Praise to Allah and peace to His Messenger.
The encyclopedias that have so far been published, or are on the Web, are quite inadequate, if not misleading. For instance, the massive Brill Encyclopedia of Islam states about Ibn ‘Abbas:
“He was the father of Kur’anic exegesis; at a time when it was necessary to bring the Qur’an into accord with the new demands of a society which had undergone a profound transformation, he appears to have been extremely skillful in accomplishing this task.”
“It is clear that many customs and usages native to non-Arab societies prior to their Islamization found their way into Islam in the form of reputed or alleged traditions of Muhammad.”
Or the following from the Web:
“According to Samuel Zwemer’s The Influence of Animism on Islam, Chapter 2, Animism in the Creed and the Use of the Rosary: ‘Death takes place by means of a poisonous lance which is held by Izra’il the angel of death, who pierces the soul and detaches it from the body. (Cf. Surah 32:11).. The Angel of Death also takes the life of Jinn, of angels and even of animals.’ The teaching that the Angel of Death takes care of the soul of animals as well as of men’s souls is clearly animistic.”
Source: Massive Online Encyclopedia of Islam, art. Azra’il. http://www.bible.ca/islam/dictionary/index.html
In addition to the above problems, these encyclopedias hardly attempt at meeting the needs of a searcher of knowledge. Entries like, ‘Arsh, Kursiyy, Makruh, Abdaal, Childcare, Fasiq,’ and hundreds of other necessary ones are entirely missing. Also missing is the lives of the Salaf.
When this writer first began to jot down notes for this encyclopedia some 20 years ago, after failing to find institutional support, the idea was to bring out a pocket-sized work. However, in view of the slow progress it was realized that a team would have to be assembled for the project. But the dream-team was easier to desire than to assemble. Those consulted seemed to look at the problem quite differently: theirs was a telescopic vision. The idea only provoked skepticism. In my inexperience, I looked through a microscope and saw no major difficulties. Of course, both were wrong.
Although my optimism kept me on the track, the problems that others saw as insurmountable turned out to be real. The effort to get the original Arabic source books abridged, translated into Urdu (because to many scholars in the East, English is still pariah), get the abridgements translated into English, and, finally, further abridge the translations, did not work well. It did produce some material, but it was not presentable. So, I had to rewrite; and as I rewrote questions came up that made further research unavoidable. That slowed down the pace drastically, and when it began to tell on the time target, I had to summarily delete portions, either because I thought they were uninteresting details, or because I had no time to check their authenticity. Much work on history for instance, had to be left out for future use.
Authenticity of material has been the primary concern through and through. Whatever was produced had to be trustworthy. So no hadith less than hasan was acceptable when the issue was religious.
However, when it came to non-Salaf biographies, the rule had to be relaxed. The rule was: for something to be included, it had to be there in most of the historically accepted works (e.g. Hilyatu al-Awliya’, Usd al-Ghabah, I`lam al-Nubala’, Ta’rikh Ibn Kathir, etc). This of course may not pass the strict criteria imposed by Islamic research for authenticity but, without this little bit of relaxation, the output was getting too modest, high and dry, while readability has been a point of concern.
On the inclusion of scientific material also, strict rules have been applied. As a consequence, though there is much in circulation that shows confirmation of Qur\'anic statements by modern science, it had to be excluded as it fell short of the set standards.
Finished pages were not coming forth yet, therefore, instead of calling off the project (waiting for institutional support was like ‘Waiting for Godot’) I decided - some 2 years ago - on a kind of sample version in the hope of eliciting support. The result is this 1st version.
Far from editing, a proper proof reading was a tall order. Yet, barring the fact that quite a few entries are missing (especially, lives of the Salaf), the result I believe, is not totally disappointing. It is hoped that several features, not found in any other work of this class, should draw attention and appreciation.
When I presented my ideas about maps, graphics and illustrations, I was to learn once again that it is easier to conceive than to produce. Cartography experts would have to be involved and they were beyond our means. Thanks to Abdul Majeed* who agreed to translate my ideas into computerized graphical language. As a result, we were able to bring out some maps that we believe are sort of quite new on the scene.
Similarly, graphic workers Sadia and Zohra (but especially Zohra**) uncorked their spirits; and brightened the pages. Endowed with feminine patience in quite good quantities, they always responded to my endless demands of corrections and improvements, with inexhaustible endurance.
Thanks are also due to Maher Sultan, who, although a medical doctor, has a robust flair for research and swims well in the electronic seas. His initials (MS) should have been there at the end of a few other biographies of scientists, but my shredding, pruning and editing has deprived him of the credit. Finally, our office staff deserves to be mentioned: brothers Zakiullah Shareef, Biju Abdul Qadir, Syed Mazhar Yahya and a few others.
But the real credit goes to the scholars of the past (not excluding the Orientalists) on whose monumental efforts this mansion-looking cottage has been structured. The bibliography has the second function of honoring them.
ولكل عمل رجال‘ والله المستعان و عليه التكلان
Syed Iqbal Zaheer