Rediscovering the Islamic Classics Book Review


Title     Rediscovering the Islamic Classics, How Editors and Print Culture Transformed an Intellectual Tradition

Writer         : Ahmed El Shamsy

Publisher   : Princeton University Press (2020)

Page          312

Summary   :

The book "Rediscovering the Islamic Classics" by Ahmed El Shamsy traces the intellectual transformation of the Islamic world in the modern era through the lens of printing and print culture. Shamsy argues that the emergence and spread of printing technology changed how Islamic classics were disseminated and profoundly impacted how they interpreted and understood their intellectual heritage.

This book examines the role of editors, publishers, and intellectuals in selecting, translating, and re-editing classical Islamic texts. Shamsy shows how this process of selection and editorialization shapes our modern understanding of Islamic tradition and simultaneously raises questions about the authority and interpretation of intellectual heritage

Shamsy argues that printing has had a significant influence on the interpretation of Islamic intellectual heritage in several ways:

  • Democratization of knowledge: Printing allowed more comprehensive access to classical Islamic texts, previously available only to the elite. This encourages more involvement in intellectual discourse and opens up space for new interpretations.
  • Text standardization: The process of editorialization and publishing helps standardize the classical texts of Islam, which previously often contained different and conflicting versions. This provides a more solid basis for studying and interpreting these texts.
  • Secularization of knowledge: Printing allowed classical Islamic texts to be separated from the religious context and studied as scientific and literary works. This paved the way for a more secular and critical interpretation of Islam's intellectual heritage.

Shamsy gives several concrete examples of how the editorialization process influenced classical Islamic texts: 1) Removal of sections deemed controversial or inconsistent with modern norms, 2) Addition of comments and interpretations that reflect the editor's views, 3) Simplification of text language and style to make it easier for modern readers to understand.

Shamsy's perspective has important implications for preserving and interpreting Islamic intellectual heritage in the digital age. On the one hand, the digitization of Islamic classical texts offers the potential for broader access and more active participation in their interpretation. On the other hand, digitization also presents new challenges regarding text curation, verification, and authority.

Indonesian Context

This book has essential relevance in the Indonesian context. Some points of significance, namely: 1) The role of ulama and pesantren, 2) Islamic Education, 3) Interreligious dialogue, 4) Challenges of Digitalization.

Ulema and pesantren in Indonesia are essential in preserving and disseminating classical Islamic texts. This book can help scholars and pesantren to understand how these classical texts are interpreted in different parts of the world and how they can be adapted to the Indonesian context.

This book can help Islamic educators in Indonesia to develop a more comprehensive and contextual curriculum that integrates the study of classical Islamic texts with contemporary issues. It can also help foster interfaith dialogue in Indonesia by better understanding Islamic intellectual traditions and how Islam can be interpreted in a moderate and tolerant manner.

This book discusses the challenges of digitalization in preserving and interpreting Islamic intellectual heritage. This is relevant to Indonesia because internet and social media use is increasingly widespread. However, keep in mind that the Indonesian context has its peculiarities. Various local cultures influence Islamic traditions in Indonesia and have different characteristics from those in the Middle East. Indonesia faces contemporary challenges, such as radicalism, intolerance, and corruption.

Therefore, adapting Shamsy's perspective to the Indonesian context is essential. Shamsy's perspective on the role of printing and print culture can be adapted to understand how Islamic intellectual traditions in Indonesia are shaped and interpreted. Studying Islamic traditions in Indonesia in depth is essential to understand their distinctiveness and relevance to the local context. Solutions to preserve and interpret Islamic intellectual heritage in the digital era need to be developed by considering the Indonesian context.


  • Original approach: Shamsy offers a new, rarely discussed perspective on Islamic intellectual history, namely through the role of printing.
  • In-depth research: This book is supported by comprehensive academic research, including primary and secondary sources in multiple languages.
  • Critical analysis: Shamsy describes the role of printing and critiques how the editorialization process can influence and limit the understanding of intellectual heritage.
  • Contemporary relevance: This book is relevant to understanding the challenges and opportunities in preserving and interpreting Islamic intellectual heritage in the digital age.


  • Accessibility: Academic language, academic terms, and complex references may make it difficult for the lay reader.
  • Limited geographical focus: The book's primary focus is on Egypt and the Arab world, so that it may lack a comprehensive overview of the development of printing and print culture in the Islamic world.
  • Lack of gender analysis: The book hardly addresses the role of women in printing and print culture in the Islamic world. Women were essential in transcribing, translating, and disseminating classical Islamic texts.
  • An overly deterministic perspective: Shamsy sometimes seems too deterministic in linking printing with changes in the interpretation of Islamic intellectual heritage. It leaves little room for other factors, such as social, political, and economic change, that also play a role in the process.
  • Lack of solutions: Although Shamsy identifies several challenges in preserving and interpreting Islamic intellectual heritage in the digital age, it does not offer concrete solutions to address these challenges.


Rediscovering the Islamic Classics is essential for anyone interested in Islamic intellectual history, Islamic studies, and the history of printing. This book offers an exciting and thought-provoking new perspective on how Islam's intellectual heritage is shaped and interpreted. Shamsy's perspective on the role of printing and print culture opens up new insights into Islamic intellectual history. It offers a valuable framework for understanding the challenges and opportunities in preserving and interpreting that heritage in the digital age. Although aimed at academic readers, this book can also be helpful for general readers who want to deepen their understanding of the Islamic world and its intellectual heritage.







Shamsy, Ahmed El. Rediscovering the Islamic Classics: How Editors and Print Culture Transformed an Intellectual Tradition. Princeton University Press, 2020.



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