The fate of the microfilm of Sanaa Manuscripts

Let’s start by defining these manuscripts and their importance, starting from an article on Wikipedia in different languages.

The Sanaa Manuscripts refer to a collection of Quranic manuscripts and fragments, totaling approximately 4,500 manuscripts, written in Kufic, Hijazi, and other styles. These are the oldest manuscripts of the Quran dating from the first centuries of Islam. They were discovered under the roof of the Great Mosque of old Sanaa in 1972. The visible text of the manuscripts is identical to the current Quran called « Quran of Uthman », while the lower text (the erased one which is not visible) contains many differences from the Quran of Uthman.

The restoration and maintenance of these manuscripts were funded by Germany. The project costed 2.2 million German marks and ran from 1981 to 1996. The project was led by Professor Gerd R. Puin from Saarland University until 1985. Hans-Caspar Graf von Bothmer (who worked as an assistant at the Institute of Art History at Saarland University) made a microfilm of 35,000 photos in 1997, left a copy at the House of Manuscripts in Sanaa and brought another to Germany. UNESCO has released a cd-rom containing only 651 photos. But what about the entire microfilm that Von Bothmer brought with him to Germany? Nobody talks about this microfilm and nobody knows its fate. I wrote to Professor Puin to inquire about its fate, but he never answered me.

I took advantage of my contact with a trustworthy professor from the University of Saarland, whose name I will not mention, to ask him questions concerning this microfilm. I give you here the essence of the conversation I had with him:
Sami Aldeeb : What is the fate of the microfilm of the Sanaa manuscripts?
The Professor : Unfortunately, one of my colleagues (Hans-Caspar Graf von Bothmer) took it with him and refused us access. It’s a scandal.
Sami Aldeeb : And now, where is this microfilm?
The Professor: I’ll tell you what happened. I once asked Professor Puin, « How is the word Quran written in the Sanaa manuscripts? » He replied: « As in the Cairo edition. » I asked him, « Did you make a microfilm of these manuscripts? » He replied: “No”. I was shocked and asked him, « What did you do for four years in Sanaa? Were you sticking papers? » He replied, « Yes, that’s all we did. » I asked him to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which had funded the project, to fund a microfilm of these manuscripts. The ministry responded that the project was finished and there was no money left. I urged him to write again to the Ministry to give 50 thousand marks for scientific research. The Ministry accepted this amount. So Hans-Caspar Graf von Bothmer traveled to Sanna to make the microfilm. I wanted to check how a Quranic sentence is written in these manuscripts. He showed me about fifteen photos. Some of these photos were exhibited at a conference at the university. After Von Bothmer retired, he took the microfilm with him. I opposed it, but Professor Karl-Heinz Ohlig answered me: “We don’t want to cause a scandal. It is better to be silent.  » I was surprised. Why be silent? Professor Puin defended Von Bothmer by arguing that it was the latter who made the microfilm. I objected to his remarks: “But who financed the microfilm? It’s a microfilm that belongs to the university. How can he bring it home? » But nothing to do. They protected him and they silenced us. It is a scandal. I had to go to see the Rector of the university because he is responsible for it. Professor Ohlig told me that Von Bothmer went to the university library who asked him what to do with this microfilm which is not registered in the catalog of the library. Von Bothmer then took the microfilm home. I objected, “What does the library have to do with this case? It’s a microfilm belonging to the university. How does he get it home? » But they defended him and silenced us.
Sami Aldeeb : So we were deprived of the microfilm? Is there a way to get it back from who took it?
The Professor : Of course. He should be sued. Or the Rector of the university should write to him to ask for the return of the microfilm.
Sami Aldeeb : And now?
The Professor : We didn’t do anything. We are shutting up. Actually, I don’t need those manuscripts. I am content with the manuscripts provided by I don’t need the Sanaa manuscripts.
Sami Aldeeb : But this microfilm is a legacy for researchers.
The Professor: It is certain that Von Bothmer has the microfilm. He wouldn’t know what to do with it. He does not know Arabic and is not a researcher in the Quranic field, but in the history of art.
Sami Aldeeb : How can we recover the microfilm so that it is not lost for everyone?
The Professor: I asked the cultural attaché of the University to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find out to whom it sent the funding. The Ministry replied that all correspondence was addressed to the Rector of the university. The university is therefore responsible for it. This is theft. But we kept quiet so as not to cause a scandal. You must write to the Rector of the university who has no knowledge of this microfilm. It was Professor Ohlig who silenced us and told me that if I needed a manuscript I could call Professor Puin, a friend of Von Bothmer, and he would bring it to me. I asked Puin about a manuscript and he replied that Von Bothmer would not allow it to be viewed because it was his property.
Sami Aldeeb : But what can we do?
The Professor: You have to contact the Rector of the university who is responsible for it, since the funding was paid to the university. The Rector of the university is not aware of this affair. This is Prof. Dr. Manfred Schmitt [email protected]
Sami Aldeeb : But what does UNESCO do?
The Professor : No one knows what happened. It’s a secret. You should write to the Rector of the university and tell him that Von Bothmer was an employee of the university and took the microfilm with him. You should also write to UNESCO. We were holding a session at the Inara Institute, and I said we should demand the return of the microfilm. Professor Puin, who was present at the session, defended Von Bothmer by saying that he had made the microfilm. I told him that he did it with money awarded to the university and on mandate from the university. This microfilm is not his. Professor Ohlig was present and said that we don’t want to create a problem and to be quiet. It is forbidden for anyone to talk about this microfilm.
And now?
Concrete measures must be taken to recover this microfilm so that it is accessible to all. This is very strange coming from a German university.

Dr. Sami Aldeeb, directeur
Centre de droit arabe et musulman
CH-1025 Saint-Sulpice
Tél. fixe: 0041 [0]21 6916585 – Mobile et Whatsapp: 0041 [0]78 9246196
Site – – Hiwar – Paypal – Wikipedia – Youtube – skype: sami.aldeeb
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