[Update: the project has it’s own blog]

In the context of the current onslaught cultural artifacts in the Middle East face from the iconoclasts of the Islamic State, from the institutional neglect of states and elites, and from poverty and war, digital preservation efforts promise some relief as well as potential counter narratives. They might also be the only resolve for future education and rebuilding efforts once the wars in Syria, Iraq or Yemen come to an end.

Early Arabic periodicals, such as Butrus al-Bustānī’s al-Jinān (Beirut, 1876–86), Yaʿqūb Ṣarrūf, Fāris Nimr, and Shāhīn Makāriyūs’ al-Muqtaṭaf (Beirut and Cairo, 1876–1952), Muḥammad Kurd ʿAlī’s al-Muqtabas (Cairo and Damascus, 1906–16) or Rashīd Riḍā’s al-Manār (Cairo, 1898–1941) are at the core of the Arabic renaissance (al-nahḍa), Arab nationalism, and the Islamic reform movement. Due to the state of Arabic OCR and the particular difficulties of low-quality fonts, inks, and paper employed at the turn of the twentieth century, they can only be digitised by human transcription. Yet despite of their cultural significance and unlike for valuable manuscripts and high-brow literature, funds for transcribing the tens to hundreds of thousands of pages of an average mundane periodical are simply not available. Consequently, we still have not a single digital scholarly edition of any of these journals. But some of the best-funded scanning projects, such as Hathitrust, produced digital imagery of numerous Arabic periodicals, while gray online-libraries of Arabic literature, namely shamela.ws, provide access to a vast body of Arabic texts including transcriptions of unknown provenance, editorial principals, and quality for some of the mentioned periodicals. In addition, these gray “editions” lack information linking the digital representation to material originals, namely bibliographic meta-data and page breaks, which makes them almost impossible to employ for scholarly research.

With the GitHub-hosted TEI edition of Majallat al-Muqtabas we want to show that through re-purposing available and well-established open software and by bridging the gap between immensely popular, but non-academic (and, at least under US copyright laws, occasionally illegal) online libraries of volunteers and academic scanning efforts as well as editorial expertise, one can produce scholarly editions that remedy the short-comings of either world with very small funds: We use digital texts from shamela.ws, transform them into TEI XML, add light structural mark-up for articles, sections, authors, and bibliographic metadata, and link them to facsimiles provided through the British Library’s “Endangered Archives Programme” and HathiTrust (in the process of which we also make first corrections to the transcription). The digital edition (TEI XML and a basic web display) is then hosted as a GitHub repository with a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.

By linking images to the digital text, every reader can validate the quality of the transcription against the original, thus overcoming the greatest limitation of crowd-sourced or gray transcriptions and the main source of disciplinary contempt among historians and scholars of the Middle East. Improvements of the transcription and mark-up can be crowd-sourced with clear attribution of authorship and version control using .git and GitHub’s core functionality. Editions will be referencable down to the word level^[currently we provide stable URLs down to the paragraph level] for scholarly citations, annotation layers, as well as web-applications through a documented URI scheme. The web-display is implemented through a customised adaptation of the TEI Boilerplate XSLT stylesheets; it can be downloaded, distributed and run locally without any internet connection—a necessity for societies outside the global North. Finally, by sharing all our code (mostly XSLT) in addition to the XML files, we hope to facilitate similar projects and digital editions of further periodicals, namely Rashīd Riḍā’s al-Manār.

Scope of the project

The purpose and scope of the project is to provide an open, collaborative, referencable, scholarly digital edition of Muḥammad Kurd ʿAlī’s journal al-Muqtabas, which includes the full text, semantic mark-up, and digital imagery.

The digital edition will be provided as TEI P5 XML with its own schema. All files are hosted on GitHub

The project will open avenues for re-purposing code for similar projects, i.e. for transforming full-text transcriptions from some HTML or XML source, such as al-Maktaba al-Shamela, into TEI P5 XML, linking them to digital imagery from other open repositories, such as EAP and HathiTrust, and generating a web display by, for instance, adapting the code base of TEI Boilerplate.

The most likely candidates for such follow-up projects are

The journal al-Muqtabas

Muḥammad Kurd ʿAlī published the monthly journal al-Muqtabas between 1906 and 1914(1916). The publication schedule followed the Muslim hijrī calendar and, after the Young Turk Revolution of July 1908, publication moved from Cairo to Damascus in the journal’s third year.

There is some confusion as to the counting of issues and their publication dates. According to the masthead and the cover sheet, al-Muqtabas was published following the Islamic hijrī calendar (from the journal itself it must remain open whether the recorded publication dates were the actual publication dates). Sometimes the printers made errors: issue 2 of volume 4, for instance, carries Rab I 1327 as publication date on the cover sheet, but Ṣaf 1327 in its masthead. The latter would correspond to the official publication schedule.

Samir Seikaly argues that Muḥammad Kurd ʿAlī was wrong in stating in his memoirs that he published 8 volumes of 12 issues each and two independent issues.^[{Seikaly 1981@128}] But the actual hard copies at the Orient-Institut Beirut and the digital facsimiles from HathiTrust show that Kurd ʿAlī was right insofar as volume 9 existed and comprised 2 issues only. As it turns out, al-Muqtabas published a number of double issues: Vol. 4 no. 5/6 and Vol. 8 no. 11/12

In addition to the original edition, at least one reprint appeared: In 1992 Dār Ṣādir in Beirut published a facsimile edition, which is entirely unmarked as such but for the information on the binding itself. Checking this reprint against the original, it appeared to be a facsimile reprint: pagination, font, layout — everything is identical. But as Samir Seikaly remarked in 1981 that he used “two separate compilations of al-Muqtabas […] in this study” there must be at least one other print edition that I have not yet seen.^[{Seikaly 1981@128}]

Digital imagery

Image files are available from the al-Aqṣā Mosque’s library in Jerusalem through the British Library’s “Endangered Archives Project” (vols. 2-7), HathiTrust (vols. 1-6, 8), and Institut du Monde Arabe. Due to its open access licence, preference is given to facsimiles from EAP.


  • links to volumes:
  • access:
    • the journal is in the public domain and the images can be freely accessed without restrictions. EAP does not provide a download button.
    • Terms of access for material provided by the British Library can be found here


Public Domain or Public Domain in the United States, Google-digitized: In addition to the terms for works that are in the Public Domain or in the Public Domain in the United States above, the following statement applies: The digital images and OCR of this work were produced by Google, Inc. (indicated by a watermark on each page in the PageTurner). Google requests that the images and OCR not be re-hosted, redistributed or used commercially. The images are provided for educational, scholarly, non-commercial purposes. Note: There are no restrictions on use of text transcribed from the images, or paraphrased or translated using the images.

Full text

Somebody took the pains to create fully searchable text files and uploaded everything to al-Maktaba al-Shamela and WikiSource.

al-Maktaba al-Shāmila

  • Extent: According to the main entry, shamela has all 96 issues.
  • Transcribers, editors: Apparently, they have been typed and copy-edited by unnamed humans.
  • Features edition: paragraphs, page breaks, headlines.
  • Features interface:


It seems that somebody took the pains to upload the text from shamela to WikiSource. Unfortunately it is impossible to browse the entire journal. Instead one has to adress each individual and consecutively numbered issue, e.g. Vol. 4, No. 1 is listed as No. 37

TEI edition of al-Muqtabas

The main challenge is to combine the full text and the images in a digital XML edition following the TEI. As al-maktabat al-shāmila did not reproduce page breaks true to the print edition, every single one of the more than 6000 page breaks must be added manually and linked to the digital image of the page.

General design

The edition should be conceived of as a corpus of tei files that are grouped by means of xinclude. This way, volumes can be constructed as single TEI files containing a <group/> of TEI files and a volume specific <front/> and <back/>

Detailled description and notes on the mark-up are kept in a separate file in the GitHub repository.

Quality control

A simple way of controlling the quality of the basic structural mark-up would be to cross check any automatically generated table of content or index against the published tables of content at the end of each volume and against the index of al-Muqtabas published by Riyāḍ ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd Murād in 1977.

Web display: TEI Boilerplate

To allow a quick review of the mark-up and read the journal’s content, I decided to customise TEI Boilerplate for a first display of the TEI files in the browser without need for pre-processed HTML and host this heavily customised boilerplate view as a seperate branch of the GitHub repository. For a first impression see here.