The result of an international cooperation implemented during several years, the present catalogue has been achieved in the framework of the programme on “Manuscript Legacies of Muslim Central Asia: Text Research and Studies” of the Combined Research Unit “Iranian World” (Monde iranien) of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (Paris). It is preceded by an introduction in which the authors trace the history of the Regional Museum of Qarshi since its first creation in the mid-1920s and located in the building of the madrasa of Khwaja ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Khan (built between 1900 and 1909, transformed in the 1920s into a jail and an execution plot for Muslim religious leaders). The historical overview of the collection dates the arrival of a majority of its pieces from the last reopening of the museum in the 1970s, in the form of gifts by the local population—though the inventories apparently don’t bear any trace of acquisition years nor of the identity of the donors. Most of the manuscripts seem to have been offered by two ladies: Ay-Pasha and Rahat-Ay Radhiqova from the wintering village (qishlaq) of Sufikhona in the vicinity of Kitab, a city neighbouring with Shahr-i Sabz. Other volumes have been given by inhabitants of varied neighbourhoods of the city of Qarshi itself and of surrounding villages. The collection has been rediscovered in August 1998 by an expedition organised under M. Szuppe’s direction by the French Institute of Central Asian Studies (IFEAC, Tashkent) in the Qashqa-Darya plain—a region associated in the nineteenth century with the active copy and binding of manuscripts.
The second part of the introduction offers a precise depiction of the codicological characteristics of the collection, according notably to the languages represented (37 in Arabic and 10 in Persian on a total amount of 52), the dates of copy (the second half of the nineteenth century constituting the absolute majority of the 36 dated or datable manuscripts)—the overrepresentation of late manuscripts being, according to the authors (p. 16), a characteristic of small collections, whether public or private. About the manuscripts’ respective contents, the authors remark, beside the unusually weak presence of Sufi texts (limited to one copy of al-Tahqiqat [alias Tuhfat al-salikin] by Parsa Khwaja), a strong representation of madrasa literature: Islamic law (fiqh, 12 copies for 6 different works), dogmatic theology (kalam, 8 copies for 7 different works), logic (mantiq, 11 copies for the same amount of works), Arabic philology (5 copies for the same amount of works), and of the belles-lettres (subdivided into poetry [5 copies for 4 works] and “popular literature” [2 copies for the same amount of works]). A special chapter is devoted to book craftsmen and the local production of manuscripts. A comparison of the nisbas of the copyist and binders with those of the Rawnaqi collection of Shahr-i Sabz and the Hazrat-Sultan Museum in Turkistan permits the authors to conclude to the dynamic role of Bukhara and of its satellites, but also of regional centres in the Central Asian manuscript production in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A last chapter evokes the contribution of this specific collection: (1) to our knowledge of the late-eighteenth to early twentieth-century madrasa culture in Central Asia; (2) to the general assessment of the significant role played by Persian language in the learned milieus of the regional urban centres of the khanates of Bukhara and of Khiva until the beginning of the twentieth century; (3) to the identification of unknown authors (notably in the albums of verses), works (notably a previously unknown comment on the Kifaya fi’l-nahw by Ibn al-Hajib, as well as the notebook of a mullah of the Soviet period), or versions of already known works (here a new version of an Iskandar-nama in prose); and (4) to the discovery of archive documents (in this collection, the genealogy of a family of Sufi shaykhs originating from the Fergana Valley).
The catalogue properly said provides precise notices of manuscripts distributed according to their respective genres: Qur’an (one copy only, a scarcity explained by the authors by the reluctance of the local population to abandon their copies of the sacred text); sciences of the Qur’an (Nr. 2); ritual and prayers (Nr. 3-4); fiqh (Nr. 5-16); Sufism (Nr. 17); kalam (Nr. 18-25); philosophy (Nr. 26-7); mantiq (Nr. 28-38); political ethics (Nr. 39); belles-lettres (Nr. 40-6); grammar (Nr. 47-51); documents (Nr. 52). Each notice comprises the title of the text or document, its inventory number, the mention of its language, an overall depiction of the state of the manuscript, its incipit and explicit (with a photographic illustrations of them), its colophon, with precisions of the style of calligraphy and state of the manuscript and type of its binding, mentioning the names of copyists and binders. The volume is ended with rich indexes of authors; titles; dates of copy; places of copy; copyists; binders; sponsors, owners and waqf donors; seals; works bearing the mention of a waqf. They are followed by a rich bibliography and general indexes.