Many are too fragile to be placed on permanent display, some are priceless and all currently languish unseen in the vaults of the National Library of Israel (NLI) on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
But over the next three years the library’s remarkable collection of more than 2,500 rare Islamic books and manuscripts, some dating back as far as the ninth century, will be digitized and made available free online as part of an outreach program seeking to build cultural bridges in one of the world’s historically most divided regions.
For Dr. Raquel Ukeles, curator of the Islam and Middle East Collection at the library, the initiative “reflects the library’s renewal program, as we move from being this closed academic library to becoming a real national library, among the national libraries of the world. We want to share our collections with the global community, and to enable easy free use.”
That is “true for all our collections,” she added. But there is a special motive for opening up access to the library’s Islamic treasures.
“We have a world-class Islamic collection and, for me, that’s not so bizarre because the National Library in Jerusalem sits at the cradle of the great monotheistic traditions, including Islam.”
In Israel today, Ukeles said, “there are almost a million-and-a-half Muslim citizens and this is their library as well. Also, we are in the Middle East and so it should be very natural for us to be focusing on and investing in this material, to create space for Muslim culture in Israel and in the broader intellectual life, whether it’s in the Middle East or in the world, to enable greater understanding.”