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THE DESTRUCTION OF THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA BY THE ARABS: THE ACCOUNT OF THE ARAB TRAVELER ABD AL-LATIF AL-BAGHDADI

October 6, 2017

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“Pompey’s Pillar” (Egypt) wood engraved print published in The Penny Magazine, 1834

In two previous articles, which you can access here and here, we have seen the evidence for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria as one finds in the accounts of the Muslim historian al-Qifti and the Christian scholar Bar Herbaeus, both from the 13th century, with the latter copying from the former. Both tell us very clearly that the Library of Alexandria was destroyed by the Arabs on direct instruction by the Second Muslim Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab (634 – 644 AD). This makes the year of its destruction lies sometime between the years 642-644, since the fall of Alexandria in the Arab hands occurred in 642 AD.

We are told that the Arab emir, ‘Amr ibn al-‘Āṣ, consulted ibn al-Khattab on what to do with the books in the Library of Alexandria. Ibn al-Khattab’s answer came quick to him:

“As for the books you mention, if there is in it what complies with the Book of God [Q’uran], then it is already there and is not needed and if what is in these books contradict the Book of God there is no need for it. And you can then proceed in destroying them.”[1]

‘Amr ibn al-‘Āṣ then ordered that the books should be dispersed in the public baths and to burn them in the bath’s heaters. Al-Qifti adds: “And I was told that at that time several public baths used [the books] for heating, bringing some fame to new public baths which later on were forgotten afterwards and it is said that they had enough heating for six months. One who listens to what has happened can only be amazed!”[2]

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Another Arab writer who confirms the story that the Library of Alexandria was burnt on the orders of the Muslim Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, is Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (1162–1231).[3] He was born in Baghdad in the Abbasid Caliphate and travelled to Egypt and wrote a book on his findings and observations of it called in Arabic “كتاب الإفادة والاعتبار في الأمور المشاهدة والحوادث المعاينة بأرض مصر”,[4] which he finished writing in 600 AH (1203/1204 AD). On our story, he writes:[5]

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The translation of the above Arabic text is as follows:

And I also saw around ‘amoud al-sawari [Pompey’s Pillar] some of the columns that were intact and some that were broken; and it looks they were [once] roofed, and that ‘amoud al-sawari had a dome which was supported by it. And I think that it was the hallway in which Aristotle and his followers after him taught; and that it was the house of sciences which Alexander [the Great] had built, and in which was the library that was burnt by Amr ibn al‘Āṣ on permission by Umar ibn al-Khattab.

Here we have perhaps the earliest mention of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, which the writer calls “خزانة الكتب”, by the Arabs who invaded Egypt and captured Alexandria in 642 AD after having consulted Umar ibn al-Khattab, Muhammad’s second successor.

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[1] T’arīḫ al-Ḥukamā’ by ʻAlī ibn Yūsuf Qifṭī; edited by August Müller and Julius Lippert (Leipzig, Dieterich, 1903); pp. 354-357.

[2] Ibid.

[3] His full name is Muwaffaq al-Din Muhammad Abd al-Latif ibn Yusuf al-Baghdadi (موفق الدين محمد عبد اللطيف بن يوسف البغدادي‎‎).

[4] al Ifadah wa al-Nibar fi al-umur al-mushahadah wa al-hawadih al-mu`ayanah fi `ard Misr. This account of Egypt was translated into French by Silvestre de Sacy: Relation de l’Egypt par Adb al-Latif (Paris, 1810).

[5] رحلة عبد اللطيف البغدادي أو كتاب الإفادة والاعتبار في الأمور المشاهدة والحوادث المعاينة بأرض مصر تأليف موفق الدين عبد اللطيف بن يوسف البغدادي. أشرف على إعداد هذه الطبعة وقدم لها: د . عبد الرحمن الشيخ.الناشر: الهيئة المصرية العامة للكتاب. الطبعة الثانية . ١٩٩٨. ص ٩٨.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Egiziane permalink
    October 6, 2017 1:38 pm

    Empowered by satanic forces, the sons of Ishmael emerged from Arabia like grasshoppers, invading by the sword, conquering and destroying everything in their path bringing to the ground great civilizations

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  1. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA BY THE ARABS: THE ACCOUNT OF THE EGYPTIAN HISTORIAN AL-MAQRIZI | ON COPTIC NATIONALISM في القومية القبطية

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