in category Ottomans

Was the banning of the printing press contributory to Ottoman decline?

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In a Nutshell:
This incident has little to do with the eventual downfall of the Ottoman Caliphate. Historically, the Ottomans took precautionary measures to stop the distortion of religious texts. Printing, in general, was never banned; printing of religious books was banned for a limited period to achieve this. Other books and materials were printed via presses in the Ottoman lands.


Europe's historic critique of Islam was often vitriolic, pejorative and distortative of the image of Muhammad (saw) and Islam. Much of it was little more than propaganda with politically inspired goals.

Nicetas of Byzantium is such an example. Around 860 A.D he wrote the book "Refutation of Quran" arguing the Quran was a fabricated book. He wrote it at the request of Michael III who was the Byzantine Emperor of the Amorian dynasty.

Muslims had conquered the entire Persian Empire and Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine), taken North Africa from the Roman Empire, Spain was under the rule of Muslims and Muslims fought the battle of Tours in Western France. The Roman Empire was shaken by these conquests and feared its days were numbered. Amongst such concerns "Refutation of Quran" was written to create opinion against Muslims. This is a visible pattern seen since the origins of Islam. The Ottoman era saw such ongoing efforts.

Not long after the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Muslims lost Spain. Printing technology was now available where anything could be printed in mass production.

In 1537, the Venetian printing press, under the authority of Paganino and Alexandro Paganini, altered the Quran. He sought to spread it amongst Muslims under the Ottomans to spark the instability in the region

From this event, the Ottomans adopted new policies to control this situation.

Printing Press in Ottoman Lands

Ottomans were first introduced to the printing press by the Sephardic Jews in Istanbul in 1494 in Thessaloniki. The Ottomans had previously granted protection to the Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain following the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. The refugees from Spain and Portugal had brought the printing press technology with them to Istanbul, Salonika, Edirne and Izmir. However, these printing houses were managed by Greek, Armenian and the Jewish community.

Muslims preferred hand-written books laced with art and grace. Ottoman scholars and Muslims focused on aesthetics, enjoying books written with elegant handwriting and whose ink shone, along with edges ornamented with gold gilt along with covers made with care. Reading books was not seen as a necessity but a pleasure.

Was the banning of the printing press contributory to Ottoman decline?

Due to the distortion of the Qur'an by the Venetians, the Ottomans became critical of the printing press and implemented policies to address this issue.

Many Ottoman jurists suggested various responses and it was decided to adopt precautionary measures limiting printing religious texts via such presses.

Printing Press and Ottoman Decline

Fast forward to the 1700s, the first printing press belonging to Muslims was established by Ibrahim Müteferrika in 1727, during the Tulip Era, when the Ottoman industrial revolution began. It was opened 36 years later than the first printing press in New York. Said Effendi, who had been taken to the Ottoman embassy in Paris as a clerk by his father Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi, admired the printing press in Paris. Upon his return, he assigned İbrahim Agha, of Hungarian descent who converted into Islam, to build one similar to the one in Paris. At that time, İbrahim Agha gave the grand vizier a pamphlet titled "Tasheel at-Tıbaa." He said many Islamic works were lost in Al-Andalus and other calamities, and there were not enough calligraphy artists to copy the books free of error and told him about the benefits of the printing press:

"The duplication of important books is useful for all. It helps the content of the books to spread. Their writings are legible and are not affected by water. Printing is a profitable art. Thousands of books can be printed, while a volume of a book is written by hand, allowing books to be cheaper. An index is added in the beginning and the end of the book and one can find what he is looking for easily. It would be easy to access books in the rural areas. Building libraries will support Madrasas; hence, the number of people who study science will increase. It serves for the spreading of Islam.

Books in Arabic and Farsi, which were published by the Europeans, as they have understood their importance, are filled with mistakes; these mistakes can be prevented. Printing press augments the honour of the state."

The Ottomans thus allowed its use in their lands not along after its availability. Initially, most technologies require refining before they are applied in useful ways. As the printing press was restricted for religious texts, there is no correlation between Ottoman Decline and the printing press at all.

Even the alleged notion of "Ottoman Decline" is vague and debatable as explained in this answer.


The constant misrepresentation of Ottoman history has made the truth difficult to ascertain. But with a critical approach, it is possible to separate myth, revisionism and facts of history to construct an accurate historic narrative.


Ekrem Buğra Ekinci, Myths and reality about the printing press in the Ottoman Empire

Dr. Hidayet Y. Nuhoglu, Ottomans and the Printing Press: Answering Misconceptions

Kathryn A. Schwartz, Did Ottoman Sultans Ban Print?

Par la vefue I. Keruert et Guillaume Chaudiere, 1584, Vol. 2

Euclid, Euclidis Elementorum geometricorum libri tredecim

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