The Al-Biruni Institute of Oriental Studies and its predecessors have been operating a sustained programme of collecting ancient manuscripts from Central Asia since 1870. The collection to date includes some 18,000 volumes. These are hand-written texts in the languages of Central Asia, Arabic and the various Persian and Turkic languages. Central Asia is a cultural cross-roads and the collection, in its multitude of scripts and languages, shows this very clearly. The great medieval scholars, poets and philosophers of Central Asia contributed greatly to human cultural and scientific development: their findings greatly influenced the Western scholars of the Renaissance. The region has been for a long time a centre of Islamic scholarship, and the collection has texts dating from the Middle Ages on subjects such as history, literature, philosophy, law, astronomy, physics, chemistry, pharmacology, geography, music, fine arts and mathematics. The collection is of great significance for the study of the history and culture of the peoples of Central Asia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Arab world, and of the political, diplomatic and cultural relations between them.
Many of the volumes in the collection are the only copy of the text known to exist and many are exquisitely illustrated by painted miniatures. Among the treasures in the collection are the sole copy known to exist today of a 10th century work on chemistry by Abu Bakr Al-Razi; one of the only three copies of the original text of the "Kitab-e-Sindibad"; the oldest copy of "Kalila wa Dimna"; one of the oldest known copies of Biruni's "Tafkhim li Availi Sinaat alTandjim" (The Book of Teaching of the Fundamentals of Astrology); and the original manuscripts of Nizami's and Navoi's "Khamsa" embellished by prominent miniaturists and calligraphers of the day. The entire collection was inscribed on the International the Memory of the World Register in 1997.