Arare letter from Prophet Hazrat Mohammed addressed to the Egyptian King, the holy Quran hand-written by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, handwritten copies of the Torah (Hebrew Bible in writing), Vedas, Geeta, Mahabharat and are among the rare manuscripts being digitized for the first time at Darool Ulum, Deoband. Many of these manuscripts, handwritten in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Sanskrit, have not been opened for half a century or more because of their fragile state.

The exercise to preserve the 1,563 rare manuscripts and other books began during the lockdown earlier this year. One lakh pages have been digitized so far, informs the librarian Maulana Shafique. But 50 lakh pages remain to be digitised. The library at Darul Uloom was established in 1866 and a new library building is coming up at a cost of Rs 20 Crore. Once digitized and laminated, most of the manuscripts will be shifted to the new library building.

One of the reasons for the slow progress of digitization is the decision to do the exercise on its own. Several agencies including the National Archives of India, Malyasia and Saudi Arabia had evinced interest in the project and the Iranian Cultural Centre had offered to do it at no cost. But their condition was a copy of each manuscript by way of fees. The offer was politely turned down.

Many of the manuscripts are 500 to 800 years old. There is a large collection of books on Sufism, Jurisprudence, law, Biology, Unani medicine, Astronomy, Culture and Theology. There is also a 750-year old hand-written book on Botany. There is an equally large collection on Tasawwuf or Islamic mysticism, most of them handwritten and the latest just 300 years old.

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