The Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society Archive Project
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 manuscripts of works by his companions and early commentators.
The purpose of the archive is to ensure the safety of historic manuscripts of these works, and to help establish accurate texts for publication.
Since the Society's archive project got under way there have been important developments in the Turkish library system, with moves to centralise the manuscript collections and the establishment of a digitisation unit.
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 Turkish state libraries, with a few in 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 Qunawi, which, after his death in 1274, was preserved in the mosque next to his tomb.
In 1964 Osman Yahya 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 Yahya have been two people acting for the Society, Stephen Hirtenstein and Jane Clark.
The Society's involvement
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 the earthquake which struck western Turkey in 1999, which was a reminder of how fragile the storehouses could be. The other was the discovery in 2000 that manuscripts of unique value relating to Ibn 'Arabi, Sadr al-Din Qunawi, and 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 catalogue of the Suleymaniye Library. From this point matters progressed much faster than might have been imagined, and they returned to England with digital copies of many outstanding manuscripts. The Society appealed to its members for financial support for this project, and since then they have made several visits to the Turkish manuscript libraries, not only in Istanbul, but in Bursa, Ankara, Konya, Manisa, etc. It is hoped that this process will be expanded to include other major collections (e.g. Cairo and Berlin). To the copies acquired in Turkey have been added a number made from manuscripts in private collections elsewhere. A first draft of the catalogue was completed in 2006.
In 2006 the Society became one of the founding members of The Islamic Manuscript Association.