The fourth training course on the cataloguing of Islamic manuscripts was held from 18th June until 18th July 2001 and was organised by Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation in co-operation with the National Library of Books and Documents in Rabat, Morocco.
The course was attended by 25 participants, working in the field of cataloguing. They were selected from various African countries, such as Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan, and on the basis of their specialisation in manuscripts and interest in Islamic heritage.
An adequate number of sessions of the programme was allocated to the study of manuscripts as a piece of archaeology of great value. The focus was given to several important aspects of manuscripts, such as the art of book binding, the material used (whether it was papyrus, parchment or paper), methods of manufacturing paper, schools of calligraphy and their development, the science of manuscripts, the gathering of information to help the process of cataloguing, etc.
Inaugurating the course in the lecture hall of the National Library in Rabat, on 18th June 2001, Dr Ahmed al-Tawfiq, the Director of the National Library, welcomed the lecturers and participants, expressing his appreciation for the co-operation between the National Library and Al-Furqan Foundation and praising Al-Furqan’s efforts in the fields of manuscripts and Islamic heritage.
Dr Ahmed Mohammed al-Badawi, the representative of Al-Furqan Foundation, in his opening speech, underlined the significance of selecting Rabat and its National Library for a training course for manuscript cataloguers in Africa. He paid tribute to the contribution of the people of the Maghreb in the spread of Islam and the promotion of cultural relations between Muslim communities in Africa.
Dr Ahmed Shawqi Binbine, Director of the Al-Hasaniyyah Library, spoke about the academic content of the course. He spoke in detail about the vital importance of catalogues, the pressing need for manuscript collections to be catalogued and the positive effect of producing catalogues on the future development of the study of manuscripts.
The Foundation was very fortunate in being able to recruit a core teaching staff of highly qualified and practised professionals to teach in this course, among whom were: Dr Mourad al-Rammah (Tunisia), Dr Osman Sayed Ahmed (Sudan), Dr Ahmed Mohammed Kani (Sudan), Dr Ibrahim Mukoshy (Nigeria), Dr Izzat Hassan (Syria), Professor François Déroche (France), Dr Ayman Fouad Sayyid (Egypt), Dr Ahmed Shawqi Binbine (Morocco), Mohammed al-Maghrawi (Morocco), Dr Mohammed al-Arif (Morocco), Dr Mohammad Leghzioui (Morocco), Dr Mohammed al-Rawandi (Morocco), Said al-Murabiti (Morocco), Omar Afa (Morocco), Sa’ida ‘Abraq (Morocco) and Mohammed al-Taamarti (Morocco). A number of trainee lecturers, who attended the course as students also taught certain subjects; among these was Malika al-Sirghini (Morocco).
The curriculum for the fourth training course, like the previous three courses, embraced practical and academic aspects of the scientific study of manuscripts. Lectures had been chosen by Professor Ibrahim Chabbouh, member of Al-Furqan Manuscript Centre’s Board of Experts, Dr Ahmed al-Tawfiq, Director of the National Library of Books and Documents in Rabat and Mohammed al-Taamarti, in charge of administration at the National Library.
The theory and practice of cataloguing received particular attention. Practical cataloguing sessions were allocated to the use of the Al-Furqan Cataloguing Card, as a model for gathering information. Practical sessions were also devoted to automatic cataloguing, means of information gathering, imaging techniques and methods of manuscript preservation and conservation.
All the above subjects and many more were covered by the course, creating a new awareness among the students as well as refining their existing awareness of the world of manuscripts. This may indeed be the most important achievement of the course. The academic lectures during the training course were followed by open discussions with the students. These lively discussions provided opportunities for exchanges of experience and reviews of efforts made in each country to collect and catalogue manuscripts. There was also discussion about private libraries owned by some participants from African countries (for example Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan).
The training course also benefited from visits made to three important centres for the conservation of the Islamic heritage in Morocco: the National Library in Rabat, the Al-Hasaniyyah Library at the Royal Palace and the Al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fes. These visits provided a good opportunity to examine a number of rare manuscripts and to learn about the steps taken by those libraries in the field of manuscript cataloguing and conservation. Participants also had an opportunity during these visits to familiarise themselves with the historical features of Islamic civilisation in Morocco.
The closing ceremony was attended by Dr Abdu-l-Aziz Touri (the Secretary General of the Moroccan Ministry of Culture and Information), Dr Ahmed al-Tawfiq (the Director of the National Library), ambassadors, university professors and intellectuals, prominent among whom was Dr Ahmed Shawqi Binbine, Director of the Hasaniyyah Library.
Following a speech by Dr Ahmed al-Tawfiq about the course, Dr Abdu-l-Aziz Touri expressed his gratitude to Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani and his appreciation of Al-Furqan Foundation and its active role in surveying and cataloguing the manuscripts, and in organising academic programmes and conferences. He added that the National Library in Rabat was an appropriate choice [of venue] because of the interest taken by Morocco in the conservation and cataloguing of manuscripts. Dr Touri stated that his ministry welcomed co-operation between Al-Furqan Foundation and the Kingdom of Morocco.
In his speech of acknowledgement, His Excellency Sheikh Yamani emphasised the importance of preserving and cataloguing manuscripts, stating that Al-Furqan had launched a survey of Islamic manuscripts worldwide in 106 countries. Al-Furqan was able to locate these manuscripts, defining their subjects and the languages in which they were written and had published this information in a number of volumes, first in English and subsequently in Arabic. “Bringing to light this otherwise buried treasure of Islamic manuscripts, which had almost disappeared into oblivion, needed certain measures: cataloguing, conservation, restoration, imaging, editing and publishing. We were faced with the difficulty of finding cataloguers.
There were very few available and the number was constantly being depleted. We felt that we had to do something about it. We then launched our training courses. We started with Cairo, moving from there to Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman caliphate, then to London, the location of the Foundation's headquarters. We have the pleasure and honour to come to beloved Rabat, to a country well known for knowledge and learning. No words of thanks can adequately express our gratitude for the warm reception and hospitality we have been accorded by the National Library. May God reward their good deeds”, stated HE Sheikh Yamani.
HE Sheikh Yamani concluded his speech by expressing his heartfelt thanks to the National Library, to the lecturers and students who attended the course and to Morocco, for the warm hospitality Al-Furqan had enjoyed. The training course achieved most of its intended objectives. Foremost among these were the channelling of researchers’ efforts, directing their attention to Islamic Arabic manuscripts; their surveying, conservation, classification and cataloguing. The course was particularly well organised. The National Library for Books and Documents played an important part in providing assistance to Al-Furqan and their efforts were characterised by warmth and hospitality, distinctive characteristics of the Moroccan people.
On completion of the training course, participants made some recommendations:
- Should continue this series of courses by organising a fifth training course for the cataloguing and classification of manuscripts.
- Set up an association of the course’s participants for the purpose of co-operation and exchange of expertise in the field of cataloguing and conservation. This association should be under the patronage of Al-Furqan Foundation.
- Publish the proceedings of this course in a single volume, for the benefit of all cataloguers in the Muslim world.
- Give priority to the conservation and preservation of manuscripts, both before and after cataloguing.
- Pay more attention to all material carriers of manuscripts, thus recognising their importance as part of the manuscript tradition.
- Draw up a unified plan for the cataloguing of Islamic Arab manuscripts in Africa.
- Set up a unified database for auto-cataloguing and organising courses on its application.
- Establish a unified Arabic language database to help cataloguing Islamic Arab manuscripts (similar to the Dewey classification system).
- Provide certain centres with basic references for cataloguing. Following the completion of the course, messages of thanks from most participants and lecturers were received by Al-Furqan.
Speaking on behalf of the participants, Mostafa al-Toubi paid tribute to Al-Furqan and its chairman, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, to the National Library and to all who had contributed to the success of the training course, lecturers as well as organisers. Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani also received a symbolic present, a painting representing “al-Hilyah al-Sharifah” written for the first time in Maghrebi calligraphy by the well-known Moroccan calligrapher Hamidi Belaid. A reception was then hosted by Al-Furqan in honour of the lecturers, the participants and the officials of the National Library.