The Khalidi Library (al-Maktaba al-Khalidiyya) was established in 1899 by Hajj Raghib al-Khalidi, as a public trust (waqf). This was made possible by a sum bequeathed to him by his grandmother, Khadija al-Khalidi, daughter of Musa Effendi al-Khalidi, who was Kadiasker of Anatolia in 1832. It was based on family holdings of manuscripts and books collected over many generations by Muhammad San’Allah, Muhammad Ali, Yusuf Diya Pasha, Musa Shafiq, Ruhi Bey an d Yasin al-Khalidi, as well as many others. The Library was intended to be open to the public, with the aim of encouraging the spread of learning, and reviving interest in the classics of Islamic learning, as well as modern subjects.
The announcement of the public opening of the Khalidi Library in 1900 stressed the linkage between libraries and culture going back to the era of the Greeks and the early Islamic era, for when “civilization and culture reached the Arabs, they founded libraries and schools.” The announcement affirmed that the spread of knowledge was the basis of progress and prosperity. It added that the Library was meant to be an asset to the holy lands “al-diyar al-maqdisiyya”: “for whatever we do, it will be hard to match what exists in the way of foreign institutions in these lands”.
The Khalidi Library was intended, in other words, to help restore the Arabs to prosperity by fostering knowledge, and to enable them to match the powerful cultural establishments created by foreign powers throughout the region. With this aim in mind, according to the first public announcement, the Khalidiyyah was meant to be a “public library” (maktaba ‘umumiyya). Today, after extensive renovation, cataloguing and preservation measures, the Library is again ready to welcome scholars from around the world.
Although much smaller, in this respect the Khalidyyah resembled the Zahiriyya Library in Damascus, whose founder, Shaykh Tahir al-Jaza’iri, was one of the most important Islamic reformers in Syria. Al-Jaza'iri collaborated in organizing the Khalidiyya when he was curator of the libraries of the vilayet of Damascus. In this capacity, al-Jaza’iri helped to establish libraries in Damascus, Homs, and Hama, as wella s Jerusalem and Tripoli. Al-Jaza'iri played an instrumental role in helping to found al-Maktaba al-Khalidiyya, and he was present at its formal opening, as is evidenced by a contemporary photograph. Several of al-Jaza’iri’s books, some in multiple copies, are found in the Library, together with many examples of the writings of other scholars such as al-Sayyid Rashid Rida.
Thereafter, several members of the family served as metwalli, or custodian of the Library, including Ahmad Samih, Husayn Fakhri, Adel, Haidar and Kamil al-Khalidi. All of them played an important role in preserving and maintaining the generations-old family tradition of advancing learning, while developing and protecting the Library.
Excerpts from of the trust deed by Muhammad Sanallah Al-Khalidi creating the Khalidiyyah manuscript collection trust (waqfieh), Hijri 1201 (1786 AD).
Opening of the Library 1900: From right: Hajj Raghib Al-Khalidi, Sheikh Taher al Jaza’ireh (from Damascus), Sheikh Musa Shafiq Al-Khalidi, Sheikh Khalil Al-Khalidi, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Habbal (from Beirut).
Photo from the opening (1900)
Hand-drawn map of the library, Bab Al-Silsilah road, where
the Khalidi family has lived for generations.
Hand-drawn map of the library, Bab Al-Silsilah road, where the Khalidi family has lived for generations.