Shibli’s Safarnamah: Printing Houses and Libraries in Constantinople (Part-1 and 2)

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Shibli’s Safarnamah: Printing Houses and Libraries in Constantinople (Part-1 and 2)

This episode consists of a description of the abundant printing houses in Constantinople and the high quality of workmanship witnessed in the material printed. This episode also covers, partially, the libraries that Allama Shibli experienced in Constantinople. Part 2 of this segment will cover more details on the rich libraries in Constantinople. Speaking on the books in numerous libraries in Constantinople, Shibli asserts that Constantinople can boast of the largest collection of books in Arabic even greater than in any other part of the world. Shibli highlights the following salient features of the libraries in Constantinople: a) The libraries contain rare books difficult to find in any other city of the Muslim World; b) Almost all the libraries are gifted by way of endowments by the rich and the Ottoman nobility, who have also endowed properties whose revenue is to be used for their upkeep and maintenance. Shibli laments the fact that despite Muslims ruling India for many centuries and in splendour, there is no trace of any scholarly legacy bequeathed by the Indian rulers, the nobility and the wealthy. Shibli makes a valid observation that the libraries that abound in the capital city point to the fact that the nobility and the courtiers were men of learning, and their academic inclinations were of a high order, as opposed to their counterparts in other Islamic countries who, apparently, were not people of the same calibre. Most of the libraries contain works written by or transcribed by those who endowed the libraries. The collections testify to the high literary tastes of these people. Further, the collections of books, rare and accumulated with great pains, testifies to the fact that the scholarly predispositions of these folk were not of an ordinary kind—rather, were extraordinary. Shibli also notes that many of the libraries consisted of ordinary rooms without much glamour; but the recently established Hamidiyah Library, named after the current ruler, Abdul Hamid-II, is housed in a glamorous edifice with cushioned chairs. Since the government undertakes to maintain these libraries, their upkeep is of a high order and not a leaf of any book is misplaced. Among the distinctive features of these libraries is that the books and manuscripts contained therein are authentic and corrected by reputed scholars. Shibli names various rare copies of books and expresses astonishment on the efforts that may have gone into collecting these books. He even mentions of a rare book whose only copy in India is unreliable, but the same book is available in larger numbers in Constantinople and is of a much higher authenticity. Shibli confesses that he had thought that the translations of Greek works done during the Abbasid period were lost for good. But, after visiting many libraries, he says that he found copies of these translated works still extant, though not in the same numbers as the actual translated works. He credits the Turks for taking recourse to Latin translations of original Arabic works, which were not available anymore, which they got translated once again into Arabic.

Continuing from the previous episode in which Shibli expresses his astonishment at the collection of rare books in the libraries of the Ottoman capital. He speaks glowingly about the innovative approach in historical and literary works by the Turks which, in Shibli’s opinion, is normally found only in European works. An extremely interesting book Shibli discovers in a library in Constantinople deals with poetry in the period of Jahililliya; the author asserts that these poetical works were developed upon by later-day Muslim poets. The author claims in the book that the poets of the Days of Ignorance had written on a wide variety of subjects, many of which were expanded upon by poets during the Ummayad and the Abbassid periods. Shibli recognises that the author of this book demonstrates a high degree of impartiality and a deep, discerning mind. Shibli mentions about the availability of books by Imam Ghazali, Avicenna and Ibn Rushd, in the libraries of Constantinople which are not found elsewhere in the Muslim world. In other parts of the Muslim world these books exist only as mere mentions in other works. A mind-boggling fact that Shibli reveals is that the book in which Avicenna has documented his own philosophy, called Hikmat-e-Mashriqiyah, considered to have been lost to mankind, is available in Ottoman Turkey. This book proves that Ibn Sina was not just regurgitating Greek philosophy but had a mind of his own. Summing up, Shibli expresses his disappointment that these rare books are hardly ever picked up for study and research. In his opinion, the dismal state of education in the Muslim world has led to people not being inspired to research unexplored fields. He adds, ominously, that the few instances of innovation and originality that exist will soon disappear from amongst the Muslims, going by the present trends. He appeals to the Indian Muslims to set up a body whose job would be to source rare books from Egypt and Constantinople and publish them here to make them widely available. Shibli mentions the good work being done in this regard by the Da’iratul Ma’arif al-Dekhni of Hyderabad and expresses his hope that the Da’iratul Ma’arif will put in even more efforts to achieve greater success.

2021-11-04T12:16:01+05:30 November 2nd, 2021|Abdul Hamid Khan II, Ottoman, Shibli, Urdu Resources|

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