Ilmu Massa, Turath, Sejarah. Analisa Kajian Budaya Pemikir. Peradaban Insani Kalbu Akal Mencerah. Hakikat Amal Zikir Dan Fikir. Ilmu, Amal, Hikmah Menjana Pencerahan. Ulul-Albab Rausyanfikir Irfan Bistari. Tautan Mahabbah Mursyid Bimbingan. Alam Melayu Alam Islami Tamadun Melayu Peradaban Islami. Rihlah Ilmiah Menjana Pencerahan Pemikiran, Kefahaman & Ketamadunan (Ilmu,Amal,Hikmah & Mahabbah) - Inspirasi: Rizhan el-Rodi

The Balkan Encyclopedia of Islam’

A proposal on ‘The Balkan Encyclopedia of Islam’
by Mesut İdriz

Almost two decades ago, while enrolled in my M.A. and PhD programs at the International Institute of Islamic Thought & Civilization (ISTAC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I was going through various works in order to have some kind of so-called “encyclopedic knowledge.”

I began to flip pages of voluminous encyclopedias, mainly ones on Islam. This stirred my further interest to research the birth of “The Islamic Encyclopedia,” developments in the West and the Muslim world, and the current status as well as future prospects in this field of study. Some of the major regions of the Muslim world have contributed to this field by producing Islamic encyclopedias of their own, in their national languages, or even translating them from Western languages and languages of the Muslim world. However, I came across numerous gaps or neglected areas, such as a comprehensive Islamic encyclopedia covering the peripheries of the Muslim world, including the Malay region and the Balkans.

Throughout the last decade, many complaints were expressed by well-known international scholars of Islam regarding the lack of references to the history of Islam and Muslims in Southeast Europe, and the Balkans in particular. Most of the material on Islam and Muslims in this part of the world is scattered, not well indexed, intellectually biased and not readily available to the academic world. With regard to the 20th century, the studies, or rather objective works, are almost nonexistent.

The Balkan Peninsula is a historical region and, as a consequence of its geopolitical position, it, through the ages, displayed a distinct historical and cultural homogeneity. A history of the Balkans in general is an inseparable part of Islamic history and civilization. The common history is documented and preserved in millions of written records presently kept in the Ottoman archives in Turkey and in various Balkan countries.

During the first half of the 20th century, historians of the Balkan peoples have, on the one hand, evaluated centuries of Ottoman domination in a uniformly negative and often hostile manner. They have pointed out that the Balkan people were cut off from the rest of Europe, adding that they had been kept from developing their own civilizations and institutions.

The historiography on the topic produced during this period was characterized by an often myopic view and a nationalist interpretation. Some Western studies, however, have proven to be useful. These studies, on the other hand, had one major drawback in the sense that they had no access to Ottoman sources or were linguistically unqualified to use them. In their reliance on previous studies, on each other, on the work of Balkan historians, and on available materials in languages they had a familiarity with in Western European archives, these authors, nevertheless, managed to produce some good, but very limited works.

In the beginning of the second half of the 20th century, opinions began to shift. Historians of the Balkan peoples began to utilize their archives much more extensively than they had before. The result was a much more scholarly and objective body of work, which has shed new light on the Ottoman period. In the West, some qualified scholars also began to write based on these archival studies and the body of work steadily grew. These works have filled the columns of journals and publications only read by the old academic establishments.

It is no small wonder, therefore, that major figures in Balkan philosophy and history are unknown to world scholars and researchers. The history of Islamic literature and thought remains confined to the Middle East, Iran, North Africa, the Malay Archipelago and the Urdu-speaking countries. Most writers did not include the Balkans in their studies, except in rare passing remarks. Neither have the Balkans received their proper share of attention and recognition as an integral part of the Muslim world. In short, the entire field of knowledge requires a long overdue reconstruction.

During the last decade, many of us have dreamt of an encyclopedia project with a specific focus on Islamic civilization and the Muslims of the Balkans. It is an ambitious endeavor requiring intellectual expertise, financial capacity and serviceable facilities, along with administrative capability, time and energy; all of which demand an entourage with tremendous courage and faith that God’s will grant this project success. As time passes and we contemplate the hurdles that face us, we are reminded from within of the need for this, and we have shared the vision with many colleagues and friends from various institutions, both within the Balkan region and beyond.

In Turkey we have witnessed the “Turkiye Diyanet İslam Ansiklopedisi” (The Turkish Diyanet Encyclopedia of Islam), a project for which a huge estate and buildings were especially reserved, containing a library and over 100 permanent in-house researchers who tirelessly processed the contributions received from thousands of participants the world over. So far, 39 volumes of the encyclopedia have been designed, compiled, published and distributed all over the world. To our knowledge, the process of producing each volume costs millions, and most of this money was sourced from endowments (vakıf).

We witnessed a similar project in Iran, namely “The Great Encyclopedia of Islam,” as well as many similar projects from the Arab world in the Arabic language, Urdu and, recently, in Malay-speaking areas.

However, if this project is to cover almost every aspect of Islam in the Balkans (i.e., religion, literature, theology, philosophy, mysticism, history, concepts of architecture, arts and crafts of every kind, folklore and oral traditions, archaeology and anthropology, which -- combined -- will open new vistas of exploration into the vastness of what has happened in our past), then an army of researchers comparable to what numbers we have seen at work in other parts of the Muslim world is necessary.

In this regard, it is necessary to build a network that connects the many individuals and institutions necessary from all over Southeast Europe and beyond, covering Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, Hungary and Turkey. Our major constraints may be greatly foreshortened once we establish the network required for this project.

An encyclopedia is the main gateway for research on the intellectual tradition of any given culture and geographical area. It is the main reference for making policies, developing curriculum, having global communications, searching out clues for foreign policies and nation building. It is the primary authority over other sources of reference and the port of entry, so to speak, for exploring and identifying other worlds. “The Balkan Encyclopedia of Islam” (BEI) will bridge the Balkan cultures and traditions, and be a tool for further research and identification. While the geographical boundaries between nations gradually disappear, the breadth of culture, tradition, history, languages and beliefs are subsumed and the factors that coherently bind people require an extended perspective. This encyclopedia can do all this and more.

*Associate Professor Mesut İdriz is an instructor at Gazikent University.