Although many of the 15,000 Arabic manuscripts and 80,000 Arabic books held by the British Library can be found in Explore the British Library, many can be found only in the printed catalogues listed below.
Arabic books published since 1970, and some earlier publications, are included in the British Library's Explore the British Library. Please consult the guide for important advice on searching and transliteration.
To find most books acquired before 1970 it is necessary to consult the printed catalogues available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Most of the catalogues are also held by the libraries of universities with a major interest in Arabic studies. The printed catalogues cover different periods as follows (with BL shelf locations):
Up to 1901
Ellis, A G. Catalogue of Arabic books in the British Museum.
Vols 1-2. London, 1894-1901.
Vol 3. Indexes by A S Fulton. London, 1935.
[ORC ARA PBS 1-3]
Fulton, A S and Ellis, A G. Supplementary catalogue of Arabic printed books in the British Museum. London, 1926.
[ORC ARA PBS 4]
Fulton, A S and Lings, M. Second supplementary catalogue of Arabic printed books in the British Museum, 1927-57. London, 1959.
[ORC ARA PBS 5]
Lings, M and Safadi, Y H. Third supplementary catalogue of Arabic printed books in the British Library, 1958-69. London, 1976. 4 vols.
[ORC ARA PBS 6-9]
India Office Library
Arabic books and journals which came into the Library from the India Office Library are now included in the Explore the British Library.
Many of the Arabic journals and newspapers held by the Library are not yet included in the Explore the British Library. A list of Arabic newspapers is kept at the reference enquiries desk in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. If you are seeking specific journals or newspapers holdings please contact the Arabic curators.
In the published catalogues, serials are entered by town, under the heading 'Periodical Publications', except for items published by academic institutions, which are under the heading 'Academies, etc'. Periodicals up to 1975 are included in: Union catalogue of Arabic Serials and newspapers in British libraries edited by P. Auchterlonie and Y. Safadi. (London, 1977.) This is in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room [OIE 011.34].
Arabic books and journals in other libraries
If you don’t find what you are looking for in the British Library, you can search the catalogues of most other UK research libraries via COPAC. You can search US and other international research libraries via WorldCat. Asian-language newspapers held by the British Library, as well as those held by other UK research libraries, are also listed in the Newspapers database of Mapping Asia. The Mapping Asia website is currently being moved to a new server, but a link will be available here as soon as it becomes available again.
The following printed catalogues detail the holdings of Arabic manuscripts: (with BL shelf locations and links to the Internet Archive if available on-line):
Subject Guide to the Arabic Manuscripts in the British Library. Compiled by Peter Stocks, Edited by Colin F Baker. London, British Library, 2001. ISBN 0-7123-0665-X 483
(A subject guide listing all Arabic manuscripts from the British Museum Library and the India Office Library as well as those acquired by the British Library.)
[ORC ARA MSS 21]
More detailed descriptions of parts of the collection are given in:
Cureton, W. and Rieu, C. Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum orientalium qui in Museo Britannico asservantur Pars secunda, codices arabicos amplectens. London, 1846-71.
Digitised version available at: AMEEL (Yale University) (Please note the page numbers given on the AMEEL website do not match the page numbers of the catalogue on the pdf - the website pages numbers are about 28 pages ahead of the catalogue page; so to use the 'Go to...' function you need to add 28 to the page number required.)
[ORC ARA MSS 1-5]
Rieu, C. Supplement to the catalogue of the Arabic manuscripts in the British Museum. London, 1894.
[ORC ARA MSS 6-7]
Available on-line at Internet Archive
Ellis, A. G. and Edwards, E. Descriptive list of the Arabic manuscripts acquired by the Trustees of the British Museum since 1894. London, 1912.
[ORC ARA MSS 8]
Available on-line in the Internet Archive
Vassie, R. A classified handlist of Arabic manuscripts acquired since 1912. (v. 1: Islamic law; v. 2: Qur'anic sciences and Hadith). London, 1995.
[ORC ARA MSS 9-10]
Hamarneh, Sami K. Catalogue of Arabic manuscripts on medicine and pharmacy at the British Library. pp xvi, 276, 16; facsims.
[ORC ARA MSS 18]
al-'Umari, H 'A al-A. Masadir al-turath al-Yamani fi al-Mathaf al-Britani Damascus 1980.
[ORC ARA MSS 19]
N.B. Manuscripts acquired since 1912 which are not in Vassie's handlist (ie. on subjects other than Islamic law, Qur'anic sciences and Hadith) are entered in the general catalogue of Manuscripts in Oriental Languages, available in the Asian & African Studies reading room.
Edwards, E. "Some rare and important Arabic and Persian manuscripts from the collections of Hajji Abu l-Majid Belshah now either in the British Museum or in the private collection of Professor Edward C Browne," in A Volume of Oriental Studies presented to Edward C Browne ... edited by T W Arnold and R A Nicholson, Cambridge 1922. About 65 items in this list are in the British Library, having been acquired after the publication of the 1912 list. (Abbrieviated in Brockelmann as: Or.St.Browne.)
On line at Internet Archive
Loth, O. A catalogue of the Arabic manuscripts in the Library of the India Office. (Vol.I) London, 1877. Catalogue of the Arabic manuscripts in the Library of the India Office. (Vol II).
Fasc. 1: Qur'anic literature, by C A Storey. London, 1930.
Fasc. 2: Sufism and ethics, by A J Arberry. London, 1936.
Fasc. 3: Fiqh, by R Levy. London, 1937.
Fasc. 4: Kalam, by R Levy. London, 1940.
[ORC ARA MSS 11-12]
Vol 1 online at Internet Archive
Arberry, A J. "Hand-list of Islamic manuscripts acquired by the India Office Library, 1936-8," in JRAS, 1939 iii, pp 353-96. Descriptions of India Office (IO) MSS 4558-4633
[ORC ARA MSS 14]
Arberry, A J. "Notes on Islamic manuscripts recently acquired by the India Office Library," in Islamic Culture, 13 (1939), pp 440-58. Descriptions of I.O. 4634-4650.
[ORC ARA MSS 15]
Sims-Williams, U. Handlist of Islamic manuscripts acquired by the India Office Library 1938-85. London 1986
[ORC ARA MSS 16]
Storey, C A and Levy, R. Preliminary descriptions of about 1,000 Arabic manuscripts on philosophy, tradition, science, poetry, literature and history.
[IOL: EUR MSS D 563, boxes 1-3.]
Ross, E D and Browne, E G. Catalogue of two collections of Persian and Arabic manuscripts preserved in the India Office Library. London, 1902. A catalogue of the Royal Society collection.
On-line at Internet Archive
Dr Colin Baker Head of Section: in particular for: Arabic manuscripts; Manuscript catalogues; Qur'ans and Islamic enquiries; Classical Arabic literature; Islamic sciences and medicine; Judaeo-Arabic.
Dr Debbie Cox Curator: in particular for: Arabic printed books; Printed book catalogues; Newspapers and periodicals; Modern history; politics; sociology and culture of Arab Middle East & North Africa; Modern Arabic literature.
Dr Colin Baker, Head of Near and Middle East Collections
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7645
Dr Debbie Cox
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7649