A while back, a number of ‘ulama were discussing the different critical editions of a famous book of fiqh, upon which a dear friend and brilliant ‘alim Mufti Husain Kadodia of South Africa made the following comments on Arabic manuscript research and publishing in the modern day. With his permission (and May Allah reward him), I am reproducing his letter here with slight changes made for the sake of clarification.
Mufti Husain writes:
To understand different criticisms and comments about Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, one would have to first understand how these publishers work.
In the past most of these publishers, eg. Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Dar al-Fikr, etc., would just have a group of typists, with one “muhaqqiq” (research scholar).
The typist would type out the book, relying on some old print of it, the muhaqqiq would type out a half page biography of the author and all of a sudden you have you nice, sleek new print!
They then realized that customers were getting cleverer, and that they would only buy “Muhaqqaq” (researched, revised, and properly edited) prints. So they had to start outsourcing the tahqeeq. In other words, if al-‘Ilmiyyah decided they needed to print al-Mabsut of al-Sarakhsi, they would take the old reliable print, hand it over to their group of typists who in a few days would have it ready in a text document, complete with thousands of errors added free of charge. Of course, no re-checking, correction, etc… would take place.
It would then be handed over to a “Muhaqqiq”. In the case of al-Mabsut, ‘Muhammad Hasan ibn Ismail ash-Shafi’i” ! He would then make a long-drawn takhrij of every hadith in the book and also made takhrij of some of the fiqhi quotations. He wouldn’t touch or research the typed-out muharraf (changed) matan (text) except very rarely! Once he was finished with this, the book would then be handed back to al-‘Ilmiyyah, who would typeset it and print it as a “tab’ah jadidah muhaqqaqah mulawwanah, etc…” (New Critical Revised Colored Edition)
That was their old habit. For the last few years, however, they had to improvise a bit as they realized that customers checked the front of the book to see if the makhtutaat (the original manuscripts) were relied upon in the tahqiq. So what did they do now?
Well, they either openly lied by putting pictures of some makhtutaat at the beginning and saying we relied on these, or they would play with words and say “these are copies of the makhtutat of this book” without saying that they relied upon them, but instead giving you that impression!
Muhammad Hasan ash-Shafi’i is really famous for doing this. He has made tahqiq of dozens of books in this manner. Don’t ever buy a book with his name on the cover…
There are dozens of “poor muhaqqiqqs” in Egypt especially who work for al-‘Ilmiyyah in this manner. They get paid per book and are happy as they are earning a steady income, while al-‘Ilmiyyah is overjoyed with this relationship since they need pay them only a penny: about $200 for a one volume book on which they will make thousands of dollars!
Then you get the Maktabah at-Tahqiq. These guys realised that there is money in tijarati tahqiqqaat (revenue research). They rent a two-room flat, cram 15 graduates fresh out of a Jami’ah into it and start tahqiq. These muhaqiqin get paid about $100-$200 a month!
Because of their large numbers they can work on big books easily. Either they make tahqiq of a book for the first time from a makhtut (manuscript), in which they will only rely on one or two generally and most of the time they are full of errors (eg. Al-Muhit al-Burhani, the Ihya at-Turath print, or an-Nahr al-Fa‘iq, etc..), all done by another good friend, Ahmed Izw Inayah of Damascus (Shaykh Husain Kadodia is also friends with the previously mentioned Ustaadh Muhammad Hasan al-Shafi’i). Stay far from his tahqiqaat as well, unless there exists no other print, as is the case with an-Nahr and Uyun al-Madhahib of al-Kaki.
But most of the time these guys will take an already printed book and just type it out and add takhrij. This is what the Shaykhain of Tahrif , ‘Ali Muawwadh and ‘Adil ‘Abd al-Mawjud, are famous for.
What happens is that these guys don’t do the work, they just own the maktabah. So based on who did the work, the book would be good or terrible.
I have never went through their copy of Badaa’i [the book being discussed because of which this email was sent out], but they mention that they relied on about 10 manuscripts!
These makatib then offer the competed book to different publishers. It is sold to the highest bidder.
So while the publishers like al-‘Ilmiyyah had nothing to do with the tahqiq in cases like this, they aren’t completely free of blame, as they deliberately buy these tijarati tahqiqaat.
Now the muhaqqiqs know that if they come out with a new book, never printed before, after a very little while other publishers like al-‘Ilmiyyah will steal it and type it out as their own tahqiq.
So the muhaqqiqs then got clever.
So from one maktabah of tahqiq, 3 of them would take the same book, just spread it out in a different number of volumes and with different muhaqqiqs on the cover, each to a different publisher. Generally al-‘Ilmiyyah, al-Fikr, and Ihya at-Turath.
They will then buy it- so the maktabah cashed in thrice- and thus you will find multiple prints of the same book coming onto the market at one time, with all the same mistakes.
If anyone compared the Ihya at-Turath copy of al-Muhit al-Burhani – 11 vols- with the al-‘Ilmiyyah one – 9 vols- he will understand what I am saying. Both are identical, yet the muhaqqiq – Ahmed Inayah- of course denied that he sold it to both. Rather, he says al-‘Ilmiyyah copied his one. And Allah knows best.
Anyway, thats enough about the terrible world of printing books.
Maybe, if I get some time, I will introduce you ‘Ulama to the other face of the Pakistani publishers as well.
Sorry for such a long email