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Understanding the Muslim world

By Robert Repino


While interest in Islam has grown in recent years—both in the media and in educational institutions—there remains a persistent misunderstanding of the religion’s practices, beliefs, and adherents, who now number over one and half billion people. Addressing this problem is not simply an academic exercise, for the past decade especially has shown that our understanding of Islam can have enormous consequences on foreign and domestic policies, as well as on social relations. The growth of the Muslim community in the West, the continued American involvement in Muslim-majority countries, the burgeoning global economy, and the new opportunities at dialogue presented by the Arab Spring make understanding the Muslim world more important than ever.

Since its launch in 2007, Oxford Islamic Studies Online (OISO) has served as a hub for Oxford University Press (OUP)’s growing list of reference works, translations, and monographs related to the Muslim world. Updated multiple times a year, OISO includes over 5,000 articles, hundreds of maps and images, and a number of chaptered works, primary source documents, timelines, lesson plans, interviews, and editorials that are meant to promote a more informed understanding of Islam.

Oxford recently partnered with the American Library Association and the National Endowment of the Humanities to make OISO a centerpiece of the Muslim Journeys project, a public education initiative run by the two organizations. Muslim Journeys encourages students and scholars to explore the field by utilizing the most authoritative content available. Over 900 libraries, humanities councils, and community colleges applied to participate in the project, which provides a collection of books, films, and other resources to familiarize users with the Islamic world. Participating institutions will also receive a year’s subscription to OISO, which will vastly expand the number of subscribers to the site, giving OUP a unique opportunity to share this acclaimed learning tool with a wider audience.

To help the new subscribers get the most out of their experience, Oxford’s Product Specialists have been holding webinars to introduce users to the content available on OISO (you can see an example of a webinar). In addition, Oxford’s Marketing team has provided users with links to the content on the site that best highlights the core themes of the Muslim Journeys project:

  • American Stories: an exploration of Muslim communities in the United States, from colonial times to the present.
  • Connected Histories: a new way of understanding the relationship between the Muslim world and the West, showing the shared intellectual inheritance among the cultures.
  • Literary Reflections: a survey of the major works of fiction and poetry inspired by Islam.
  • Pathways of Faith: the spiritual experiences of the Islamic faith, from the stories of Prophet’s life to interpretations of the Qur’an to the mystical poetry of Rumi.
  • Points of View: personal narratives from the Muslim world, including the popular graphic novel Persepolis and the memoir In the Country of Men.


To highlight the history of American Islam in particular, Oxford has recruited Edward E. Curtis IV, author of Muslims in America (OUP, 2011), to edit a series of articles on topics such as Muslim politics, congregations, religious leaders, family life, and media perceptions in the United States (premiering in the fall of 2013), which will be supported by new primary source documents. Finally, the Muslim Journeys project coincides with a larger effort to revise and expand the content of the site. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World (originally published in 2009), which forms the bulk of OISO’s content, continues to grow with the addition of spinoff titles, such as the Encyclopedia of Islam and Women (Natana DeLong-Bas, editor), the Encyclopedia of Islam and Law (Jonathan Brown, editor), and the Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics (Emad Shahin, editor). The Arab Spring section of the site will continue to provide new essays on the unfolding revolutions taking place in the Middle East. Oxford will also reach out to participating colleges to commission new lesson plans, based on the subscribers’ experiences with the resources of the Muslim Journeys project.

We hope that together, OISO and Muslims Journeys will bring a greater understanding of the Muslim world.

Robert Repino is an Editor in the Reference department of Oxford University Press. After serving in the Peace Corps in Grenada, he earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The African American National Biography (2nd Edition), The Literary Review, The Coachella Review, Hobart, and JMWW.  His debut novel is forthcoming from Soho Press in 2014.

Oxford Islamic Studies Online is an authoritative, dynamic resource that brings together the best current scholarship in the field for students, scholars, government officials, community groups, and librarians to foster a more accurate and informed understanding of the Islamic world. Oxford Islamic Studies Online features reference content and commentary by renowned scholars in areas such as global Islamic history, concepts, people, practices, politics, and culture, and is regularly updated as new content is commissioned and approved under the guidance of the Editor in Chief, John L. Esposito.

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