DUBAI: Here are five selections from London-based rare-book dealer Peter Harrington’s offering at the UAE fair.
“Shajarah Al-Sharifah” (‘The Noble Tree’) is a beautifully restored family tree of Prophet Muhammad “embellished with hand-painted gilt decoration which gives the work the appearance of being a manuscript,” according to Peter Harrington’s catalogue. The dealer believes this publication to have been made in Cairo or Istanbul sometime in the mid-1800s. “We could not find any other examples in institutional libraries, although the search is difficult due to similarities between titles and the fact that this is not dated,” the catalogue states.
The second part of the book, following the family tree, focuses on the caliphs, beginning with the Rashidun Caliphate — the most powerful cultural force in the region during its existence — and its first caliph, Abu Bakr, in 632 CE. “According to the concluding sentences, the text was written in the time of sultan Abdulmejid I and is here mentioned as the last in the chain of caliphs,” the catalogue explains.
‘The Heart of Arabia’
Written in 1922 by Harry St John Bridger Philby, chief representative in the British protectorate of Transjordan and a man whose tombstone declares him the ‘Greatest of Arabian explorers,’ this is an account of his fascinating mission to Imam Mohammed ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, which began in late 1917.
“Philby started in Al-Uqayr, then travelled with a small party by camel via Hufuf to Riyadh, to meet Ibn Sa’ud,” the catalogue explains. “From there he went on to complete his crossing of Arabia, with camels and an escort provided by Ibn Sa’ud. The journey of almost 900 kilometres (560 miles) destined for Jeddah ‘was not without its problems. Philby’s escort resented having to guard an infidel, refusing to even eat with him, while villagers on the way proved similarly unwelcoming ... However Philby’s crossing of the Arabian peninsula, only the third of the century, had now brought him firmly into the public eye.’ In Jeddah, he met the Hashemite ruler of Hejaz, the Sharif Husain, leader of the Arab Revolt, the preferred choice as future Arab leader of both T. E. Lawrence and the British authorities.” Husain was not Philby’s preferred choice however. He had been “greatly impressed” by Ibn Saud, and always backed him as the man who could unite the area’s tribes and lead them forward. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says: “In the central judgments of his life — that Ibn Sa’ud was the man to back in Arabia and that the Arabs had to have their independence — (Philby) was right and almost everyone else was wrong.”
Original poster of the expansion of the Prophet’s Mosque
This poster from 1985 shows the beginnings of the decade-long expansion of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah initiated by King Fahd bin Abdulaziz in 1984. The mosque was expanded on three of its sides, and a new marble courtyard was built around it. “The new structure had 27 inner courtyards with concrete domes, and an air-conditioning system. The movement of more than 1 million worshippers was eased with new gates, escalators and walkways,” the catalogue states. A similar project was implemented at the Holy Mosque in Makkah at the same time, which increased its capacity from 48,000 worshippers at one time to a staggering 1.5 million. The poster, the catalogue says, shows “prayer in the new extension at Madinah before its completion, King Fahd laying the foundation stone for the expansion project, a view of the construction project, and a large constructed model of the proposed new design.”
‘The Holy Mosque at Makkah’
Described by the dealer as a “sumptuously produced visual celebration of the completion of almost a quarter century of transformative works on the Holy Mosque and Kabba in Makkah,” this volume, commissioned by the Ministry of Finance and National Economy, features images taken by the award-winning photojournalist Mohamed Amin and was “the first work to offer an architectural and technical survey” of the holy site, “breaking new ground especially in its coverage of the Saudi extension and magnificent construction work which are without parallel in the entire history of the Holy Mosque.” Amin’s images, meanwhile, present “detailed views of the diverse and extensive developments.” Amin was the first photographer to be granted permission to document the Hajj and spent three years in the 1970s travelling around the Kingdom.
‘Jam’ Al-Manasik Wa Naf’ Al-Nasik’
This rare book from 1872 combines two separate volumes on “the rites and the benefit of the pilgrim” written by two great scholars: Rahmatullah Al-Sindi and Ahmed Ziyauddin — who wrote their works almost three centuries apart. Al-Sindi’s work, written in 1543 CE in Madinah, “initially attracted local opposition,” according to the dealer’s catalogue, but later “became a landmark in the field that Hanafi scholars in South Asia and the Ottoman Empire consulted for centuries.” Ziyauddin — also known as Gumushanevi — was strongly associated with Sufis, and his work, “lithographed throughout in naskh script,” became an equally important source for followers of that religious practice.