Who rules the world?

Picture: Library of congress - Inside View

Capital suggestion: Libraries
By Dr Farrukh Saleem
The News, October 29 2006

History stands witness that whoever owns the largest library rules the world. In the 10th century, the library at Saint Gall was the largest in the Christendom (St. Gallen, present-day Switzerland). The library's first general catalogue, the Breviarum Librorum, had 426 titles.

In the 10th century, 1,300 km from Switzerland, Umayyad Abd al-Rahman III, Caliph of Cordoba, founded the University of Cordoba. Abd al-Rahman III built libraries. His sons were also extremely fond of books, and they gave Cordoba even more libraries. By the time Al Hakam II, Abd al-Rahman's son became caliph of Cordoba (961-976), Cordoba had become 'the most cultured city in Europe'; 900 public baths and 80,000 shops.

Muslim Cordoba had 70 public libraries. Al Hakam II first secured peace with the Christian kingdoms and then went on a massive translation drive commissioning translations of hundreds of books from Greek and Latin into Arabia. Al Hakam II then decided to unite the libraries of his father, his brother and his own. The united library had 44 volumes in the catalogue for the 400,000 volumes (compare that with St. Gall 's general catalogue with 426 titles).

Additionally, there was a royal library in Granada, a public library at the Grand Mosque in Seville, a royal library in Toledo and a public library at the Byazin Mosque in Valencia. Then there were private collections. Ibn Futaya had one of the biggest. Yusuf ibn Isamil, a resident of Jewish faith, also had a large collection. Under Muslim rule, there were more books in Cordoba than the whole of Europe.

Islam has a tradition of libraries. When we had libraries we ruled North Africa, Nimes (France), Sicily (Italy), Walachia (Romania), Cypress, Sardinia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Venice and Hungary. Islam used to be the religion of success. The Umayyads ruled over present-day Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Iran and all the way to Pakistan. Remember, Tariq bin Ziyad, an Umayyad general, had landed in Gibraltar and was named the governor of Hispania (present-day Portugal, Spain, Andorra).

Fast forward to 2006. The Library of Congress. Imagine, 850 kilometres of bookshelves (M2, the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway is 333 km). Imagine, "29 million catalogued books and other print materials in 470 languages; more than 58 million manuscripts; one million US government publications, one million issues of world newspapers spanning the past three centuries, 33,000 bound newspaper volumes, 500,000 microfilm reels, over 6,000 comic books, the world's largest collection of legal materials, films, 4.8 million maps, sheet music and 2.7 million sound recordings."

Here are some additional facts about the Library of Congress, the largest library on the face of the planet:

It maintains offices in New Delhi, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Jakarta, Nairobi and Islamabad to acquire research material;

It receives some 22,000 items each working day;

Half of its books are in languages other than English;

Its law library is the world's largest;

Its Asian Division has the largest assemblage of Chinese, Japanese and Korean materials;

Its Iberian, Latin American and Caribbean collections have 10 million items;

It has one of the largest rare book collections;

Its African and Middle Eastern Division has 600,000 volumes;

It has the largest collection of Russian-language materials outside of Russia

It has the largest and most diverse collection of scientific and technical information in the world.

The National Library of Pakistan has a mere 130,000 books (The National Library of India at Kolkata has a million books). Imagine, the Library of Congress has more books than the combined collection at the national libraries of Brunei, Maldives, Suriname, Comoros, Djibouti, Qatar Bahrain, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, Gabon, Gambia, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Albania, Lebanon, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Sierra Leone, Togo, Turkmenistan, Benin, Tajikistan, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Chad, Somalia, Senegal, Tunisia, Mali, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, Cote d'Ivoire, Syria, Mozambique, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Iraq, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Guyana and Niger (and the OIC claims to 'represent the interests of 1.2 billion Muslims').

Imagine, 1.2 billion Muslims have fewer books than 300 million Americans. Imagine, Saudi Arabia has 262 billion barrels of proven oil reserves but the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh has 90,000 titles. Imagine, the caliph of Cordoba had three times more books than does the National Library of Pakistan.

So, who should be ruling the world? It's not nuclear fission devices. Its not plutonium implosion devices. It's not thermonuclear weapons. Its not hydrogen bombs. It's not chemical explosives. It's not radiological weapons. It's not strategic or tactical arsenal. It's not the amount of highly enriched Uranium. It's not solid propellant missiles.

It's the size of one's library. And, the Library of Congress is the biggest there is.

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email: farrukh15@hotmail.com


Anonymous said…
I think that Al-Hakam's translations were not done from latin or greek as there wasn't much of the sort in iberia back then. the direction was rather Arabic to latin. The bulk of the translation INTO arabic was being done in Baghdad in more or less the same period. The sources were byzantine, greek, indian.
Cybernest said…
Excellent blog post!

I was attracted to this post via a Google email alert on Gibraltar!

I'm glad I popped in and had a read. Your slant... Hassan, is very original! Very interesting reading! Really does make one think!

Wish I knew how many books we have in our Libary... but I don't. Hmmm... Must find out! :D

Anyhow... Thank you!

Saludos! :D

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