Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion


The project will explore a central hypothesis: Reforms in Islamic textual tradition and ritual practice during the 19thand 20th centuries took place within existing authority structures and led to a series of adaptations rather than breaks from tradition.

Abdallah BaKathir (d. Zanzibar 1925), Rihlat al-Ashwaq. MS copy (Zanzibar 1998) and prisnt (Cairo 1936).

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Current research argues that “something” changed in Islamic thought during the 19th century and that this transformation is still ongoing. Where local Sufi brotherhoods once held religious authority based on a combination of ritual and text, a new, “global” Islam emerged that emphasized the foundational texts (the Quran and the Prophet’s practice). Researchers have offered many explanations for this shift, but particularly highlighted the rise of print from the mid-19th century. They argue that reformist texts could be more widely distributed as a result, and that traditional Sufi texts lost out in the modern world of print capitalism.

A core hypothesis of the MprinT project is that this perceived break between “traditional/local” and “modern/global” Islam must be tested by actual research into not only what Muslims read, but also HOW THEY READ. Were Sufi texts really discarded in the transition to print? How were texts transmitted orally after the transition – through recitation practices and rituals?  How did this vary across locations? Are we really looking at a break from tradition, or was this a shift – via a series of adaptations – that took within the existing Islamic tradition?

In the MprinT project, we will answer these questions by mapping and documenting the manuscript-to-print transition along the Swahili coast of East Africa. By comparing texts that circulated in manuscript form with printed texts that started circulating from c. 1900, we will test whether the emergence of print actually favoured “global” Islam.

A database will be set up where digital versions of will be made available. The MprinT project will also investigate how selected texts have continued through oral transmission until the present, through communal recitation, ritual and teaching. By mapping the usage of text, we will determine how people’s perception of text has varied, between locations, generations and genders.

In this way, we will pave the way for a better understanding of the relationship between “local” and “global” Islam. This will nuance the widespread understanding of the former as peaceful and inclusive and the latter as puritanical and potentially violent.

A group of researchers from Norway and their partners of the National Museum of Kenya

MAY 2022: MprinT meets with staff of partner National Museum of Kenya in for a one week workshop on the mapping and digitizing of Islamic manuscripts in the Lamu Archipelago.

National Museum of Kenya


Follow the MprinT project along the way: 

28 February–1 March 2023: MprinT project meeting in Bergen

For two days, the now fully staffed MprinT team met in Bergen to take stock of our work thus far and share experiences from the field and from our readings. Our project partners have collected thousands of digital images of a wide range of texts – from printed legal volumes to the most convoluted magic and astronomy fragments. One of our main challenges going forward will be catalgouing, and keeping order and system in the wealth of material. Above all, we discussed the core questions of the MpinT project: What changes and adappations can we see in this 19th-20th century corpus? What does this say about the manuscript-to-print transition and about the Islamic scriptural tradition during this shift?

Mprint projcet meeting in Bergen

Back row: Scott Reese (University of Hamburg), Mohamed Aydaroos Noor (PhD student, UiB), Raphael Michaeli (PhD student UiB) Front row: Kjersti Larsen (University of Oslo), Hatice Kubra Nugay (post-doc, UiB), Anne K. Bang (UiB)


Februar–March 2022: MprinT Field Work, Zanzibar  

The first MprinT field work was conducted in Zanzibar in February-March 2022. The field work included early mapping and digitising of manuscripts from villages beyond Zanzibar Stone Town, as well as mosques within the city. 

Activities also included a workshop with partner institutions from Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, Lamu Branch) and Zanzibar (Zanzibar Insititute for Archives and Records). Also part of the workshop were local scholars and custodians of textual and ritual heritage. 

In this way the MprinT project aims to produce new historical insight, but not least to bring attention to a documentary heritage that is literally crumbling as we speak.

Man waiting outside a Mosque

At the hawliya (commemoration) of Abd Allah BaKathir, a renowned Islamic scholar who died in Zanzibar in 1925

Anne Katrine Bang

Workshop with staff of MprinT partner National Museum of Kenya, Lamu Branch

Workshop with partners and custodians in Zanzibar

Raphael Michaeli

Two researchers mapping manuscripts

Field digitizing

Anne Katrine Bang

May 2022: Start of collaboration with National Museum of Kenya

MPRINT GETS UNDERWAY IN LAMU, KENYA: One week workshop with staff of MprinT partner National Museum of Kenya, Lamu Branch, on the mapping and digitizing of Islamic manuscripts in the Lamu Archipelago. An excellent team with diverse expertise, from Islamic scholarship to conservation and cataloguing, to historians and social anthropologists. And not to forget the IT champions! During the workshop a unique collection came in all the way from Ndau Island, just in time for the experts to identify, wrap and prepare for digitizing. All in the beautiful surroundings of Lamu Fort.

MPRINT GOES TO PATE ISLAND: Over the course of just one week, the NMK/MprinT team conducted a first mapping of Islamic manuscripts in Pate Island, Lamu. The field trip included onsite cataloguing by the best experts, order and system ensured by the Lamu Fort Library staff, and thoroughly documented by the right expertise. The meetings with custodians is an integral and important part of the MprinT project to enable local conservation of textual heritage, and to document the usage of the knowledge enshrined in these texts.

on the mapping and digitizing of Islamic manuscripts in the Lamu Archipelago
Anne Katrine Bang

One man taking photo of another mans book
Anne Katrine Bang

Old manuscript
Anne Katrine Bang

Group of researchers sits on the floor reading old Islamic manuscripts

MAY 2022: The field trip to Pate Island, Lamu, included onsite cataloguing by the best experts, order and system ensured by the Lamu Fort Library staff.

Anne Katrine Bang

May 2022: Early findings in Pate Island. With National Museum of Kenya team

MPRINT SPREADS ITS MESSAGE: An important part of the MprinT project is the interaction with custodians of texts, and their knowledge about its usage over time. During the recent field trip in Lamu, parts of the MprinT team spoke with local and regional media to raise awareness about the project on the East African coast. "Discovering" manuscripts is the media headline here, but in fact the textual heritage of East Africa is in no need to be discovered, as much as preserved, studied and appreciated as an inherent and living part of the Islamic tradition. 

Media coverage by Nation: 

Researchers discover Quran manuscript in Lamu believed to be Kenya's oldest

Nation News

National Museum of Kenya/MprinT

Video celebrating the Lamu local Ibrahim Athman BaSheikh who repairs worn-out books for the community.

Lamu's Unsung Hero – Ibrahim Basheikh

August 2022: MprinT PhD student Raphael Michaeli

Raphael Michaeli formally joined the MprinT team on August 1st – after several months as an “apprentice” in field work. Since his first travel to Egypt in 2010, Raphael has been learning Arabic and Muslim History in different contexts and institutions. His MA thesis at the FU Berlin focused on three early Sufi compilations written in Arabic. While comparing stories, narratives, and writing styles, he studied the process of the early Sufi ethos formation as reflected in these works. As part of the MprinT project he will focus the influence of print on Arabic Muslim textual production in East Africa. While comparing manuscript textual tradition and early prints, the aim is to study the process of textual validation, continuity, and change in the East African coast of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Raphael Michaeli studying old manuscripts

Raphael Michaeli Assists in sorting out of Ndau fragile piece of the Manuscripts at Lamu Fort Library.

Khadija Issa Twahir

October/November 2022: Start of collaboration with Zanzibar Institute for Archives and Records

MPRINT TRAINING AT ZIAR: In October/November, MprinT staff Kjersti Larsen and Anne K. Bang held a training workshop with staff of MprinT partner Zanzibar Institute of Archives and Records (ZIAR), on the mapping and digitizing of Islamic manuscripts. 

Working in the beautiful setting of the national archives, and with some of its unique treasures as training objects.

To persons studying old manuscripts on their computer

ZIAR staff mastering the digitalizing equipment used in the MprinT project

Anne Katrine Bang

One person studying an old book in a lab

ZIAR staff mastering the digitalizing equipment used in the MprinT project

Anne Katrine Bang