Libyan crafters restore old copies of Quran for Ramadan

Libyan crafters restore old copies of Quran for Ramadan

TRIPOLI (AFP): With the arrival of Ramadan, volunteer artisans have been restoring copies of the Quran that not only have a sentimental value but also provide Libyans with an alternative to buying new ones amid increasing prices

The holy Islamic month of Ramadan, which Muslims around the world spend by fasting and doing good deeds like charity, is already here. As a sweet rush takes over Muslims with the arrival of the month of intense spiritual rejuvenation, a group of Libyan craftspeople has been working day and night to repair old or damaged copies of the Quran in their war-scarred country.

Khaled al-Drebi, one of Libya’s best-known restorers of Islam’s holy book, is among the artisans who arrive at a Tripoli workshop daily to meet the needs of the influx of customers during Ramadan.

For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of spirituality, where a daily dawn-to-dusk fast is accompanied by prayer and acts of charity – often translating into a surge in the sales of the Quran.

“The purchase of new Qurans traditionally increases before the month of Ramadan, but this has recently changed in Libya,” Drebi told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

A member of the staff stands before volumes that require restoration during a workshop on the restoration of copies of the Quran, Islam's holy book, in Libya's capital Tripoli, March 22, 2022. (AFP Photo)

A man assembles pages to be glued into a volume during a workshop on the restoration of copies of the Quran, Islam's holy book, in Libya's capital Tripoli, March 22, 2022. (AFP Photo)

For many, the tradition has been interrupted by an increase in the cost of the holy book, especially “since the state stopped printing” them in Libya, he added.

The North African nation has endured more than a decade of conflict, leaving many of its institutions in disarray and dealing a major blow to the oil-rich country’s economy.

“The cost of buying (the Quran) has increased, and so the turnout for restoring old Qurans has gained unprecedented popularity,” Drebi said.

Compared to the cost of a new Quran – at more than $20 depending on the binding – Drebi’s workshop charges just a few dollars to restore one.

‘Indescribable joy’

But the cost is not the only factor – for many, the older copies also have a sentimental value.

“There is a spiritual connection for some customers,” Drebi said, adding that many choose to preserve the Quran passed on from relatives. “Some say this Quran has the smell of my grandfather or parents.”

At the back of the room, Abdel Razzaq al-Aroussi works on sorting through thousands of copies of the holy book based on their level of deterioration.

“The restoration of Qurans with limited damage takes no more than an hour, but for those that are very damaged, they could require two or more hours,” Aroussi said.

A woman binds a hard cover for a volume of the Quran, Islam's holy book, during a workshop on the restoration of its copies in Libya's capital Tripoli, March 22, 2022. (AFP Photo)

A woman prepares to bind a hard cover for a volume of the Quran, Islam's holy book, during a workshop on the restoration of its copies in Libya's capital Tripoli, March 22, 2022. (AFP Photo)

They “must be undone, restored and then bound,” he said – a meticulous process that requires a great deal of “time and concentration.”

Mabrouk al-Amin, a supervisor at the workshop, said the restoration process “requires a good number of artisans.”

“Working with the book of God is very enjoyable and we don’t get bored … there is an indescribable joy in this work,” he said.

Restorers say they have repaired a staggering half a million copies since the workshop opened in 2008, and more than 1,500 trainees have graduated from 150 restoration workshops.

Women as restorers

In recent years, more and more women have been joining the ranks of volunteer restorers.

“A large number of women were trained on restoring the Holy Quran and today they have their own workshops,” Drebi said.

One female restorer, Khadija Mahmoud, has even held training sessions for blind women.

A woman brushes glue on the hardcover binding for a volume of the Quran, Islam's holy book, during a workshop on the restoration of its copies in Libya's capital Tripoli, March 22, 2022. (AFP Photo)
A woman brushes glue on the hardcover binding for a volume of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, during a workshop on the restoration of its copies in Libya’s capital Tripoli, March 22, 2022. (AFP Photo)

“We would not have been able to think of doing this … were it not for this capable woman,” Drebi added.

For Mahmoud, who trains women at a workshop in Zawiya, 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Tripoli, restoring copies of the Quran in a women’s workshop allows them to work comfortably and at a faster pace.

She added that the restoration work has given many women a meaningful way to fill their “spare time.”

“A large segment of trainees and restorers are retirees,” she said. “For them, there is nothing better than spending their spare time in the service of the Quran.”

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