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Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi Library

Street view of Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi Library

Ayatullāh Marʿashī Najafī Library (Persian: کتابخانه آیت الله مرعشی نجفی) in Qom is the largest library of Islamic manuscripts in Iran and the third such library in the Islamic world. In 1436/2014, the number of its manuscripts was 60,000, including over 31,000 volumes. The grave of Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi, who was the founder of this library, is located in the entrance of the library.



The primary idea of the library was formed when Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi was a student in the Islamic Seminary of Najaf. He started to collect manuscripts, but he encountered two obstacles in this task: his lack of funds and money, and the powerful rivals who were taking out the heritage of the Islamic culture from the Islamic countries. Once Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi had a quarrel with an agent from the British Consulate in Iraq on the purchase of a valuable manuscript and spent a night in prison. He tried to save money by performing istijari prayers and fasting (that is, he was paid to say prayers and fast on behalf of dead believers), withdrawing one meal from his daily food, cutting his expenses, and night works in a rice pounding workshop in Najaf after his studies. This is how he collected an Islamic heritage of manuscripts, obtaining a precious collection of rare and unique manuscripts and printed books.

When Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi emigrated from Iraq to Iran in 1342/1923, he moved his collection of manuscripts to Iran, keeping them in his own house, and collecting more of such manuscripts. In that period, well-known university professors went to Qom to read the precious and unique manuscripts in his house that could not be found in any library. In writing his book, al-Dhari'a, Aqa Buzurg Tihrani often consulted Ayatollah Mar'ashi's library—he mentions the library throughout his work.

After establishing Mar'ashiyya seminary, Ayatollah Mar'ashi provided a small library in two offices of that school in 1385/1965. Then on the third day of Sha'ban month of that year (November 27, 1965), he moved a collection of his printed books and some of the manuscripts to the third floor of Mar'ashiyya seminary, and the new library was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by him and the teachers of the Islamic Seminary of Qom (or Hawza 'Ilmiyya Qom).

Four years later, an area of land about 1000 square meters opposite Mar'ashiyya seminary (on the third floor of which the library was located) was purchased. In 1390/1970 the land was picked as a symbol for starting to build a big library. Then on Sha'ban 15,1394/September 3, 1974, the Public Library of Grand Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi, with over 16,000 manuscripts and precious printed books, was inaugurated. In 1400/1979 an area of land about 500 square meters on the west side of the library was purchased and annexed to the library. Thus the whole area of the library in five floors was over 4,500 square meters.

On Sha'ban 7, 1409/March 15, 1989, Imam Khomeini issued an order to help expand and develop the library. Following the order, the government donated the old building of Iran Insurance to the library, and the trusteeship of the library also purchased some houses around the library. Thus over 2,400 square meters was added to the area of the library. Then investigations began in order to make plans of the building. To do this, some Iranian experts traveled to different countries in the world to visit important libraries there. When the plan was prepared, they submitted a detailed report in a ceremony (Dhu l-Hijja 20, 1410/July 13, 1990), and the construction of the new parts began.


Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi (right) and his senior son Sayyid Mahmud Mar'ashi

the library of Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi is administered by the trusteeship and the head of the library. Here are the sections of the library:

  • The trustee and the head: the Trustee of the library is the highest-ranking authority of the library. Since 1386/1967, Sayyid Mahmud Mar'ashi, the senior son of the library's founder, has been the trustee of the library.
  • The endowments (mawqufat) of the library: there are residential and commercial buildings in Qom, Tehran and Isfahan endowed to the library by beneficent people; these buildings are administered by this section of the library.
  • The center for public services: this center manages the great hall of Ibn Sina (the public hall), the hall of hawza (seminary) books (a hall dedicated to seminary students), and two conference halls.

Center for Manuscripts

This is a center consisting of the main parts of Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi Library, containing the following sections:

  • The treasury for original manuscripts,
  • The treasury for photographed manuscripts,
  • The treasury for microfilm and microfiche,
  • The treasury for written documents,
  • The permanent exhibit for samples of the precious manuscripts of the library,
  • The treasury for the written and unwritten works of Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi, the founder of the library,
  • The treasury for the old printed books,
  • The treasury for the rare lithographic books,
  • The central treasuries for printed books in differrent languages,
  • The treasury for periodical newspapers and journals,
  • The treasury for reference books and open shelves,
  • The treasury for the catalogs of Islamic manuscripts in the world libraries,
  • The treasury for printed books, journals and newspapers in English and Romance languages,
  • The archive of forbidden books,
  • The treasury for atlases and geographical maps,
  • The treasury for frequently printed and published books,
  • The Great Hall of al-Shaykh al-Tusi,
  • The specialized section for researches of manuscripts and written documents,
  • The center for studies about Qom,
  • The center for genealogy,
  • The section for cataloging the library's manuscripts,
  • The section for the compilation and publication of the work by the founder of the library, Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi,
  • The section for editing and investigating the Islamic manuscripts.

Center for the Protection of Resources

Manuscripts of the library

This center is in charge of planning and taking measures for the protection of the resources and documents of the library, containing the following sections:

  • The center for pathology of the old manuscripts,
  • The center for quarantining and removing pests from books and documents, known as the "books hospital",
  • The center for repairing and restoring manuscripts and documents,
  • The center for micrographics of the library (taking microfilms from the rare and precious manuscripts of the library),
  • The center for binding and cover making for the printed books of the library,
  • The section for alarming and extinguishing fires.

Treasury for Non-Written Materials

In this treasury, non-written objects, such as steel, coins, old Iranian and foreign stamps, albums of old photos, and some astrolabes are being held. There is also a collection of antique steel locks in this treasury—the locks that were once on the doors of old mosques or Islamic seminaries. There is, moreover, a collection of old coins before and after Islam until the Qajar Era, 96 of which were minted in Qom in different centuries.

Archive for Audio and Video Sources

In this archive, there are video tapes, computer discs, as well as audio tapes of different ceremonies, interviews, and lectures by the founder of the library, Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi, about the formation of the library.

Photo Archives

In this archive, there are heliochromes as well as black and white old photographs, especially of the Qajar Era, and of different ceremonies since the establishment of the library to the present day.

Center for the Encyclopedia of World Libraries

The encyclopedia of world libraries is a cultural, academic, and research section in the library, established in the autumn of 1412/November 1991, in order to compile and write a specialized encyclopedia concerning libraries in the world that keep collections of Islamic manuscripts.

Number of Books and Documents


Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi Library is one of the largest libraries in Iran, along with the Library of Iran Parliament and the Library of Astan Quds Razavi. the library contains many of the Islamic manuscripts in the world. With respect to the number of its Islamic manuscripts, the library is ranked first in Iran and third in the Islamic world.

At present, the number of the manuscripts of the library is 60,000 titles, including over 31,000 volumes, 65 percent of which is in Arabic and the rest is in Persian, some in Urdu, Tatar, ancient Ethiopic, Pahlavi (Middle Persian) and Latin. The number is never constant; an average of 750 to 1000 precious manuscripts are purchased by, or donated to, the Treasury every year. The manuscripts include various topics, from fiqh (the Islamic jurisprudence) to Usul al-fiqh (the principles of fiqh), kalam (Islamic theology and beliefs), logics, philosophy, mysticism, Sufism, Quranic exegesis, Quranic sciences, Arabic literature, ethics, natural philosophy, biographies, ilm al-rijal, diraya al-hadith, genealogy, esotericism, physics, alchemy, mathematics, geography, astronomy, medicine, and music. Many of the manuscripts are written by well-known Muslim authors or are annexed by their permission.

The oldest manuscript in this Treasury, with no dates on it, is a part of the Quran written in the Kufic calligraphic form from late second or early third centuries/8th century, and the oldest manuscript, with a date on it, is two parts of the Quran written in Kufic calligraphy by 'Ali b. Hilal known as Ibn Bawwab, in Baghdad in 392/1002. Also there is a manuscript of two volumes of Tafsir al-tibyan by al-Shaykh al-Tusi, read and approved by him, written in 455/1076 and Nahj al-balagha of al-Sayyid al-Murtada written in 469/1090.

In the treasury for written documents, there are over 100,000 manuscript documents from the last five centuries, including the orders of the Kings, rulers and commanders, permissions for the narration of hadiths written by great scholars, marriage certificates, ownership certificates, and the like. There are also letters by great Shiite scholars and authorities, including tens of letters by Imam Khomeini and other religious leaders of the Islamic world addressed to the founder of the library, Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi, since 1338/1919 until his demise.

Treasury for Photographed Manuscripts

This section includes over 4000 photographed volumes of the precious manuscripts in a variety of world libraries and some Iranian libraries. So far two volumes of the catalogue for photographed manuscripts, including 1000 such manuscripts, have been published.

Treasury for Microfilms and Microfiches

This treasury consists of two sections. The first section contains microfilms of over 4000 precious manuscripts in large international libraries and some Iranian libraries. The second section contains precious manuscripts of the library, over 12,200. The number goes up every year by providing the catalogues of manuscripts. There is also a large collection of microfiches of the catalogues of printed books in the world in different languages, including a catalogue of the first printed books in the world until 1416/1995 and over 50 million titles in different languages.

Treasury for Printed Books

In the treasury for the very old printed books, there are samples of very old and precious printed books in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Latin, and Armenian, printed in 10th and 11th centuries/16th century.

In the treasury for rare and precious lithographic books, there are lithographically printed books in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Uzbek, Tatar, and other languages, printed from early 13th/18th century) onwards in Iran and other countries, which are over 30,000 volumes.

Central treasuries for printed books in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, and non-Romance languages: these sections are very large and extensive in three floors in the new building of the library with hundreds of thousands of volumes.

In the first phase, these treasures had the capacity for one and a half million books, and later, with the setup of rail shelves, they came to have the capacity for over five million volumes.

Treasury for Newspapers and Journals

At present there are over 2500 titles of journals and newspapers in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Urdu (non-Romance languages) in the treasury for periodicals among which there can be found a number of lithographically printed newspapers and journals in the Qajar Era and some old Arabic journals printed in the Islamic countries since 100 years ago.

In the treasury for printed books and Romance-language journals and newspapers, there are tens of thousands of printed books in over 40 languages from different countries of the world, as well as a section for Romance-language newspapers and journals the number of which constantly increases. Some titles in this treasury count very precious and old; for example, some have been printed about 150 or 200 years ago.

Treasury for Catalogues

In the treasury for the catalogues of the Islamic manuscripts in world libraries, there are catalogues of Islamic manuscripts in over 60 libraries of the world, including Iran, in different languages. This is a specialized treasury of the library, which counts as one of the most comprehensive and a unique archive of catalogues for Islamic manuscripts.