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Posted June 4, 2003

Book: The Oxford Dictionary of Islam
Author: John L. Esposito
Oxford University Press, NY, pp. 359

Excerpt from Jacket:

Designed for general readers with little or no knowledge of Islam, this superb Oxford Dictionary provides more than 2000 vividly written, up-to-date, and authoritative entries organized in an easy-to-use, A-to-Z format.

The Dictionary focuses primarily on the 19th and 20th centuries, stressing topics of most interest to Westerners. What emerges is a highly informative look at the religious, political, and social spheres of the modern Islamic world. Naturally, readers will find many entries on topics of intense current interest, such as terrorism and the Taliban. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the PLO and HAMAS. But the coverage goes well beyond recent headlines. There are biographical profiles, ranging from Naguib Mahfouz (the Nobel Prize winner from Egypt) to Malcolm X, including political leaders, influential thinkers, poets, scientists, and writers. Other entries cover major political movements, militant groups, and religious sects as well as terms from Islamic law, culture, and religion, key historical events, and important landmarks (such as Mecca and Medina). A series of entries look at Islam in individual nations, such as Afghanistan, the West Bank and Gaza, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the United States, and there are discussions of Islamic views on such issues as abortion, birth control, the Rushidie Affair, and the theory of evolution.

Whether we are listening to the evening news, browsing through the op-ed pages, or reading a book on current events, references to Muslims and the Islamic world appear at every turn. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam offers a wealth of information and increasingly important world religion.

Excerpt from Book:

Iraq, Islam in

The present state of Iraq was founded in 1920 under British mandate. The population of Iraq is approximately 55-60 percent Arab Shii, 15-20 percent Arab Sunni, and 20 percent Kurdish Sunni. Iranian Shiis consider the Iraq holy cities of Najaf and Karbala as critical to their own faith and culture and wield significant religious influence over Iraqi Shiis there. Shiis throughout the world come to Najaf as the center of Shii learning. Najaf was the center from which opposition to British rule was organized, where Lebanese Shii religious leaders were trained and where Ayatollah Khomeini spent fourteen years in exile. Shii activism directed from Najaf contributed to opposition to the Communist threat in the 1960s and to the British regime since 1968.


Known as the City of Peace. Construction was begun by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 762. Was the Abbasid capital until 1258, and became a center of international trade, medicine, communication with provinces, immigration, and industry, as well as the largest city in the Middle East. Home to a variety of religions and ethnic groups. Integrated Arabs and non-Arabs into a single society. Symbol of wealth, Arab imperial authority, majesty of caliphate, and Islamic civilization. Home of Bayt al-Hikmah, a center for the scientific study and translation of Syriac and Greek works into Arabic. Maintained its position as the capital of Islamic religious and Arabic literary studies after the fall of Abasid caliphate. Capital of present-day Iraq.