Learn about early Arabic printed books and the theology of Islam!

Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library (1475-1900)

Book credited to “Geber” (Jabir ibn Hayyan), 9th century alchemist, “Faithfully Englished” by Richard Russell “a Lover of Chymistry.”

April is Arab American Heritage month, and the UVA Library resource “Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library” is an ideal place to learn about the long exchange of ideas and learning between Europe and the Arabic-speaking world. As early as the 9th century, Arab thinkers were changing the way humanity understood the world, making sophisticated advances in mathematics (the word algebra is derived from the Arabic word al-jabr, “reunion of broken parts”) and alchemy (from the Arabic al-kīmiyā), the basis of modern chemistry.

The three modules comprising this full-text digital library of early Arabic works — 1. Religion and Law, 2. Science, History, and Geography, 3. Periodicals, Literature, Grammar, Language, Catalogues and General Works — are here offered in one seamless collection, available in high-quality digital scans, including translations into many languages, which you can download as PDFs.

Topics include:

  • The Qu’ran — Theology, commentaries on religious texts, religious teaching and practice, and biographies of religious figures.
  • The Law — The spirit of Islamic law (fiqh), and the rulings (fatwas).
  • Natural history — Medicine, physiology, and other sciences.
  • Philosophy — Logic, politics, and ethics.
  • Mathematics — Geometry, mechanics, astrology, and chemistry.
  • History — The early caliphs and conquests, modern history, genealogy, and biographies.
  • Travel — Regional geography and topography.
  • Literature — Pre-Islamic works, Islamic poetry, prose, proverbs, and sayings.
  • Language and lexicography — Dictionaries, grammar, syntax, and rhetoric.

You can search the database by keyword in a variety of languages, including Arabic script. A virtual keyboard is available for entering terms in Arabic. Alternately, if you want to browse titles by subject, you can open “Advanced Search” and in the “Limit By” box click “LoC Subjects” to get a list of Library of Congress subject headings. Select one or more of the headings to get a complete listing of books covered in those areas.  You can limit results further by choosing a particular language.

For instance, choosing the term “Medicine” from the “LoC Subjects” list, and filtering for “English,” yields 11 hits, including the short pamphlet “The Nature of the drink Kauhi, or Coffee, and the Berry of which it is made, Described by an Arabian Phisitian,” published in Oxford by Henry Hall in 1659. Searching the term “Folktales” yields numerous English editions of “The Arabian Nights,” dating from 1712, but also “The Celebrated Romance of the Stealing of the Mare,” a rare printed translation of an episode in the epic poem “Sīrat Bani Hilāl.”

Qur’an Tools

Create a free account and visit the open resource Qur’an Tools, the world’s first digital tool for the critical academic study of the Qur’an and its early manuscripts. Features include the ability to examine linguistics and formulaic construction, track scribal changes from hundreds of original manuscripts, and check meanings and references from the original Arabic. Learn more in the instructional video below:

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