Translated by Ahmed Abu Turaab
The Story of the Lost Paper
“I had been suffering from a mild eye ailment for over twelve years so an eye specialist advised me to give them some rest and stop reading, writing and working (repairing watches) for six months.
I heeded his advice initially, leaving all of those things for two weeks approximately–then my soul started to entice me, pushing me to do something during this tedious recess, something which would not, in my opinion, go against what the doctor had advised. I recalled a manuscript I had seen in the library entitled Dhammul-Malaahee of Ibn Abid-Dunyaa which according to my knowledge had not been printed at that time. So I said to myself, ‘What harm is there in getting someone to copy it out for me? And by the time the manuscript would be copied out and the time to check this copy against the original would come round, a reasonable amount of time would have passed for my eyes to have rested. And this would not demand an amount of effort which would compromise my health situation, and then I could check it at my own pace after that, verifying its hadiths and then we could print it, all in stages so that I would not overburden myself!’
When the person assigned to copy out the manuscript had reached half way he informed me that there was a missing part. I told him to continue copying it out until he finishes it, and then we would compare it to the original. [When he had finished] I checked and ascertained that there indeed was a missing part like he had indicated. I estimated it to be about four pages long.
I began to ponder over it and how I could come by it? This manuscript was kept in one volume amongst many which were stored in the library in the section entitle Majaamee. Each of these volumes on the whole had numerous treatises and books within it, with differing hand-writing, topics and paper different in both colour and size. So I said to myself, ‘Maybe the manuscript compiler accidentally bound it in one of these other volumes.’ Thus I flung myself into searching for it in sequence with untold enthusiasm and energy.
And I forgot–or I made myself forget–the ailment in my eyes! So whenever I remembered it I was never short of justifications to continue, like saying that this research would not adversely affect [the eye rest] since there was no writing or strenuous reading involved!
I had gone through only a few manuscripts when my attention was drawn to the titles of some of the treatises and works by famous scholars and well-known preservers of hadith. So I would stop at them, search them, study them, wishing that they would be copied out and checked and then printed. But most times I would find them to be missing parts and chapters, so I would find the second and not the first for example, and would thus not record them in my index. I continued searching for the lost paper, but in vain, until finally I completed going through all of the volumes that were in the Majaamee section and which totalled 152.
Moreover, during this search I had started to pen down the titles of some of the books that had appealed to me and what encouraged me in that was the fact that during the search I had come across some of the missing parts of manuscripts that I had not recorded before [due to them having been deficient, and now that the missing parts had been found and the manuscript was complete he could record their names].
Since I could not find the lost paper among the aforementioned volumes, I said to myself, ‘Perhaps it was wrongly placed in one of the volumes of the books of hadith collections, stacked in the library under the hadith section!’ Thus I started to go through this section, volume by volume, until I went through them all without finding the lost paper. Yet I recorded [in my index] as many names of treatises and books as Allaah, the Most High, willed.
In this way I continued to justify and entice myself by saying that I would come across the lost paper. So in the search for it I would go from looking in the volumes and treatises of one branch of knowledge to the next–until I had gone through all of the manuscripts kept at the library and which numbered approximately ten thousand, but still I never found the lost paper.
Yet I never despaired.
For there was a section in the library where stacks and piles of papers and various scrapbooks were kept, the origins of which were not known–so I started to go through them, carefully and precisely, but [again] without success.
It was then that I began to believe that I may not be able to find the lost paper.
Yet after thinking about this situation I found that because of it Allaah, the Blessed and Most High, had opened a towering gateway of knowledge for me, which I had been ignorant of just as others like me had. [And this was the fact that] the Dhaahiryyah Library [in Damascus] contains a treasure of books and treatises in various branches of beneficial knowledge which our forefathers, may Allaah, the Most High, have mercy on them, left for us, and that it has rare manuscripts which most likely cannot be found in other libraries across the world and which have still not been printed to this day.
So when this [reality of the value of material in the library] became clear to me and was established in my heart, I resumed the study of all of the library’s manuscripts, from the first to the last. For the second time.
[This time round I did so] in light of the experience I had gained from my previous search where I had [only] recorded selections [that I had chosen] from the books–now I started to record every single thing that [I came across which] was associated with the knowledge of the science of hadith. Not coming upon the minutest detail except that I recorded it, even if it came from one [stray] piece of paper from a book or volume whose origin was not known.
It was as though Allaah, the Blessed and Most High, was preparing me through all of this for the third and final stage which was the actual study of these books, a detailed study, [so that I could] pull out from them the Prophetic sayings along with their chains of narration and paths, and [any] other benefits.
This index was the result of individual effort, a personal drive, from someone who was not employed at the library or assigned to it, and as such the necessary aids to review the manuscripts, study them and search the parts of them that were unknown were not available as would have been the case for someone who was employed by the library or assigned to do such a job by the administration.
So it was only natural that I face some hardship during that research–and there were days that came by me where I would have to perch up a ladder, and then climb up it and stay there for hours on end in that very spot to study it [as] quickly [as was possible]. So when I would choose something from it which I would want to study and scrutinise deeply, I would ask the librarian to take it down for me to the desk …”
Hayaatul-Allaamah al-Albaani, rahimahullaah, bi qalamihi, pp. 34-37.