Skip to main content

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje Arabic manuscripts collection

Identifier: ubl289

Scope and Contents

The Arabic manuscripts of Snouck Hurgronje from the Arabian Peninsula are not numerous but nevertheless interesting, and include histories of the Holy Places such as Manāʾiḥ al-karam bi-akhbār Makkah wa-al-Ḥaram by al-Sinjarī, or Tārīkh Makkah by Ibn ʿAbd al-Shakūr. An especially noteworthy item is Khulāṣat al-kalām fī bayān umarāʾ al-balad al-Ḥarām by Snouck Hurgronje’s mentor in Mecca, Aḥmad ibn Zaynī Daḥlān. From Hadramawt one finds, among others, several collections of poetry and songs by Bā Jarād and others.

The Arabic manuscripts from Indonesia are almost exclusively of an Islamic religious nature and seem generally to have been intended for educational purposes. Apart from devotional texts such as Qur’an (fragments) or prayers, there is a substantial number of primers on diverse subjects. In the domain of Arabic grammar one finds, for instance, al-ʿAwāmil al-miʾah by al-Jurjānī, or al-Muqaddimah al-Ajurrūmīyah. In the field of Islamic doctrine there is the well-known Umm al-barāhīn by al-Sanūsī or Bayān ʿaqīdat al-uṣūl by Abū al-Layth al-Samarqandī. In Islamic law we have Taqrīb al-fiqh, also known as al-Mukhtaṣar fī al-fiqh by Abū Shujāʿ al-Iṣfahānī, or al-Sittūn masʾalah fī al-fiqh by Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Zāhid. Among Indonesian scholars of note there are the seventeenth-century Shams al-Dīn al-Samaṭrāʾī of Pasai and Snouck Hurgronje’s contemporary al-Sayyid ʿUthmān ibn ʿAqīl al-ʿAlawi of Batavia. The texts are relatively short, and there is a large proportion of multi-text volumes, as becomes evident from the total number of texts (c. 530) set off against the number of volumes (c. 250).

The Arabic manuscripts can be found in the following series of call numbers:

  1. Or. 6977-Or. 7121
  2. Or. 7128-Or. 7132
  3. Or. 7161-Or. 7214

A detailed description can be found in Witkam 2006, vols 7-8; see also Witkam 1985, p. 7.

Snouck Hurgronje’s Arabic manuscripts are part of his overall collection of manuscripts in Oriental languages, which comprises about 900 volumes and includes languages such as Malay, Javanese, Sundanese and Achehnese. For more information about Snouck Hurgronje’s extensive manuscript, archive and print collections at Leiden University Libraries, see the general ubl085 Collection Chrisitaan Snouck Hurgronje .


  • Creation: c. 1700-1936
  • Creation: Bulk 1884-1936

Language of Materials

Arabic, occasionally mixed with Malay, Javanese, Sundanese or Achehnese.

Conditions Governing Use

The regulations applying to the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (Oosterhout, 8 February 1857 – Leiden, 26 June 1936) was the Netherlands’ most prominent Orientalist of the late 19th and early 20th century. He studied Arabic under Michael Jan de Goeje in Leiden and took his doctorate in 1883 with a thesis on the Hajj, Het Mekkaansche Feest. In the autumn of 1884 he travelled to Arabia, taking up lodgings at the Dutch consulate in Jeddah. He converted to Islam and in January 1885 travelled onwards to Mecca to observe local life and perform the pilgrimage. He was extradicted from Arabia, however, only a few days before the actual pilgrimage season began. Snouck Hurgronje was the first European to take photographs of Mecca and its people.

After his return to the Netherlands in 1885 he published his magnum opus Mekka, a detailed historical and ethnographical study of Mecca in two volumes, accompanied by two portfolios of plates entitled Bilder-Atlas zu Mekka and Bilder aus Mekka (1888-1889).

In 1889 he accepted a post in the Netherlands East Indies as government advisor on indigenous and Islamic affairs, which he held until 1906. Snouck Hurgronje played a role of significance in the so-called Aceh wars, supplying vital intelligence to General J.B. van Heutsz. During his 17 years of government service he wrote two major works on Indonesian studies: De Atjehers (1893-1894) and Het Gajoland en zijne bewoners (1903). Although Snouck Hurgronje firmly believed in the Dutch colonial role in Indonesia, he advocated a liberal education policy towards the native population and a large degree of self-government, which gradually made him a controversial figure in the eyes of the Dutch government.

In 1906 Snouck Hurgronje returned to the Netherlands and succeeded M.J. de Goeje in the Leiden Chair of Arabic, but continued advising the Government on colonial and Islamic affairs. His academic career was crowned by his term as Rector of the University (1922). In his inaugural speech De Islâm en het rassenprobleem he denounced racism and racial segregation in South Africa and the USA. He retired in 1927 and died in 1936.

During his entire career Snouck Hurgronje contributed widely to the Dutch press, both in the Netherlands East Indies and in the Netherlands.

His collected works, Verspreide Geschriften (1923-1927), were published during his lifetime. Vol. 6 (1927), pp. 587-597, contains a bibliography of his works by A.J. Wensinck. His collected advices to the Government, Ambtelijke adviezen, were published posthumously (1957-1963).

For more information on Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje’s life and career see Vrolijk & Van Leeuwen 2014, pp. 117-150.


7 metres (circa) (250 manuscripts (circa))

Abstract in Dutch

De Arabische handschriftencollectie van Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), adviseur van het koloniale gouvernement van Nederlands-Indië en de Nederlandse regering van 1889 tot zijn dood in 1936, en hoogleraar Arabisch aan de Universiteit Leiden van 1907 tot 1927. Veel handschriften hebben betrekking op islamitische onderwerpen, en de meeste zijn afkomstig uit Indonesië, met verspreide items uit het Arabisch Schiereiland (Hedjaz, Jemen).

Abstract in English

The Arabic manuscript collection of Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), advisor to the colonial administration of the Netherlands East Indies and the government of the Netherlands from 1889 until his death in 1936, and professor of Arabic at Leiden University from 1907 until 1927. Many manuscripts are devoted to Islamic subjects, and most are from Indonesia, with dispersed items from the Arabian Peninsula (Hejaz, Yemen).

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Most manuscript copies made during Snouck Hurgronje’s lifetime and written on paper of Dutch manufacture are in a reasonable state of preservation. Some of the original manuscripts have suffered considerably from damp, fungus and vermin, especially the manuscripts on paper. Manuscripts written on dluang (indigenous paper made from the bark of the mulberry tree) have survived much better. As a result, some manuscripts are no longer available for consultation.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

For the retrieval of all records search the online catalogue, keywords 'Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje bequest (1936)'. See also Voorhoeve 1980; Witkam 2006, vols 7 and 8.

Custodial History

Snouck Hurgronje acquired his first Arabic manuscripts during his sojourn in the Arabian Peninsula in 1884-85. The bulk of the collection, however, hails from Indonesia. The provenance of the collection is yet to be established in detail, but it must be assumed that most of his Indonesian manuscripts in Arabic were supplied through his network of local Islamic scholars and notables. The most prominent of these were Aboe Bakar Djajadiningrat and Hadji Hasan Moestapa from West Java, Sayyid Oethman ibn `Aqil al-`Alawi, a Hadrami Arab from Batavia, Hadji Agoes Salim from Minangkabau, Sumatra, and Teungkoe Mohammed Noerdin from Acheh. Many manuscripts are copies made to order against payment; the originals were probably acquired on the antiquarian book market or through personal contacts. The presence of isolated manuscripts acquired from war booty cannot be ruled out.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Soon after Snouck Hurgronje’s appointment as professor of Arabic in 1907, he deposited his Oriental manuscript collection in a wide variety of languages in the Leiden University Library as a permanent loan. It would appear, though, that part of his Arabic collection was excluded from this loan, but detailed information is lacking. In 1936, after Snouck Hurgronje’s death, all manuscripts came to Leiden University under the terms of his will.


No future additions are to be expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

The manuscripts are available online in Digital Collections (Collection Snouck Hurgronje Papers and Collection Manuscripts, Archives & Letters).

Related Materials

The Arabic manuscripts of Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje are part of the overall collection of Arabic manuscripts.


  • Voorhoeve, P., Handlist of Arabic manuscripts in the library of the University of Leiden and other collections in the Netherlands. 2nd enl. ed. The Hague [etc.] 1980. (Codices manuscripti, 7).
  • Vrolijk, A. & R. van Leeuwen, Arabic studies in the Netherlands. A short history in portraits, 1580-1950, Leiden [etc.] 2014.
  • Witkam, J.J., Honderd jaar Mekka in Leiden 1885-1985, Leiden 1985.
  • Witkam, J.J., Inventory of the Oriental manuscripts of the library of the University of Leiden. … vols. Leiden 2006-….


The materials can be requested in the online catalogue. They can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

Although the Arabic manuscripts of Snouck Hurgronje entered Leiden University Library as part of the 1936 bequest, they were not formally registered until after the Second World War, when P. Voorhoeve was appointed curator. Voorhoeve also included elementary descriptions of the Arabic manuscripts in his Handlist of Arabic manuscripts, first published in 1957 and re-edited in 1980 (Voorhoeve 1980).

During his career as curator and Interpres Legati Warneriani between 1975 and 2005 Jan Just Witkam prepared detailed descriptions of the manuscripts in his online inventory, published from 2006 onwards (Witkam 2006, vols 7 and 8).

In 2014 Leiden University Libraries received a generous donation of € 85,000 from Bureau Metamorfoze, The Hague, for the preservation and digitisation of the entire collection. To this purpose the manuscripts underwent conservation treatment in the Library’s laboratory by Karin Scheper and her team. Bibliographic data based on Voorhoeve 1980 were included in the online catalogue in the course of 2015. The project was concluded in 2020.

Collection guide of the Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje Arabic manuscripts collection (c. 1700-1936)
Collectie Arabische handschriften van Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje
Arnoud Vrolijk, 2020
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Revision Statements

  • 22 July 2020: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857