In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islamic Print Media

  • Introduction
  • Islam and Printing
  • Early Islamic Print Media: A Tradition in Transition
  • Islamic Movements and Print Media
  • States and Print Media
  • Islamic Print Media and Gender
  • Islamic Print Media and the Ulama

Islamic Studies Islamic Print Media
Aaron Rock-Singer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0276


The late 19th century saw the rise of a new textual object: Islamic print media. Whether journals, magazines, or books, these texts were self-consciously religious and reflected broader shifts in technology, literacy, and religious authority. Islamic print media was distinct from previous mediums for transmitting Islamic knowledge by its basic technological component: rather than a manuscript that must be copied by hand (and is thus produced in response to demand from particular purchasers), the cost of print media was bound up primarily in the original production process and erred on the side of greater, rather than lesser, diffusion. Over the past nearly century and a half, a still wider array of forms of Islamic print media have emerged, ranging from journals to magazines to short pocket-sized pamphlets. The rise and spread of Islamic print media was part and parcel of a broader shift in authority in Muslim-majority societies. It was a time of the decisive passing of an old order of urban notables by which prominent religious, economic, and military chiefs served as mediators between ruler and ruled. In its stead, new bureaucratic elites, often the product of state educational institutions, emerged as key participants in constituting a broader public sphere. In this context, the scholarly elite split between those who derived their authority primarily from association with modernizing states and others who sought to preserve the traditional independence of the ulama. It was a time during which Sufi orders struggled to retain their historic mediating function and declined in the face of an increasing powerful state (and the seizure of Islamic endowments controlled by these orders), as well as the rise of mass political movements. It was a time during which modernizing states laid increasing claim to the daily lives of its citizens through education, employment, and incarceration. It was also a time of rising literacy, which opened up new opportunities for scholars and lay men and women alike to define Islam for a broader audience. Crucially for those interested in affecting change, it was a time of popular protests across the Middle East and South Asia. Islamic print media was both a key technology and a central site of contestation in the midst of these momentous transformations. It would be used by lay persons who sought to challenge the old scholarly elite, as well as by these elites to retain or reconstitute their authority in radically different political, cultural, and religious circumstances. At the heart of the battle over Islamic print media was a basic question of authority: Who should be able to speak in the name of Islam? To what extent could Islamic print media producers take financial considerations into account? Should they include advertising, and if so, what kind of products were religiously legitimate? How should one treat an Islamic journal or magazine—was it a holy object or everyday ephemera? How was it similar to and different from non-Islamic print media? These tensions and questions, present in other forms of Islamic media today, would never be fully resolved.

Islam and Printing

A key question in the history of Islamic print media is why printing did not spread in the Middle East until the 19th -century. Scholars have challenged the assumption, implicit and explicit, that the Islamic tradition was hostile to printing due to a scriptually rooted distrust of innovation. Instead, they have shown that resistance to printing in the Middle East centered on its status as a guild activity, the existence of a limited reading audience, political censorship, and opposition by the ulama. With the arrival of sustained colonial conflict, the audience for print grew further as political leaders sought to use print in the anticolonial struggle (Proudfoot 1997). While the rise of colonial conflict and nationalism was a boon to print, other processes of trade, publishing, and colonial infrastructure also played important roles in promoting the spread of printing.

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    This chapter explores the history of print culture in India and the European colonies of Southeast Asia. Proudfoot decenters the Arab world by telling a story of the role of the East India Company in supplying lithographic presses, of the quick Muslim adoption of this technique during the first half of the 19th century, and of the broader influence of the “Indian model” in Iran and Southeast Asia.

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    This project seeks to reconstruct the inheritance inventory of Sheikh Mustafa Salamah al-Najjari (d. 1286/1870), an important intellectual in late Ottoman Egypt. This project documents the coexistence of manuscript and print culture in 19th-century Cairo.

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