The Muhammad Ali Hamdani Collection in the Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies represents a large segment of the Hamdani family’s library collected over seven generations of this eminent family of scholars from the Da’udi Bohra community in India and Yemen. A large part of the manuscripts are Ismaili religious writings, but there are also a good number of books of general Islamic as well as secular content, and these give a rare insight into the whole cultural range of a learned family of Indian religious scholars.
The majority of the books are in Arabic, but there are also a small number in Persian and in Bohra da‘wat language (lisan al da‘wat), which is Gujarati written in Arabic script. Most of the manuscripts were produced in India, but some of the most interesting ones are from the Yemen, the ancestral home of the Hamdani clan (the oldest of these is from approximately the 14th century CE, or perhaps earlier). The kernel of this collection is formed by the manuscripts which ‘Ali b. Sa‘id al-Ya‘buri al-Hamdani (ca. 1718-1798) brought with him when he emigrated from Yemen to Gujarat around the middle of the 18th century CE, and of those that he himself copied, before or after his arrival in India.
The collection expanded under his descendants, and in particular under his great-grandson, the pre-eminent Bohra scholar and educator, Muhammad ‘Ali al-Hamdani (1833 - 1898). It was his grandson, Husayn b. Fayd Allah al-Hamdani (1901 - 1962), who opened the doors of the family library to international scholarship, and notably to the great Arabist and pioneering scholar of Ismaili history and thought, Paul Kraus (1904 – 1944). In turn, it was his son, Professor Abbas Hamdani (1926 - 2019), who re-gathered a large portion of this collection, previously scattered among various branches of the family, and generously donated them to The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. These manuscripts are now freely accessible to all students of Ismaili and Islamic studies.
The catalogue contains detailed descriptions of the manuscripts in the Hamdani Collection, discussing both the content of the works and the codicological features of the manuscripts. The introduction also contains a comprehensive history of the Hamdani family.