Abdul Kassem Ismael, the man with the Camel Library, i.e. a walking library

The Life and Death of Words, People, and Even Nature 
From Walking Libraries and a God Named “Word” to What Sherlock Holmes Never Said 
By Eduardo Galeano

[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s new book,Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books).]

Memory on Legs
(January 3)

On the third day of the year 47 BC, the most renowned library of antiquity burned to the ground.

After Roman legions invaded Egypt, during one of the battles waged by Julius Caesar against the brother of Cleopatra, fire devoured most of the thousands upon thousands of papyrus scrolls in the Library of Alexandria.

A pair of millennia later, after American legions invaded Iraq, during George W. Bush’s crusade against an imaginary enemy, most of the thousands upon thousands of books in the Library of Baghdad were reduced to ashes.

Throughout the history of humanity, only one refuge kept books safe from war and conflagration: the walking library, an idea that occurred to the grand vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, at the end of the tenth century.

This prudent and tireless traveler kept his library with him. One hundred and seventeen thousand books aboard four hundred camels formed a caravan a mile long. The camels were also the catalogue: they were arranged according to the titles of the books they carried, a flock for each of the thirty-two letters of the Persian alphabet.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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2 Responses to Abdul Kassem Ismael, the man with the Camel Library, i.e. a walking library

  1. eslkevin says:

    AN AMAZING FACT: Abdul Kassem Ismael, Grand Vizier of Persia in the 10th century, traveled with his entire library, carried on the backs of 400 camels.
    During the Middle Ages, an Arab invasion into Iran resulted in sweeping changes to Persian life and culture. But some Iranian groups resisted Arabic influence and eventually regained their independence, launching a revival of Iranian national identity and culture that peaked during the 9th and 10th centuries.

    Part of this cultural movement was the development of Persian literature, keeping the Persian language alive and securing its place as an important Indo-European language. Persian remains Iran’s official language today. After the 10th century, Persian literature played a formative role in Muslim civilization.

    Around this time, Abdul Kassem Ismael (A.D. 938 to 995) became Grand Vizier of Persia. Legend has it that the avid reader was so enthralled with literature and learning that he never left home without his personal library. The 400-camel caravan carried 117,000 books and must have been more than a mile long! Nevertheless, Ismael’s camel-drivers were also librarians, each responsible for the books on his camel, and could locate any book almost immediately because the animals were trained to walk in alphabetical order.

    The Bible says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10) and “knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). We may, like Ismael, pursue all the knowledge of the Lord. But Paul says that if we don’t have love, we are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2). John says that when we know God, we love. (1 John 4:7, 8) True wisdom—a knowledge of God—will result in His love being embodied in us. Until then, our knowledge means nothing.
    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. – Proverbs 9:10

    And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2


  2. eslkevin says:

    And the camels? Sometimes the old ways can remain part of the solution today. The Kenya National
    Library was seeking an efficient and inexpensive way of delivering books from the main library to
    outlying villages and nomadic settlements. The roads are so bad even four wheel drive vehicles get
    stuck in the sand – camels were the solution. The camel library is on the road five days a week and
    the service is so popular it cannot always meet the demand.


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