So… you missed the famous book exhibition in Cairo this year (the ma3rad), or you have come to Cairo with a huge list of books and can’t seem to get them all at your local bookshop? Or maybe you’ve decided it’s time that your bookshelf had a new makeover :)
Welcome to Darb al-Atrak.
I was on the phone to a dear friend of mine a a couple of weeks back when I mentioned I needed some classic works so if she was interested in accompanying me, to let me know. She called me back some time later asking:
‘Have you been book-shopping yet?’
‘Nope, haven’t had a chance.’
‘Make sure you’re free on Monday. We’re going Darb al-Atraak.’
‘Darb al-Atraak, a street behind al-Azhar. I’ve never been there but was told they have a lot of books.’
‘Sounds interesting, let’s check it out. Meet you after Dhuhr insha’Allah.’
And so we set off… as we reached al-Azhar Mosque and Khan Khalili area (Sooq Husayn), we were told Darb al-Atrak street was just behind it. We got the directions, took a deep breath and went down the narrow and busy road.
Perhaps only other book lovers like myself and my friend will appreciate the scene we saw next. Putting aside the dingy narrow road lined with rubbish, cats and funny smells… we saw what can only be described as treasure – rows and rows of a lot of famous publishing houses, book distributors and maktabat! Absolutely superb.
Ok, you’re probably thinking ‘enough of the exageration and get to the point already’ :)
Coming to the crunch of this blog post… If you need to purchase a lot of books, you need not wait for things like the Book Exhibition which takes place in Feb every year (Cairo). Instead, the best thing to do is locate the publishers around your area and visit them with your list of books.
One such area is the one I visited above, Darb al-Atrak, which houses some well-known publishers such as Maktaba al-Safa, Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, Dar al-’Aqidah, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq to name but a few. The prices of the books they stock are very decent (cheap) because it’s straight from the warehouse itself. I think I purchased Hilyat al-Awliya (10 vol.) for about £9, Sharh of Ibn Taymiyyah’s Muqaddimah in Usul al-Tafsir for about £1.30, and Tafsir Tabari which I didn’t managed to get this time round was at £25 (12 or 14 vol.). They have various tahqiqat, taba’at (editions) and the latest publications and the other good thing is that they all have contact with each other so if the store that you’re in doesn’t have what you need, they dash over to another publishers and get it for you lol.
I think I found most of my books in Dar al-’Aqidah which has another branch in Alexandria, but was able to get some of my other books from Dar Ibn al-Jawzi as they stock some of the Saudi publications too.
Any other places?
Yes. But you need to find them!
Last year, I purchased most of my books from a place next to ‘Ataba (which is about 10mins from Azhar itself). I believe it’s called Sooq (or soor) al-Azbekiyyah. Take the metro going to Giza and get off at ‘Ataba. As you come out from the Akbekiyyah exit onto the square, go straight ahead where there are many small make-shift makatabat. Last time I checked, they had some rare collections masha’Allah and again, the prices are quite decent. However they may not have such a huge range of taba’at, and a couple of months ago a friend told me they were rebuilding the area so I’m not sure if that’s complete yet.
So there you have it folks, something to keep you busy next time you go to Azhar area.
In Darb al-Atrak, I was so intrigued that I spent hours just flicking through books, requesting titles, crossing through my lists and getting lost in between piles of books (I even knocked down a couple!). The intial idea was to go, get the books and make it home as soon as possible but have you ever tried to get 2 women do any shopping in short space of time? Ha, never happens. My friend, who I was relying on to pull me out of the stores actually turned out to be worse than me… each time one of us would ask:
My friend: ‘You ready to go?’
Me: ‘Yeah sure, 5 mins insha’Allah’
Me: ‘I’m done now alhamdulillah, are you?’
My friend: ‘Yep, just 5 more minutes.’
Half an hour later, we’re still there reading! And to make it worse, I didn’t manage to get through my booklist! Oh well, Qaddarallahu wa maa shaa’a fa3ala… I guess that means I have to go back again lol.