The Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society Archive Project
As one of the core areas of the Society’s work, the MIAS archive project has been collecting digital copies of the best historic manuscripts of Ibn ‘Arabi’s works, many of them dating to his lifetime and immediate circle of students.
The Society now has a unique collection of digital and microfilm copies of manuscripts of works by Ibn ‘Arabi, as well as copies of a number of significant manuscripts of works by early commentators. One of the world’s largest specialist resources, the archive currently holds over 1,250 important manuscript copies of works by Ibn ‘Arabi and authors in his school such as al-Qunawi, al-Farghani etc.
In addition, the Society has established a comprehensive database of all the manuscripts that have been investigated in Turkey and other countries, and a new classification of Osman Yahia’s seminal bibliographic work. So far some 3,000 manuscripts have been inspected and classified.
The aim of the archive is to bring together copies of these precious texts so that they are safeguarded for future generations (an especially important task in the light of current events around the world) and to help provide the basis of critical editions and translations for scholars in the field.
A summary of the findings of the Archive Project can be viewed in the Catalogue of Ibn 'Arabi's Works. There is also a more detailed searchable online database, which is available to MIAS members who are undertaking academic research into Ibn ‘Arabi's heritage. To apply for access to this and the digital archive, please contact email@example.com.
Progress reports are published here from time to time.
Recent work: Spring 2015
Since the last archiving trip in October 2010, we have been consolidating the archive catalogue, making it available to the general public in a special online version, and publishing our findings.
In 2012 Jane Clark and Stephen Hirtenstein published an article in JMIAS, which reclassified Ibn ‘Arabi’s works according to different categories (verified, probable, unverified etc), on the basis of the manuscript base. "Establishing Ibn 'Arabī's Heritage: First findings from the MIAS Archiving Project".
Over the last two years Julian Cook has collated an enormous quantity of bibliographic information from sources in print or online in order to compile lists of manuscripts which have not yet been properly investigated. These may yield important copies either of little-known texts or of well-known texts (such as the Dīwān) where more research is needed.
In particular, many manuscripts have now been identified for immediate digitising, including some dating from Ibn ‘Arabi’s own lifetime: for example, the only surviving copy of Ibn ‘Arabi’s commentary on the Qur’an (which many believe to have been lost); the earliest known copy of his little-studied Muhādarāt al-abrār (dated 710H); and three treatises from Ibn ‘Arabi’s lifetime (dated 636H). We are also hoping to procure digital copies from other libraries and countries where historic manuscripts are known to be located (for example, London, Dublin, Paris, Jerusalem, Damascus, Hyderabad, Tunis).
This will provide further refinements to the catalogue of Ibn ‘Arabi’s works, with particular focus on the smaller works that are at present unverified, as well as a clearer picture of the true extent of major works such as the Dīwān.
The next archiving trip to Turkey is to take place in April 2015, and will include visits to the main Istanbul libraries (report to follow).
The Archive Project has always had funding requirements beyond what could be provided from the Society's membership subscriptions alone. The first appeal to members was made in 2004, and raised over £10,000. In 2009 and 2010 the Society received grants of £5,000 and £4,665 from the Islamic Manuscript Association. In the meantime, costs involved have increased a great deal.
There is an ongoing appeal for funding to cover the costs of further archiving and digitisation. A donation of any size is of enormous help. There is always some urgency, as events have repeatedly shown how easily manuscripts and artefacts can become impossible to view or be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
In March 2015, through the remarkable generosity of members of the Society, funds were raised for another archiving and digitisation trip to Turkey.
At the same time we envisage this work continuing into the foreseeable future, as more libraries with important holdings are identified. So please help us to go on building this resource for future generations.
Please be assured that all money donated will be fully utilised to secure this precious heritage for the future. MIAS is reliant on your generosity to enable this work to carry on. If you would like further details, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are extremely grateful for your ongoing support.
Jane Clark, Julian Cook and Stephen Hirtenstein
The genuinely ‘historic’ manuscripts of works by Ibn ‘Arabi known to exist number between 60 and 100 e.g. manuscripts in his own handwriting, or certified as having been read aloud in front of him, or signed by him, or having belonged to somebody known to have been close to him. To these may be added some manuscripts where the copyist has noted that the copy was made from an original. The vast majority of the known manuscripts are in Turkey, in state libraries, museums and university libraries. They were preserved for centuries in collections of books given into the care of mosques, such as the library of Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, which, after his death in 1274, was preserved in the mosque next to his tomb.
In 1964 Osman Yahia published his monumental bibliography of Ibn ‘Arabi's works, Histoire et Classification de l’Oeuvre d'Ibn ‘Arabi. This was based on the examination of more than 2,900 manuscripts, in particular those in Turkey, Syria and Egypt. Although the Histoire was invaluable in measuring out the ground for a catalogue of the manuscript base and what can be deduced from that, it includes errors of detail, and scholars have made revisions to a number of entries. The only people to have undertaken a systematic examination of a large part of the manuscript base since Osman Yahia have been three people acting for the Society, Stephen Hirtenstein, Jane Clark and Julian Cook.
History of the project
From the early 1980s the Society began to apply to the Turkish authorities for microfilm copies of various historic manuscripts, but the process was very slow. Two events highlighted the need for greater urgency. One was a severe earthquake which struck western Turkey in 1999, damaging several old buildings in the old city including the University Library. It was a reminder of how fragile the storehouses can be in the face of natural disasters. The second was the discovery in 2000 that manuscripts of unique value relating to Ibn ‘Arabi, Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi and al-Niffari (among others), had been stolen from a library in Konya. One of these manuscripts was put up for auction in London in 2001, and the Society played a part in halting the sale.
It was clear that the Society should actively seek to have archive copies made of all the historic manuscripts. The broad objective was to identify and obtain copies of the three best manuscripts for each work, to preserve them, and to enable the preparation of a critical edition.
In winter 2002 Stephen Hirtenstein and Jane Clark went to Istanbul with the intention of doing a preliminary survey of the manuscripts in the Suleymaniye Library. Funded by generous donations from the Society’s members, they were able to return to Turkey over several years and make digital copies of many outstanding manuscripts. Visits were made to the Turkish manuscript libraries, not only in Istanbul but also in Bursa, Ankara, Konya, Manisa, etc.
In 2006 the Society became one of the founding members of The Islamic Manuscript Association (TIMA). In 2009 and 2010 two TIMA research grants were awarded, enabling the work to continue and extend further afield, including the development of a comprehensive catalogue of the manuscripts investigated.
A summary of the findings of the Archive Project can be seen in the Catalogue of Ibn 'Arabi's Works. There is also a more detailed searchable on-line database, which is available to MIAS members who are undertaking academic research into Ibn ‘Arabi's heritage. To apply for access to this and the digital archive, please contact email@example.com.