Our Middle East collections comprise manuscripts, printed books, newspapers and journals from countries in today's Middle East as well as from Iran and Central Asia from the 5th century AD to the present day.

Collection guides

  • Early 14th century botanical illustration

    Arabic collections

    Over 100,000 volumes of printed books, periodicals and newspapers; more than 15,000 manuscript works in about 14,000 volumes; and a range of other materials
  • A prince or dignitary presenting poets with turbans of honour

    Persian collections

    Over 40,000 volumes of printed books, periodicals and newspapers, more than 11,000 manuscripts, and a range of other materials.
  • Illuminated word panel featuring two birds

    Hebrew collections

    Manuscripts copied over 1,000 years ago to the most recent monographs and serials
  • An Armenian couple with an Armenian church in the background

    Christian Middle East collections

    Around 4,000 manuscripts and some 14,700 printed books and periodicals
  • Angels standing, from a 16th century manuscript of <i>Acaib ul-mahlukat</i> 'Wonders Of Creation', translated by Sururi from Arabic (Add.7894, f.59v)

    Turkish and Turkic collections

    Over 25,000 volumes of printed books, periodicals and newspapers, more than 4,000 manuscript texts, and other materials
  • St Michael the Archangel

    Coptic collections

    The British Library holds approximately 1,600 Coptic manuscripts with some early specimens dating from around 300 AD..
Asia and Africa

Asian & African Studies Reading Room

  • Find information on the shelves
  • Access online databases and electronic books and journals
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our catalogues

If you need help, just ask our Information Specialists at the Reference Enquiry desk or contact the Asian & African Studies Reference Team.

We offer free Discovery and 1-2-1 Sessions to help you make the best use of the Library's collections.

You’ll need a Reader Pass

Mon: 10.00 – 17.00
Tue – Sat: 09.30 – 17.00
Sun & English Public Holidays: closed

Opening hours for all Reading Rooms

Blog posts

A Mughal copy of Nizami’s Layla Majnun (IO Islamic 384)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Some of our best-known Mughal manuscripts in the British Library’s Persian collection have already been digitised. These include the imperial Akbarnāmah (Or.12988 ), Akbar’s copy of Nizami’s Khamsah (Or.12208), and the Vāqiʻāt-i Bāburī, ‘Memoirs of Babur’, (Or.3714), to mention just...

The Ground Truth: Transcribing historical Arabic Scientific Manuscripts for OCR research

Monday, March 12, 2018

Announcing a collaborative transcription project to support state-of-the-art research in automatic handwritten text recognition for historical Arabic texts Cultural heritage institutions around the world are digitising hundreds of thousands of pages of historical Arabic manuscript and archive collections. Making these...

Colonel Jacob’s ill-fated mission and imprisonment

Thursday, March 8, 2018

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Imam Yahya became ruler of independent northern Yemen, following the Turkish withdrawal in 1918. In August 1919, Colonel Harold Fenton Jacob set off from Aden in command of...

'South Asia Series' talks from April to May 2018

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Asia and African Collections department at British Library (BL) is pleased to announce an exciting line-up of talks in April-May 2018, featuring a diverse array of subjects such as Muharram, Delhi waters, Tipu Sultan’s library collection, Sufism and Persian...

More blog posts

Related events

Exhibition FREE

African Scribes: Manuscript Culture of Ethiopia


6 February – 29 April 2018

View all events

Selected items from our collections


Digital access to Persian Manuscripts

Our collection of Persian Manuscripts is one of the most important in the world

Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project

Aims to provide free online access to Hebrew manuscripts from the Library’s collection

All projects

Library experts

Ursula Sims-Williams

Lead Curator, Persian collections

Ilana Tahan

Lead Curator Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies

Daniel Lowe

Curator, Arabic Collections

Michael Erdman

Curator, Turkish and Turkic Collections

More staff members

External links

The British Library is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.


Access to Mideast and Islamic Resources


A union catalogue for manuscripts in Arabic script in UK collections

Qatar Digital Library

Modern history and culture of the Gulf and wider region


Treasures in Focus The Golden Haggadah

The Golden Haggadah is one of the finest surviving Haggadah manuscripts from medieval Spain, and the British Library's most famous Hebraic treasure


West Africa exhibition book

West Africa exhibition book

In this richly illustrated book, leading international scholars offer a unique insight into the stories of West African societies past and present