Rare Arabic books now in English

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Picture showing Arabic text being composed manually. Photo: Surya Sridhar

Hyderabad: Want to know the sure shot way of treating diseases of uterus, gynecology and midwifery? Just refer to Kitab Al-Haawi Fl-Al-Tibb, the most comprehensive book on medicine. 

This Arabic treatise authored by Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Zakariya Al Razi more than 500 years ago is now available in English. One of the greatest names in medieval medicine, Razi’s encyclopedia on medicine, has now been restored and translated into English by Da’iratul Ma’arif-il-Osmania.

This ancient bureau for research and publication has also rendered three other classical books on metaphysics, music, and geology from Arabic to English thanks to the keen interest taken by the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India to include Dairatul Maarif under the ‘Hamari Dharohar’ scheme.

The programme aims at preserving the rich heritage of minority communities in the context of Indian culture. Telangana is the second State after Gujarat to get this prestigious project.

The Centre has sanctioned Rs 37.71 crore for modernisation, digitisation, translation and re-printing of classical books available at Dairatul Maarif over a period of five years.

The latter has done a wonderful job of translating four books within the deadline of March 31 with the help of Rs 2.77 crore released. The other books are: Risalah Fi-Al-Musiqa (book of music), Munazaraat Polemics (debates between Imam Ar-Razi and others) and Kitab Al-Kawn Wa Al-Fasaad (the book of universe and its disorders).

These books are not only rare but are simply not available anywhere, not even in the Arabic-speaking countries, it is said.

In a short span of five months, Dairatul Maarif has translated five more books which are ready for printing. They are the first and eighth volume of medicine, Al Hind Fil Ahde Islam (India during Islamic period), Nuzhat Al Khawatir volume I (Biography of Indian scholars) and Multakhad (Sufiana tafseer of Quran). It plans to translate all the 24 volumes of Al Razi on different body parts.

Not just this. After six decades, the Daira has come up with a reprint of the Arabic translation of Bhagavad Gita. The original work was in the Sanskrit language. “The philosophy of oneness of God is explained very beautifully in this book,” says Dr Mehjabeen Akhter, director, Dairatul Maarif.

Translating the Arabic works into English is easier said than done. First, there are not many scholars who know the ancient Arabic and those who know are not proficient enough to translate them into English. The task is made more difficult as Arabic and English text have to match line by line in the bilingual books.

With great difficulty a team of experts from EFLU, MANUU, HCU, JNU, Ibne Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine and Sciences, and Osmania University is cobbled together to translate the ancient books, says Syed Omer Jaleel, Secretary, Minorities Welfare.

Established in 1888 during the reign of the 6th Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, Dairatul Maarif holds a singular position not only in the subcontinent but the world over. Its main objective is to search and secure rare and unpublished manuscripts of Arabic works pertaining to the period between the 6th and 14th century – the golden age of Islamic hegemony.

Over the years it has been procuring, transcribing, collating, editing and publishing rare Arabic manuscripts of prominent scholars belonging to the classical era of Islam. Almost all its publications are of seminal importance and serve as an indispensable source for research.

Despite funds and staff crunch, Dairatul Maarif has managed to publish more than 240 rare books running into over 800 volumes over the years. They deal with subjects like literature, fine arts, history, culture, surgery, medicine, ophthalmology, jurisprudence, lexicography, sufism, philosophy, Quranic commentaries, Hadith, Fiqh, metaphysics, mathematics, geography, and astronomy.

The run down structure of Daira on the Osmania University campus matches the hoary content inside. Interestingly, the Institute still makes use of the outdated hand machine press and hand composing for printing books.

Syed Ahmed Hussain, the lone compositor, effortlessly picks up the Arabic letters from appropriate cases and assembles by hand letter by letter and line by line with uniform spacing.

“Hand composed books are considered authentic and are in great demand in the Arab world,” says Dr Akther, who plans to give the much-needed facelift to the institution.

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