A Clarification on Arabic Books and Publishing

I would like to mention briefly, for the sake of clarification, the purpose behind mentioning the last post on Arabic publications. A number of individuals expressed more than just disappointment with the current state of affairs but also a fear and mistrust of all recently published Islamic books. It is pertinent, therefore, to clarify the original author’s intent and the background of the conversation.

As it is, today many readers of Arabic books, scholars and non-scholars alike, are unaware of the intricacies of publishing and manuscript research. Only a few decades ago, researchers based in Egypt, India, and other academic centers of the world, though limited by the lack of availability of certain manuscripts, were still very careful to be true to the original texts. They also published their works much slower, with greater care given to exactness and freedom from errors than an emphasis on producing revenue from publishing the books.

In those days, books were primarily published with the use of typewriters, not computers, and so the method of editing and revision was more tedious, but at the same time more careful and precise. It is for this reason that Mufti Husain criticized the modern trend of students to incline towards fancy covered books with computer-typed prints in favor of the older and more correct editions produced back in the day, though they may be harder to read.

The recent reprint of the famous Hanafi fiqh text, Fath al-Qadeer, for example, while easier to read and equipped with a short takhreej, lacks the addition of the commentary “al-Kifayah” that used to be included on the margins of the older Egyptian print. It is also filled with mistakes and does not correspond to important books of fatawa that reference to the older and better edition.

Students also tend to carelessly buy important reference texts in the newer prints, not realizing that when they have to reference to or from the book, they will need to utilize the older copy which they passed up because of it was slightly harder to read. In books of hadith and fatawa, it is important to possess the commonly-referred-to editions, so that volume numbers and pages correspond to in vogue glossaries and fahaaris.

At the same time, one should realize that many times mistakes in printing are not due to deception or neglect (so don’t think that many of today’s muhaqqiqs are evil), but simply due to a lack of skill, resources, or due to poorly employed methods of research. (By the way, the comments that stated that Mufti Husain knew the two muhaqqiqs personally were not meant to be sarcastic but to ensure the reader that the only reason they were being criticized was to warn readers of the mistakes in their books and the harms in relying on their tahqeeqs. Such is the responsibility of hadith and rijaal scholars. See books of jarh and ta’deel for more detail on permissible types of personal criticism)

For example, the critical edition of Lisaan al-Meezaan published by Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah, though done by one individual, is far superior to the edition published under the supervision of Shaykh Hamza Malibari, though the latter was done by a team of nearly fifty researchers and included many more footnotes and references. Shaykh Abu Ghuddah (rh) was simply more tedious in his research and used many more manuscripts for cross-referencing, and thus he was able to correct many mistakes in the previous publications that others were not able to.

Books published by Shaykh ‘Abdul Fattah (rh) are almost always nearly free of error. He was very particular to be exact in even the harakaat and i’raab. The same goes for his student Shaykh Muhammad Awwama (db). Books published by the company that published Shaykh Albani’s books are also usually safe of spelling errors, as are many editions published by Mu’assas al-Risaala.

The point is that good editions are out there. You just have to be conscious of the faulty editions and avoid them. To do this, it is important to understand the growing trends in the industry and avoid purchasing those books whose covers are better than their content.

In books of hadith, especially, one needs to be extra careful. Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah has published countless books of hadith in which there are major mistakes in the printing of the hadith mutun. In fact, in some editions entire ahadith or sentences are missing, though the original manuscript or older printed version that the muhaqqiq claims to have based his edition upon are free of those errors. In matters of hadith, can you be careful enough in attributing sayings falsely to the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)?

Take, for example, the ‘Ilmiyyah edition of Imam Ibn Hajar al-Makki’s Ashraf al-Wasaa’il, a commentary of Imam Tirmidhi’s Shamaa’il. The book is so riddled with errors that at certain places the entire meaning of the hadith changes because of careless typing mistakes. “Kazaan” is written as “Makaan”. “Rajul” was written as “Rihlah”. Etc…

To sum up, there is a need today for ‘ulama to turn their attention towards the field of publishing and research. More and more valuable treasures of knowledge are being discovered in the vast Islamic libraries of the world. Before they are hastily and shoddily published by a “tijarati publisher”, it would be beneficial for scholars to focus their attention on producing quality first-time prints. Once a book is converted from manuscript to book form, it is rare for scholars to go back and re-compare the published book to the original.

We ask Allah to accept all those sincere individuals who are working towards the noble goal of preserving the Islamic academic legacy and ask Him to make their endeavors easy and fruitful. Aameen.

Bilal Ali

3 thoughts on “A Clarification on Arabic Books and Publishing

  1. JazakAllahu Khairan Shaikh Bilal, I totally agree with you. I really think this should be done; especially in publishing, tahqeeq, and editing of our akaabir’s books in an attractive manner.

    Just as Shaikh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah worked on reviving and doing research on the works of Allamah Laknawi, there should be some work done (in the same manner) in reviving in bringing out our akaabir’s works. Even though I do believe this is already taking place by scholars such Shaikh Taqiudeen an-Nadwi.

  2. salamu `alaykum sayyidi

    barakallah feekum for those beneficial comments.

    It would be good to make a potential database of methods a scholar or senior student of knowledge should employ and follow when it comes to manuscripts, manuscript research, editing texts, as well as how to identify and rummage around various libraries in trying to find such manuscripts. There seems to be a whole host of books that one could use to identify where a manuscript is located, like the “Fihras” of books present in the Maktaba al-Azhariyya.

    I know there are links in English that do go into this, mostly written and compiled by Western Academics. Franz Rosenthal immediately comes to mind as someone who has written extensively on the topic. However, there doesnt seem to be anything in the English Language from Muslim scholars themselves on this topic.

    Wasalam
    Salman

  3. Aameen.

    Jazakumullahu khairan for the clarification.

    May Allah (SWT) grant at least some of this understanding regarding the importance of research and publishing of Islamic works to the awwaam, so that we can assist at least monetarily in accomplishing such projects.

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