the renowned Persian poet and traveller, Nasir-i Khusraw (d. 1088), and a large holdings of devotional hymns known as ginans attributed to Ismaili Pirs in the Indian sub-continent.

View collection

Peter Avery

Professor Avery (1923–2008) was an eminent scholar of Persian history and literature. His collection contains thousands of volumes including manuscripts, lithographs, and many rare and out-of-print titles in Persian, English, and Arabic, some dating back to the early 18th century. There are 2 items available for browsing at the moment.

Muhammad Abduh

A collection of books and holograph manuscripts casts a light on Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) will be available soon. He was a crucial figure in the intellectual history of Egypt and the Muslim countries.

There are multiple ways of navigating the content: The main Search box in the header or the advanced Search; search by keyword with date range; search using combinations of author name, title, category, date range, or identifier.

Users can print and download individual images. All use of the site content is subject to Terms and Conditions, printing and saving should be for personal use, and standard copyright restrictions apply regarding unauthorized copying and distribution.

Open access Islamic-Iranian manuscripts database: گنجینه باز نسخ خطی اسلامی – ایرانی

Open access Islamic-Iranian manuscripts database has been established with the aim of providing access to resources for researchers and scholars with the focus on the manuscripts of the Islamic world and Iran. This site, in order to promote the values of Iranian culture, with the help of group of dedicated partners tried to make available manuscripts and develop techniques of accessing the manuscripts of the Islamic world and Iran. And recently they have run their pilot version of their website.

قرآن، ایران کتابخانه حائري – قم

It is possible to read manuscripts electronically and, on the web, as well as access other resources provided in this database such as books and articles related to the field of manuscripts.

This initiative consists of various departments such as cataloging, graphic editing, image development, public and international relations, and IT.

رسالة، ایران کتابخانه حضرت ولیعصر – خوانسار

Development of their archive relies on collaboration of private collection owners, personal collections, national libraries, or other entities who are willing to share their manuscripts, books, or their resources with them to be digitized and to be made available for public use.  

قرآن، عراق منشا نامشخص

The image of manuscripts is accessible for everyone; however, the website interface is only available in Persian language. Each manuscript can be browsed, and bibliographic information is presented consisting of language of the item, subject and author. Also, when available more details about the manuscript is shared such as title, author or manuscript’s transcriber as well as where the item is kept, and it also indicates if the manuscript is not complete.