• Rare Books

    Rare Books


We have varied collection of 2,000 rare books in English and Arabic. Many of these books are unavailable anywhere else in the region. Many have been digitised and can be viewed via the Library catalogue. You can view the digitized copies at: http://ediscovery.qnl.qa/islandora/object/QNL%3AMIA After searching our collection online if you wish to use materials from the rare book room please send an application to the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. An application to study rare books and manuscripts must be submitted 24 hours in advance. Download a list of Rare Books in the MIA Library with links to digital copies  http://www.mia.org.qa/docs/rare-books-list.pdf

What is a rare book?

A rare book is not a regular book, neither is it a museum object. The term ‘rare’ is vague, and one might assume that a book is rare due to its old age or due to the fact that it is limited in quantity. However, a rare book can be both. Not all rare books are old, but all rare books are unequivocally valuable. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish between ‘antiquarian’ books and ‘rare’ books; ‘antiquarian’ is defined to be both old in age and rare, while ‘rare’ encompasses both old and new. Antiquarian book-seller Jeremy M. Norman provides a useful criterion in identifying rare books with six key points:

1 – The scarcity of the books: books with 25,000 copies or more are not considered rare

2 – Significance of the book’s contents: a book could be the first account of a historical exploration to Egypt or could contain some private information about a historical figure

3 – The physical aesthetic of the book: a book could be printed on exotic paper with rare water marks, or could contain intricate illustration which could be highly valuable to collectors

4 – A book’s ‘imprint’ according to Norman: books printed in a certain time and place are well known to be rare

5 – Significant associations: books or texts associated to different important figures, either containing their signatures or initials add a substantial amount of value to rare books

6 – The condition of the book: rare books are not as available as most common books, and are not always subject to the damages and repairs to that of a common book. Collectors try as much as possible to preserve the original condition of the book. Norman, Jeremy M. “Traditions & Culture of Collecting What Is a Rare Book?” Jeremy Norman's History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, 10 Nov. 1982, www.historyofscience.com/traditions/rare-book.php

What is a manuscript?

A manuscript is an original piece of work – either handwritten or typewritten. What distinguishes a manuscript from other types of sources is it being the original and first copy of an author’s work. Reproductions or reprints of books are not considered manuscripts. Before the printing press had been introduced, all books and documents were classified as manuscripts. Manuscripts are therefore not identified according to their content, but solely on their originality. They could include books, scrolls, letters, and illuminated drawings. Older manuscripts are considered to be extremely precious as most would were not duplicated. The printing press had unequivocally changed the dynamic of written work, making documents more available than they once used to be. Illuminated Manuscripts Illuminated manuscripts are decorated and illustrated by hand using various colors. Beautiful and elaborate designs and drawings accentuate and support the adjacent texts. The earliest illuminated manuscripts can be dated back to the Middle Ages. Illuminated manuscripts were strictly produced in monasteries and were most commonly used for public or private devotion.

Research using MIAs Rare Books

Carole Hillenbrand is Professor of Islamic History and Head of the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She spent some time using the Rare Book Room in the MIA Library for her research.

Carol Hillderbrand

Carole tells us that "I have been working for a long time now on Muslim aspects of the Crusades and in particular on the concept of jihad during the two centuries of that conflict. As part of my ongoing research I was keen to examine early histories of the Crusades written in Europe in the 19th century. I wished to investigate how, during this period of supreme European self-confidence, there was a renewed and vibrant interest in the phenomenon of the medieval Crusades, in France, Germany and Britain as well as other countries in Europe. In particular, I wanted to see if the authors of jingoistic or more scholarly Crusading histories in this period showed any knowledge or opinions on jihad, a most crucial aspect of the Muslim-Crusader conflict during the years 1095-1291 and beyond."

"I had previously examined the Catalogue of the Museum Library and was delighted to discover that a number of very rare 19th century European bookson the Crusades were in the Library. I identified nine possibly relevant works (mostly in French) on which I wished to focus. I decided that the most useful for my research were the following four books"

Barthélemyd'Herbélot de Molainville, Bibliothèqueorientale, ouDictionnaire universal contenant tout ce qui fait connaître les peuples de l'Orient, The Hague, 1777

H. L. Heeren, Essaisurl'influence des Croisades, trans. from German into French, by Charles Villers, Paris 1808

Joseph François Michaud, Histoire des Croisades, with an appendix by M. HuillardBréholles, Paris 1849.

Zayn al-Din Makhdum II, Tohfut-ul-Mujahideen, trans. M.J Rowlandson, London, 1833.

"It was an honour and pleasure to undertake research in January 2014 at MIA. I am very pleased to record my grateful thanks to those in the Library who helped me in pursuing this research."

Download a list of Rare Books in the MIA Library with links to digital copies.

Policy and Procedures of the Rare Book Room

Rare books are not considered objects as that of a museum, however, they are treated in the same manner. Most rare books are extremely fragile and should be dealt with delicately in order to preserve its original shape and structure. It should also be noted that the rare books are kept in a specific environment to maintain their quality which is set by a professional conservator. For example, this includes the temperature and humidity of the room, and the placement of pest traps to avoid any damage to the collection. To prevent any manipulations to the items in the collection, MIA Library has provided a detailed outline of the policy and procedures of the rare book room.

Rare Book Handling

In order to preserve the natural state and quality of a rare book, we must take precaution when handling them. Please read the following steps in rare book handling:

HANDLING: poor handling procedures can cause irreparable damage.

• To remove the book from the shelf hold it firmly of the spine at the middle of the book, never pull it off by the headcap

• Oversized books may be handled with both hands and one by one. Ask for help if they are too large or heavy, and move them with a book truck if necessary

• Do not stack the books very high

• Do not force the opening of the book, use cradles to proper support of the volume

• Do not use clips, staples, self-adhesive tape or any other alien material from the book

• Do not use pens, markers,… use only pencils at the reading room to take notes

• Turn the pages from the top corner using the whole hand to avoid tears

STORING AND SHELVING: storage methods have a direct effect on the conservation of the materials

• Keep a stable environment, with adequate parameters of RH and T (45-55% and 20-22 C) and good air circulation, to prevent stagnant air

• Books may be with minimal exposure with light and UVA

• Books may be stored with distance from radiators or vents, and at least 5 cm away from walls to facilitate movement of air and avoid pockets of damp air

• Shelving books of similar size together and upright to prevent leaning at the top of the book

• Books may be arranged so that shelves are full, but not so tightly to prevent bindings from abrasion

• Use bookends with smooth surfaces and broad edges when shelve is not full

• Oversized books may be shelved flat, do not stack them, but if necessary not more than three books. Never stack volumes with special value bindings unless they are storage into a box

• Do not store books on the fore edge of the shelves and use adequate sizes of shelves, because they may be fell off or damage

• Do not store paper or cloth binding in directly contact with leather bindings

• Store special books or fragile bindings with adequate enclosures (custom- fitted)

• Unbounded materials (pamphlets, letters, maps, etc.) may be stored in boxes or folders, and flat, to prevent them from mechanical damage, inside drawers or map cases

Recent Exhibitions

Memories of Islam in the Russian Empire 2018’s ‘Year of Culture’ celebrates the collaboration of Qatar and Russia; a sharing of traditions, creativity and vision. This cultural year will illuminate the diversity between the two cultures while simultaneously bridging the gap between them through a collaboration and dialogue between writers and artists. MIA Library is proud to partake in Qatar-Russia Year of Culture by showcasing a collection of rare books that underscore the influence of Islamic art in the Russian world. From exquisite architecture to silverware, as well as costumes and jewelry, the exhibit highlights an overlapping history between two very distinct geographical settings. The rare books displayed in the exhibition vary in subject and time period. The influence of Islamic art on the architecture, fashion and miniature painting in the Russian Empire is a common theme of the books elaborately chosen for display. The Album of Indian and Persian miniatures of the XVI-XVIIIth centuries, for instance, contains more than 100 painted miniatures and varieties of calligraphy. The album includes unique and elaborate works of well-known Mughal artists Manohar, Abu al-Hasan and Govardhan, amongst many others. Also showcased in the exhibition is a rare book of Russian costumes from 1804. The Russian Empire’s traditional wardrobe and fashion can also be considered a common attribute between the two distinct cultures, for they both share similar characteristics. The book discusses the history of traditional Russian clothing and includes painted miniatures of the costumes as well. Russian Architecture and History are themes of rare books that are also included in the exhibition, and they, too, accentuate the history and the connection between Islamic art and Russia. Memories of Islam in the Russian Empire offers you the opportunity to appreciate the influence Islamic art in Russia and allows you to further explore Russia’s history, art and culture.

Past Exhibitions

Fasting of the Heart and Soul Once a year, from moon to moon, a devout Muslim fasts every day from sunrise (fajer) to sunset (maghrib); restraining his/herself from the necessities of everyday life, from food to other indulgences. The holy month of Ramadan, the month in which the Qur’an was sent down from the heavens onto the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), serves as a time of purification of the mind and soul, devotion, and giving. Therefore, it is more than just a restriction of food but a fasting of the heart. The following verses and passages from both the Qur’an and Hadeeth illuminate this very concept; the symbiosis of fasting and faith.  The collection has a variety of Qur’an and Hadeeth dating back to 902 AH, that range from miniature to large, Arabic to Latin. A non-Muslim may gain some insight on the spiritual aspect of fasting that is explained through the translations provided. The pieces were chosen specifically to underline the significance of fasting; detailing the ‘sunna’, the ways of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) during the holy month. This includes the tradition in which the Prophet (PBUH) chose to break his fast as well as a guideline to ‘Tarawih’ prayer (a prayer only performed in Ramadan after ‘Isha prayer). One Hadeeth from the collection quotes: عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ: ‏[ كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يُفْطِرُ قَبْلَ أَنْ يُصَلِّيَ عَلَى رُطَبَاتٍ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ رُطَبَاتٌ فَتُمَيْرَاتٍ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ تُمَيْرَاتٌ حَسَا حَسَوَاتٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ ‏ Anas bin Malik narrated: "The Messenger of Allah would break the fast with fresh dates before performing Salat. If there were no fresh dates then (he would break the fast) with dried dates, and if there were no dried dates then he would take a few sips of water." (تنبيه الغافلين, محمد قاسم بن محمد حاج رفاع الخاتم. 1240 – 1825) Al-Coranus: Lex islamitica Muhammedis, filii Abdallae pseudoprophetae, Hinckelmanni, D. Abrahami. 1694.  One of the most interesting pieces is a Latin manuscript of the Qur’an which belonged to a Christian Priest that dates back to 1694. The pages shown are taken from ‘Surah al-Baqara’, a verse underlining specifics about fasting; when and how, as well as its advantages. The exhibition is commences May 22nd, during MIA Library hours, from Sunday to Thursday, 9am to 2pm, until the end of Ramadan.

Our Oldest Books

The rare book collection at MIA library contains some of the most archaic books in the history of Islam. The collection offers a plethora of sources including manuscripts, diaries, oversized books, books with illustrations and more. The languages of these texts vary from Arabic, Latin, French, and Persian. To achieve an idea of how old some of these books are, below is a list of some of the collections’ oldest Arabic and European books. Keep in mind that a few of the collection’s items’ dates are still unknown, meaning they could trace back to an even older date than what has been recorded. Qurʼan. Latin: 1543 Bibliander, Theodor, 1504?-1564. Call Number: BP127 .L3 1543. Muk͡htaṣar maqāṣid ḥikmat falāsifat ʼal-ʻArab ʼal-musammá Jām Kītī•numā: 1641 /مختصر مقاصد حكمة فلاسفة العرب المسمي جام كيتي نما Qāḍī Mīr, Ḥusayn ibn Muʻīn al-Dīn, 1504 or 1505. Call number: B153.H8 J3 1641.  Link to digitial copy: http://reader.digitale-sammlungen.de/de/fs1/object/display/bsb10219314_00019.html Tārīkh mukhtaṣar al-duwal = Historia compendiosa dynastiarum: 1663 Bar Hebraeus, 1226-1286. Link to digital copy: https://ediscovery.qnl.qa/islandora/search/dc.creator%3A%22Hall%2C%5C%20Henry%2Cactive%5C%201642%5C-1680.Book%5C%20producer.%22