Yemeni Manuscripts… Can we preserve them? [Archives:2004/732/Culture]

April 26 2004

Yasser Mohammed Al-Mayyasi
The Republic of Yemen is considered one of the Arab countries possessing the most significant collection of historic manuscripts. Yemen possesses thousands of rare manuscripts reflecting the history of Yemen. These manuscripts represent a genuine fortune for researchers and concerned individuals interested in the histories of the Arab and Islamic worlds.
The fortune of Yemen of the rare and spectacular manuscripts has astonished many researchers, especially the brilliant scientists who have been able to witness before their eyes the great Yemeni civilizations through these manuscripts, especially the Sheba, Muaen, Qutban, and Awsan civilizations, as well as to get acquainted with many other civilizations,
Antiquities have contributed to the unveiling of ancient Yemeni civilizations in all of their details. However, today, the antiquities of Yemen are being threatened because of the smuggling, plundering and looting operations aiming at emptying Yemen of its spirit and history. The smuggling and stealing operations of Yemeni manuscripts are not taking place on mere coincidences and it has not just started, but the operations have been taking place infor some time.
Everyday we hear of foiled attempts to smuggle antiquities and manuscripts at Yemeni airports, seaports and at land entry/exist points. Researchers, especially those who have visited Yemen in the past, estimated the number of manuscripts in Yemen to be around two million pieces, scattered throughout libraries, mosques and study and research centers as well as possessed by individuals inside and outside Yemen. However, the exact number of the manuscripts is not currently available due to absence of precise statistics on the volume of the remaining manuscripts. In addition to this, the field survey of manuscripts throughout the governorates of the Republic, commenced in 1998, has not been completed. Most of the manuscripts are believed to be available or kept in Sana'a or in historic cities such as Zabeed, Shibam, Jeblah, and Al-Shaher in Hadramout.
Sana'a Manuscripts House, established in 1980, consists today of rare and valuable manuscripts, which include Koranic verses written on leather, and are estimated at 800 books written during the period of the first to the fifth centuries (Islamic Calendar), including one hundred embellished copies of the Holy Koran.
The library at the Grand Mosque in Sana'a city also contains a number of rare manuscripts, about 515 manuscripts, but all manuscripts continue to face smuggling and stealing conspiracies at the hands of major traders.
The duty to preserve the manuscripts is not limited to that of the related authorities, but it is the responsibility of all members and officials. To confront the smuggling of Yemeni antiquities and manuscripts requires the collective efforts of all. Thus, can we preserve our valuable manuscripts?