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Technology and Religious Change: Islam and the Impact of Print

  • Francis Robinson (a1)

A historian, like any other scholar, incurs many debts. I am no exception. I would like to begin this occasion by acknowledging some of those debts. I have benefited greatly from the generosity of colleagues—from the generosity of colleagues in my particular field of Islamic and South Asian history in North America, Europe and the Subcontinent, but also from the generosity of historians in general. It is a great privilege to work amongst historians in the University of London, who form arguably the largest group of historians in the world, that work together.

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1 Inaugural lecture given on 4 March 1992 at the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College as Professor of the History of South Asia in the University of London. I am particularly grateful to my colleague, Rosalind Thomas, for allowing me to read the typescript of her forthcoming book, Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1992 forthcoming). She has enabled me to see the pitfalls of this subject and to embark upon it with greater ease than I had the right to expect.

2 The printing from moveable type was done by Pi Sheng in China during the years AD 1041–49. Because of the vast number of characters required in Chinese, the invention was not widely adopted. Gutenberg's invention was made without knowledge of the Chinese discovery.

3 McLuhan Marshall, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Routledge & Kegan Paul: London, 1962);Steiner George, Language and Silence (Faber & Faber: London, 1967); much work has also been done on the subtler effects of print on consciousness by Ong Walter J., The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 1967);Rhetoric, Romance and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1971);Orality and Literacy; The Technologizing of the Word (Methuen: London, 1982); ‘Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought’in Baumann G. (ed), The Written Word: Literacy in Transition (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1986).

4 Bacon Fancis, Novum Organum, Aphorism 129 inBacon FrancisAdvancement of Learning and Novum Organum (The Colonial Press: New York, 1899), p. 366.

5 Eisenstein Elizabeth L., The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communication and Cultural Transformation in Early-Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1979), vols I and II.

6 Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 366–7.

7 Kaplan Mehmet, Tevfik Fikret ve siiri (Turkiye Yayinevi: Istanbul, 1946), p. 19 cited in Mardin SerifReligion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzza man Said Nursi (State University of New York Press: Albany, 1989), p. 120.

8 Robinson Francis, Separatism among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces' Muslims 1860–1923 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1974), pp. 77–8

9 Carter Thomas F.Islam as a Barrier to Printing’, The Moslem World, 1943, XXXIII, pp. 21316;Pedersen J.The Arabic Book trans. French G., ed. Hillenbrand R. (Princeton University Press: Princeton, N. J., 1984), pp. 131–41;Fischer Michael M. J. and Abedi Mehdi, Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition (Universty of Wisconsin Press: Madison, 1989), pp. 93–4.

10 An outstanding analysis of the essential orality of the Quran is to be found in Graham William A., Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1987), pp. 79115.

11 Constance Padwick E., Muslim Devotions: A Study of Prayer-Manuals in Common Use (SPCK: London, 1961), p. 119.

12 Graham , Beyond the Written Word, pp. 96–7.

13 Khaldun Ibn, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, trans. Rosenthal Franz, ed. Dawood N. J., (Princeton University Press: Princeton, N. J., 1967), p. 421.

14 Pedersen , The Arabic Book, pp. 2036.

15 Idem.; Mitchell Timothy, Colonizing Egypt (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1988), pp. 128–60.

16 Khaldun Ibn, The Muqaddimah, p. 431.

17 Ibid., pp. 431–3; Mitchell, Colonizing Egypt, pp. 150–4.

18 An ijaza given by al-Mutarriz to his pupil Abu Ja'far al-Tabari, the great historian and commentator on the Quran, Pedersen , The Arabic Book, p. 36.

19 Ibid., p. 35;

Mitchell , Colonizing Egypt, pp. 150–4;Nasr Sayyed Hossein, ‘Oral Transmission and the Book in Islamic Education: The Spoken and the Written Word’, Journal of Islamic Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 01 1992, pp. 114.

20 This statement appears in a trenchant exposition of how teachers should be venerated, Von Grunebaum E. E. and Abel T. M. (trans. and eds), Az- Zarnuji: Ta'lim al Muta'llim-Tariq at-Ta'allum: Instruction of the Student: the Method of Learning (The Iranian Institute and School of Asiatic studies, New York, 1947), p. 32.

21 Statement by Maulana Abdul Bari, the leading Firangi Mahali scholar of the early twentieth century in Qidwai Altaf al-Rahman, Qiyam-i Nizam-i Ta'lim (Lucknow, 1924), p. 86.

22 These arguments are developed in relation to Islam and printing. Nevertheless, it is recognized that the widespread printing of books was also not adopted in the Hindu, Chinese and Japanese worlds until the nineteenth century. In these areas too there were cultural and political barriers to the adoption of printing. In Hinduism, for instance, ‘the oral word has remained the only fully acceptable and authoritative form for sacred texts for over two, possibly over two and one-half, millennia after the implementation of writing’. Graham , Beyond the Written Word, p. 68.

23 For a discussion of the style and content of the first Urdu newspaper published by a Firangi Mahali, Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub, see Iqbal Husain, ‘Lucknow between the Annexation and the Mutiny’, unpublished paper, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, which analyses Tilism-i Lakhnaw, which came out in 1856 and 1857.

24 Karnamah was the second of Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub's papers and appeared for three decades from the 1860s. Thomas Holloway manufactured patent medicines and pioneered the intensive use of newspaper advertising for the marketing of products. He used part of his fortune to found the Royal Holloway College, University of London. Bingham Caroline, The Histoy of the Royal Holloway College 1886–1986 (Constable: London, 1987).

25 Metcalf Barbara D., Islamic Rivival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900 (Princeton University Press: Princeton N.J., 1982), pp. 198215.

26 Ibid., pp. 203–10;

see a series of articles on the translation of the Quran into Tamil, Telegu, Kannada and Gujarati in Christian Troll W. (ed.), Islam in India: Studies and Commentaries, vol. I, (Vikas: New Delhi, 1982), pp. 135–67

and on the translation of the Quran into Malayalam in Ibid., vol. II, (Vikas: New Delhi, 1985), pp. 229–36.

27 Metcalf , Islamic Revival, pp. 205–6.

28 Metcalf Barbara D., Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi's Bihishti Zewar: A Partial Translation with Commentary (University of California Press: Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1990), p. 376. This advice comes in the first of three essays with which Thanawi ends his book. It is entitled ‘On acquiring further knowledge and the names of Worthwhile and harmful books’ and lists worthwhile and, perhaps unwisely, harmful books.

29 Metcalf , Islamic Revival, pp. 46260.

30 Robinson , Separatism, pp. 186.

31 The early uniform of Aligarh College included the wearing of a Turkish fez. Abdul Halim Sharar tells how in the late nineteenth century the ulama of Firangi Mahal, and also Shibli Nomani, were beginning to adopt the styles of Syria and Egypt. At the same time Shia ulama were following Persian fashions. Sharar Abdul Halim, Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, trans. and ed. by Harcourt E. S. and Fakhir Hussain, (Paul Elek: London, 1975), p. 176.

32 From Iqbal's Rumuz-i-Bekhudi or ‘The Mysteries of Selflessness’, in de Bary W. Theodore (ed.), Sources of Indian Tradition (Columbia University Press: New York, 1958), p. 756.

33 Speech of Shibli to the Nadwat-ul-Ulama in 1894. Ikram S. M., Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan (1858–1951) (Sh. Muhammad Ashraf: Lahore, 1965), pp. 139–40.

34 See Robinson , Separatism, pp. 284–6.

35 Ibid., pp. 289–356;

Minault Gail, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbols and Political Mobilization in India (Columbia University Press: New York, 1982).

36 See, for instance, Ahmed Akbar S., Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society (Routledge & Kegan Paul: London, 1988).

37 Walter H. A., The Ahmadiyya Movement (Humphrey Milford: London, 1918);Friedmann Yohannan, Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and its Medieval Background (Uniersity of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989); and Robinson Francis, ‘Ahmad and the Ahmadiyya’, History Today, vol. 40, 06 1990, pp. 42–7.

38 Troll Christian W., Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology (Vikas: New Delhi, 1978), pp. 105–70.

39 Troll emphasizes that Saiyid Ahmad's insistence that the word of God and the work of God could not be in conflict echoes the line taken by the Archdeacon of Calcutta of the time, John Pratt, in his Scrioture and Science not at Variance, which was first published in 1856. Saiyid Ahmad frequently refers to Pratt's book in his commentary on the Bible. Troll , Sayyid Ahmad Khan, p. 155.

40 Emmanuel Sivan, the historian of jihad in the later Middle Ages, tells us how he was drawn to study the Muslim Brotherhood and its more recent offshoots in Egypt and elsewhere by discovering large quantities of newly published medieval Islamic texts, in particular the works of Ibn Taimiya and Ibn Kathir, in bookshops in East Jerusalem and in Cairo: ‘these books, smelling of fresh print, were quickly snatched off the bookstalls by people in all walks of life, but especially by youngsters in modern garb. … I noticed that the introductions and commentaries thereof … [made[ an evident effort … to reflect upon the meaning these texts could have for a modern and totally different historical situation.’ Sivan Emmanuel, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 1985), p. ix–x. For the Nurcular, see Mardin , Religion and Social Change.

41 Mardin , Religion and Social Change, pp. 181–2.

42 Ibid., p. 4.

43 Sweeney Amin, A Full Hearing: Orality and Literacy in the Malay World, (University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987), pp. 267302.

44 Metcalf Barbara D., ‘Meandering Madrasas: Education, Itinerancy and the Tablighi Jama'at’, paper delivered to the workshop on the purposes of education and information, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 12 1991.

45 Much has been made in recent years of the role played by radio cassettes of Ayatollah Khomeini's sermons in the making of the Iranian revolution. See Chelkowski Peter, ‘Popular Entertainment, Media and Social Change in Twentieth-Century Iran’ in Avery Peter et al. (eds), The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 7, p. 814 and

Avery Peter, ‘Printing, the Press and Literature in Modern Iran’ in ibid., p. 829.

Less dramatic, however, but rather more important in a general sense is the way in which electronic media are coming to serve regular habits of piety, whether it be the morning reading of the Quran on the wireless, Graham , Beyond the Written Word, p. 104, or the home use of video-cassettes of leading Middle Eastern preachers in France.Reeber Michel, ‘A Study of Muslim Preaching in France’, Islam and Christian Muslim Relations, vol. 2, no. 2, 12 1991, pp. 275–94.

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Modern Asian Studies
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