By Geoffrey Roper

The 15th-century German craftsman Johannes Gutenberg is often credited with inventing the art of printing. There is no doubt that this brought about a tremendous revolution in human communication and accumulation of knowledge, but was it really invented in 15th-century Europe? Gutenberg does seem to have been the first to devise a printing press, but printing itself, i.e. making multiple copies of a text by transferring it from one raised surface to other portable surfaces (especially paper) is much older.

The Chinese were doing it as early as the 4th century. By the 8th century Arab Muslims were also printing texts, including passages from the Qur'aan. They embraced the Chinese craft of paper making, developed it and adopted it widely in Muslim lands. This led to a major growth in the production of manuscripts. Early printed texts included collection of prayers, Qur'aanic extracts and the Names of Allah, for which there was a huge demand among Muslims. In 10th century Egypt, the technique was adopted of printing these texts on paper strips, and supplying them in multiple copies to meet demand. One good late example is printed on Italian watermarked paper of the 15th century.
So Muslim printing continued for 500 years. It may have influenced the eventual adoption of printing in Europe: In fact, in view of the spread of knowledge from the Muslim world to Europe with the conquest of Spain in the 1400’s, it is highly probable. What is not in doubt is that Muslims were practising the craft of printing five centuries before Gutenberg.