The Islamic Rare Book Collections
The book collections of these five scholars combine to create a strong holding of most fields of Islamic culture and science of Central Asia and, to a lesser degree, the Middle East, especially Iran and Turkey. Texts, both primary and secondary, are in the Arabic, Iranian, and Turkic languages.  These collections were acquired by Boston University to provide sources for research by scholars and students in these fields.

The eminent scholars Richard N. Frye, Karl Jettmar, Muhsin S. Mahdi, Karl H.Menges, and Daud Rahbar were pioneers of international acclaim in the study of the Islamic sciences and culture of Central Asia and the Middle East. Their personal research collections feature rare books and books of research value in the fields of art and architecture, archaeology, anthropology, history, languages and linguistic research, politics, and religion. As well as monographs, many serial holdings are extensive, as are limited editions in French, German, and Russian by scholarly societies. These extensive collections provide the opportunity of reading both primary and secondary sources in the studies of the Middle East and Central Asia.
Dr Richard Frye (1920-2014) has been called "...a famed humanist of a learned and caring world..." and the "dean of Iranianists," both acknowledging the depth and breadth of Frye's scholarship. His knowledge of many languages, teaching, and influence in the world of Middle Eastern and Asian Studies made him extremely accomplished in his field. By the age of 25, Frye "...had acquired firsthand knowledge of Near Eastern politics, languages, history, art, and archaeology..." (A. Sh. Shahbazi, Richard Nelson Frye, an appreciation, page xi, Bulletin of the Asia institute 4, 1990, 23). Part of Frye's "firsthand knowledge" was gained in Kabul, Afghanistan, monitoring German and Japanese activities among Afghan tribes. He also made official trips from Kabul through Iran to Cairo during World War II as part of his four years of service in the Secret Intelligence branch of the Coordinator of Information (the World War II-era US agency preceding the CIA). At the age of 28, Frye, as a Harvard postdoctoral fellow, made an important archaeological discovery at Buzpar, near the Persian Gulf, of the only known replica of the tomb of Cyrus the Great.

Dr. Frye joined the Harvard faculty in 1948, helped to found their Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and was named its first chair of Iranian studies; a post he held until retirement in 1990. Additionally, Dr. Frye held positions at Columbia University, and in Europe, Russia and Iran. His classic book, The Heritage of Persia, is essential scholarship, in numerous editions and languages; just one of his 20+ books and hundreds of articles.

The central focus of Dr. Frye's library, which he formed over 60 years of collecting, is in the regions of Iran, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Books in the fields of pre-Islamic Iranian civilization and languages are numerous, as well as those in the subjects of Islamic literature, history, and religion. There are texts in more than 40 languages, such as Armenian and Georgian from the Caucasus, and the Iranian languages of Kurdish and Pushto.  Until recently, the two primary languages of Iranian study were German and Russian, and Dr. Frye collected obscure and scarce pamphlets, important scholarly works, and major runs of journals in Middle Eastern studies in these and other languages.

Examples of the diverse sources among Frye's books are:

Khushhal Khan Khatak, Baz'namah (Romanized form). Edited by Siddiq A. Rishtin (Kabul, Pashto Tolanah, 1953, Frye 2394).

D.L. Lorimer. The Dumaki Language: Outlines of the Speech of the Doma, or Bericho, of Hunza. (1939, Frye 2726).

And, by Parviz Khanlari, Tahqiq-I I'intiqadi dar 'aruz-I Farsi... Tehran, 1948/49, Frye 2372.

The scope and content note for the Richard N. Frye papers is here.

The Frye collection is completely catalogued and the book records can be searched here.

Dr. Karl Jettmar (1918-2002), born in Austria, developed an interest in prehistoric art and ethnography from his artist father, Rudolf Jettmar. From 1955 until the mid-1970s, Dr. Jettmar did archaeological and ethnographic fieldwork in NW Pakistan and Afghanistan. As an administrator at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, Jettmar wrote, published, and collected extensively. His main subjects were the cultures of the Karakorum Highway, Eurasia and their relationships with neighboring civilizations. Major subject strengths are archaeology, art history, and linguistic research. Secondary sources present are on the pre-Islamic history of the region. Language groups of Afghanistan, Pakistan, western China and the Pamir areas of ex-Soviet Central Asia are studied, and many serial publications, especially in the Russian language, are held in these subjects.

Examples of books are:

Namio Egami's Inner Mongolia and the Region of the Great Wall [Japanese text, photocopy], Tokyo, 1935 (Jettmar 1191).

And in ethnography, the publication by Leiden's Ethnographischen Museum...Katalog..., 1909-1932, in 23 volumes (Jettmar 2830) is present.

On language, Gerard Fussman's book, Atlas linguistique des parlers dardes et kafirs. 1972, 2 volumes (Jettmar 1462) is held.

Dr. Karl H. Menges (1908-1999), born and raised in Germany,  Menges studied and taught in Germany until, engaging in anti-Nazi resistance in 1936, he fled first to Czechoslovakia and then to Turkey where he taught and learned languages. Dr. Menges is quoted as saying he was most comfortable in German, English, and any of the Altaic languages (which includes 30 Turkic, 5 Mongol and 6 Tungusic subgroups). Teaching at Columbia University for decades and then at the University of Vienna, Dr. Menges wrote many books and hundreds of articles, and collected extensively.

The main subjects of his library are Central Asian languages, literature, history and culture. Dr. Menges' collection is especially strong in regionally produced books in Russian and books in the Turkic language. Some topics of study are grammar of the Tungus languages, Altaic-Indo-European relations, and Uzbek grammar.

Examples of books from his library are:

Belletin/Turk Tarih Kurumu, [Turkish text] from 1937-1994, published in Ankara, Turkey (Menges 2661).

Mongolian Studies, Journal of the Mongolia Society. 1970s through 1996, not a complete run (Menges 2683).

Dr. Muhsin S. Mahdi (1926-2007) was known as the leading specialist in medieval Arabic and Islamic philosophy, teaching at both the University of Chicago (1957-1969) and Harvard University (1969-1996), as well as holding visiting professorships in the US, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. His doctoral thesis, on Ibn Khaldun (the 14th century North Africa scholar and forerunner of modern social, historical, and economic theory) was considered an essential work. Dr. Mahdi is known for the recovery, editing, and translation of the philosopher Abu Nasr al-Farabi (870-950 CE). Both his work in Islamic political philosophy and his critical edition of The Thousand and One Nights were major works of scholarship. Traveling widely, Dr. Mahdi collected both manuscripts and books. His teaching emphasized rigorous analysis and interpretation of Arabic philosophy.

Dr. Mahdi's library holds Islamic (mostly Arabic) books on language, literature, and philosophy, both in primary and secondary texts.

Dr. Daud Rahbar (1926-2013), born in Lahore, Pakistan, was a noted scholar, poet, translator, and musician who taught in the US, Canada, the UK, and Turkey. Among numerous other books, Dr. Rahbar wrote a biography of his father, Faith of a Lay Muslim, about Dr. Sheik Muhammad Iqbal, of Oriental College, Lahore, Pakistan. When he retired from Boston University in 1991, Dr. Rahbar was named Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion. Later, he participated in scholarly forums on culture and religion in Florida. His book collection, centering on religion, poetry, and literature, especially Urdu music and literature, was acquired by Boston University in 2007. (Befitting his interest in music, his library also contains many musical records on the above topics.) Dr. Rahbar collected everything from a 1920 edition by his father, Sheikh Muhammad, The Secrets of the self (Asrar-I Khudi): a philosophical poem, to a study of the economy of Pakistan (1959), to the third edition (1963) of Swami Saradananda's Sri Ramakrishna: the Great Master (inscribed, and with marginalia). His collection explores the Islamic culture of Pakistan, India, and Iran, with a diversity of selection from a journal on Ghalib (Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan), to comprehensive histories of Iran and the autobiography of Pakistan's President, Mohammad Ayub Khan.