Descendant of Jūrjīs ibn Bakhtīshū‘ in discussion with a medical student. British Library: Or. 2784, f. 101v
Descendant of Jūrjīs ibn Bakhtīshū‘ in discussion with a medical student. British Library: Or. 2784, f. 101v

The Arabic Manuscripts Collection

The Arabic Manuscripts Collection In the British Library comprises almost 15000 works in 14000 volumes

The Arabic manuscripts held in the British Library cover a broad subject scope including the Holy Qur’an, Qur’anic sciences and commentaries, Hadith, Kalam, Islamic jurisprudence, mysticism and philosophy, Arabic grammar and philology, dictionaries, poetry and other literary genres, history, topography and biography, music and other arts, sciences and medicine, texts relating to the Druze and Bahais, Christian and Jewish literature, and a range of other subjects including magic, archery, falconry and the interpretation of dream.

British Library add-ms-7474_0012_web_1
Al-Ḥajjaj ibn Yūsuf ibn Maṭar’s Arabic translation of Ptolemy’s Almagest. Add. MS 7474, f. 1r

Ranging from the early eighth century CE to the nineteenth century, the manuscripts are drawn from both Arab countries and other countries with Arab or Muslim communities including India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and West Africa, and they display fascinating variations in style and script. This collection is internationally recognised as one of the largest and finest in Europe and North America.

The collection basically dates from the 18th century when the British Library began to acquire manuscripts form private collectors. Later parts came to the library either through purchase or gifts from employees in the colonial administration, the army or commercial companies like the East India Company.

“The way the collection has been formed over the past few centuries is extraordinary, writes Colin F. Baker, who is lead curator at the British Library. “Its early development, primarily due to the growth of British trading and political interests both in the Middle East and further afield in the Islamic world, notably the Indian subcontinent, reflects a great upsurge of European interest in Oriental studies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its size and breadth reflects the process by which a number of private collections – formed by administrators, missionaries, scholars and travellers – have been augmented by more recent acquisitions by British Museum and British Library curators to form a great public collection and remarkable international resource”, he adds.

A new website – the QDL – developed in a partnership between the Qatar Foundation, the Qatar National Library and The British Library, presents a selection of digitized manuscripts from the collection. All in all more than 500.000 pages have so-far been made available to the scholar community as well as the learned public in general. More content is promised to be place on-line in the next years. The content encompasses material from both the medieval collection as well as reports and postcards from the 19th century and audio-reports from the 20th century. For medievalists the digitization of the vast collection of Scientific manuscripts from the manuscript’s collection merit special interest.


Further information about the Arabic manuscripts and their Catalogues is on the British Library website.

Presentation of a choice selection from the collections in the British Library

QDL – Quatar Digital Library


Descendant of Jūrjīs ibn Bakhtīshū‘ in discussion with a medical student. Or. 2784, f. 101v