Journal of Ottoman Calligraphy

Lectures & Editorials on Calligraphy

Maktabat al-Jami` al-Kabir (Maktabat al-Awqaf), The Great Mosque, San`a’-Yemen

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The Great Mosque of San`a’, established in 6th year of hijra when the Prophet(P) entrusted one of his companions to build a mosque. It is considered to be the first mosque in Yemen and among the oldest in Islamic world. The mosque was extended and enlarged by Islamic rulers from time to time. The manuscript collection (ca. 7,000) of the Great Mosque is housed in three libraries in the mosque complex. The first to be established was Al-Maktaba al-Sharqiya which was completed during the reign of al-Imam Yahya Hamid al-Din (1904-1948). The second to be established was Al-Maktaba al-Gharbiya which houses the manuscripts and books of Al-Hay’a al-`Âmma li-l-Âthar wa Dur al-Kutub. Both these libraries are located in the southern side of the msoque. The Maktabat al-Awqaf, the main modern library, is housed on the second floor in the new three-story building of the Great Mosque of San`a’. It contains some of the rarest Islamic manuscripts in the world, including rare manuscripts of the Qur’an. Subjects include theology, jurisprudence, Qur’anic sciences, tafsir, terminology of hadith, sirah, sciences of the Arabic langauge, lexicography, literature, poetry, history, politics, philosophy, logic, astronomy, mathematics, medicine and agriculture. Among the manuscripts in the collection is a copy of the Qur’an reputed to be in the handwriting of Al-Imam `Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Zayd Ibn Thabit and Salman al-Farsi, in two parts, each of 150 pages, in large unpointed Kufic script.

In 1385 H/1965 CE heavy rains fell on San`a’. The Great Mosque was affected and the ceiling in the north west corner was damaged. During the survey, the workers discovered a large vault full of parchment and paper manuscripts of both the Qur’an and non-Qur’anic material. The dig at the Great Mosque in San`a’, Yemen, had found a large number of manuscripts of the Qur’an dating from first century of hijra.

The UNESCO, an arm of the United Nations, had compiled a CD containing some of the dated San`a’ manuscripts as a part of “Memory of the World” programme. In this CD there are more than 40 Qur’anic manuscripts which are dated from 1st century of hijra (in both Hijazi and Kufic scripts), one of them belonging to early 1st century. More than 45 manuscripts have been dated from the period 1st / 2nd century of hijra. A few examples of the manuscripts from 1st, 1st/2nd, 2nd and 2nd/3rd centuries of hijra can be seen at this website.

A few more examples of the 1st and 1st / 2nd century Qur’anic manuscripts from San`a’ can be found in the book Masahif San`a’. This book is a catalogue of an exhibition at the Kuwait National Museum, with articles by Hussa Sabah Salim al-Sabah, G. R. Puin, M. Jenkins, U. Dreibholz in both Arabic and English. World Survey Of Islamic Manuscripts covers the catalogue of manuscripts at the Great Mosque published in various books.

[1] Memory Of The World: San`a’ Manuscripts, CD-ROM Presentation, UNESCO.

[2] Masahif San`a’, 1985, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

[3] Geoffrey Roper (ed.), World Survey Of Islamic Manuscripts, 1992, Volume III, Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, London, p.p. 664-667.

Written by calligrapher

October 25, 2006 at 6:29 pm

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