SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – During Bosnia’s war and the siege of Sarajevo, residents moved a collection of ancient books and manuscripts to eight different locations to save them from destruction.
On Wednesday, thanks to a $9 million donation from Qatar, Bosnia’s president and a Qatar minister opened a new library in the heart of the Ottoman-era Old Town section of Sarajevo to house those books and more than 100,000 manuscripts. The oldest is a handwritten Islamic encyclopedia that was written in Arabic in 1105.
The Gazi Husrev-bey Library is located on the site of a famous mosque and Islamic school of the same name that was opened in 1531. The books and manuscripts were kept in 1537-1863, then moved to another building.
The new library stands where the original one did.
During Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, Serb artillery pounded the city for years, often targeting only cultural sites. This is how Sarajevo’s National Library and the Oriental Institute were completely destroyed in 1992.
About 3 million books went up in flames, along with hundreds of original documents from the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The texts from the smaller Gazi Husrev-bey’s Library were saved in time by residents who moved the manuscripts from basement to basement.
The reopening of the library was “a message to those who destroy and burn books and libraries that evil and hatred will never win,” Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic said.
Now, the most precious texts are protected by glass in the new library that can house over 400,000 books. Part of the building is a modern laboratory for the restoration of old manuscripts and several reading rooms where students and scholars can read the digital versions of the texts.
Qatar’s Islamic affairs minister, Ghaith bin Mubarak Al Kuwari, who took part in the opening ceremony, called the library a “temple of knowledge and culture” that will be open to all people, regardless of their nationality and religion.
He explained that Qatar regards the Balkans as a strategically important region because of the different religions that have lived together here for centuries. Qatar also supports the efforts of the Balkan Muslims to serve Islam in a moderate way.
“We believe that people of the Balkans can do a lot for the peace in the world. They can intensify the dialogue between cultures and civilizations,” he said.