The Al Azhar Online Project, initiated by H.H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister to preserve the rare Islamic manuscripts of Al Azhar Mosque has published over 1.5 million pages of manuscripts online. The online library, managed by the IT Education Project (ITEP) team has proved an astonishing global success since its launch in May 2005.
An average of 900 users log in each day to view the site, totalling a whopping 30,000 page hits a day. These statistics confirm the fact that ITEP has met a genuine need for an easily accessible library that houses the world’s most treasured Arabic manuscripts. The project has opened up the scientific and historical heritage of the Arabic world to everyone, scholars and internet users alike.
“This is a unique project, undertaken nowhere else in the world on this scale,” said Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Director of ITEP and CEO, Dubai Knowledge Village. “The project has generated significant interest from the international academic community and the ITEP-Al Azhar team has already been invited to share their expertise at a prominent Cambridge University conference. We expect ongoing international interest as the project grows.”
Though many ancient libraries have begun to digitise their scripts, few have provided public access to this wealth of knowledge by publishing them online. Al Azhar’s unique online archive can store 24 Terabytes of information.
In addition, the digitisation of the Al Azhar library means that constant physical restoration of the scripts is no longer necessary – this offers major financial benefits, as the procedure is costly due to so many documents being housed. To date, the project team has published online 18,000 scripts out of a collection of 42,000, and 1,500,000 pages out of 7,000,000. This means that the Al Azhar online library now stores more ancient Arab documents than any other website in the world.
“The Al Azhar library houses one of the biggest collections of Arabic manuscripts. The collection is vast and covers many different areas of knowledge, including unique works on science, history, philosophy and theology” stated Moen Makki, Project Manager. “Now, we plan to complete the remaining manuscript collection, then start on the book collection and place more general information about all of the scripts online.”
The project's budget is US$ 5 million, the entire sum having been graciously provided by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister reflecting his interest in preserving this important heritage for all mankind through the use of modern technology.