The Story of the Lost Paper
Al-Huwaini asked the Shaikh about the Story of the Lost Paper?
Al-Albaani: The reality is that I got an ailment in my eyes, when I would look at a white wall it would be as though I could see flies moving. When I took myself to the optician he said, “This is what we call the flying fly,” and this was an expression he used referring to a very fine blood vessel which had deteriorated and from which an extremely fine drop of blood had come out onto the eye–and that was what I could see coming and going.
The doctor asked me, “What work do you do?”
I told him, “I’m a watch repairer.”
He said, “This is due to exhausting [yourself].”
I explained my situation to him, that I was a watch repairer and that I would [also] research a lot, so he asked me to take a six month break. I went back to my shop and started to sit there: not doing anything, not in my job, nor reading or researching.
A week or two passed by and boredom started to set in, so I started to entice myself and justify to myself using many different reasons [as to what I could do]. Then an idea came to mind which was that there were a group of different treatises in the Dhaahiriyyah Library, one of which was The Dispraise of Idle Amusement [Dhamm al-Malaahi] by Ibn Abid-Dunyaa, so I thought to myself that I could ask the transcribers there to copy out this manuscript, and that by the time they finish copying, I, maybe, would have gathered up and regained some of the health of my eyes and the rest [they required].
So I went to the Dhaahiriyyah Library and requested the copyist transcribe the treatise, and so he started. When he got half way through he came to me saying that there was a gap in the manuscript, that there was something lacking. I went to the library and had a look at the manuscript and there was indeed something missing, so I told him, “Carry on as you are doing … and Allaah creates that which you do not know.” He finished copying out the manuscript, and it was as they say … my unconscious mind was working day and night [trying to figure out] where this missing part could be. So I hypothesised that when [all the different individual] manuscript treatises were gathered together to be put into this volume, maybe a page or two from this [particular] treatise fell out and were then later added to a different volume [of manuscript treatises].
And so there would be no path [to find it] except by searching through the collection present in the Dhaahiriyyah Library.
The manuscripts in the Dhaahiriyyah Library were arranged according to subject as is the general [classification] system [used in libraries] … except that there were about one hundred and fifty volumes entitled Majaamee [collections], and it was a befitting title, because every volume contained a number of [different] books, differing in the way they had been arranged and in their classification and topic, for this reason they had been put under the title majaamee [collections].
So I said to myself that I would start with these majaamee, and so I did.
One of the things which made the search easier was that just as these volumes differed in their topics and authors they also differed in the type of paper [they were written on]. So you would find some large [pieces] and some small, some white and others gray, and at times [you would find some that were] blue, and so on. All of this made the way to search easier for me, so I started with the first volume, then the second and third, I don’t remember exactly. Then all of a sudden I came across the title of the book [that I was looking for, The Dispraise of Idle Amusement]—and by Allaah, it is an important book—but it was the second part that I found, if it had been the first the matter would have been over. So when I would find the second or third parts I would leave them and carry on, after [going through] a number of volumes I came across the first part of one of those [other] treatises [that I had come across in earlier volumes], so I lamented myself and was regretful, saying, “Would that I had written down the title and number [showing exactly where I had found] the second part and this first part.” I learnt a lesson and began to record anything that interested me, even if it was not complete.
And you will note here that I was [initially] doing one thing when I began to do something else: I was searching for the lost paper whereas now I had started to record the titles of what can be regarded as treasures, even if they [i.e., the manuscripts] were incomplete. What is important is that I finished going through the one hundred and fifty volumes but I did not come across the lost paper in the volumes [of the books of] hadith, but I left with huge benefit in terms of knowledge. So I said to myself, “You must complete this journey you are upon and that search for the lost paper.”
The number of volumes of hadith books with us in the Dhaahiriyyah Library are more than five hundred so I began to search, and here the search for the lost paper was much easier, because the majaamee were small in size as for the [books of] hadith they were bigger, and the lost paper was small [so it would be easier to find], but [in reality] I had [now] entered into searching for something different, which was the acquisition of the important topics from these priceless books.
So I started to take down the titles, even if the book was a large volume, recording it on my scratch paper—and I finished going through five hundred volumes without coming across the lost paper.
And as they say here in Syria, “Without [giving you] a long biography …” i.e., in short I went through every single manuscript in the Dhaahiriyyah Library, and I was hoping that it might be in [the section of books on] such and such topics, maybe, since it was a mistake that had occurred in a volume [somewhere in the library], so I started to look through the books of biographies [seerah], the books of history, literature, books on Sufism, i.e., every branch of knowledge that had manuscripts [I looked through]. And Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic, facilitated this search for me, [whereas it would] normally not have been easy except for someone officially employed [by the library] and specially assigned to the task.
He facilitated it to such an extent that I would put a ladder up to the treasures, because there were shelves there that were high and could not be reached by hand, so I would stand on the ladder. The shelf was about a metre in width, I would take a book from here [i.e., this end] and finish there [at the other end], all while I was on the ladder. When I would find something precious I would come down and record it, and then continue on my journey. In this way I went through the entire library without finding the lost paper. But I felt that it was I who was the winner: I gained hundreds of names and book titles from those priceless works. In the end, I knew that they had something that was called ‘Disht’, and that was a term for stacked up papers which no one [ever] went to or stretched their hands toward. So I said to the specialist librarian—and he was someone whom Allaah had facilitated to help me in my knowledge-based matters and was someone who would respond positively to me—“O Abu Mahdi! Where can the ‘disht’ [collections] be found?” So he showed me the two or three collections. So I started to search through these jumbled up papers and did not find anything, but I did find treasures: among them [the fact that] with us in the Dhaahiriyyah Library are two copies of the Musnad of ash-Shihaab of al-Qudaa’ee, both of which had parts missing. One of these copies was the eastern one and the other the western copy. The script in the western copy was very beautiful and had been given careful attention by some of the preservers of hadith [huffaadh], the people of hadith, and written next to many of these hadiths if not all were [things like: a] weak [hadith], [a] fabricated [hadith] and so on, but the first fascicle of it was missing. All of a sudden, while going through this disht I was taken aback to find the missing part of the western copy [of the Musnad of ash-Shihaab], and with that a priceless manuscript was completed. So I took it with great delight and exhilaration and went to the manager responsible for the manuscripts and said to him, “This part is from the disht and this is the book which you have written down with you in the index as being from an unknown source, its author is unknown and nor is it known what the book is about. [Now] here is the book and this is the author …” but he paid no attention to that, because he, as they say here in Syria, “Everyone sings about his own Layla …” [i.e., each to his own]: this research was of importance to me but not him. Then days and years went by and our brother Abdul-Majid as-Salafi printed the book from this self-same manuscript. And so that you know the [differing] nature of people … the Musnad of ash-Shihaab by al-Qudaa’ee was published by the printers in which Shu’ayb [al-Arnaa’oot] worked, i.e., Mu’assasah ar-Risaalah and on this manuscript for history I had written, “Drawn out from the disht collection by Naasir,” [i.e., Al-Albaani himself] I only wrote ‘Naasir,’ but what did he do? He put a piece of paper on it and covered this fact and now you can find a copy of this main title page from this book in the manuscript copy of the Musnad of ash-Shihaab which our brother Hamdi checked but this knowledge-based reality is wiped out [i.e., that Shaikh al-Albaani was the one who found it after all that hard work]. What makes him do that? You know the answer.
The point is that these are the priceless things that I gained through this research, in the end I gave up hope of finding the lost paper, but I never regretted it, since what I acquired was more than I could have imagined. What is important is that later I went back to the names that I had written down of those works and their authors and so wrote them out again on cards, arranging them in order of the names of the authors, listing every work that the author had written.
Then after I finished listing the names of the authors I arranged the works in alphabetical order, and from that came the index of the chosen manuscripts from the Dhaahiriyyah Library.
Then the final stage came and it was the blessed fruition of that initial effort: I started to read these manuscripts, extracting the hadith benefits from them with their chains of narration [something] which I have with me now, and it is what helps to provide me with [what I need] for my knowledge-based projects in about forty volumes, in it are the hadiths which I took from these manuscripts with their chains of narrations, arranged in alphabetical order to make them easier to refer back to. So this is a summary of the story of the lost paper.
Al-Imaam al-Albaani, Hayaatuhu, Da’watuhu, Juhooduhoo fee Khidmatis-Sunnah, of Muhammad Bayyoomi, pp. 22-26.
Here is the other version of the same story translated in an earlier post: http://www.shaikhalbaani.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/the-shaikhs-life-in-his-own-words-16/