top of page

Libraries in the Islamic Golden Age

Libraries developed in the Islamic Golden Age due to a commitment to literacy & seeking knowledge. One of the oldest libraries in the world Al-Qarawiyyin library, was founded by a Muslim woman, more than 12 centuries ago! A thread on the greatest libraries in Islamic history…

Al-Qarawiyyan Library, Fez, Morocco Founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima El-Fihriya in 859, it is one of the oldest libraries in the world & the oldest library in Africa. It also holds the distinction of being the world’s oldest working library, & is still in use today…

Image credit Wikipedia


The Al-Qarawiyyan Library houses a collection of 4,000 rare books & ancient Arabic manuscripts written by renowned scholars of the region. The manuscripts include a 9th century version of the Quran and a manuscript on Islamic jurisprudence written by philosopher Averroes.

Image credit Simply Morocco on Facebook


Baytul Hikma (House of Wisdom), Baghdad, Iraq Founded by Abassid caliph Harun al-Rashid (786–809) it was a research & education centre. It culminated under his son Caliph Al-Mamun (813–833) who is credited with its formal institution & flourished from 9th to 13th centuries.

Scholars at an Abbasid library. Maqamat of al-Hariri Illustration by Yahyá al-Wasiti, 1237


Al-Mamun bought scholars from across the world to share information, ideas, & culture in the House of Wisdom. Besides Muslim scholars, Hindu, Jewish & Christian scholars studied here, translating books into Arabic Al-Ma'mun sends an envoy to the Byzantine emperor Theophilos.

Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun sends an envoy to Byzantine Emperor Theophilos History of John Skylitzes (Skyllitzes Matritensis (Biblioteca Nacional de España)


The House of Knowledge, (Dar al-Ilm, or Dar al-Hikmah) Cairo, Egypt Founded in 1005 AD under the sixth Caliph of the Fatimid dynasty, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. Here many subjects, including astronomy, medicine, geometry, theology & grammar were taught by paid scholars.

Image credit @SarrazinsEd


At The House of Knowledge in Egypt reading rooms were open to all those who wished to visit. Books were collected from all over the world on diverse subjects. At its height, the library held over 100,000 volumes, including 18,000 manuscripts on early civilizations.

Image credit Shaimaa Jabr


Cordoba Library, Spain Lubna of Cordoba (984) was director of the library with 400,000 volumes. She was responsible to reproduce, write & translate new volumes. She was also palace secretary of Caliph Abd al-Rahman III (961) and his son al-Hakam (976).

Image credit Wikiart


According to Arab chronicles at the time of Al-Hakam II, there could be in some areas of Cordoba library more than 170 women copying books, which not only gives the idea of culture, but also the place of women in the reign of enlightened Caliph.

Image credit Fine Art America


Adud al-Daula was the Emir of the Buyid dynasty (934-1062) In Shiraz he established a magnificent library with books written from the beginnings of Islam to his time. The building was situated inside the royal palace. Only reputable scientists had access to the library.

Image credit Cornell University


The Central Library of Astan Quds Razavi, Mashad, Iran. Established before 1457, it holds over 1.1 million volumes. It is an international center for Islamic research, containing numerous manuscripts and rare works of antiquity of Islamic history.

Image credit Wikipedia


The Library of Ğāmi’ Banī ‘Umayya al-Kabīr, Umayyad Mosque, Syria Founded by Caliph Walid I (715). Mashaf-e-Osmani copy of the Quran prepared by Hazrat Osman (r.a) was stored in this library. Ibn Batuta saw a copy of this Quran which was sent by Hazrat Osman (r.a.) to Syria.

Image credit Against the Compass


Bukhara Library, Uzbekistan The Samanid ruler, Sultan of Bukhara Emir Nuh ibn Mansur (976-997) established a great library in Uzbekistan. Famous physician & poet Ibn Sina (1037) gained much of his knowledge here. (Image to illustrate beauty of Bukhara - not the library).

Image credit Pinterest/Unknown


Library Museum at Hast Imam Square, Taskent, Uzbekistan The complex includes the functional Mosque of Tilla Sheikh, Barakhana madrasah and the Mausoleum of Abu Bakr Shashi. In the library-museum, there is a unique collection of sacred books and precious manuscripts.

Image credit Wikimedia


Library of Ghazni, Afghanistan Established by Sultan Mahmud (998-1030) it was considered one of the best in the world. A patron of the arts, he attracted poets from Central Asia including Uzari, Asadi Tusi, & Unsuri. Poet Ferdowsi (1020) presented the poem Shahnameh to him.

Image credit Wikipedia


Libraries in Turkey The most significant development in the history of Ottoman libraries came with the establishment of the first independent library in Istanbul by Köprülü Fazil Ahmed Pasha in 1678. This library, had its own building, staff, and budget.

Scholars and astronomers in the observatory of Galata tower, Ottoman miniature manuscript, Turkey, 16th century, Istanbul, Istanbul Universitesi Kutuphanesi (University Library)


Süleymaniye Library, Turkey The largest manuscript library in Turkey & preserves one of the world’s most extensive collections of Islamic manuscripts. The library is situated in two of the medreses built in the 16th century They have existed since the complex’s establishment.

Image credit Pinterest/Unknown


Emperor Jalal al-Din Akbar (1543-1605) established a new library for education of all women in Fatehpur Sikri. The Imperial Library was located in the big hall of the Agra fort. The volumes numbered 24,000 valued at $3,500,000. Every author was obligated to send a copy.

Mughal Scribes at work collecting Diwans (miniature by Daulat, 1910)


Library of Zaib al-Nisa, Mughal India Mughal princess Zaib al-Nisa’s (1638-1702) was an excellent scholar. Her royal court was an academy (Bait al-Uloom) where scholars in every subject compiled & composed books. She had a large collection in her library. Her tomb in Lahore.

Image credit Dawn


Library of Tipu Sultan (1752-1799) Ruler of Kingdom of Mysore, India He founded a school for liberal education, with a library on a wide array of subjects. All Sultan volumes were bound in leather. There was a training college for military officers, with a large library.

Image credit Royal Collection Trust


In his personal library he had a rare copy of the Quran calligraphed by Emperor Aurangzeb, which found its place in British Royal Library in Windsor Castle UK. Upon his defeat in 1799, about 2000 books, some bound with jewels were recovered by the English.

Image credit Royal Collection Trust


Libraries in Timbuktu From 14th century–until 17th century, Timbuktu was a religious & trade center. Mosques, such as the famous Sankore Mosque, were were also important centers of education & scholarship and had libraries containing manuscripts.

Image credit Pinterest / Unknown


Djingarey Ber Mosque / learning institution, Timbukt, Mali Built in 1327 by Mali Emperor, Mansa Musa and the housed oldest, and perhaps most famous, library in Mali, 'Imam Ben Essayouh' library. At the height of Songhai Empire, Timbuktu had 25k students.

Image credit Black past


Mamma Haïdara Commerative Library, Timbuktu, Mali The number of manuscripts in the collections has been estimated as high as 700,000. An illustrated Koran from the 12th century is seen inside the glass case in front of Abdel Kader Haidara who is the curator.

Image credit Global Gateway


Sources of Inspiration & Information


bottom of page