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Announcing a Major Initiative to Open Digital Access to Over 2,500 Rare Islamic Texts

Announcing a Major Initiative to Open Digital Access to Over 2,500 Rare Islamic Texts

• Collection to include priceless treasures from across Islamic world from past thousand years
• Platform to provide free global access to hi-res images, user-friendly tools

The National Library of Israel (NLI) in Jerusalem has announced that with a generous grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, it will be opening digital access to over 2,500 rare Islamic manuscripts and books from its world-class collection.

The project will include digitization and uploading of high-resolution images; improving item descriptions in Arabic and English; and the design and development of a tri-lingual (English-Hebrew-Arabic) digital platform. As an important preliminary step, NLI conservation and preservation experts will also meticulously review all of the items to be scanned, undertaking critical preservation and conservation measures for any items found to be in problematic physical condition.

The digital platform will enable users from around the world to discover and enjoy the entire collection, featuring high-resolution images accompanied by user-friendly search options, tools and content. The project is expected to be completed in three years' time.

The newly digitized materials will include an exquisite Iranian copy of the great Persian mystical poet Nur al-Din Jami's collection "Tuhfat al-Ahrar", produced in 1484 just a few years after its composition, during the poet's lifetime. Each page of the manuscript is illuminated with a different background in gold leaf. The opening and closing pages have double-sided miniatures that were added later, apparently in the 17th and 18th centuries. Other collection treasures include gorgeous Qur'ans and a range of literary works decorated with gold leaf and lapis lazuli, from across the Muslim world.

The NLI's Islam and Middle East Collection is home to thousands of manuscripts and rare books in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, dating from the ninth to the 20th centuries. The majority of the manuscripts were acquired and donated by Abraham Shalom Yahuda (1877-1951), a Jerusalem-born Arab-Jewish scholar and one of the most important Islamic manuscript collectors of the early 20th century. The collection holdings span all major Islamic disciplines and literary traditions. Highlights include illuminated items from royal Mamluk, Mughal, and Ottoman libraries; scholarly works copied during or near the lifetimes of their authors; and later autograph copies. It also serves as a leading research collection serving scholars with contemporary works related to Islamic and Middle Eastern culture.


Dr. Raquel Ukeles, Curator of the Islam and Middle East Collection, National Library of Israel: "We are privileged to open digital access to these treasures and hope that this project will contribute to greater understanding and shared inquiry related to Islamic civilization. It is one of a number of initiatives connecting the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem with the global community."

Professor Peter Baldwin, co-founder and chairman of Arcadia: “We are pleased to support the National Library of Israel to provide free access to its exceptional collection to people around the world”.

About the Arcadia Fund

Founded by Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, Arcadia supports charities and scholarly institutions to preserve cultural heritage, protect the environment, and promote open access. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $678 million in grants to projects around the world. For more information please see

About the National Library of Israel

Founded in Jerusalem in 1892, the National Library of Israel (NLI) serves as the dynamic collective memory of the Jewish people worldwide and Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths. While continuing to serve as Israel's pre-eminent research library, NLI has recently embarked upon an ambitious journey of renewal to encourage diverse audiences in Israel and around the globe to engage with its treasures in new and meaningful ways. This is taking place through a range of innovative educational, cultural and digital initiatives, as well as through a new landmark campus designed by Herzog and de Meuron, with Mann-Shinar serving as the Executive Architect. The new campus is currently under construction adjacent to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem, and is on schedule to be completed in 2021.

NLI has four core collections: Israel, Judaica, Islam and Middle East, and the Humanities. Highlights include significant handwritten works by luminaries such as Maimonides and Sir Isaac Newton, exquisite Islamic manuscripts dating back to the ninth century and the personal archives of leading cultural and intellectual figures including Martin Buber, Natan Sharansky and Naomi Shemer. The National Library holds the world's largest collections of textual Judaica, Jewish and Israeli music, and maps of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, as well as world-class collections of manuscripts, ancient maps, rare books, photographs, communal and personal archival materials, and more.

The new NLI campus, currently under construction adjacent to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem, is scheduled to open in 2022. The building and its surrounding gardens and plazas will reflect the central values of democratizing knowledge and opening the National Library’s world-class collections and resources to as broad and diverse an audience as possible. Within its 45,000 square meters (480,000 sq. ft.) of space, it will provide venues for exhibitions, as well as cultural and educational programming in a secure, sustainable and state-of-the-art environment. Partners in the building renewal project are led by the Government of Israel, the Rothschild Family through the auspices of Yad Hanadiv, and the David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Family of New York.

Manuscript of Nur al-Din Jami's 'Tuhfat al-Ahrar', Persian, 1484 (Yah Ms Ar 1013)

Manuscript of Nur al-Din Jami's 'Tuhfat al-Ahrar', Persian, 1484 (Yah Ms Ar 1013)

Opening page of Qur'an manuscript from Isfahan, dated to 1735 (Yah Ms Ar 953)

Opening page of Qur'an manuscript from Isfahan, dated to 1735 (Yah Ms Ar 953)