Preserving Pious Print: digitising early Islamic print in the Maalim Muhammad Idris Collection, Zanzibar, Tanzania

The Maalim Idris Library is the most extensive holding of early Islamic printed material in Tanzania. The material is crucial to understand the social, cultural and religious history of the Muslim community in late colonial East Africa. However, the little institutional interest in these materials puts them at risk of disappearing.

The library of Muhammad Idris Muhammad Saleh (most commonly known as Maalim Idris) contains the collections of the Mkelle family, the Ba Kathy madrasa library, as well as books and other materials from Maalim Idris’s own mosque in Zanzibar Stone Town. The project is focused on 200 Islamic books, pamphlets, and newspapers dating from the earliest age of Muslim print dating from the mid-nineteenth century to approximately the 1940s. The material is important to understand how Islamic learning was shaped in the colonial age.

Books of this period were considered “cheap print”. They are not collected by institutions, and only individuals collect and preserve them. The storage conditions are not suitable for long-term preservation. The extreme heat and humidity of the region, combined with pests and leaks during the rainy season put the material at great risk of decay.

A continuation of a project led by the University of Bergen in 2008-2012, the project digitised 123 items. Priority was given to the most rare books, and then to material with handwritten annotations. The Comorian Association trained four members of staff in digitisation and metadata creation. Some of the collection was relocated to ZIAR, where they are stored more suitably.

Project Details

Location: Tanzania, Eastern Africa, Africa Organiser(s): Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) Project partner(s): University of Bergen Funder(s): Arcadia Funding received: £33,993 Commencement Date: 08/2018 Project Status: Completed
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