Hina Khan Palwasha
On the edge of the historical entrance of Islamia College Peshawar, lies a 13,000 square feet vast Central Library. Inside this building is a treasure more valuable than gold, the city’s ancient books.
Founded in 1913, the same year of the foundation of this historic institution, the library is home to around 90,000 books and 1261 hand written manuscripts in different languages including Arabic (946), Persian (310), Pashto (04) and Punjabi (01), which are almost 500 to 1000 years old. There is another collection of 1100 historically published books which are almost 50 to 100 years old.
There are several old maps, pictures, models and other rare historical archives as well such as pictures of the construction of first educational institute in the region, showing Quaid-e-Azam with the students and founder Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum who’s belongings and scriptures are also part of the collection as well.
Dating back to the time of British Raj in United India, this library stands witness to the flourishing intellectual life in the city. The oldest manuscript “Kitab-ul-Aghani” translated as “the Book of Afghans” written by Abul Farah Ali Bin Hussain Asfahani dates back to almost 950 to 1000 years, marking an era of a golden age in the region. The manuscript’s four chapters comprise of biographies, Physics, Arabic grammar and poetry in Arabic language.
A literary gem like authentic hand-written manuscript of Bukhari Shareef dating back to 800 years stands alongside the writings of other famous authors, scientists, and poets including Abdul Qadir Khattak son of Khushal Khan Khattak, students of Imam Ibn-e- Hanbal, “Taba Tabaeen” and scholars from the Mughal Court.
Written in ancient Kufic and Tuluth calligraphy and decorated with intricate miniatures, in these manuscripts, prominent scholars have challenged prevailing opinions on subjects ranging from Islam, Art, Literature, Economics, Chemistry, Medicine, Biology, Zoology and Astronomy. Some of the books are the most sought-after literature of intellectual culture and are of one of their kind in the whole world.
Many of the rare manuscripts and some printed books are part of the personal collection of a resident of Peshawar, Hafiz Ghulam Jilani. After his death, the treasure was donated by his family members to the library which was then called as “Madrassa Darul Aloom, Islamia”. Maulana Abdul Rahim Qolachwi was the very first custodian of the books who painstakingly organized and arranged manuscripts due to his command on ancient Arabic and Persian. Today, the struggle to protect the books continues in this prestigious institution.
Different notable leaders have paid visit to the Library including Quaid-e-Azam, Shah-e Iran, Afghan leaders and Princess of Thailand. On his third visit on 12th April, 1948, Quaid-i-Azam wrote a note himself which reads: “I was very pleased to visit the library and was much interested to see rare old manuscripts and books.”
Although the library was digitized in 2015, making these treasures available to students, researchers and scholars, no special protocols have been taken to preserve the physical condition of the books. These books represent our best— and often only— sources of the South Asian history. Many of them have never been read by modern scholars, and will vanish in the torrents of time, if not preserved. At stake in the efforts to protect them is the history they contain— and the efforts of countless generations to protect that history from being lost.