700- year-old Quran Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi Sultan Abdullah Al Marzouqi's alarm at the large number of priceless historical manuscripts in various stages of decay spurred him to stop them from being lost forever.

"I saw thousands of documents, books, manuscripts and even Qurans, from different centuries placed in rooms that are not equipped properly to preserve their fragile conditions. As a result, many have faded, have torn pages or have become so fragmented that it is impossible to restore them," said Al Marzouqi, the founder of the House of the Arabic Manuscript. He spoke to Gulf News during the 22nd Abu Dhabi International Book Fair which concludes on Monday at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

The non-profit centre, which was established in Al Ain a year ago, has already amassed a huge collection of ancient documents, some of which are more than 800 years old.

"People used goat milk, coal and glue to make their ink, which is why most of these books have lasted this long… also to create the typeface, people would carve the words into large rock slabs before the paper and ink were placed on them," Saeed Bin Bella, one of the researchers at the centre, said.

Search mission

"It was a strenuous activity, sometimes taking up to two years before they are completed… so it would be tragic to let all these efforts go to waste," he added.

As part of their mission, members from the centre travel to countries in the region and beyond, searching for places that have such manuscripts, often finding that they had not only been stored haphazardly, but were destroyed.

"Once, we visited a centre in Africa and discovered that they had placed these important, historical texts in a room that was exposed to the sun and then one day, it rained and the ink in the books began to run. We brought them back and are now restoring them as much as possible," Abdullah Bilal, another researcher and preservationist at the centre, said.

Rich information

"Sometimes we visit private individuals, other times it is organisations… some donate their documents to us immediately but in some cases, we had to purchase them to bring them back to the centre," he added.

As part of its objective, the centre not only restores and preserves these documents but also converts them into printed books, CDs and other formats.

"So far, we have converted 18 manuscripts into printed books with 3,000 copies of each being distributed to various organisations… we want to raise as much awareness about the rich information contained in these documents so are planning to make almost everything available to the public," said Bin Bella.

While the centre is currently based in Al Ain due to its ideal weather conditions for preservation, Al Marzouqi said as it grows, he plans to relocate it to the capital.

"My goal is to make the emirate of Abu Dhabi the home of one of the largest manuscript libraries in the world where experts, organisations and even members of the public can come and explore what we have to offer," he said.

"In the end, I want to make sure that I have done everything I could to preserve Islam's rich history and culture," he said.

What Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

When Wednesday, March 28 - Monday, April 2

Where Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre

Timings: The fair will open daily from 9am to 10pm, except for Friday when it will be open from 4pm to 10pm

Information: www.adbookfair.com