Taha Al-Rabiei preserving the city's history

The resilience of Al-Hikma Library: a cultural haven in Karbala

KARBALA, November 11 — In the late seventies, Karbala-based writer Taha Al-Rabiei won a bicycle in a competition organized by Radio Baghdad. After more than half a century, Al-Rubai still rides that bicycle to Al-Hikma, one of the most important libraries in Karbala, and the headquarters of Sada Karbala magazine, where author An’am Kajaji and the late writer Alaa Mashzoub, until his assassination in February 2019, have been featured.

Al-Rabiei opens the doors to his library each morning, begins to organize the books, and then continues writing about the heritage of his city.

Taha Al-Rabiei, owner of Al-Hikma Library:

“In addition to my continuous work writing about Karbala, I have been managing my library, Al-Hikma, since 1994. Its location has shifted multiple times within the old city until it finally settled in the Eastern Al-Abbasia district more than 10 years ago. From my library, I publish the Sada Karbala magazine, which first came out in 2006, focusing on the city’s heritage and reaching its 50th issue. Many Iraqi and Arab researchers and writers have contributed to my magazines, including the late Dr. Alaa Mashzoub, the novelist An’am Kajaji, and the poet Imad Al-Din Al-Tunisi.

My journey with writing began in 1976 when I participated in a competition organized by the Egyptian magazine Al-Izā‘a wa al-Televiziyon about the pyramids in the Egyptian national anthem, and my contribution was about the songs of Abdel Halim, and I won the competition. I have several works on the city’s history, such as the Encyclopedia of Art Figures in Karbala, The Chosen in Karbala: Social Inheritance between Generations, Public Baths in Karbala, History of Music in Karbala, History of Theater in Karbala, and ‘Encyclopedia of Figures in Music and Singing in Iraq. In the late seventies, I won a bicycle in a competition on Radio Baghdad, and I still keep it to this day, riding it daily to work. I regret that the demand for paper books has greatly declined due to the majority of young people turning to the internet and digital books. During economic sanctions, and despite the difficult financial conditions, the book market was good, unlike what it is today.”

Ali Luftah, novelist, journalist, and one of the pioneers of Al-Hikma Library:

The Al-Hikma Library is one of the oldest libraries in the city of Karbala, and perhaps the only one that has continued to resist the negative changes that have affected society, turning the Iraqi individual into a consumer. However, this library, from its name alone, seems to be the only one that fights and resists.

The credit goes to the owner of this library, who has spent his life trying to preserve it, resisting even changes in rent prices.

Taha Al-Rabiei not only works in the library but is also a journalist, the editor-in-chief of a magazine, a successful author, blending investigative work and research in his books.

The Al-Hikma Library has also become a reference for students and professors alike — for those who want to inquire about any book, magazine, or newspaper.”

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