Maktabah al-Ḥalabī and the Ink of Jawi

by Muhammad Nurhadi

It has been more than 130 years since Maktabah al-Ḥalabī was set up in Egypt to serve the Muslim community and country by enlivening the old and traditional books of Islam. It was established by Ustadh Ahmad al-Ḥalabī. The al-Ḥalabī family is considered to be the first family from Syria involved in the publishing movement in Egypt more than 150 years ago.

In an interview with Ustadh Samir Mahmud al-Ḥalabī; the representative of the 4th generation of this family and who is the current finance manager:

Ustadh Ahmad al-Ḥalabī had migrated from Mesir to Syria and he is someone who has passion for books and manuscripts to the extent that he set up a publishing company named Matba’ah Maimaniyyah in the year 1859CE/1276H. One of the unique qualities of this company was that it published mausu’at (encyclopaedias) and made accessible great traditional works like Musnad al-Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal and Tafsīr Imam al-Ṭabarī.”

He continued, As he (Ustadh Ahmad al-Ḥalabī) did not have any children at that time, he appointed someone to go back to village Al-Bāb, Aleppo, Syria to bring his nephews to assist him in running this company. They are the 2nd generation from the al-Ḥalabī family, after himself. After his passing, he had bequeathed Matba’ah Maimaniyyah to them. This publishing company then changed its name to ‘Sharikat Dar al-Kutub al-‘Arabiyah al-Kubra li asābihā Mustofa al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī wa Akhawaiyh’.

He added, “However, after some time, the publishing activity of the al-Ḥalabī family split into two because Ustadh Isa al-Ḥalabī started a new printing and publishing company which he named as 'Dar al-ihyā al-Kutub al-‘Arabiyah and at the same time, Ustadh Mustafa al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī also set up another publishing company which he named 'Sharikat Maktabah wa Matba'ah Mustofa al-Bābī.

He took full charge of this new set-up.

“In the 1940s, Syarikat Mustofa al-Ḥalabī became the biggest book distributor in the Middle East and were publishing and printing almost 7.5 million copies of books every year. We were also the first to publish books using the codex (mushaf) widely used in the mosques following the system of Rasm Uthmani. These mushaf were known as Mushaf Mustofa al-Ḥalabī.”

He then elaborated, “This company is also known for distributing copies of al-Quran and traditional books in every part of the world like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Zanzibar, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast. It has been said that at one point in time between 1900 to 1949, over 440 books were distributed. He then added. During those years, we received excellent response from Islamic countries outside of Egypt.

“We released specialized editions of the al-Quran copies, books of exegesis, books of prophetic sayings, books of jurisprudence in large quantities to countries in the African region. Indonesia was the country that gave the most encouraging response to our publications. We printed books in the Arabic language as well as Jawi books for the people of Nusantara. You can consider us as the pioneers in releasing books such as Tafsīr Imam al-Ṭabarī, Iḥyāʾ ʿUūm al-dīn and Milal wa Nihal by Al-Imam As-Syahrastani. Towards the end of the 60s, our print orders began to dwindle and we became almost passive. Our publications were then limited only to serve the students of al-Azhar as-Syarif and that was also because of the financial constraints of the students.”

During the years 1330-1360H, Maktabah Mustofa al-Ḥalabī had 3 scholars-cum-editors who rendered their service in editing the Jawi books published there.

They were:

1) Tuan Guru Syeikh Muhammad Idris Abdul Rauf al-Marbawi al-Azhari

2) Tuan Guru Syeikh Abdullah Bin Wan Ibrahim al-Qadahi al-Masri

3) Tuan Guru Syeikh Ahmad Sa'ad Alfilfilani al-Masri

May Allah be pleased with them all.

For the Arabic language books written by the Nusantaran scholars, the main editor during that era was Shaykh Ahmad Sa'ad Ali. He was one of the scholars in Al-Azhar as-Syarif.

All praises be to God, to date, up to 140 books authored by the Nusantaran scholars found in this Land of Egypt are in this writer’s hands. There might also be other places where there exist rare books by the Malay scholars. Some of the pictures below are the earlier editions (1318-1360H) of books by them; from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines.

Malaysian Muhammad Nurhadi is currently a student at al-Azhar University. He is an avid reader and book collector.

Article was translated from Malay.