During the Middle Ages, Muslim scholars played a key role in the development of the encyclopedia, attempting to pool all knowledge in one accessible place. Among others, the Brethren of Purity, a group of scholars in what is modern Iraq, compiled an encyclopedia of Greek and Arabic learning in the 900s.

Over the past two years several Harvard-based scholars have been working on a modern American version. Their recently published two-volume “Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States” is the product of a wide scope of contributors – professors and graduate students, Muslim and non-Muslims – from around the country.

“American Islam is built on these two threads: Islam and America. And you need people who know both,” says Jocelyne Cesari, the encyclopedia’s editor.

Volume One is the encyclopedia proper, with 300 entries from “Abdel-Rahman, Shaykh Omar” to “Zewail, Ahmed.” The second volume reprints more than 90 documents important to American Muslims, including speeches, poems, songs, and fatwas, or legal opinions, issued by American Muslim clerics.

Cesari says she has not yet received feedback from Muslim leaders, but one of the nation’s major distributors of books and material to libraries gave the work a thumbs-up.

“The entries offer an objective insight for all audiences, from the general reader to the college student, and should be in all library reference collections throughout the United States,” according to Ingram Library Services, a Tennessee-based group. The encyclopedia is available to the general public, for $199.95.

“This is the first attempt to produce knowledge from all sides” of the American Muslim experience, says Cesari, who directs Harvard’s Islam in the Westprogram, which oversaw the project. “They are providing a great contribution to American culture, American religion, to arts.”

And at the same time, “America is a great, great opportunity for Islam and Muslims.” (MORE)


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