The Shaikh Mosque was founded in the middle of the 19th century by Shaikh Ibrahim. It contained many printed books as well as manuscripts on numerous subjects. Much of the collection was destroyed when the mosque was bombed during World War II. The Abbasiya Library, located in the Mosque of Abi al-Abbas al-Mursai, was founded by Abd al-Fattah al-Nanna. It had a large valuable book collection.
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun, founded in 265/878, had a large Quranic collection in its library before having a library collection containing numerous subject areas. Some of the best volumes in medicine were located here.
The Jami al-Rashida Mosque, completed by al-Hakim in 403/1012, had a library until 702/1302 when an earthquake destroyed the mosque. Sultan al-Din Baibara al-Jashankir rebuilt the mosque and a beautiful library. Also included in the mosque was a school for teaching the Quran and law.
The library at the Muhammadi Mosque, which was built in 1188/1774 by Prince Muhammas Abu al-Dhahab, started from a gift of 650 books. The prince bought the private collection of Ahmad al-Rashidi for his mosque library. He also paid a high sum for one manuscript elsewhere. The library eventually held nearly 1,300 rare works.
The Azhar Mosque, founded in 361/972 was one of the main centres of Muslim higher ediucation. Its library was one of the main centres of Muslim higher education. Its library was one of the oldest, largest, and most diversified of any in Islam. Besides the religious works, there were books on such subjects as history, arithmetic, and astronomy. The library was demolished in 1167/1753 when the mosque was expanded. The books were distributed to nearby mosques. These were reassembled in a central depository in 1314/1897, from which the collection grew to several hundred thousand volumes.
There were numerous other mosques with libraries in Cairo. In 975, Khazain al-Qusur founded a library in Cairo. It had 40 rooms and 1,600,000 books and booklets, of which 6,000 books on mathematics and astronomy. It also included 2,000 copies of the Quran, which had been copied by famous calligraphists. The library was open for teachers, scholars, and students of Cairo.
The al-Azhur Mosque library held 200,000 books. There were 600,000 volumes in the library of Caliph al-Aziz in Cairo. They included 2,400 illuminated Qu’rans. In 1004, they were combined with other volumes in al-Hakim’s House of Wisdom. Books were kept on shelves under lock and key. A list of books hung at the entrance of each row,
Agents were sent abroad to collect rare books for the Fatimid royal library. In 1068, a vizier sold 25 camel loads of books to pay for the Egyptian army in their fight against the Turks, who conquered and destroyed the rest. The Turks stripped the leather bindings to make shoes and buried the pages.
Of note, there were two private Jewish libraries, one belonging to an Arab prince, and one belonging to an Egyptian physician. There were several other important private collections. Several collections from the Mahmudiah Library were transferred to Constantinople by Sultan Saliml. Only al-Axzhan University library survived over a long period of time.
About 880/1455, Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay founded a library at the Mosque of al-Matbuliya Madrasa. In 1330/1911, the library was transferred to the Bahr Mosque in the same town.
One of the earliest mosque libraries was established at the Mosque of Amr in 21/641. It received a large collection in 403/1012 from Caliph al-Hakim. The total collection in the library is believed to have been large since there were more than forty study-circles in the mosque before 749/1348.
When Muhammad Abdu and Abd al-Halim Pasha Aasim visited Ahmadi Mosque in 1316/1898, they found thousands of books in disarray. They and Shaikh Ibrahim al-Zawahiri worked to set up a library with the collection. When finished, the library had more than 11,000 volumes, many of which were rare.
(This page was updated in December 2012.)