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
by
Aaron Rock-Singer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0276

Introduction

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.

  • Ayalon, Ami. The Press in the Arab Middle East: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    A classic and still unsurpassed overview of the rise of the press in the Middle East, focused on Lebanon and Egypt.

  • Chih, Rachida, Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, and Rüdigger Seesemann, eds. Sufism, Literary Production, and Printing in the Nineteenth Century. Baden, Germany: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 2015.

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    This eighteen-chapter edited volume traces the relationship among Sufism, literary production, and printing over the course of the 19th century. Pushing back against narratives that argue for Sufism’s decline in the face of the changes of modernity and against a focus exclusively on the Ottoman Empire and Arab world, the authors collectively show how Sufi scholars and orders successfully responded to the ruptures and opportunities of this period from the Ottoman lands, across Asia and into sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Göçek, Fatma Müge. “Printing Press.” In East Encounter West: France and the Ottoman Empire in the Eighteenth Century. Edited by Fatma Müge Göçek, 108–115. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

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    An analysis of the trajectory of the printing press in the Ottoman Empire, which highlights the 1726 decision to establish an Ottoman printing press.

  • Mahdi, Muhsin. “From the Manuscript Age to the Age of Printed Books.” In The Book in the Islamic World: The Written Word and Communication in the Middle East. Edited by George Atiyeh, 1–16. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

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    This chapter examines the initially slow pace of the adoption of print in the Islamic world broadly, with reference to Muslim concern with error-ridden printing of religious texts, as well as the continued social significance of the manuscript tradition.

  • Proudfoot, Ian. “Mass Producing Houri’s Moles or Aesthetics and Choice of Technology in Early Muslim Book Printing.” In Islam: Essays on Scripture, Thought, and Society. Edited by Peter G. Riddel and Tony Street, 161–184. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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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.

  • Robinson, Francis. “Technology and Religious Change: Islam and the Impact of Print.” Modern Asian Studies 27.1: 229–251.

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    This article argues that the spread of printing presses was a response by Muslim states in Egypt, Iran, and the Ottoman Empire to the threat of Western powers.

  • Schwartz, Kathryn A. “Book History, Print, and the Modern Middle East.” History Compass (2017a).

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    An overview of recent research on the history of the book in the Middle East.

  • Schwartz, Kathryn A. “Did Ottoman Sultans Ban Print?” Book History 20 (2017b): 1–39.

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    A historiographical critique of scholarship on Ottoman printing that tackles both the actual process by which the Ottomans adopted print and the transmission of a rumor from early modern Europe that two Ottoman sultans had banned print in the Ottoman Empire itself.

  • Schwartz, Kathryn A. “The Political Economy of Private Printing in Cairo as Told from a Commissioning Deal Turned Sour, 1871.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 49.1 (2017c): 25–45.

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    This article critiques technology-centered approaches to the history of Islamicate print, arguing that, during the third quarter of the 19th century, private printing in Ottoman Cairo emerged from local traditions for producing manuscripts and out of local needs. In doing so, Schwartz disentangles the spread of print in this intellectual center from the rise of a nahda (cultural awakening) and nationalism during the second half of the 19th century.

  • Schwartz, Kathryn A., and Adam Mestyan. An Egyptian Sheikh’s Literary World: Digitally Reconstructing Islamic Print Culture Through Mustafa Salamah al-Najjari’s (d. 1870) Book Collection. Blog.

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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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