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Events in Recent decades have underscored the need for a major reference work that provides immediate access to current scholarship on the presence and influence of Islam on a global scale. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World has been designed to meet that need.

The lack of such a work became particularly apparent following the Iranian revolution of 1978‐1979, which dramatically highlighted the reassertion of Islam in politics and society. The revolution proved to be a watershed not only in the politics of the Middle East but also in the study of Islam and Muslim societies. However one evaluates its ultimate significance and impact, the Iranian revolution revealed many of the limitations in our understanding of Islam and the Islamic world and served as a catalyst to redress them.

Islam is the second largest of the world's religions. Almost one billion Muslims live in more than forty‐eight Muslim countries from Africa to Asia, and there are significant Muslim minorities in the nations of Europe and the Americas. Despite these facts, in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution the West discovered how little it knew or understood about Islam and the dynamics of religion in Muslim societies. Ignorance and stereotypes of Islam and Muslim societies were matched by an astonishingly limited coverage of them in the media, university and school curricula, publications, and political analysis. In many ways, the Iranian revolution shocked many Westerners out of their ignorance and complacency. It served to generate an interest in Islam and the Islamic world; it increasingly shed light on the faith of Islam, its unity and diversity, and in particular on the global reassertion of Islam.

Since the late 1960s, much of the Islamic world has experienced a resurgence of Islam in personal and public life. Greater attention to religious observances (prayer, fasting, dress, family values) has been accompanied by a reassertion of Islam in state and society. Islamic rhetoric, symbols, and actors have become prominent fixtures in Muslim public life, often used by rulers to buttress nationalism or by their opponents to challenge the legitimacy of rulers and secular forms of nationalism and socialism. A backlash against political and cultural dependence on the West, the westernization and secularization of society, has reawakened and reinforced a sense of pride in past glories and a quest for identity that has emphasized authenticity and a return to, or reappropriation of, indigenous values. Whatever the vast differences among Muslim societies, a return to the past has meant for many a reclaiming of their Islamic history and heritage and a turning to Islam as a source of personal guidance and as an ideological alternative for state and society.Commensurate with this new‐found vitality in the Islamic world has been an explosion of scholarship in religion, history, and the social sciences. A proliferation of studies and coverage of Islam has contributed toward redressing earlier imbalances and in some instances has challenged the “wisdom of the past,” arguing that modernization and religious self‐assertion are not necessarily incompatible and that the secularization of society is not a precondition for social, economic, and political change or development.

Origins and History of the Project

As useful as many studies have been in correcting the conventional wisdom and expanding our knowledge and coverage of Islam and the Islamic world, there has been no reference work that focuses on the modern period and that treats the Islamic world in a comprehensive, comparative, and systematic manner. Scholars, students, journalists, analysts who seek information on beliefs, events, movements, and leaders have lacked a readily accessible resource and guide. While some existing reference works are dated, others emphasize history, language and literature, and texts rather than modern contexts. The Encyclopaedia of Islam (1st ed., 5 vols, Leiden, 1908‐1938; new ed., 7 vols. to date, Leiden, 1960‐) has largely relied on classical texts and on classical and medieval history. Moreover, it is a grand project whose production has extended over decades, with volumes appearing from time to time. It will remain unfinished and incomplete for some time to come.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World complements the Encyclopaedia of Islam. It concentrates on the ways that Muslims have expressed themselves in the modern period through political and social action as well as formal texts. It draws heavily on the insights of the social sciences as well as religion, history, and literature.

The Cambridge History of Islam (Cambridge, 1970), completed more than two decades ago, provides a major historical treatment that ranges from pre‐Islamic times to the era of independent nation states. Its geographical organization or focus utilizes a center‐periphery dichotomization (“The Central Islamic Lands” [vol. 1] and “The Further Islamic Lands” [vol. 2]). The Oxford Encyclopedia is more comparative in approach, less self‐consciously tied to geographical region, and includes extended coverage of contemporary interpretations, events, and movements.

This assessment of available resources was supplemented by experiences in dealing with students, members of the media, and political analysts who commented about their frustrations in finding readily available and succinct information on contemporary Muslim politics and societies. These realities informed our conviction that there was a pressing need for an easily accessible major reference work on the modern Islamic world. In general, three characteristics were meant to make The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World distinctive and timely. First, it focuses on the modern period, roughly from the end of the eighteenth century, when direct and indirect encounters with European imperialism and Western technology and ideologies precipitated a profound self‐examination among Muslims and an inevitable process of cultural change, to the present. Second, it relies heavily on the methodologies of the social sciences. The insights of sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science are combined with those of religion, history, and literature to explain the changing realities of Muslim life. Third, the Oxford Encyclopedia balances an essentialist approach with the empirical realities of the Islamic world. It documents the complexity and diversity of belief, practice, and loyalties, relying heavily on comparative studies. Thus, this encyclopedia emphasizes the practice as well as the theory of Islam, political and social action as well as formal texts. It accentuates the context, the public and private cultures, in which Muslims live their lives and interpret and devise their texts.

The challenge in writing a book is often magnified by an awareness that colleagues and reviewers will have their own ideas on what should be included or excluded. An author's concerns can become an encyclopedia editor's nightmare, given the breadth and magnitude of the project. The number of countries, groups, individuals, institutions, issues, and conflicts to be found in the Islamic world are truly overwhelming. To develop an effective outline (to draw up a final list of articles), faced with the need to be selective while remaining within the bounds of four volumes, is an experience not to be fully appreciated until one has had to meet the challenge.

At the very beginning, we spent a great deal of time debating possibilities for the precise title of our work. In particular, the discussion focused on the use of the terms “Islamic world” versus “Muslim world” and the word “modern.” Realizing that academic critics would probably not be pleased with any resolution, the present title was accepted. “Islamic world” was used insted of “Muslim world” because “Muslim world” is a more generic term whereas this encyclopedia would be focusing on the “Islamic dimension” of its topics. The term “modern” was selected as an inclusive reference to the past three centuries.

The encyclopedia offered an exciting possibility to commission articles that provided new information and fresh perspectives. However, it also brought to our attention the limitations and lacunae in our scholarship, the number of areas that lack the specialists and sufficient research necessary to produce those articles. The situation is compounded when the scope is the entire Islamic world, not just the Arab world or the Middle East. Because Islam in sub‐Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, for example, have attracted fewer scholars, the resources to address this imbalance were often quite limited. Another major challenge was our desire to provide as comparative a perspective as possible both within articles and among clusters of articles. Much of our past scholarship has been focused on a specific country (e.g., Iran or Turkey) or region (e.g., the Arab world). Only recently has there been a major emphasis on comparative studies. Thus, it was often difficult to find numbers of colleagues who not only work with several countries within a region but also across regions. Where possible, clusters of articles around a particular topic or theme were used to overcome this difficulty.

To ensure comprehensive coverage of all facets of Muslim social and religious life, we organized the 750 articles in the encyclopedia into five major categories: Islamic thought and practice, Islam and politics, Muslim communities and societies, Islam and society, and Islamic studies. The entries hinge on a number of major essays that seek to provide geographical, conceptual, and chronological balance. Articles range from major interpretive and synthetic essays of up to ten thousand words (e.g., “Ethnicity,” “Human Rights,” “Islamic State”) to briefer entries, generally five hundred to one thousand words long, on religion, law, politics, economics, international relations, and culture and society (e.g., “Ayatollah,” “Contract Law,” “Ḥijāb,” “Sainthood”). They explicate the relevant history, ideas, doctrines, institutions, contending schools of thought, and contentious issues or controversies. Related entries include coverage of social and political movements, women, Muslim minorities, human rights, Islam in the West, and interreligious affairs. In addition, biographical entries treat a limited number of influential figures. Keeping in mind our comparative focus, we encouraged contributors to provide as many country‐specific examples as possible. We also asked them to write in clear and, as far as feasible, nontechnical language and to provide a brief select bibliography for each of their articles.

More than four hundred and fifty authors have been drawn from the international community of scholars, reflecting the breadth and depth of contemporary scholarship in Islamic studies. Our authors represent not only different disciplinary perspectives (historians, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, political scientists) but also diverse national and religious traditions. European, Middle Eastern, South and Southeast Asian, and African experts (Muslim as well as non‐Muslim scholars) on Islamic societies have been involved in the planning as well as writing of the articles. The inclusion of a significant number of scholars raised in diverse Muslim environments reflects the breadth and complexity of “Islam observed” and guards against the potential pitfalls of Orientalism.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World has been designed to become the primary reference not only for scholars and students of religion, history, and the social sciences but also for general readers seekng to understand the background of current events. For the academic community, the encyclopedia provides a breadth of coverage that will supplement and enhance research and be useful in teaching; graduate and undergraduate students will be able to find a concise and accessible summary of major concepts, trends, and perspectives. We trust, however, that the usefulness of the work will not be limited to scholars and students. We designed the encyclopedia to appeal as well to a more general audience of government and corporate analysts, political consultants, journalists, lawyers, interfaith organizations, and secondary school teachers interested in the faith, institutions, movements, personalities, and issues of the modern Islamic world.

Editorial Practices

Entries in the encyclopedia are alphabetically arranged, strictly letter by letter. In order to make use of the specialized expertise of individual scholars while ensuring that all aspects of larger topics were fully covered, “composite entries” group together several articles under one headword. For example, the entry “Marriage and Divorce” includes two articles, one on legal foundations and one on modern practice. Each composite entry begins with a headnote explaining its division.

To guide readers from one article to related discussions elsewhere in the work, there is an extensive system of cross‐references within the articles. In addition, “blind entries” of alternate spellings and synonyms occur throughout the alphabetical range of headwords, providing cross‐references to the articles they seek. For example, the reader looking up “Blasphemy” will be directed to the entry “Kufr.” A comprehensive index is a further resource, especially for topics that are not headwords themselves. Readers interested in finding all of the articles on a particular subject (e.g., economics, Sufism) are encouraged to consult the Synoptic Outline of Contents in volume 4.

Of paricular concern as manuscript editing began was the establishment of a consistent policy on the romanization of languages not using the Latin alphabet, primarily Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. As this is a scholarly work, it did not seem prudent to omit the proper diacritical marks that indicate pronunciation, and the decision was made to follow the United States Library of Congress systems for all of these languages. Because the encyclopedia deals with the modern world, however, it was necessary and sensible to make exceptions for well‐known figures where the use of the Library of Congress spelling would render obscure a name that is commonly recognized. Thus, the reader will find Gamal Abdel Nasser rather than Jamāl ‘Abd al‐Nāṣir, Ruhollah Khomeini rather than Ruḥollāh Khumaynī, and Mohammad Mossadegh rather than Muḥammad Muṣaddiq. Variants are frequently given parenthetically on first mention in an article as well as being listed in the index. Most problematic were Iranian names and terms. As the subfield of Iranian studies has long employed a variant system of romanization (chiefly involving a shift in vowels from i ī u ū to e i o u), spellings of some names according to this system were permitted where contributors preferred them (e.g., Maḥmud Ṭāleqāni, not Maḥmūd Ṭāliqānī; Abol‐Qāsem Kāshāni, not Abū al‐Qāsim Kāshānī). Once again, alternate spellings are frequently provided parenthetically throughout the articles and index.


It was clear from the beginning that the ultimate success of this project would hinge on its board of supervising editors. I knew that the editorial board should not be a group of distinguished scholars who merely lent their names to the project. They had to be convinced of the value of the project and committed to achieving its goals. I was fortunate enough to assemble such a group. Each of the editors of this encyclopedia, though representing a disciplinary affiliation, is noted for his or her interdisciplinary research and often for work in more than one geographic area. From our first meeting at the offices of Oxford University Press in New York to the end of the project each member remained deeply involved. The editors assisted me in devising the general and specific entries for the encyclopedia, suggested names of potential contributors, and reviewed and edited the specific manuscripts that were within their areas of responsibility.

Given the magnitude of the project and in order to ensure both broad and comparative coverage, a second body of experts was created. It seemed unimaginable that such a project would not benefit from the advice of the late Albert Hourani, who graciously agreed to be senior consultant. With his advice and that of the editorial board, our consultants and advisers were drawn from the full range of disciplines and areas covered in the encyclopedia and was composed of scholars from the United States, Europe, and the Islamic world. They suggested additional topics and possible contributors unknown to or overlooked by the editors, and, in many cases, served as authors themselves.

This project owes its origins and realization to Oxford University Press and to a core of unusually committed academic colleagues. Elizabeth Maguire of Oxford had the foresight to realize that there might well be a need and a market for a reference work on Islam. The task of serving as editor in chief, although initially daunting, was made infinitely easier by the professionalism of Oxford's Academic Reference Department under the leadership of Claude Conyers. Those who fear the organizational and logistical nightmares of producing an encyclopedia need only see the superb systems that Oxford has in place—from the materials provided during the planning and development of the contents to the database used durng the administrative and editorial stages—to be reassured. Mark Cummings and then Jeffrey Edelstein epitomized the best that one could imagine in terms of their professional skills and commitment to the project. Mr. Edelstein's sense of quality, eye for detail, and close monitoring of deadlines kept the project under control and on schedule.

From its inception, the prospect of an encyclopedia of the modern Islamic world was received with great enthusiasm, both by the scholars in the United States and Europe initially queried by Oxford's representatives and by colleagues and friends when I agreed to serve as editor in chief. However, congratulations were mixed with condolences as some recounted tales of similar projects that confirmed and reinforced my own apprehensions about the potential headaches and aggravations. In addition, the already tight schedules of editors and authors alike would be strained and, in some cases, pushed to their limits. There were in fact the usual frustrations associated with large projects—authors who were unconscionably late or who, after a year or more, simply backed out or did not deliver promised manuscripts. But these were the exception. I was struck by how many colleagues not only agreed to join the project but were also remarkably committed and cooperative at every stage, meeting deadlines, making revisions, responding to queries. Many proved the maxim that the best and busiest are often the most productive. The few who declined did so often with genuine regrets. Although previous commitments precluded their participation, they welcomed the project and were eager for its successful completion. Throughout the years, the interest and response of colleagues in the field regarding the progress of the encyclopedia and the need for its publication have strengthened our resolve and maintained our spirits. The combination of dedicated professionals at Oxford and the members of the editorial board, who seemed always there and prepared to do whatever it took to assure quality and stay on schedule, made this a remarkable experience.

We all undertook this project in the belief that The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World was timely and necessary. We were contributing to an endeavor whose scope was beyond our individual capabilities and whose usefulness and impact would, “in shā' Allāh” (God willing), stand for some time to come. Given past history and the increasing interdependence of nations and cultures around the world, there has never been a greater need for better understanding of the faith and practice of Islam.John L. EspositoWayland, Massachusetts

August 1994

Oxford University Press

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