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Sultan Ahmet III Permits Printing on Secular Topics by Müteferrika While Protecting the 4000 Scribes in Istanbul


With the support of the Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Müteferrika addressed a petition to Ahmet III, Sultan of Constantinople (Istanbul) in the form of an essay entitled Wasilat al-Tiba'a, (Vesiletu-t Tibaa) The Utility of Printing, in which he showed the losses to Islamic learning from the absence of print and the great benefits that printing would bring to Muslims in general and Ottomans in particular. Müteferrika, the founder of the first Turkish printing press, was born in Hungary and trained as a Calvinist minister.  Between 1692 and 1693 he fell into the hands of Ottoman troops, was enslaved, and then converted to Islam. He quickly rose within the Ottoman administration; Sultan Ahmet III promoted him to his personal corps of guards, which was called the Müteferrika.

Convinced by Müteferrika's essay, Sultan Ahmet III issued a firman (ferman) authorizing Sait Efendi and Müteferrika to open a printing house in Istanbul for printing in Arabic type. The authorization was limited only for books on practical or secular subjects. This edict protected the more than 4,000 professional scribes of Istanbul, whose work consisted almost entirely of copying the Qur'an, the collections of Islamic canonical traditions, and legal texts.

Müteferrika's press, called the Dârü’t-tıbâ’ati’l-ma’mûre, but more widely known as the Basma Khāne (printing house), was the first of its kind in the Islamic world. It operated between 1729 and 1742, producing 17 titles in 22 volumes, with a total press run for all the tiles combined of 12,200-13,700 copies. The titles issued included geographies, histories, and dictionaries. Müteferrika took an active role in the production process by editing, writing, and translating as he saw fit. 

Meteferrika's The Utlity of Printing was translated into English by Christopher M. Murphy and published in Atiyeh (ed) The Book in the Islamic World. The Written Word and Communication in the Middle East (1995) 286-92.  The Firman of Ahmed III was also translated into English and published in Atiyeh's book on pp. 284-85. 

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