Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, vol. 1: Allah, Ahmad, A--Beautiful Names of Allah. Edited by Muzaffar Iqbal. Sherwood Park AB, Canada: Center for Islamic Sciences, 2013. Pp. xxx + 378. $295, 198 [pounds sterling].
This sumptuous and carefully produced first volume of Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur'an (IEQ) is an impressive beginning to an anticipated seven-tome compendium. The work is a considerable contribution to the study of the Quran, but it raises various issues regarding the way in which scholarship within the academy is defined. By no means can this work simply be dismissed as unscholarly although it does not participate in all the norms of academic work; establishing a clear sense of what those norms are--which is not always as obvious as many of us like to pretend--is a useful byproduct of reviewing this work.
The first distinctive element is the word "integrated" in the title, which signifies IEQ's aim to integrate its entries conceptually by basing them all on the Quran and the "internal coherence of its message" (p. xviii). Diversity within the Muslim community hampers this goal somewhat and the solution promoted by IEQ is to produce a work that will not emphasize or aggravate inner-Muslim divisions. Thus, the project is defined by the suggestion that in "producing a manageable encyclopedic text, IEQ needed to restrict its own scope to certain domains of Islamic tradition in order to be generally representative of one of its well-defined strands" (p. xviii). As a result, the encyclopedia is solidly Sunni: Ash'ari-Maturidi theology and the four legal schools monopolize the sources employed. Only very occasionally are Shi'i sources, for example, mentioned. This construction of the Islamic tradition is central to IEQ's aim of presenting the classical sources and their discussions. The contents of the encyclopedia rarely reflect any sense of historical development within the understanding of a unified "Islamic tradition"; an exception to this "integrated" sense of Muslim intellectual heritage is to be noted where the intrusion of modernity demands attention. For the most part, however, the Islamic tradition is presented as an undifferentiated, singular entity; when difference of opinion does need to be acknowledged, it is slotted into intellectual categories of later construction (Ash'ari, Hanafi, etc). This perspective and conception of the Islamic tradition is clearly critical to the project of providing an "integrated" encyclopedia.
IEQ's goal is to address the needs of those who are unable to access the classical Arabic sources that are conceived to define this Islamic tradition. Particular knowledge based on the Quran and the Sunna is suggested to be needed in order to counter the sense of being confounded when confronted with the complexities of those classical sources and their sometimes mutually contradictory statements. The audience is not limited to Muslims. For non-Muslims, "most books about the Qur'an written by non-Muslim writers" are not helpful, "for most of them are replete with an Orientalism that is often more invested in establishing its own canon than explicating the message of a Book in which the authors do not believe" (p. xiii). Works by Muslims, on the other hand, are often inaccessible to non-Muslims due to style, basic premises, language, format, and even content. Furthermore, academic works are problematic because they display an "agnostic detachment"; they fail to grapple with the central issue of the authorship of the Quran. While contemporary academic studies are acknowledged to have overcome the missionary impulse of earlier times, they are...