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Arabic Collection

Collection Details

Arabic Collection held at Asian and African Studies [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

Manuscripts: A large collection of about 20,000 titles, which includes the following subject areas: Holy Qur'an, Qur'anic sciences and commentaries, Hadith, Kalam (Theology), Islamic law, mysticism and philosophy, Arabic language and literature, history, biography, music, sciences and medicine, texts relating to the Druze and Bahais, Arabic Christian literature, and documents including papyri and calligraphic specimens.

Printed books and periodicals: The collection covers material in the humanities and social sciences focusing on the Arab world and Islam. It includes editions of classical texts and contemporary publications from a range of countries, primarily purchased from Cairo and Beirut. The monograph collection amounts to about 70,000 items. The collection includes about 400 journals ranging from academic and cultural journals to financial reports and official gazettes. 200 newspaper titles are held, ranging from single issues to complete runs of major dailies.

The India Office Records collection includes Arabic documents relevant to study of the Arab Gulf states. These include factory records and correspondence of British Residencies in the Gulf states.

History and development

Manuscripts: The collection unites the Arabic manuscripts of the old British Museum Library with those of the India Office Library. The British Museum Foundation Collections included about 120 Arabic manuscripts, and over the years the museum acquired originally private collections formed by administrators, missionaries, scholars and travellers. The Arabic manuscripts of the India Office come mostly from a single source, the imperial Library of the Moghul dynasty at Delhi, and also centre on acquisitions made in India during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Most older printed books and periodicals come from the British Museum Library, but the India Office Library contributed a substantial number, including 7000 books published in India prior to 1947. During the first part of the twentieth century collection policy focused on works of classical scholarship.


Manuscripts: Some of the finest calligraphic and illuminated manuscripts of the Holy Qur'an, to autograph and other high-quality copies of major religious, legal, historical, literary and scientific works, and also many illustrated manuscripts.

Printed books and periodicals: particular strengths include early Arabic printing especially early European imprints and books printed on the Bulaq press; Islamic studies; materials published in, or about, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq to 1970, and Yemen; recent publications from Jordan and the Palestinian-administered Territories; materials published in the UK, especially UK-based newspapers; books published in India up to 1947; early newspapers.

General arrangement and access regulations

The collection is organised into the following sections: manuscripts, printed books, periodicals and newspapers.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

Near & Middle East and North Africa.


Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

Languages of material



Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts, Communication and media, Development, Economics, Education, Environmental sciences, Geography, History, Human rights, Industries, International relations, Language, Law, Literature, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Politics and government, Recreation, Religion, Science and technology, Sociology, Travel, Women.

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Archival materials (includes non-published & mixed material), Books, Computer files (includes CD-ROMs & other electronic material), Manuscripts, Newspapers (includes microfilm editions), Official publications, Serials.

Total size of collection

14,000 manuscripts, 70,000 printed books, 400 periodical titles (including 50 current), 200 newspaper titles (including 11 current).

Size of collection - vernacular

14,000 manuscripts, 70,000 printed books, 400 periodical titles (including 50 current), 200 newspaper titles (including 11 current).

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has stayed the same.

Annual intake

1,700 Arabic monographs, 20 Arabic manuscripts

Content date range

709 to present

Co-operative agreements

  • Within the MELCOM (Middle East Libraries Committee) Area Specialization Scheme the British Library has undertaken to acquire material on / from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian-administered Territories.

Collection policy

Collection Catalogue Information


Arabic books acquired since 1980 are included in the British Library on-line catalogue. Because of the system's handling of diacritics, Arabic holdings can be searched most effectively via COPAC, limiting the search to the British Library. Pre-1980 acquisitions are listed in printed catalogues.

Catalogue transliteration schemes

Library of Congress

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