From the manners of dealing with books is that a student of knowledge focuses his attention on the revised and accurate editions of books only. In the old days, books used to be bought from a manuscript transcriber known as a warraaq. A person was called a warraaq if he had a place where he would manually transcribe a copy of a book and sell it to buyers or sell it to someone who intended to sell his manuscripts (i.e. dealers). These people were known as warraaqoon – those who devoted their time to transcribing books by hand or to just selling books. Amongst these transcribers were those who were vary careful in their work and others who weren’t.
The closest things in resemblance to them in our time are the publishing houses and print shops that exist today. They have inherited the work of the warraaqoon throughout the passage of time. This is why we say that the occupation of the copyists was taken over in detail as time passed on by the scholars. A student of knowledge should strive to buy a verified and edited book or to transcribe one by hand whilst comparing what he has copied to the original manuscript. Or he should buy a book and compare it with a reliable source copy that is studied in the presence of scholars and so on and so forth.
What this means is that a student of knowledge should focus on acquiring the authentic and verified editions of book whether in manuscript or published form. In this day and age, most of the students of knowledge devote their attention and concern to only the published books. This is why we see that the books in print today are many.
The publication of books in the Arabic Language began a little more than five centuries ago, i.e. printing books in Arabic started more than 500 years ago, which was around 1400-1500 AD, since that is the time they were dated. However, the majority of the books that were printed in the Arabic Language in the Arab and Muslim lands only occurred in the last two-hundred years. Whatever was printed before that was published in the western countries due to their high regard for publishing books.
The point of all this is to show that the publication of books is something old and well established. Today one can find displayed in the marketplaces and stores a variety of different publishing companies, books, and names of verifiers and editors, etc. This is why many times that a phrase or a sentence is quoted from a recently published book, which is not necessarily revised accurately or precisely, the result is that discrepancies and mix-ups occur.
This happened to me several times while teaching in the mosque’s study area. I confirm the reading of a passage (from a book being studied), for example, based on an accurate edition of the book, then one of the students of knowledge comes and presents a recent edition of the same book in which the passage in there is inaccurate. The reason for this is because the contemporary publishing companies are not all precise and meticulous with the books they print. This also can apply to the older publishing companies. So regardless if the book was published a long time ago or recently, you should strive to find which edition of the book is the most accurate.
If you are interested in purchasing a book or acquiring knowledge on some subject, you must seek to attain the most accurate edition of the book that has been published with precision. So you should ask the people of knowledge or those who have expertise on this subject, saying for example: “What is the most reliable edition of such and such book?” “What is the most accurate edition of Tafseer Al-Qurtubee?” “What is the most accurate edition of Tafseer At- Tabaree?” “What is the most accurate edition of Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree?” – which if you acquire, you will keep in your library and have no need for another edition of the book to go along with it.
What we have observed today from many publications is that you find the publishing companies only print books for commercial purposes and so they come out unreliable. This is why you should ask about which edition you should acquire or which edition you want to purchase. So you should not just buy any book that is thrown at you. Rather, you should ask about it and become aware of the publishing company that has produced it.
If a certain individual has verified and reviewed the publication of the book, you should ask about whether or not this individual is accurate or inaccurate in his verification. Is he a businessman or not? And so on and so forth. To reiterate, a student of knowledge should focus on acquiring only the most accurate edition of a particular book.
He should only buy a book after enquiring about it. For example, you should ask: “Which is the most accurate edition of Tafseer Al-Qurtubee?” So if you receive an answer to this question, you should then go and strive to acquire this edition of the book regardless of whether it is printed or photocopied or published in modern times via computer formatting. You should strive to acquire only the correct and accurate editions of books.
What I have noticed according to my opinion is that most of the books that the brothers have in their hands are editions that are not accurate and precise. They may have a valid copy of the book however it is not completely accurate.
Some individual has taken charge of the overview of its publication but what he has done can hardly be called “taking charge.” Or it is said that the edition was amended by the publishing house and so on and so forth, however, it contains mistakes and errors the likes of which make the edition defective and not fit for a student of knowledge to acquire and reference and use for researching information.
Therefore, the second etiquette is that a student of knowledge should strive to acquire the accurate and precise editions regardless of whether they are printed in older form or they are recent publications. What is important is that the edition is accurate. So one should get to know and become acquainted with which publishing companies are meticulous and precise and which publishing companies are not. This is so that he will be able to know and distinguish which editors are just interested in business from which ones show great concern and care for their verifications. By doing this, he will also be able to tell the advantages that certain editions have over others, as well as how many times one book has been published.
We will diverge from the topic a little here and say that a student of knowledge should also be careful when looking into verifications and what people do nowadays such as placing footnotes and comments in their books. He should be aware of the different editions that exist for a book because it may be for example that an editor makes a reference to a volume and page number of a particular book and the reader believes that the book was only printed once. So when he goes to reference the volume and page number of the edition that he has, he cannot find it and says: “This person has erred or made a mistake.” It is possible that this same book was published over a hundred times or twenty times of thirty times or five times or four times and so on and so forth. So if a student of knowledge is aware of the different editions of the book and the number of times it was printed and the advantages and merits that some editions have over others, this is from the supplementary forms of knowledge that is from the general etiquettes that a student of knowledge should abide by.