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  • 1 Al Akhawayn UniversityMoroccoIfrane
  • | 2 Ibadica Center for Research and Studies on IbadismFranceParis
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Opening page of the bibliographical notebook that once belonged to the Ibadi historian Sālim b. Yaʿqūb (1903–1991). See footnote 7, below, for more details. MS Djerba, Maktabat Sālim b. Yaʿqūb 71, f. 2a

Citation: Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 12, 1 (2021) ; 10.1163/1878464X-01201001

Image source: Ibadica Center for Research and Studies on Ibadism, Paris

The articles brought together in this special issue of Journal of Islamic Manuscripts (JIM) began as papers presented at a workshop entitled “Ibadi Manuscripts and Manuscript Cultures,” held in April 2019 at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. The event was organized jointly by Al Akhawayn University and the Ibadica Centre for Research and Studies on Ibadism (Paris) with the sponsorship of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Al Akhawayn University and the Omani Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs.1 The event included ten presentations on diverse topics related to Ibadi manuscript cultures, with participants from Algeria, France, Italy, Tunisia, Oman, and the United States.

The articles included here represent revised versions of five of those papers, which focus on Ibadi manuscript cultures connected to the Maghrib. Collectively, they offer an introduction to several important issues relating to content and method in the study of Ibadi manuscripts and manuscript cultures in the region. A number of salient themes appear throughout, chief among which is the role of private collections and archives in the preservation and study of Ibadi manuscripts. While some researchers have lamented the inaccessibility of private Ibadi libraries, the contributions here offer examples of the opposite. While many private archives do remain inaccessible and endangered, the Ibadi communities of contemporary North Africa and Oman have been working hard for decades to preserve and to document the history of their manuscript cultures. The contributions offered here reflect some of the fruits of those efforts.

In this editorial introduction, we offer a brief look at the contemporary landscape of Ibadi manuscript studies, focusing on efforts to catalog and to protect Ibadi manuscript collections in the region. We then consider some of the themes and problematics raised by the contributions in this special issue.

1 Contemporary Ibadi Manuscript Studies

Manuscript resources within Ibadi Maghribi communities have a great symbolic and strategic force in the transmission of knowledge and in the preservation of historical memory. Since the second half of the nineteenth century, the Ibadi intellectual diaspora has manifested itself in an editorial effervescence, which has coincided with a growing interest among orientalists in Ibadi literature. Even if the manuscripts are better known today than in the past, they nevertheless remain scattered. Fragments of manuscripts held in Maghribi, Omani, or European libraries still await reunification. This represents for researchers an as yet unexploited pool of written historical sources that could contribute to the rewriting of the political, social and religious history of both Ibadi communities and the Maghrib, more generally.

In the Mzab Valley in Algeria, scholarly and religious personalities have since independence been at the origin of the creation of foundations, which have among other activities the role of indexing, cataloguing, and preserving the manuscript collections of the many private Ibadi libraries of the region. The Muʾassassat ʿAmmī Saʿīd (Ammi Saïd) in Ghardaïa (founded in 1973),2 Jamʿiyyat al-Turāth (Tourath) in Guerrara (1983),3 and Jamʿiyyat Abī Isḥāq Aṭfayyish (Abou Ishaq Tefayech) in Ghardaia (1995)4 have devoted themselves to documenting Ibadi literary heritage and to the training of experts and codicologists (see the article by Aissa Hadj Mahammed in this issue). They preserve Ibadi written heritage in order to promote academic research by ensuring access to manuscripts for researchers via a large digital database.

In Djerba, Tunisia there are several private family-run libraries. These include the El Barounia Library (al-Maktaba al-Bārūniyya), a large manuscript library established in the nineteenth century by the collector and scholar Saʿīd b. ʿĪsā al-Bārūnī (d. 1868). The first full catalogue of the library was the result of its collaboration with the Association pour la Sauvegarde de l’ Ile de Djerba (ASSIDJE) and other Tunisian institutional partners (on which see the article by Mohamed Neji in this issue). A new and comprehensive catalogue of the Ibadi titles in the library was completed in 2018, together with the digitization of the collection.5 Another essential library is the Bin Yaʿqūb Library (Maktabat al-Shaykh Sālim b. Yaʿqūb) which contains many manuscripts that its eponymous founder copied in Cairo in the 1930s from the Ibadi school known as the “Wikālat al-Jāmūs” and the Dār al-Kutub.6 It also houses manuscripts that he was able to save from destruction in Djerba. Following the death of the owner in 1991, the library was divided among the various heirs and accessing the collection became difficult. The current owner has too limited financial means to ensure the continuity of the manuscripts, despite a subsidy from The Islamic Manuscripts Association (TIMA) in 2015.7 More recently, the al-Bāsī Mosque Library in Djerba was catalogued and its manuscripts digitized (on which see Ali Boujdidi’s contribution to this issue).8 Other libraries have suffered a tragic fate: the Baʿṭūrī family library (al-Maktaba al-Baʿṭūriyya), located in Oualagh in the north of the island, was destroyed by fire in the early 1980s. As far as other libraries are concerned, there are clues that there is still some hope of finding new manuscripts.

The manuscripts of the Jebel Nafusa in Libya have not enjoyed the same fortune as those in the Mzab and Djerba. The combination of Italian colonialism in the early-20th century, decades of rule under Muammar Gaddafi (1969–2011), and the recent years of civil unrest have led to this area of Ibadi manuscript culture remaining the least known. In 1913, Francesco Beguinot acquired abandoned manuscripts from the region for the University of Naples ‘l’ Orientale’.9 In 1970, Amr Khalifa Ennami wrote a description of manuscripts in Nafusan libraries that he considered the most significant.10 In 1971, Brahim Fekkhar also visited seven Ibadi libraries in Tripoli and Zuwara without providing bibliographical information.11 Gaddafi’s accession to power in 1969 effectively marked the end of Ibadi studies in Libya. More recently, during the violence of the Libyan Revolution in 2012, Libyan refugees in Djerba spoke of having witnessed families in the Jebel Nafusa who sold their manuscripts to meet their urgent needs as well as of other collections left abandoned in the villages. These testimonies emphasize the importance of safeguarding the manuscripts in the region. Moreover, there is still great hope of finding lesser-known “Nukkari” and “Khalafi” Ibadi writings, since these minority Ibadi communities were still active in the Jebel Nafusa at the beginning of the 20th century.12

Although in parallel with the community dynamics in the Mzab and Djerba, which are independent of any state initiative, the Sultanate of Oman has different structures to carry out its policy of preservation, education, and production of knowledge on Ibadism. The Omani authorities have been trying to promote Ibadism worldwide through a series of publications and conferences begun first by Ministry of Heritage and Culture in the 1960s and continued by the Ministry of Habous and Religious Affairs from the 1980s onwards.13 The Omani National Archive Authority has an active policy of archival enrichment of the Sultanate’s sphere of influence.14 Private initiatives have also emerged, such as the Dhākirat ʿUmān Foundation, which works in the preservation and publication of Omani heritage.15

The rich experiences mentioned above, the discoveries resulting from the preservation of manuscripts, and the numerous critical editions that began appearing in publication created an important dynamic by the late 2000s. It was in this context that the Ibadica Centre for Research and Studies on Ibadism was founded in Paris in 2013. Its mission is to preserve and to develop these achievements with the help of expertise from all sides. In partnership with conservation institutions, Ibadica offers easy access to bibliographical resources to facilitate the work of researchers and students.16

2 Themes and Problematics in the Study of Ibadi Manuscripts and Manuscript Cultures

The contributions to this special issue of JIM highlight important themes and problematics in the contemporary study of Ibadi manuscripts and manuscript cultures in the Maghrib. The article by Aissa Hadj Mahammed on Ibadi copyists of the Mzab Valley, Algeria offers both a window into the world of Mzabi manuscript culture in the 9th–10th/15th–16th centuries as well as a methodological example of what can be done with the rich corpus of private library catalogs produced by Mzabi associations over the past two decades. His article also makes a valuable contribution in offering a comprehensive list of those catalogs (published locally without ISBNs) as an appendix.

The contribution by Mohamed Neji likewise makes both a historical and methodological intervention. His article offers a concrete demonstration of the importance of the circulation of letters among Ibadi scholars in the premodern Maghrib for the construction and maintenance of the Ibadi community there, as well as changes in the Ibadi intellectual landscape over time. Methodologically, he challenges historians to give this neglected corpus of Ibadi epistolary the attention it deserves.

Ali Boujdidi’s work on the El Bessi (al-Bāsī) Mosque library in Djerba, Tunisia points to several important themes relating to the study of Ibadi manuscripts in the present. The article is based on the combination of two types of sources: manuscripts from the mosque’s recently-digitized library and manuscripts from the institution’s archives. The El Bessi Mosque Library also merits attention given that it housed a significant number of Ibadi and non-Ibadi titles, both of which were studied by the island’s Ibadi and non-Ibadi inhabitants. Finally, the closure of the madrasa that housed the texts in the mid-20th century and the subsequent transfer of its archive and library to the El Bessi family represents another common theme in the history of Ibadi libraries in Djerba.

Mohamed Merimi’s work on the religious endowments (awqāf) connected to Ibadi institutions in Djerba, Tunisia represents an understudied but exceedingly valuable aspect of Ibadi manuscript studies; namely, the inclusion of formal archival evidence in the conversation. Merimi’s earlier scholarship in Arabic on Ibadism in Ottoman-era and colonial-era Tunisia has shed light on an important period of Ibadi history in the Maghrib and we are delighted to offer a sample of his scholarship here to a wider audience.17

Vermondo Brugnatelli’s article on the collection of French orientalist Auguste Bossoutrot (1856–1937) highlights two important but understudied aspects of Ibadi manuscript culture. The first is the existence of Ibadi manuscripts in Europe and their link with colonial-era interest in Ibadism. The second is a theme of Brugnatelli’s research elsewhere: the linguistic diversity of the Ibadi manuscript tradition in the Maghrib, which in both medieval and more recent eras blended Arabic with regional dialects of Berber (Amazigh) languages.

We hope that the articles brought together here will enhance the visibility of Ibadi manuscripts and manuscript cultures in the larger fields of Islamic codicology and Islamic material history.

Ifrane/Paris, May 15, 2020


Our sincere thanks to His Excellency Shaykh Abdullah Bin Mohammed al-Salmi, Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs in the Sultanate of Oman for his support of the workshop. Equal thanks are due to Dr. Abdulrahman al-Salimi for facilitating our communication with the Ministry and to Dr. Abdelkrim Marzouk, Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Al Akhawayn University, for his generous hosting of the workshop in Ifrane. Finally, we thank the editors of Journal of Islamic Manuscripts, for their detailed attention to the contributions in this volume and for the opportunity to present these articles to the JIM readership.

2 [Accessed 13 May 2020].

3 [Accessed 13 May 2020].

4 [Accessed 13 May 2020].


Fihris makhṭūṭāt al-maktaba al-Bārūniyya bi-Jarba (Ghardaia: Jamʿiyyat Abī Isḥāq Iṭfayyish, 2018).


On the Wikālat al-Jāmūs, see: Aḥmad Maṣlaḥ, al-Waqf al-jarbī fī Miṣr wa-dawruhu fī ’l-tanmiya al-iqtiṣādiyya wa-’l-ijtimāʿiyya wa-’l-thaqāfiyya min al-sqarn al-ʿāshir ilā ’l-qarn al-rābiʿ ʿashar al-hijrīyayn (Wikālat al-Jāmūs namūdhajan) (Kuwait: al-Amāna al-ʿĀmma lil-Awqāf, 2012).


On which see Paul M. Love, Jr., “The Sālim Bin Yaʿqūb Ibāḍī Manuscript Library in Jerba, Tunisia: A Preliminary Survey & Inventory,” Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 8 (2017): 257–280. See also the frontispiece opposite the beginning of this introduction. It shows the opening page of the notebook of Sālim b. Yaʿqūb (1903–1991). Originally from Djerba, Tunisia, he followed generations of Maghribi Ibadis in spending several years in Cairo studying and copying manuscripts at the Wikālat al-Jāmūs. The notebook contains notes from his search for Ibadi manuscripts and related texts at the Dār al-Kutub, Egypt’s National Library. ‘Maybe I find in these a word about the Ibāḍiyya, either in praise or in blame’, he writes. While in Egypt Sālim b. Yaʿqūb collected and copied hundreds of Ibadi manuscripts in Cairo and brought them home to Djerba. These texts became the core of one of the most prominent manuscript libraries in the Maghrib.


Ali Boujdidi and Paul M. Love, Jr., “Preserving Endangered Archives in Jerba, Tunisia: The al-Basi Family Manuscript Library,” Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, no. 3:1 (2018): 215–219.


Paul M. Love, Jr., “Provenance in the Aggregate: The Social Life of an Arabic Manuscript Collection in Naples,” Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies no. 3:2 (2018) 334–356.


Amr Khalifa Ennami, “A Description of New Ibadi Manuscripts from North Africa,” Journal of Semitic Studies 15:1 (1970) 63–87.


Brahim Fekhar, “Les communautés ibadites en Afrique du Nord (Libye, Tunisie et Algérie) depuis les Fatimides” (Dissertation, Université de la Sorbonne, 1971), 384.


Louis Massignon, Annuaire du monde musulman, (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1926) 132.


Since 2009, this has included a series of international conferences, the proceedings of which have also been published. See: [Accessed 13 May 2020].


See their website online at: [Accessed 14 May 2020]. See also: [Accessed 14 May 2020].


See their website online at: [Accessed 13 May 2020].


See their website online at: and their contact email:


Muḥammad al-Marīmī, Ibāḍiyyat jarba khilāl al-ʿaṣr al-ḥadīth (Tūnis: Kullīyat al-ādāb wa-’l-funūn wa-’l-insānīyāt bi-Manūba, 2005); Muḥammad al-Marīmī, Ahl jazīrat Jarba min khilāl awqāf al-ibāḍiyya wa-hakdāsh bayʿat al-gharība al-yahūdiyya (Tunis: Markaz al-nashr al-jāmiʿī, 2018).

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