KITAB (a., pl. kutub) 'book'. The beginnings of the Arabic book go back to the early Islamic
period. According to traditions, sheets (suhuf) with verses of the qur'an were collected and put
between wooden covers (lawhayn, daffatayn,) kept thus and called by the Ethiopian word for
'book', mushaf/mashaf [q.v.]. Following Christian and Jewish patterns, this form of a codex was
generally maintained for the Holy Book since the authoritative redaction done under 'Uthman;
by that means, the qur'an was distinguished, by its material form, from profane writings in rolls
made of papyrus [see qirtas] and from the kitab pure and simple which meant, in that early
period, 'something written', 'notes', 'list' or 'letter'. As writing material, sheets of parchment
[see djild, raqq, tirs] were used, which, folded into four pages and placed within one another,
became quires (kararis); it is uncertain whether these quires were sometimes stitched. Presumably
covers made of wood or papyrus were covered over and kept together with leather and, like
contemporary Coptic or later Islamic covers, decorated with coloured wood, bone or ivory.

With the rise of the 'Abbasid caliphate, books and book knowledge, additional to knowledge of
the qur'an, became a general aim of Islamic society. The interest of the government was evoked
by questions concerning the legitimation of its power and by problems of administration
connected with these questions, as a background to the theocratic claim to power [see
shu'ubiyya]. During this period Arabic learning concerning problems of theology [see
mu'tazila], hadith, fiqh, history, philology, etc. and medicine, alchemy, etc., had its heyday, and
this florescence was connected with the emergence and spread of rag paper [see kaghad] from
the end of the 2nd/8th century onwards. These scholars wrote books at the suggestion of or on
order from the caliphs and the ruling classes, in the expectation of being honoured by presents
and payments, in opposition to the organs of state and their policies,qor just for the sake of belief
(cf. Sura LXVIII, 1; XCVI, 4). Apart from treatises on different subjects, general works were
written by authors who were employed as secretaries or qadis in state chanceries and offices,
where the rather expensive writing materials were at their disposal. Others copied books not
only for personal purposes, but for their living; moreover, they dealt in paper, ran a bookshop or
a book-bindery, or combined one with one the other. It is surprising to note how quickly books
were widely disseminated and did not remain confined to schools and learned institutions [see
madrasa], where also notes taken in lectures, enlarged by additional material, were made into
books. Certain kinds of transmission of books and their authentication, including lists of students
in a lecture audience, were formed [see idjaza]; adoptations or quotations from other works
were often marked by special terms, texts and copies were compared with each other, collated,
ccomplemented and glossed. In writing rooms which were sometimes associated to public
libraries [see maktaba] books were multiplied commercially. An author could safeguard himself
against dubious activities of scribes in these writing rooms through issuing his books by
authorisation, only; e.g. al-Hariri (d. 516/1122 [q.v.]) himself wrote a note in 700 copies of his
Maqamat, during a period of ten years. The production of such books and their trade was
immense in quantity and was widespread. Titles of books which had in the past been simple and
short became ornate and flowery in the course of time, consisting of two phrases rhyming with
one another (sadj'). First the titles were given in the prefaces, which usually contained the
author's name and which started on a b-page; later the previous page (a-page) became the title
page with the author's name. Already in this period, autographs or copies made by learned men
or calligraphers [see e.g. ibn al-bawwab] were sold for high prices. There was a big demand for
the libraries of learned men; some of them went to pious bequests [see waqf], others were put
into the stacks of an academy when an attachment to heretical ideas of their deceased owner
was known. Bibliophiles, from the caliph to the craftsman, competed in searching for valuable
or rare books. As early as the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim (d. 380/990 [q.v.]), compiled in 377/987,
we find that this work gives, before its information on books and biographical notes on their
authors or compilators, informative details about these matters. There is also the voluminous
biographical literature, with its innumerable names of learned and literary men, secretaries,
calligraphers, etc., and the multiplicity of manuscripts with their countless, often very personal,
notes of the owners and readers, to be found in libraries situated even in remote places and
containing thousands or tens of thousands of volumes. These considerable survivals, give us an
ample idea about books and their quality in the Islamic Middle Ages; these books have in
common one thing only, sc. the basmala [q.v.] at the beginning.

The upright quarto size was widespread, sizes in folio or oblong sizes being usually reserved for
special occasions, e.g. presentation copies for high-ranking persons. The cover, writing
materials, format and type of script [see ¦hatt] were determined by these purposes. The kinds of
leather used for the covers, their colouring, workmanship and decoration sometimes refer to
patterns of the Pre-Islamic period, e.g. in Egypt to Coptic, and in Persia to Sasanid ones; they
were developed in forms charac-qteristic for the respective countries, e.g. regarding the different
kinds of workmanship in leather. Moreover, in regard to the arrangement of the areas on the
covers, there are, apart from general principles like lines parallel to the edges of the book,
features characteristic of certain places or periods, e.g. the treatment of the centre, and the
application of innumerable geometrical patterns and ornaments in certain variations by using
brasses. The triangular flap to protect the edge and the clasp and eyes, appear at an early
period. Asphodelos paste was used in the Syrian-Palestinian area, and paste made of wheat in
South Arabia. While rag paper was used for books in general, parchment was sometimes used
for copies of the qur'an and other de luxe editions. Fine paper imported from China was
reserved for books valuable to their owners, like books of sects. These books were not written
with the usual ink [see kitaba] only, but also with ink made of silver and gold, and their pages
and lines were decorated with coloured ornaments (arabesques [q.v.]). There were always
illuminations [see sura, taswir], in spite of the prohibition of depicting living beings with a ruh
or soul, but these were exceptional. A quire (kurrasa) usually consisted of five double sheets, and
several quires combined together, sometimes by chain stitches, made a sewn book. The quires
were marked by consecutive numbers which were written out in words, and the right order of
the sheets was controlled by catchwords, which appear early. The pagination of sheets or,
sometimes, of pages, is only found later or in modern times; the pagination of sheets was more
widespread. Many books ended with a colophon containing the name of the scribe, and often
the date as well as, though not so often, the place; but in certain cases, the dates given there are
not correct, e.g. when taken from texts which had been copied. For the post-Mongol period, the
following features of the books should be noted. The sizes and the writing became smaller, and
the kinds of paper became thinner, stronger and smoother. Coloured paper was used and, from
the Ottoman period, imported paper from Europe also, firstly from Italy, and with watermarks.
The ink became darker and more shiny; the writing surfaces were framed with lines in different
colours or in gold, and an 'unwan [q.v.] was drawn on the first page of a book. Owner's stamps
appear in considerable number for the late period; and bookbinders' brasses with their names
shaped like a medallion, can be found on the covers, even on lacquered ones. Splendid,
calligraphic specimens of large size, with covers superbly wrought (these being mostly works of
Persian poetry, often illuminated by unique miniatures), were produced mainly at the courts of
the Timurids, Safawids, Mughals and Ottomans; splendid copies of the qur'an were produced also
at the court of the Mamluks. The painter is often identical with the decorator, the 'gilder'
(mudhahhib); he came next in prestige to the highranking calligrapher. The bookbinders formed
their own guild from the time of Bayazid II (886-918/1481-1512 [q.v.]) onwards. Even after the
introduction of printing [see matba'a], books were written by hand, increasingly by European
ink and nibs, and bound in the traditional way until the beginning of this century.
(R. Sellheim)


A. Grohmann and T. W. Arnold, Denkmaeler islamischer Buchkunst, Leipzig 1929, English
edition, The Islamic book, New York 1929

F. Sarre, Islamische Bucheinbaende, Berlinq1923, English edition, Islamic bookbindings, London

E. Gratzl, Islamische Bucheinbaende des 14. bis 19. Jahrhunderts, Leipzig 1924

M. Weisweiler, Der islamische Bucheinband des Mittelalters, Wiesbaden 1962

E. Gratzl, K. A. C. Creswell, R. Ettinghausen, Bibliographie der islamischen Einbandkunst 1871 bis
1956, in Ars Orientalis, ii (1957), 519-40

B. van Regemorter, Some oriental bindings in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin 1961

J. Pedersen, Den Arabiske bog, Copenhagen 1946

F. Rosenthal, The technique and approach of Muslim scholarship (Analecta Orientalia 24), Rome

M. Levey, Mediaeval Arabic bookmaking and its relation to early chemistry and pharmacology, in
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s. lii 4, Philadelphia 1962 (with English
translation of al-Sufyani's Sina'at tasfir al-kutub wa-hall al-dhahab, ed. P. Ricard, Paris2 1925)

A. Rufai, Über die Bibliophilie im aelteren Islam nebst Edition und Übersetzung von Gahiz' Abhandlung fi
madh al-kutub, Dissertation Berlin 1931, Istanbul 1935, new edn. by I. al-Samarra'i, in
MMII, viii (1380/1961), 335-42, cf. "ahiz, Hayawan, i (1356/1938), 38 ff., and Ch. Pellat,
Arab. Geisteswelt, Zürich-Stuttgart 1967, 211 ff. (334 ff.)

M. Weisweiler, Arabische Schreiberverse, in E. Littmann-Festschrift, Leiden 1935, 101-20

H. Ritter, Autographs in Turkish libraries, in Oriens, vi (1953), 63-90

K. Holter, Der Islam, in Handbuch der Bibliothekswissenschaft, 2. Aufl., 3. Bd., Wiesbaden 1953,
188-242 (with bibliography)

A. Mez, Die Renaissance des Islams, Heidelberg 1922 (repr. Hildesheim 1968)

R. Sellheim, Gelehrte und Gelehrsamkeit im Reiche der Chalifen, in P. Kirn-Festschrift, Berlin 1961,
54-79, Arabic edition Beirut 1972

P. Freimark, Das Vorwort als literarische Form in der arabischen Literatur, dissertation Münster 1967
(cf. Isl., xlvii [1971], 307-10)

A. Basanoff, Itinerario della carta dall'Oriente all'Occidente e sua diffusione in Europa, Milan 1965

J. Bielawski, Kâi¬îka w áwiecie Islamu, Wroclaw 1961

B. W. Robinson, E. J. Grube, G. M. Meredith-Owens and R. W. Skelton, Islamic painting and
the arts of the book, 1976.

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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam --© 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands