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The Islamic World: Past and Present


Islam and the Islamic world have played and continue to play a major role in world history. In the century following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E., Islam spread widely and Muslim rulers created an empire that extended from North Africa to South Asia. The empire was greater than that of Rome at its zenith. While the West passed through its Dark Ages, Islamic civilization flourished, making major contributions to mathematics (Arabic numerals, algebra, geometry), philosophy, medicine and other sciences, art, and architecture.Today Islam is the second largest of the world's religions, encompassing one-fifth of the world's population. The 1.2 billion Muslims live in some 56 Muslim countries, where they make up a majority of the population. Moreover, if Islam and Muslims seemed invisible in Europe and America only a few decades ago, today Islam is the second largest religion in Europe and the third largest in the United States.

Awareness of Islam and Muslim politics came suddenly to many in America and other parts of the world with the shock of Iran's “Islamic revolution” of 1978-1979, which revealed the West's limited knowledge of Islam and the Islamic world. Ignorance and stereotypes of Islam and Muslims were compounded by the astonishing lack of coverage of Islam in schools and universities, the media, publications, and political analysis. The result over the past two decades has been a flurry of studies, conferences, and media coverage, as well as the introduction of coverage of Islam and the Muslim world in educational curricula.The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, against New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the resultant war against terrorism have increased interest, coverage, and the need to know more about the faith, history, politics, and culture of Islam and Muslims. Now, more than ever, it is important to understand the faith of Islam, its enormos contributions to world history and civilizations, the issues that affect the development of Muslim society, and the factors that shape and determine international politics and relations.

Over the years, Oxford University Press has become a major source of information and education about Islam and the Islamic world. Its publications have included major reference works, such as The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, The Oxford History of Islam, and The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. However, despite the vast amount of materials produced, we still lacked a major reference work for young adults. The Islamic World: Past and Present has been designed to meet this important need.

Understanding Islam and Muslim societies, yesterday and today, is a fascinating trip across time and space. The starting point for The Islamic World: Past and Present was The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (OEMIW), for which I was editor in chief. The 750 articles of this four-volume encyclopedia were authored by more than 450 Muslim and non-Muslim scholars of religion, history, politics, anthropology, sociology, art, and architecture. To make the new student encyclopedia more accessible, many articles from OEMIW have been rewritten. To provide coverage of the past as well as the present, OEMIW entries have been updated and new entries on historical and current topics have been added, broadening the coverage significantly. We hope that students and teachers will find The Islamic World: Past and Present an exciting and engaging gateway to knowledge and understanding of Islam and the Islamic world.

The Islamic World: Past and Present includes a number of useful features. In the margin next to the text column, the reader will find definitions of unfamiliar terms used in the articles, as well as sidebars that focus on interesting people, places, and traditions. Cross references to related entries appear at the end of each article. The front matter of each volume contains a Chronology of the Islamic World. A list of People and Places of the Islamic World and a Glossary of Arabic and Islamic Terms appear at the end of each volume; and a comprehensive index can be found at the back of volume 3. The encyclopedia also includes color inserts in each volume that illustrate Daily Life, Art and Architecture, and the Culture of the Islamic World, respectively.

As with any major project of this magnitude, many people were required to make it happen. Karen Day, the publisher for this work, had the foresight to recognize the need for this project. This has been a collaborative process from start to finish between our board of editors, Oxford University Press, and Visual Education Corporation of McGraw-Hill. Oxford's Timothy J. DeWerff, Director of Editorial Development, and Jewel Moulthrop and her successor, Darryl Kestler, of Visual Education have worked as an excellent professional team in managing the editorial and production process and keeping it on schedule. Meera Vaidyanathan of OUP has been especially helpful in the late stages of the project. Finally, I want to thank the boards of editors, advisers, consultants, and authors for the original OEMIW and in particular my associate editors Abdulaziz Sachedina (University of Virginia), Tamara Sonn (William and Mary), and John O. Voll (Georgetown University) for their remarkable and persistent responsiveness at every stage. Without them, The Islamic World: Past and Present would not have been possible.

John L. Esposito

Oxford University Press

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