Rare manuscripts at Doha International Book Fair celebrate Islamic culture

  • The Peninsula
  • 1 December 2016
  • Raynald C Rivera

Bibliophiles with penchant for Islamic and Middle Eastern antiquities can find a treasure trove of the rarest and most expensive books at the 27th Doha International Book Fair at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center. Rare book dealers Antiquariat Inlibris and Antiquariaat Forum have brought over 220 copies of ancient books, maps, manuscripts, drawings and photographs celebrating 12 centuries of Islamic culture and the history and geography of the Arab world.

The only surviving fragment of one of the earliest written copies of the Holy Quran is one of the most valued pieces in the collection. “It was written in the ninth century which comes from a German collection. It is a very famous item discovered just a couple of years ago and listed as one of the earliest copies of the Holy Quran surviving. It is priced €450,000 (QR1.74m),” Hugo Wetscherek of Antiquariat Inlibris told The Peninsula yesterday.

Equally valuable is Francis Frith’s “Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: a series of twenty photographic views” priced at €450,000. “This is the largest and earliest photographs of any Middle Eastern subject. Only 20 copies of this book were produced in 1858 and we have one of them here in the fair,” said Wetscherek. “You have to take into consideration this was produced only two decades after the invention of the photographic process so we are not speaking of the earliest photographs of the Middle Eastern subject but of the earliest and most impressive photographs in existence,” he added.

One of the striking pieces on display at the stand is the largest wall map ever printed for Middle Eastern audience. “It is indeed a very impressive piece - a monument of Islamic cartography printed in 1803 at a time when there were no printed maps with Islamic characters. It is one of the earliest maps in the Islamic world and definitely the largest map ever printed directed for the Middle Eastern audience,” explained Wetscherek.

Yesterday was just the second day of the 11-day fair but Wetscherek already expressed optimism of the response from the public. “We are happy. We are long-time exhibitors at the fair and we have received good response. All the friends we made here in previous years have already shown up and made a few preliminary selections,” he said, having just travelled from China following another fair in Sharjah.

The Qatari market is as robust as its neighbouring countries, he said. “Doha is a very interesting market. It’s as strong as the UAE. We haven’t seen any decline in sales since we keep coming back here since 2008."