Africa Defense Forum
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In War-Torn Libya, Artisans Restore Old Qurans


In Libya, new Qurans can be hard to find, especially during Ramadan. Volunteers are working to restore older copies of Islam’s holy book.

Khaled al-Drebi, one of Libya’s best-known restorers of Qurans, is among the artisans who work in a Tripoli shop to meet the needs of the influx of customers during Ramadan. For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of spirituality, in which a daily dawn-to-dusk fast is accompanied with prayer and acts of charity — often translating into a surge in Quran sales.

“The purchase of new Qurans traditionally increases before the month of Ramadan, but this has recently changed in Libya,” Drebi said. For many, tradition has been interrupted by an increase in the cost of Qurans, especially since the state stopped printing them in Libya, he said.

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.

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

“There is a spiritual connection for some customers,” Drebi said, adding that many choose to preserve Qurans 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 sorts through thousands of Qurans 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.

Restorers say they have repaired a staggering 500,000 Qurans since the workshop opened in 2008, and more than 1,500 trainees have graduated from 150 restoration workshops.

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