Medieval Mosque Manuscripts

Uncovering the tangible heritage of Gaza's rich medieval culture through the Omari Mosque Library.

Omari Mosque in Gaza City by Ramez HabboubThe Barakat Trust

When the Great Omari Mosque was established by Al-Zahir Baibars in 1277 A.D, there were around 20,000 books housed at the library. Now there are only about 62 books, with 2274 individual pages in total.  

Manuscript 1 (9th century (?)) by Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-BukhārīThe Barakat Trust

Muneer Elbaz, Architect, Urban Planner and Lecturer at UCAS

The Manuscripts

The collection found at the Great Omari Mosque library contains extremely rare and precious manuscripts spanning several topics: the Quran, biographies of the Prophet, Islamic jurisprudence, philosophy, Arabic, medicine, math, Sufi mysticism, astronomy, and poetry.

Manuscript 7 (9th century (?)) by Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-BukhārīThe Barakat Trust

Most of the manuscripts are legal Islamic texts. The collection of the Great Omari Mosque exhibits the strong relationship between Gaza’s jurists and jurists from other Islamic cities, including Cairo, Jerusalem, Mecca, Medina Damascus, and Aleppo.

This text is known as the Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. Written in the 9th century, it is one of the most authentic documentations of hadith. A hadith is an orally-derived, textually-documented narrative of the Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims use hadith as a guide for how to live piously. 

For example, a sentences here reads: 
"If a guarantor gives something but doesn’t clarify the quantity, then he should give the people what they think he should give."
This is followed by an isnad , verifying that this statement came from the prophet or his companions.

World War I in Palestine and Sinai (1914) by American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo Department, photographer Whiting, John D. (John David), 1882-1951, photographer Larsson, Lewis, photographer Matson, G. Eric (Gästgifvar Eric), 1888-1977, photographerThe Barakat Trust

Destruction of the Manuscripts

Gaza suffered from wars that led to the extensive damage of the Great Omari Mosque Library and its contents. There have been three main causes of this destruction: 1. Napoleon 2. WWI and 3. Israeli occupation. 

Napolean Bonaparte Emperor 1804-1815 Campaigns Germany Gt. BritainLIFE Photo Collection

French Invasion

In 1799, the French military leader Napoleon attempted a siege of the Ottoman city of Akka. When Napoleon's army failed and retreated back to Egypt, they destroyed parts of Gaza City and took manuscripts from the Great Omari Mosque in their path. 

Book Burning (2016-10-04) by Public domain, via PxhereThe Barakat Trust

World War I

The second pillage of Gaza happened in WWI, between 1914-1918. In the cold winter, Ottoman soldiers burned manuscripts from the Great Omari Mosque to stay warm.

By Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

Israeli Occupation

The third pillage of Gaza occurred during the Israeli occupation. Not only did much vandalism occur between the 1967 and 1993, but since the turn of the millennium, there have been three wars on Gaza: in 2008, 2012, and 2014. 

The Department of Manuscripts building was destroyed during the air strikes. Windows and doors were broken and cabinets were damaged: as was the collection they contained.

Binding conservation (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust


Independent funding from the Barakat Trust, The British Library and others ensures that what's left of the manuscripts can be preserved and shared with the world. Gradually, each of the manuscripts must be cleaned, have its bindings restored, digitised, and then properly stored.

Meeting with Community and Scholars (Unknown) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

The project team was composed of Muneer Elbaz, staff from The Department of Manuscripts, the University College of Applied Sciences, and a cultural heritage NGO.

Manuscript restoration 2 (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

They spent countless hours cleaning, digitising, and storing each page from the medieval manuscript collection.

Damaged manuscripts (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Manuscript Storage

Gaza's blockade and lack of resources has made it difficult to built infrastructure for archival preservation. Exposed to the elements, many manuscripts have been lost due to water damage, mold, light exposure, and pests. 

Manuscript storage (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

To ensure that manuscripts are not damaged, they must be kept in a sterile, climate-controlled environment. Built to fit each manuscript, these boxes hold and secure each book or folio.

Manuscript scanning (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust


All 2,000+ manuscript pages were digitized. Hill Museum & Manuscripts Library and the British Library will be adding them to their virtual collections.

Manuscript digitization (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

This process will make sure that the Great Omari Mosque manuscripts are not lost to time – that they will be preserved and accessible to scholars and enthusiasts.

Credits: Story

Compiled by Leena Ghannam. The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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