Manuscripts of the Islamic World at Princeton University Library

The Princeton University Library has some 9,500 manuscripts of the Islamic world, chiefly bound paper codices, containing a total of more than 20,000 texts. The manuscripts are located in the Manuscripts Division of the Department of Special Collections, at the Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library. Robert Garrett (Princeton Class of 1897) collected approximately two-thirds of these manuscripts and donated them to the Library in 1942. Since then, the Library has continued to acquire manuscripts by gift and purchase. The manuscripts are chiefly in Arabic but also include Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and other languages of the extended Islamic world written in Arabic script. They date from the early centuries of Islam through the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Most of the manuscripts originated in Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and other main centers of Islamic civilization. But there are examples from Moorish Spain and the Maghreb in the West, to the Indian sub-continent and the Indonesian archipelago in the East, and even sub-Sahara.

Subject coverage is broad and comprehensive, including theology based both on Qur’ān and tradition (hadīth); Islamic law (fiqh); history and biography (especially of the Prophet and other religious leaders); book arts and illustration; language and literature; science; magic, and the occult; and other aspects of the intellectual and spiritual life of the Islamic world and its diverse peoples. Representative works of virtually every important Muslim thinker are present. Although textual manuscripts are predominant, there are also illuminated Qur’āns and Persian literary works, including six Persian and Indian illuminated manuscripts of Firdawsī's Shāhnāmah, the Persian national epic, as well as separately mounted Persian and Mughal miniatures. There are manuscripts for other religious traditions, including Arabic Christian manuscripts, and the William McElwee Miller Collection of Bābī Writings and Other Iranian Texts 1846-1923 (Third Series, nos. 1-47). In addition to these holdings, the Manuscripts Division also holds Arabic papyri (chiefly documentary), described online: There are also several small collections of early Arabic documents (parchment and paper) and Arabic calligraphy. Modern personal papers and archives relating to the history of the Middle East are found in the Manuscripts Division and at Mudd Library (Public Policy Papers). Supporting research are some 300,000 printed volumes in the Library's Near Eastern Studies circulating collections.

The Library has long been committed to making these collections available to researchers worldwide, initially with access provided by published catalogs, principally those compiled by Philip K. Hitti (1938), Mohammed E. Moghadam and Yahya Armajani (1939), Rudolf Mach (1977), and Rudolf Mach and Eric L. Ormsby (1987). For scanned versions of the printed catalogs of Arabic manuscripts, as well as the checklist and lists of recent accessions, visit the Islamic Manuscripts page. Library staff have created online bibliographic records for most of Princeton's holdings of Islamic manuscripts. Online records include both original MARC-format cataloging and brief bibliographic records based on the printed catalogs. Bibliographic records for Islamic manuscripts are searchable in the Princeton University Library's online catalog.