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Libyan restorers revive old Korans for Ramadan

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MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP or licensors


Khaled al-Drebi, a volunteer restorer of old or damaged Qurans, has his work cut out for him as Ramadan begins, with an influx of customers to his workshop in Tripoli, seeking his expertise to preserve the book they inherited from an ancestor or avoid buying a new one.

"Buying a Koran before the beginning of the month of Ramadan was a tradition" but Libyans, very careful with their expenses against the backdrop of a deep economic crisis, "prefer to restore their books rather than buy new ones," Mr. Drebi, 54, told AFP in his workshop on Mizran Street in Tripoli.

Moreover, since the state "stopped the printing of Korans in Libya", prices have risen.

It now takes about 20 euros, depending on the quality of the binding, for a medium-sized Koran, he says. The workshop charges only a few euros for the materials used in the restoration, with labor being free.

Ramadan is one of the most mystical times of the year, devoted to prayer and reading the holy book of Islam. And this year, with the lifting of restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, mosques are anticipating an influx of worshippers with prayer rugs and Qurans under their arms.

Just before the holy month in April this year, it is crowded in the workshop on Mizran Street, one of the most famous in Libya.

At the back of the room, Abdel Razzaq al-Aroussi, in his sixties, wearing overalls, lists the Korans according to their degree of deterioration and the duration of the necessary intervention which "will vary between one or several hours".

- "Indefinable happiness" -

"The very damaged Korans (...) must be undone, restored and then bound", a meticulous process that requires "time and concentration", explains this technician, bent over his work, surrounded by hundreds of Korans piled up on shelves that struggle to support them.

"The work of restoration and binding requires the intervention of several craftsmen, each according to his specialty, explains Mabrouk Al-Amin, another restorer.

Working with the "Book of God" is very pleasant ... we do not get tired despite the magnitude of the task, "said this fifty-year-old who speaks of a "happiness indefinable.

Some customers entrust them with precious works passed down from generation to generation, abused by time.

It is not only to repair but to establish a special bond with customers wishing to preserve a Quran that carries memories and "still carries the smell of a grandfather, a father or a mother," says Mr. Drebi who, despite the success of his workshop, works voluntarily and depends solely on donations "of charitable people.

In the eyes of these passionate craftsmen, it is more a "work of memory" than a simple act of generosity.

- More and more women -

A new generation has joined the workshop, bringing "new techniques" using computers for "graphic design and software like Photoshop to reproduce the missing pages of a Quran," says Al-Amin.

Since the creation of the Mizran workshop in 2008, nearly half a million copies have been restored and more than 1,500 trainees, mostly men, have been trained there.

But more and more women attracted by this profession which combines know-how and spirituality come to learn it before becoming trainers in their turn.

They enjoy practicing this activity in the comfort of their homes or in exclusively female workshops like the one run by Khadija Mahmoud in Zaouia (45 km west of Tripoli).

"An exceptional lady who does an exceptional job", says M. Aroussi.

Retired from the national education system, trained at the Mizran workshop, she is very much loved by her students, especially blind women who thus find a meaning to their lives.

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