Volume 2 covers Abu al-Harith to Abyanah
The Islamic faith spread at a far greater speed than could ever have been anticipated, over an expanse of land stretching from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean across North Africa and the Iranian plateau to the threshold of China and India. This phenomenon resulted in the birth of a civilisation which encompassed a considerable portion of the creative and intellectual achievements of the human race to date. The extraordinary impact of Islam derived from a remarkable capacity to assimilate and further develop other cultures and civilisations, and this same capacity also accounted for the speed with which the new faith generated new, synthetic expressions of culture throughout the lands of Islam and beyond.
The teachings of the Prophet, at once simple and profound, gave rise to a spiritual and intellectual culture which was inclusive and humane, affirming a mode of society compatible with the immutable prerogatives of human dignity, and also capable of adapting to the ever-changing needs of different communities and their traditions. Muslim scholars, scientists and writers were able to travel in search of learning and employment throughout the Islamic world, nurturing a tradition of learning and creativity which served to further stimulate and unite the varied societies in which they lived.
The intellectual activity in the Islamic world in turn aroused the curiosity of scholars in the Christian world when they came into contact with it and, as a result, numerous works of Islamic philosophy, science and other disciplines were translated. In this way, classics of Islamic scholarship by al-Razi, Ibn Sina, al-Biruni, Ibn Rushd, and many others, became integral to the thought of scholars and writers in Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe, generating thereby a deep and enduring influence.
Thus, the vast diversity of the Islamic legacy has become an integral characteristic of world heritage, and amongst all the works that are available to us from the rich sources of Islamic literature, encyclopaedic compilations enjoy a special importance. For instance, there are particular specialist works such as al-Razi’s al-Hawi, Ibn Sina’s al-Qanun, al-Biruni’s al-athar al-baqiya, al-Faraghani’s Jawami ‘ilm al-nujum and ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Khazini’s Mizan al-hikma, which deal with medicine, philosophy, astronomy or physics; and there are general works like Ibn al-Nadim’s al-Fihrist, al-Farabi’s Ihsa’ al-‘ulum, al-Khwarazmi’s Mafatih al-‘ulum, Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi’s Durrat al-taj, Zakariyya’ al-Qazwini’s ‘Aja’ib al-makhluqat and the Rasa’il of the Ikhwan al-Safa’, which belong to diverse genres of collections and can properly be regarded as the precursors of the modern encyclopaedia.
With the establishment of new maritime routes, the forging of political and mercantile relations between the East and Europe in the early modern age and the increasing military and political dominance of the European powers, numerous travellers flocked to the ‘Orient’ in search of insights into these exotic lands and their cultures. Centres of Orientalist learning and Islamic studies came to be established at European universities, encouraging a structured and systematic approach to the new fields of studies, along with a flood of publications. A major advance in the study of Islam appeared in 1697, with the posthumous publication of Barthélemy d’Herbelot’s encyclopaedic work Bibliothèque Orientale. This pioneering work of Western Orientalism, which covered many aspects of the Muslim East, was to remain the standard reference work in Europe until the nineteenth century. This renowned French Orientalist had read and utilised a variety of Arabic, Persian and Turkish sources and provided details on the history and religion of Islam hitherto unknown to Europeans. The study of Islam received further stimulus a century later as a result, firstly, of the establishment of the École des Langues Orientales Vivantes in Paris under the tutelage of Baron Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy in 1795, and secondly, the Napoleonic expedition of 1798-799 to Egypt and Syria. The foundation of learned societies and the publication of specialised periodicals and journals in the field throughout the nineteenth century greatly increased the information available for the expanding discipline. In fact, the sheer volume of these published or unpublished materials, treatises, monographs and scholarly works, was such that quick and easy access to them become an increasingly difficult task. It was this state of affairs that, in the early part of the twentieth century, led some of the most distinguished Orientalists to compile a collective work of the most important aspects of Islamic culture and civilisation, under the title of The Encyclopaedia of Islam.
The preparation and publication of this four-volume work, as well as its Supplement, in English, French and German, published from 1913 to 1938 in Leiden, under the supervision of scholars such as Houtsma, Baset, Hartmann, Wensinck, Gibb and Lévi-Provençal. The enthusiasm with which this publication was received led to a 12-volume second edition in 1954, that was finally completed in 2004. Most volumes of the first and second editions of this encyclopaedia were variously translated into Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu and Dari in Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding the profile and status it deserved and rapidly gained, The Encyclopaedia of Islam nevertheless failed to cover many cultural aspects of various Islamic schools and traditions, in particular that of Persian Shi‘ism, one of Islam’s most important and influential schools of thought. It was for this reason that when the decision was taken in Iran to translate it into Persian, local researchers under the guidance of Professor Ehsan Yarshater provided numerous additional articles aimed at filling the lacunae. This appeared as a supplement to the Persian-language edition under the new title of The Encyclopaedia of Iran and Islam. Not long after, Professor Yarshater with the support of Columbia University, embarked on the now well-known Encyclopaedia Iranica, which comprehensively addresses all aspects of pre-Islamic and Islamic Iranian history, literature, arts and culture. Simultaneous with the appearance of Fascicles VII and VIII of The Encyclopaedia of Iran and Islam in 1978, a general encyclopaedia in Persian was also published which was of particularly high quality - originally in two parts and three volumes, and entitled Da’irat al-ma‘arif-i Farsi (‘The Persian Encyclopaedia’) by Ghulam Husayn Musahib. It eventually produced a great number of additional articles on Iran and Islam by eminent scholars, such that it was expanded to three times its original size. This, too, has been further edited and translated with the final result appearing in 1995.
Despite the significance and role of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, and the laudable efforts of Orientalist scholars in furthering an understanding of Islamic texts by providing extensive information on Islamic cultures and civilisation, and introducing sources and countless manuscripts in the field, thereby encouraging research, it has to be said that a number of new challenges had emerged which called out for new responses. Advances in education, rising standards of knowledge and information amongst Muslims and developments in Shi‘i studies resulting from the establishment of an Islamic republic in Iran provoked a host of fresh queries and debates in every field, from ideology to spirituality, from the sciences to the arts. For the student of Islam, hunting for information amongst a multitude of different sources within each of these areas is a challenging task. Also, it is a well-known fact that when encyclopaedic compilations are undertaken with the necessary academic rigour and appropriate research methods, they can prove of great value in promoting a better understanding between civilisations.
Such were the most significant driving factors underlying the rationale for the establishment of the Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia in 1983 in Tehran, dedicated to the production of a far-reaching, comprehensive and accurate encyclopaedia entitled Da’irat al-Ma‘arif-i Buzurg-i Islami (‘The Great Islamic Encyclopaedia’), written by a prominent group of scholars and researchers in the field, with Kazem Musavi Bojnurdi as its editor-in-chief. The first steps proved arduous: defining the goals, identifying the audience, appointing the researchers and authors, providing research tools and a specialised library took several years, so that the first volume only appeared in 1989. To date (2008), 15 volumes have been completed, and the entire set is projected to consist of over 40 volumes. This encyclopaedia has been managed in a carefully systematic and structured manner, with special attention given to the selection of each entry, which follows a particular set of criteria filtered through a pyramid of editors, sub-editors and proof-readers, reporting to an editorial board. In a short span of time, this publication has grown from an information resource to a veritable research facility serving all manner of historians and students. Reviews and comments suggest that in the twenty years since its inception, The Great Islamic Encyclopaedia and its parallel ongoing Arabic translation have sparked a revolution in the methodology of such research projects, opening up new horizons and inspiring fresh topics of inquiry, dealing with manuscripts, publications, coins, archaeological remains, artefacts, and the like.
The Great Islamic Encyclopaedia project is sustained by a number of primary and secondary research departments, focusing upon specific subjects, such as the literature of Persian and other Islamic cultures, Arabic literature, Qur’anic sciences, fiqh, usul and hadith, history, geography, mysticism, comparative religion, philosophy, anthropology, the arts, and so on. These departments deal with research and editing, selection of entries, scientific categorisation and reference-verification, as well as printing. Each of these departments is managed by an editor with the help of assistants, and in the course of their work, extensive contributions are made by associate and affiliated editors. A highly-structured process of selection, cross-checking and final approval via several stages of editing ensures that the final product is the result of extensive deliberation and monitoring by a team of highly qualified experts and their assistants.
Following the enthusiasm with which the Persian version of Da’irat al-Ma‘arif-i Buzurg-i Islami was received, it was decided that an Arabic translation would also be undertaken in Tehran. The first volume of the Arabic edition appeared in 1991 and, to date, seven volumes have been published. Given that this version is based upon the Persian, an equal number of volumes in Arabic will follow in due course. The success of the Arabic edition prompted the decision to produce an English translation in order to make this work available to an even wider audience. The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London was therefore approached because of its high standards of academic excellence; the present publication is the fruit of an agreement between the two bodies.
The English translation of Da’irat al-Ma‘arif-i Buzurg-i Islami, named Encyclopaedia Islamica, will differ in some respects from its Persian original. The English version will not exceed 16 core volumes with supplementary volumes, given that senior consultants and editors have decided to omit a number of entries which would have been of limited interest or relevance to a Western readership. However, the integrity of the more important, lengthier entries has been preserved. A number of articles in English will be modified or abridged; many will need to be updated, given that since the publication of the original, new information, analysis or evidence has surfaced. Differences in the sequence of the letters of the alphabet between English and Persian also mean that entries beginning with, for example, ‘d’, and ‘ch’ in English precede the corresponding entries in the Persian edition. Also, those entries that begin with the letter ‘ayn, which will appear in the English edition under the letter ‘a’, will be published earlier than in the Persian edition. In addition, some entries will be specifically commissioned for the new English edition which will not have appeared in the Persian.
A professional team of consultants, editors and translators was assembled under the auspices of the Department of Academic Research and Publications at the Institute of Ismaili Studies; the head of this department, Dr Farhad Daftary, together with Professor Wilferd Madelung, Senior Research Fellow at the IIS, are the editors-in-chief of the Encyclopaedia Islamica. Under their supervision, each translated article was subjected to several stages of editing. Given the weighty demands of editing a work such as this, the final version of the entries presented here is the fruit of the efforts of both the editors and translators.
Encyclopaedia Islamica, like its Persian counterpart, Da’irat al-Ma‘arif-i Buzurg-i Islami, is to be considered a specialist encyclopaedia. Its central contribution to Islamic studies is its coverage of specifically Shi‘i themes, personalities, culture and history ââ‚¬“ those aspects, precisely, which were either given scant attention in earlier encyclopaedias or ignored altogether, as a result of the Arabo-centric and Sunni-centric tendencies which have, until recently, prevailed in Orientialist academic circles in the West. At the same time, a major strength of the present encyclopaedia lies in its very comprehensiveness. It successfully covers an extraordinary range of themes and regions, seeking to do justice to the global nature of Islamic civilisation: it is far from being simply an encyclopaedia of ‘Shi‘i Islam’. While offering an objective and in-depth study of hitherto neglected fields of Shi‘i culture and history, it also presents biographies of political, military and cultural personalities, with accounts of events throughout the Muslim world; scientific, artistic, literary and philosophical themes; the disciplines of jurisprudence, Qur’anic studies, history and geography, logic and linguistics, faith and philosophy, and such sciences as medicine and mathematics. In this manner, scholarly attention to the specifics of the Shi‘i traditions of Islam is combined with an appropriate sensitivity to the global matrix of Islamic civilisation within which these traditions have emerged; a civilisation to which Shi‘ism has made such a creative and inspiring contribution, and of which it is itself an indisputably major manifestation.