Bihar Sharif: The 113-year-old India library torched in a riot

Madrasa Azizia
Image caption,Madrassa Azizia was a well-known religious school in Bihar Sharif town

By Faisal Mohammed Ali

BBC News, Bihar Sharif

Ash, soot-stained walls, burnt furniture and charred pages: that’s all that remains of a 113-year-old madrassa library in India that once housed more than 4,500 books, including ancient manuscripts and sacred Islamic texts written in beautiful calligraphy.

The library was part of the Madrassa Azizia – a well-known religious school in Bihar Sharif town in the eastern state of Bihar – and was burnt down by a large mob on 31 March.

The incident place during the Hindu festival of Ram Navami. The rioters were armed with sticks, stones and petrol bombs and allegedly shouted provocative slogans near the madrassa before attacking it, locals told the BBC.

The incident was one among many that took place in the town that day – several people were injured and some vehicles and shops were attacked. Police have arrested several people in connection with the communal violence, and the investigation is ongoing.

Madrassa Azizia
Image caption,The library housed around 4,500 books

Witnesses said that a mob of hundreds broke the locks and front door of the madrassa and then vandalised it. Some hurled petrol bombs inside the classrooms and library, setting them on fire.

“Suddenly I could smell smoke,” said Abdul Gaffar, a cook at the madrassa. “When I opened the door, I saw there was a lot of chaos near the office. They (the mob) had moved towards the hostel as well. I got scared and hid under the bed.”

The fire gutted the library and all that was inside, including 250 handwritten books, historical documents and antique furniture.

The library was mostly used by the students of the madrassa. Around 500 students study here, with 100 staying in the hostel. But they were not in the building as classes had been halted due to Ramadan.

“The damage caused to the building and furniture can be fixed. But the loss of knowledge and cultural heritage is permanent,” says Syed Saifuddin Firdausi, an Islamic scholar who is president of the Soghara Trust which manages the madrassa.

He says the building was targeted earlier as well, in 2017, prompting police to give it protection for a year.

The madrassa was built by a woman named Bibi Soghara in memory of her late husband, Abdul Aziz. It was initially built in Patna city in 1896 and later shifted to Bihar Sharif.

Madrasa Azizia
Image caption,The fire destroyed many of the ancient texts and manuscripts in the library

Bibi Soghara also donated her property – including 14,000 acres of land – to charity. She set up a trust to make sure the income was used to provide education and other help to poor people.

The trust used the money to build schools and colleges as well as hospitals and hostels, which are still operational today across Bihar.

Mr Firdausi describes Bibi Soghara as an “enlightened, socially conscious, and wise woman” who chose to donate her property in the service of the community and the country instead of giving it to her relatives.

Her acts of generosity, performed more than a century ago, are still helping the residents of Bihar Sharif. Dr. Mukhtar Ul Haq, a manager of the Soghara Trust, says that an outpatient treatment centre was built last year using funds from the trust . A hospital named after her will be opened soon.

While the contents of the library are beyond repair, trust officials are now looking for ways to restore the damaged portions of the madrassa – classes are scheduled to restart from 1 May.

According to the trust’s estimates, http://horeoraduwe.com/ repairing the major damages will cost more than 30mn rupees ($365,088; £294,306). They now plan to send a report to the state government’s social welfare department with a request for help with funds.

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