His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai emphasised that conserving the rich Islamic scientific heritage and propagating it around the world are vital in promoting cultural dialogue, which in turn will inspire interest in the Islamic civilization and its scientific legacy.
In a speech delivered on behalf of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed by His Excellency Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, at Al-Azhar, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed observed that that science can help in restoring the cultural and humanitarian leadership of the Arab world.
The speech was delivered at a ceremony held to mark the successful completion of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Project to preserve the manuscripts of Al Azhar and publish them online.
The project involved documenting and preserving up to 50,000 manuscripts of Al Azhar, comprising more than eight million pages and 63 sections in various arts and science disciplines dating back to beginning of Islamic history, in addition to 53,000 printed copies, the most recent of which was printed 60 years ago.
The project not only archives the manuscripts, but also makes 125,000 references available electronically through a dedicated website, in addition to establishing an internal communications network to link the main Al-Azhar institutes.
The ceremony, held at the convention centre of Al Azhar, was attended by Dr. Ahmed El-Tayeb, Imam of Al Azhar; His Excellency Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, UAE Minister of Cabinet Affair; His Excellency Emad Abu Ghazi Minister of Culture in Egypt and, and senior officials from the UAE and Egypt.
The project is a humble contribution to preserve science and the rich legacy of Arab scientists as well as that of Al Azhar, which remains a beacon of knowledge and learning for Muslims around the world, observed His Highness Sheikh Mohammed.
“We extend our sincere gratitude to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum for launching and funding this project, which we consider as a valuable gift to the Islamic nation. The project will provide the opportunity for Al Azhar to reach the largest possible number of students and researchers all over the world wishing to take advantage of references from Al-Azhar. There are more than 9,000 Al Azhar Institutes around the world with more than 70 faculties and 2.5 million students,” said Dr. Ahmed El Tayeb.
“This project represents one of the glorious examples of cooperation and joint efforts between the UAE and Egypt for the good of the people in both countries,” said His Excellency Emad Abu Ghazi on behalf of Egyptian Prime Minister His Excellency Essam Sharaf.
“The idea for preserving the manuscripts emerged during a visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed to Al-Azhar a decade ago. He was told of the archived manuscripts and books as he discussed ways to provide an opportunity for all Muslims to take advantage of this Islamic intellectual legacy with the Imam of Al-Azhar,” explained His Excellency Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs.
“The project represents the fascinating relations between the UAE and Egypt, which opens many doors of joint efforts in all areas, and invites us to take advantage of the capabilities and potential in both countries. The scientific and cultural cooperation between the State of UAE and Egypt has not emerged recently but dates back to the days of the country’s inception under the leadership of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan,” added His Excellency Al Gergawi.
During the ceremony Al Azhar launched its electronic library that stores scientific books and references within the website www.alazharlibrary.gov.eg, allowing researchers and students around the world to browse a huge collection of Islamic intellectual reserves.
The initiative was launched to preserve the rare manuscripts using the latest technology, thus protecting the treasures of Islamic culture and scientific heritage without any damage for centuries and to provide an opportunity for all Muslims to take advantage of this Islamic intellectual legacy.
The technical infrastructure for the project will be developed by IBM to ensure the highest global standards in document storage and archiving with the help of the latest equipment and advanced technologies. IBM was chosen for their expertise in this area and experience in working on similar large scale projects around the world, such as the Vatican Archives and the Congress Library.
“The project of Al-Azhar is a leap in the science of manuscript conservation, as it is the third of its kind in the world. The manuscripts are very unique Islamic intellectual material, gathered by many scientists and Azhar students, the first university in the world, which increases the value of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s gift to preserve the heritage of human civilization,” said Jamal Bin Hoirab, General Supervisor of the project.
“A team from Al-Azhar will update the site regularly and do the necessary maintenance and follow-up. A specialised company has been contracted to monitor and protect the contents of the site. Over and above, a special security system is utilised during the process of programming and entering data,” added Bin Hoirab.
The project called for different phases of work and dedicated infrastructure including a special building to house equipment. High-resolution, high sensitivity, scanners and servers to store data were installed on the fifth floor of the new building of Al-Azhar. Specially trained staff was also deployed to handle photocopying of the manuscripts and converting them into electronic format. More than 3 million pages have been copied until today and work is still under way.
The project does not only archive the manuscripts, but also makes 50,000 references available electronically through a dedicated website, in addition to establishing an internal communications network to link the main Al-Azhar institutes. More than 16,000 manuscripts have been copied until today and work is still under way to complete copying the rest.