To write about the political dimensions of Islam is, indeed, to examine the universal phenomenon of Islam and politics as it happens to be expressed in the modern Muslim world; because the multiple aspects of politics in Islam continue to reveal themselves in more multifaceted ways. Though there would seem to have been little need to have more encyclopedias after the unveiling of the comprehensive six volumes, the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (OEMIW) by John. L. Esposito—to which the encyclopedia under review is, but a supplement; the Princeton encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought by Gerhard Bowering et al.; besides the more recent handbook, the Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics by John L. Esposito and Emad El-Din Shahin. However, as I have pointed out in the opening lines about the dynamic and complex role of the politics in Islam, particularly in the contemporary Muslim world, need has been felt to offer an in-depth authoritative and comprehensive reference work in separate volumes primarily on the political dimensions of Islam. Furthermore, due to the dynamic changes—the Arab Spring, toppling of autocratic regimes, rise of Islamic parties to power, etc—the Muslim world experiences in recent years, have again reasserted the role of Islam in politics as a main catalyst for such dynamic change, resistance, liberation, and reassertion of identity and governance.The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics (OEIP)—a supplement to OEMIW as described by the Editor-in-Chief, Emad El-Din Shahin, in a useful way in his preface—seeks to offer an in-depth coverage of the political dimensions of Islam and the Muslim world. Moreover, though, OEIP seeks to target a particular readership, but the entries, by highly qualified scholars in their respective fields, are written in such a simple and lucid way that makes them easily accessible to the general readership as well. Some salient features of the encyclopedia make it clearly distinctive from other such works. First, according to the Editor, the goal is “to blend theoretical dimensions of Islam and politics with practical and institutional aspects” or in other words, it sought to blend theory with practice, and place texts within context. Second, it did not restrict the focus of study to a limited time period, it indeed covered a long time span from classical to contemporary “developments, schools of thought, institutions, movements, and personalities.” Third, it follows the standard methodologies of “modern political science references: concepts, values, thought, ideologies, structures, institutions, systems.” Thus, OEIP seeks to deal with Islam and politics through a thorough and insightful study.
The two volumes of OEIP are comprised of 412 articles. However, around 200 articles are either heavily or lightly revised entries previously published in OEMIW, the rest i.e., more than 200 entries are newly commissioned articles. They are arranged alphabetically by title, and vary in length and style. The entries range from major essays of 10,000 words, and shorter articles of 500-1000 words. Major essays include: “Muslim Political History,” “Muslim Political Thought,” “Religious Beliefs,” “Shari‘ah,” “Women in Politics,” “Schools of Jurisprudence” (four subentries). There is an entire section on regions in the Muslim world, where a number of entries have been dedicated to the integration of Islam and politics in the areas: “Islam and Politics in Africa,” “Islam and Politics in Central Asia and the Caucasus,” “Islam and Politics in Europe,” “Islam and Politics in North America,” “Islam and Politics in South Asia,” “Islam and Politics in Southeast Asia,” “Islam and Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa,” and “Islam and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.” Apart from this, there are also a number of single-country articles. Moreover, there are four overview articles: “Afghanistan,” “the Alevis,” “the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” and “Hamas”—which count as the first of the two subentries of their respective essays. Other longer essays include: “Human Rights,” “Colonization and the Muslim World,” “Indonesia,” “the Islamic Republic of Iran,” “Muslim Education,” “Politics and Ethics.” The majority of the essays vary in their subject and thought; some are longer while others are shorter. Some are biographies while others cover issues of education, institutions, and structures. Still others cover an array of topics, such as international relations, regions, and countries. Some cover wider topics of Islamic finance, law, beliefs, theories, concepts, and terminology while others deal with movements, parties, communities, sects, and titles.
To illustrate the diversity of the topics covered in the OEIP, some randomly chosen titles are included here: “Aal Al-Bayt Institute For Islamic Thought, The Royal” (750 words), “Arab Spring” (2500 words), “Ghāmidī, Jāved Aḥmad” (500 words), “Ghannūshī, Rāshid Al-“ (700 words), “Caliphate, Theories of the” (3000 words), “Khilāfat Movement” (1000 words), “Jihād” (3000 words), “Minority of Islamic Affairs” (750 words), “Monarchy” (1000 words), “Rebellion” (3500 words), “Siyāsah Sharī‘ah” (2000 words), “Zaytūnah” (500 words). In addition, a list of entries (6 pages) in the beginning, and a topical list of entries (7 pages) at the end provide a thematic outline of the contents of OEIP; apart from that, there is a 13-page directory of the contributors followed by a 102-page comprehensive helpful index. One interesting thing about the number of entries by each contributor is that there are a number of multiple essays by a single contributor.
It is noteworthy to underline that there are some contents/terms, which are open to question. First, the encyclopedia is replete with problematic terms like “Islamist,” “Islamism,” “Militant Islam” (p. 573), “conservative;” though some of the terms—Islamism, Islamist—have been defined as “those who believe that Islam has an important role to play in organizing a Muslim-majority society” (p. 606), but still their usage, according to this definition, is somehow selective throughout the book. Second, on page 192, it has been exhorted that the holy “Qur’ān was compiled and canonized…under the third ‘rightly guided’ caliph…‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affān,” but it was during the first ‘rightly guided’ caliph, Abu Bakr Al-Ṣiddīq that under whose patronage the holy Qur’ān was completely compiled (see Dr. Hamidullah, The Emergence of Islam). Moreover, there is a typographical error on page 627, wherein the first paragraph of the essay “Jamāt-I Islāmī” has more line spacing than the rest of the book.
Overall the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics (OEIP) offers an illuminating overview of political dimensions of Islam in a broader perspective of time and space. One can only wish this comprehensive reference book the widest possible readership—it is useful for graduate students as for social scientists, political analysts, and other academicians.