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EWIC Reviews- Sharkey Vol. 2

Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures




Reviewed By: Heather J. Sharkey
Review of Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Vol. 2: Family, Law and Politics.
Published by: International Bulletin of Missionary Research (2006)

With the debut of volume 2 of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (EWIC), a projected six-volume series, Brill Academic Publishers in the Netherlands confirms its status as the behemoth of Islamic studies publishers. Like its landmark multivolume reference work The Encyclopedia of Islam, the E W/C project has assembled a multinational team of scholars and looks set to become an indispensable reference work for the study of women, gender, and family issues throughout the Islamic world.

The EWIC series recognizes that the Islamic world umbrella is a wide one. Hence its articles cover not only core Middle Eastern, Asian, and African societies, where Muslim peoples form population majorities, but also societies that include well-established Muslim minorities, notably, western Europe and the United States. Articles also discuss some of the non-Muslim peoples who have lived in predominantly Muslim societies.

Centered on the theme "Family, Law, and Politics," volume 2 contains more than 360 articles that are grouped by subject and subdivided by region. Its subject entries include, for example, adoption, citizenship, women's participation in militaries, household forms and composition, freedom of expression, and religious associations. Two of the largest subject groups are law, further subdivided into such categories as Islamic and customary law, law enforcement, and historical trends in family law; and political-social movements, broken down into ethnic, Islamist, pacifist, millenarian, and other categories. Each article ends with bibliographic references to guide readers in further study.

My one quibble with the volume is that it has an idiosyncratic organization and lacks cross-referencing between articles. Some entry titles are opaque in their vagueness or specificity, such as "Women's Rights: Male Advocacy" and "Shah Bano Affair," respectively. Others are classified under counterintuitive headings: the article "Purdah in South Asia," for example, appears under "Political and Social Movements: Protest Movements." Readers interested in Islamic dress codes for women will need to scan the entry headings to find the articles entitled "Modesty Discourses," which offer a limited discussion of related issues. The arbitrariness of classification stands out where ethnic and minority issues are concerned. Self-standing articles exist under the headings "Armenian Women," "Bahai Women," "Jewish Women," and "Kurdish Women," but a discussion of Maghribi Berbers is subsumed in the article "North Africa" under "Political and Social Movements," while discussion of Egyptian Copts appears in the article "Egypt" under the category "Sectarianism and Confessionalism." (Readers of the IBMR may be interested to note that this essay on Egypt focuses on the Coptic Orthodox population and refers only in passing to the existence of Egyptian Roman Catholics and Anglicans, while overlooking the long-standing Evangelical Presbyterian community.) A glaring omission from the category on sectarianism is Lebanon, which is usually cited as the Middle Eastern example par excellence of sectarian or confessional tendencies. Readers looking for topics that lack separate entries (such as abortion, Nigeria, or the Druze peoples) may be able to locate relevant articles by turning to the index.

In the volume's preface, Suad Joseph, the general editor of the EWIC series, acknowledges the "unevenness and inconsistency in the geographical content of entries" and ascribes it primarily to the "challenge of finding authors who had the expertise (and time) to write" (p. xxvii). She notes that 130 commissioned articles (nearly a quarter of the projected total) did not arrive in time for publication and mentions that Brill will eventually make these additional articles available in an online version of the EWIC series.

Notwithstanding its uneven coverage, volume 2 of EWIC is an impressive book, stunning in its breadth and scholarly sophistication, yet written in a clear and jargon-free style. Its articles deserve praise for their attention to social detail and for their candor in addressing sensitive issues, such as domestic and sexual violence, and stereotyping and discrimination along ethnic, gender-based, or racial lines. Every serious research library should acquire this volume and the EWIC series as a whole.

-Heather J. Sharkey

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