A free encyclopaedia of Islam (and Islamic art)

Few days ago, maybe one week, I started wondering: is there an open-source and serious encyclopaedia on Islamic history and Islamic art? Apart from partial and biased interpretation on the history of Arab-Islamic countries, and not 100% reliable sources (wikis), the only way to get free good information on Islamic history is hoping that your library holds the Brill Encyclopaedia of Islam or similar reference works . The other option is: purchase the volumes, purchase the on-line access, and illegally download the sources (which is not good, and sometimes dangerous for your device/pc/laptop, whatever…).

In many years, while studying and researching in the field of Islamic history and history of art and architecture, I have constantly tried to find an accurate website on Islamic history (and art). The information can actually be found, but they are scattered around a variety of websites and sometimes to gather information one should search and search and search and search… It’s just terrible. Scholars and students, of course, have the time and the competence to know which sources are reliable and which give only partial information. I don’t think that an on-line encyclopaedia should be designed only for them. On the contrary, the encyclopaedia should be designed by them (us), for all those people who need to know something more and more accurate than what a wiki entry provides and do not have the competence or the time to understand if a source is reliable or not.
The layman, who is interested in Islamic history, the blogger that wants to talk about Islamic culture and wants to know how it developed through time, or a reader that is approaching the subject and needs clarifications.. they are the “targets”.


Well, easy to say: it seems that everyone talks about Islam, everyone is ready to give his/her thought on Islam as religion, culture and heritage, but sorrowfully in many case it is patent that the speaker/writer doesn’t perfectly know what he is talking about. In 21st century it is absurd that everyone can access information but it is difficult to get to high-quality information… or at least to spend a huge amount of time trying to understand the reliability of an entry.

Already existing experiences: Ancient History Encyclopaedia and MWNF

I don’t want to claim that my idea is 100% original: ideas are in the air.

Apart from Wikipedia, which I much appreciate as general concept but that can’t be considered as the most accurate encyclopaedia in the world, there are two example that made me think that something like this should and can be done.

Ancient History Encyclopaedia, which is wonderfully designed and organized: the website provide information of different areas and periods, it also has timelines, maps, video and a catalogue of interesting books. The contents provided are interesting and most importantly written by scholars, students, independent researchers… people that anyway know about what they are writing. The articles and definitions are signed by the authors, so that the reader can check who has written what, and decide how to consider and use the information. The website “only” deals with ancient history, which is a pretty huge topic… but obviously it does not comprises Islamic period.

The history of Islamic art, on the other hand, is kind of covered by MWNF (Museum With No Frontiers) – Discover Islamic Art project. In this case, the website provides thematic virtual tours on aspects of Islamic art. People can visit the virtual exhibitions or browse the catalogue that comprises pieces by a number of museums. For any piece there’s a detailed description. And also in this case the entries and the “galleries” are signed, letting everyone know who’s the writer.

Starting from this two websites, I am thinking about the possibility to develop an encyclopaedia of Islamic history and art, opensource, free, accessible anywhere, coherent and accurate, providing sources and information for anyone…

Let’s start! (?)

A long work? Yes, of course… Feasible? Who knows!

By now I’m starting thinking, also about who can collaborate… Anyone interested?

Update – Sep 30th, 2014: Encyclopaedia Iranica

That’s true… I have not considered Encyclopaedia Iranica, which is of course a wonderful project, as they have reminded me on twitter:

In fact, as the name suggests, it mainly deals with Iranian-related contents, that’s why I have not mentioned it in my post… but of course it also deals with some part of Islamic history and culture.

This is a valuable source for those who want to study Iran and its cultural and historical aspects and of course the project is something one should keep in mind when trying to build an OpenAccess resource for Islam and its art.


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