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Manuscripts in the Islam and Middle East Collection

The National Library possesses more than 2,400 manuscripts in the Arabic script, primarily in the Arabic language, but also in Persian and Ottoman Turkish. The most distinguished collection of manuscripts is from the Yahuda collection, comprising 1184 rare and often exquisite manuscripts that were bequeathed to the Library by the scholar and collector, Abraham Shalom Yahuda (d. 1951). Approximately one-third of the collection is from the medieval period, as early as the 9th century [Image 1], and a significant number of the later items stem from Ottoman, Mughal Indian and Safavid Persian origins.  [Image 2] Among the several hundred illustrated manuscripts of the collection, there are more than one hundred decorated Qur’ans from diverse locales. [Image 3] There are numerous texts with miniature paintings, depicting scenes from the great works of Arabic and Persian epic literature, such as the Shah Nameh, and beloved love stories such as “Laila and Majnun”,  “Khusrau and Shirin”, and “Yusuf and Zulaykha”. [Image 4]

​The collection also houses manuscripts that are of historical significance to scholars. Highlights include:

Qur’an leaves from two codices of the ninth century [Yah. Ms. Ar. 968, 969], which reflect distinct stages in the evolution of preserving the variant readings of the Qur’an;​

A copy of Nathr al-La’ali [Yah. Ms. Ar. 883], a compendium of aphorisms attributed to ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, from the personal library of the disgraced vizier, Rashid al-Din (d. 1318); ​

Three epistles by Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), copied by one of the master’s disciples [Yah. Ms. Ar. 57].​
Writings from all the major Islamic religious disciplines are present, such as Qur’an commentaries and recitation manuals, Hadith, Islamic law, mysticism, and devotional literature, as well as medicine, mathematics and the natural sciences. 

The NLI Arabic manuscript expert, Ephraim Vust, has written a scientific catalogue of the Yahuda collection in Arabic with detailed physical and content descriptions as well as indices. The catalogue, which is available in the Islam and Middle East Reading Room, is being prepared for publication in Arabic and English. The NLI aims to make available two additional catalogues, also written by Mr. Vust , the first of the NLI’s general collection of more than 600 Arabic and Persian manuscripts, and the second of approximately 600 manuscripts constituting part of the broader collection labeled “AP” that is currently stored at NLI pursuant to the instruction of the Custodian of Absentee Property, and to which the Library is permitted to provide access.
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