Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation

Al- Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, is a non-profit institution and was founded in 1988 by Ahmad Zaki Yamani and is based in London.

Preservation and documentation of written Islamic Heritage was the initial goal of the Al-Furqan, but it has expanded beyond its initial aim and has three centers active in the field of Islamic studies. Also Al-Furqan  has published many different publications in the field of Islamic manuscripts, one of which is “World Survey of Islamic Manuscripts” and is known as a pioneering work that catalogues manuscripts in various countries from all over the world.

This publication is available at McGill library and can be found here : https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/26816242  

Moreover, after completion of the above mentioned publication the digitized outcome of the World Survey of Islamic Manuscripts is called ‘World Collections’ databank and can be accessed through Al-Furqan digital library at this address: https://digitallibrary.al-furqan.com/world_library.

The three centers of Al-Furqan, with their publication, research and academic activates, are contributing in various ways to the goal of the foundation, which is conservation, promotion and study of Islamic manuscripts, these three centers are:

“The Manuscript Centre within Al-Furqan was established in 1988, aiming to preserve and study the Islamic manuscripts, which constitute a particularly important part of Islamic heritage…..”
“[….] The Manuscript Centre within Al-Furqan is committed to mobilising all available expertise to preserve these manuscripts and to restore their content to the cultural mainstream.”

“In 1991, the late Sheikh Hamad al-Jasser, a member of Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, gave a keynote speech at the Foundation’s launch, in which he presented some of the most valuable manuscripts of Makkah and Madinah and urged the Foundation to undertake the task of producing an encyclopaedia of the two great cities.”

“The mission of the Centre is summarised in the revitalisation of the knowledge of al-maqasid (objectives, purposes), in order to develop the process of ijtihad (free reasoning) and the renewal of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence), its fundamental theory (usul), and Islamic thought in general. The Centre also aims to broaden the horizons of knowledge for students of Islamic studies everywhere.”

Another important part of Al-Furqan Foundation is its Digital library which was established in 2013 with the aim of advancing and supporting research as well as raising awareness regarding Islamic written heritage especially Islamic manuscripts. To this end, Al-Furqan Digital Library has a valuable and large collection of references as well as primary resources and presents an increasing repository of bibliographic information about manuscripts and manuscript collections worldwide.

This Digital library is user-friendly and interactive and is available in Arabic and English. It also has a very well-designed guide that walks users through various aspects of the library and show them how to use and access material.

Moreover, Al-Furqan Foundation’s website provides access to a wide range of different information including a section called Selected Articles that provides access to the different full text article in the selected topics of  Articles on Islamic Manuscripts ,  Articles on Makkah & Madinah Articles on the Philosophy of Islamic Law as well as  Articles related to International Days .

Al-Furqan has many publications which can be browsed here, also it worth mentioning that Islamic Studies Library of McGill has many of its publication which can be searched and found in the library catalogue.

Ibadi Studies: ibadi history & manuscript culture / دراسات إباضية

Ibadi Studies is a research blog launched in 2013 and maintained by Dr. Paul Love, a Historian teaching North African, Middle Eastern, and Islamic History at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI), Morocco. Interested in  the Ibadi communities as well as in manuscript studies, libraries, and intellectual history, Dr. Love is the author of a monograph entitled Ibadi Muslims of North Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2018). According to his profile on the blog, he is currently working on a new publication on the history of the Ibadi community in the post-formative period in Cairo.

Although focused exclusively on one scholar’s research, Ibadi Studies remains an interesting resource for anyone interested in the topic. The main thread displays numerous call for papers, conferences and workshops announcements, and articles about manuscripts or lithographs housed all over the world (including the McGill Library, see image below).

The Library Catalogs & Inventories section dedicated to listing existing catalogues of Ibadi manuscripts and rare books, thus far includes lists for libraries in Djerba (Tunisia), Lviv (Ukraine), and Naples (Italy).

The blog is in English, but some posts have abstracts in Arabic.

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For those of you curious about the McGill Library Ibadi holdings, here’s a detailed list with links to full bibliographic records:

Digital collection @ National Library and Archive of Iran

National library and Archive of Iran (NLAI) is located in Tehran and was launched officially in 1937 but its collection dates back 150 years.

The present National Library of Iran houses many different collections from older libraries, including many rare and valuable manuscripts such as large numbers of manuscripts, old printed books, old itineraries from European tourists, documents, rare periodicals and materials in non-print forms.

The library is an educational, research, and service institution, aiming to acquire, organize and disseminate information published or produced in Iran or in the fields of Iranology and Islamic study in other countries. NLAI provides access to part of its massive collection through the Digital Collection, which consists of various collections of Manuscripts, lithograph, dissertations, newspapers, photographs, maps, documents and printed books.

A quick guide to transliterating Arabic, Persian or Urdu on your computer

Scholars in the West relying on sources in languages written in Arabic script (such as Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish or Urdu) often need -if only to search the library catalogues- to be able to write the Arabic script in a transliterated or romanized form. This post offers a quick guide to transliterating or romanizing languages written in Arabic script. Transliteration and romanization are used interchangeably to designate the action of writing the Arabic characters in Latin characters.

1. Transliteration systems

Transliteration and romanization system are based on adding diacritic marks to Latin characters to render letters and sounds that don’t exist in English. Numerous transliteration standards are available (ALA-LC, ISO, IJMES for example) which might be confusing, but the most important is to be consistent once you have chosen a system. It is important to note as well that each language -even if written in Arabic script- will have a proper transliteration system. Most North American libraries use the ALA-LC (Library of Congress) romanization tables whereas a number of European libraries use the ISO 233 transliteration standard. Knowing the differences between ALA-LC and ISO 233 will help search library catalogues much more efficiently. Last, some journals or publishers have their own transliteration system which they require authors to use: knowing which standard is used in a specific publication will often make using it much easier.

2. Diacritic marks

The main challenge with romanization is the consistent encoding of letters with diacritic marks. Using a persistent encoding standard will ensure the marked letters display properly regardless of the document format, type of device, or exploitation system you are working on. Inconsistent encoding will result in alterations of the text where letters turn into different signs, often illegible.

3. Encoding standard

The computing standard for consistent encoding of non-Latin scripts is the UNICODE TRANSFORMATION FORMAT (UTF). Developed in the early 1990s by a not-for-profit consortium made of large computing companies (Adobe, Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle) and governmental agencies, UNICODE is regularly amended to include more characters. At present, it allows to write 150 different scripts among which Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, Urdu and  their romanized forms. Different UTF standards are available, but the most commonly used are UTF-8 (in particular for HTML web documents) and UTF-16 (especially for text documents in both Windows and mac OS environments).

4. Typefaces (fonts)

In order to encode letters in UTF, you need to use one of the rare typefaces that support UNICODE characters such as Arial Unicode MS on PCs, and either Times New Roman, Helvetica or Lucida Grande on mac. If not among the default typefaces available on your computer, these fonts can easily be downloaded for free from the internet.

5. Transliterated letters input

Once you have a typeface compatible with UNICODE, you need a tool allowing the input of characters and diacritic marks. Because regular keyboards layout cannot accommodate key combinations for all characters with diacritics, alternative methods were developed by operating systems: the Microsoft Windows Character Map and the Extended Accent Codes for Mac will give you access to the entire repertoire of UNICODE characters.

6. Additional information

The Arabic Macintosh website is a very valuable resource for mac users interested in transliterating the Arabic script. The Digital Orientalist dedicated a lengthy post to keyboard layouts in both mac OS and Windows environments.

Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran Digital Archives

Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran (WWQI) is a digital archive of materials related to the lives of women during the Qajar era, inclusive of the period immediately preceding and following the dynastic period (1786 -1925). The goal of WWQI is to address a gap in scholarship and understanding of the lives of women during the Qajar era.

“Given the dearth of available primary-source materials related to women in the Qajar era, it is not surprising that, to date, the vast majority of Qajar social histories have focused almost exclusively on the struggles, achievements, and day-to-day realities of the men of that period. This is in part a matter of expediency; while men’s writing have been easily accessible in various national archives for decades (and many have in more recent years been published in edited volumes), most women’s writings, photographs, and other personal papers have to date remained sequestered in private family hands.”

WWQI aims to open up the documented social and cultural histories of Qajar women, thus allowing for the examinations of broader patterns of life during this era.

The materials included in the archive are not only those contained in private archives and manuscripts but also published materials from the Middle Eastern Collection in Widener Library and other institutions. They consist of:

  • Writings: letters, prose, poetry, travel writings, essays, periodicals, and diaries
  • Legal documents: wedding contracts, dowry documents, settlements, endowments, powers of attorney, wills, sales, and other financial contracts
  • Artworks: calligraphy, painting, embroidery, weaving, other handicrafts, music, and film
  • Photographs
  • Everyday objects
  • Oral histories

You could begin your search either by clicking on “Collections” or on “Browse”. All roads tend to lead to the search engine, where you can refine your search with keywords and filter selection.

The website uses Elastic Search full text search engine which supports both English and Persian language-specific searches. While the results should be consistent, the results may vary slightly in terms of relevancy ranking.

The website also includes a research platform which put students and scholars in collaborative conversations, and generate innovative scholarship on the cultural history of the Qajar period focused on lives of women and issues of gender and sexuality.

To learn more about how the Archive generates the digital holdings, see the documentary essay by Nicole Legnani, Commissioned by the Office of the Digital Arts and Humanities at Harvard University.

The Harvard University Library (HUL) central infrastructure accommodates all image, text, and audio materials collected for this archive. All WWQI materials can be accessed through the following Harvard University Library catalogues as well: Visual Information Access (VIA) system and HOLLIS Catalog.

Fihrist: Union Catalogue of Manuscripts from the Islamicate World

FIHRIST is an evolving union catalogue, for 11,015 Islamic and other Middle Eastern manuscripts.

The collective holdings of the contributing Libraries of the UK are of substantial intellectual and cultural significance. All contributing libraries have been selectively collecting manuscripts from all subject areas, and of various geographical origins, dating from the 7th to the 19th century CE.

“FIHRIST is a free on-line catalogue for manuscript descriptions.

FIHRIST is not a digital Library”

FIHRIST developed from a pilot-project between Oxford & Cambridge to become               a UK-wide union catalogue. The catalogue is constantly growing in volume, as libraries and research projects are contributing manuscripts descriptions.

The union catalogue provides basic and advanced search options. One can search in English, Arabic or Hebrew by using the additional Keyboard in the search box. When using advanced search, more search options and a list of tips are made available to improve the search results.

In terms of manuscript availability, “if a digital copy of a works exists on-line, a link is provided and maintained by the institution holding the manuscript. To request digital copies, or contact the institution directly, you may use the field Comment on this record at the bottom of every description.” The level of details provided in each entry varies and are changing over time as research progresses.

Sample of an Entry

The user can browse the catalogue by:

  • Classmarks (also called shelfmarks, classification number, etc.)
  • Works
  • People (personal names)
  • Subjects (basic LC subject headings)

While browsing, limiters will varies to best suit each category. For instance, if the user chooses to browse the catalog by classmark, limiters such as language, century, physical form, materials, decoration, institution or collection are made available. Whereas if the user chooses to browse by works, institution & language are the available limiters.