The reference literature for Islam has long consisted of either a densely academic, multivolume encyclopedia or several, often specialized, single-volume works with brief definitions. Happily, there is now a reference work falling between these two extremes. The Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World is a scholarly work “about Islamic cultures, religion, history, politics, and the like as well as the people who have identified with Islam over the past fourteen centuries.”
A team of international scholars is responsible for the 515 entries, which are arranged alphabetically and range from 200 to 5,000 words in length. Many include some sort of illustration and end with helpful see also references and excellent supplemental bibliographies. A useful index completes the set. Coverage includes the religious dimensions of Islam as well as the development of the tradition in various parts of the world (e.g., Africa, South Asia, U.S.). Cultural issues of importance to the history of Islam (e.g., architecture, calligraphy, language) are also treated. Entries such as Political organization and Political thought demonstrate the historical completeness for which the encyclopedia strives, tracing developments from the life of the Prophet to the present day. Even topics of contemporary interest include a historical perspective. The entry for Jihad describes the many meanings of the term, including its contemporary association with violence, and how the concept has developed historically. The treatment of secularization in the Muslim world includes a comparison to historical events in the West, thereby helping the reader to understand that it cannot be understood solely from a Western perspective. Finally, the biographical entries include important figures from the religious, cultural, and political history of the Muslim world.