Educational Encyclopedia of Islam

A Stupendous Task: admirably accomplished
Book: An Educational Encyclopedia of Islam 
  Editor: Syed Iqbal Zaheer   Publisher: East West Educational Tools, Bangalore - 42   Email:   Year: 2010   Price: Rs. 5000/US$ 125   Pages: 1300 (in two volumes)   ISBN No.: 978-603-90004-40   Dr AG Khan 

What Lord Bacon said about books that some must be tasted, some must be chewed while some must be digested; without exaggeration can be said about this outstanding contribution to Islamic studies. It must be injected into our nervous system to galvanise our minds and hearts. The editor, his team and supporters deserve all praise for this breath taking spell-binding book which is both rewarding as well as stimulating 

Prompted by a desire to clarify western misconceptions about Islam (MG 272) and to project a true picture of the faith, the book leaves no stone unturned in locating the real and original source of information. From Old Arabic manuscripts to modern websites every source has been thoroughly probed, weighed, accepted (or rejected). It has taken a team of dozens of scholars – traditional as well as modern, to read, interpret, translate, analyse and incorporate facts into the final draft.

What sets it apart from other books are attractive 3D illustrations, maps, flow charts and extravaganza of colourful printing. There are plenty of anecdotes interspersed all over the texts. While topics like Attributes of Allah, Life of the Prophet and his Sahaba, Hadith studies, Islamic history, Women, Human Rights; cultural aspects, e.g., coins, calligraphy, dresses have been covered in the two volumes. Arranged alphabetically, the entries in the first volume cover A to H, whereas the second volume covers I to Z.

Syed Iqbal Zaheer, who has several books to his credit – 14 volume commentary on the Qur’an, Ishraq Al-Ma’ani, life of the Prophet, biography of Hadhrat Bilal as well as of Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi; several monographs and translations from Arabic, has been editing the Young Muslim Digest for the past three decades. He is a chemical engineer and has served as consultant in Saudi petroleum industry and has been engaged in qawah activities. His family founded a welfare trust and is looking after a vocational guidance centre for women at Hasan (Karnataka) where girls are taught religious and vocational courses. Thus, he is fully competent to analyse and interpret a scientific as well as a religious fact and find a bond between the two. He holds that what the Qur’an had said is slowly and consistently being attested by scientists much to the chagrin of the Darwinists.

Parading the latest biological findings about fly, mosquito or blood; he enlightens us how these facts have been so succinctly told in the Qur’an 1400 years ago.

Entries in volume I cover A-H: The first two entries are about Allah and the Prophet. He clarifies the difference between Allah and God which should not be used as synonyms because, “God one God or many gods, He can be a goddess, God of one people without being God of others, a Sun-god, Moon-god, Sky-god, a third of the three gods, a godess of wealth, etc. But Allah of Arabic is that primordially planted concept at the sub-conscious level which holds that God is One, the Supreme Being, the Lord of all beings, the Creator and Cherisher who alone deserves worship and prayers…” (p.1). He answers questions such as why does God punish or why did God create pain; or could not God create a world perfectly perfect without pain etc. While narrating the Prophet’s biography he draws our attention to the fact that Umm Habibah became the Prophet’s wife, while she was in a foreign land while, back in Arabia her father was leading the Makkans against the Prophet, in all their battles after Badr. It was he who had inflicted the terrible defeat on Muslims at Uhud. (p.40). Here was a “ruler” who stitched his shoes, patched his clothes and milked his goats. He could squat on the ground in any vacant place… preferred to keep himself behind everyone while walking in a group (41) When the spoils of war began making paupers of the affluents of Madinah his wives, “surrounded him one day refusing to release him without promises of increase in their allowance. He was irritated by their behaviour and on Allah’s command, gave them the option that they could stay with him under the same conditions, or part company, in which case he would send them away with gifts… The result was as A’isha described in another context “Full three moons would pass without our ovens getting lit” (p. 46).

The entries are replete with anecdotes. Quite a few ones relate to Abu Hanifah, e.g., Caliph Mansur was insisting that Abu Hanifah should accept the post of Chief Justice, while he was refusing on grounds that he was not fit for the job. Mansur said “Of course, you are! You are lying. “Abu Hanifah replied, “If I am lying, then I am disqualified” (p. 150). Indians who see Anna Hazare’s march against corruption will be surprised to know that the governor of Iraq orderd Abu Hanifah to accept judgeship of Kufa. He refused and, was subjected to 110 lashes of the whip starting with ten a day; and ten added for every refusal (p. 152).

We are informed about what the Qur’an says about the flies (421), the Hadith and flies (p. 430) plus an entry from Grzimek’s Animal Encyclopedia which tells of their importance for human beings (p. 429). When a tyrant was irked and troubled by a fly, he asked a scholar, “Why did Allah create the fly?” He answered “In order to humble the tyrants” (p. 429). We are told that the fly has helped at least four biologists to win the Nobel Prize (p. 431), “A fly falling upon faces is better than a scholar at the doors of the rulers” (p. 431).

One has to admire Imam Ghazzali’s courage when he told a ruler: “The necks of your horses are bent due to the weight of the jewels. But the necks of your Muslim subjects are broken by poverty and hunger” (p. 428)

In our times, everybody wants to construct a house, but Malik b. Dinar (131 H) sold off timber trusses of the roof of his house in order to continue his study of Hadith  (497).


Volume II begins entries with I. In this volume one comes across great intellectual giants like Ibn Khalladun, Ibn Sinah, Iqbal etc. Here in five brief chapters is recorded Islamic History beginning from the world before the Prophet to Caliph Mutawakkil, the second (920-923 H) in 44 pages followed by Islamic Literature covering 40 important books (and their authors) in 25 pages. It touches practical aspects of life such as marriage, spouse selection, pre-marriage dialogue, marriage counselling and female psychology. Expansion of the Prophet’s mosque from its beginning to the present period is covered in 10 pages with eye catching illustrations and maps. Mi’raj is described in 7 pages.

The text material is supported with a bibliography that runs into 16 pages (English) and another 10 pages (Arabic).

Ably assisted by a team comprising Dr. Maher Sultan (a physician) and Biju Abdul Kadir (a mechanical engineer), the production involved scores of translators at different stages. In short, to borrow a phrase from John Dryden, the English poet of the Middle Ages, “Here is God’s plenty.” May Allah reward their pains! Amen.