A Portrait of the Printer as a Young Man. The Transylvanian Past of the First Ottoman Printer


Focusing on a case of conversion to Islam, Orlin Sabev (Orhan Salih)'s article explores the fate of a citizen of Cluj (Klausenburg, Kolozsvár), who eventually acquired a new Ottoman and Muslim identity as Ibrahim Müteferrika. He enjoyed a diplomatic career at the Ottoman court, but also made his mark beyond the Ottoman borders as the first Ottoman printer. Despite the lack of information concerning Ibrahim Müteferrika's life before conversion, the study aims to reconstruct a portrait of his youth based on his later writings and his activity as a printer in the Ottoman capital. The essay relies on contemporary narratives of the printer's life and activity, including Müteferrika's auto-biographical notes from an untitled treatise written in 1710, which obliquely provide insight into his Transylvanian past. Müteferrika's text also describes the experience of conversion. Consequently, the study attempts to understand the circumstances of Müteferrika's conversion to Islam, the context for his arrival in the Ottoman Empire and his religious affiliation while he was still living in Transylvania. The essay wishes to understand both Müteferrika's reasons for converting, the ways he wished to present the experience as well as his behaviour as a convert, the degree of commitment to his new faith, suggesting that Müteferrika's intellectual portrait was certainly a symbiosis of his former Protestantism and subsequent Islamic proselytism. The study points out that Müteferrika remained anchored in two cultures and his main contribution to Ottoman civilization was printing. Müteferrika's portrait is completed through and examination of the works he printed, in order to reconstruct the intellectual background that informed his choices.