By Shaheen Nazar
With the publication of "Muslim World Almanac 2008," a group of individuals based in Makkah and Jeddah has done a remarkable job. Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef has rightly said in his preface: "Seldom do we come across a comprehensive exposition of our faith and its tradition, together with its authentic and up-to-date portrayal of the geopolitical and socioeconomic conditions in the Muslim world. Here is a response to this challenge, covering, inter alia, the current state of affairs in the Muslim regions, ethnic and demographic composition including the historical turns and twists that characterize our worldwide community. The Makkah-based treatise is indeed a noteworthy attempt."
Indeed, it is. The 900-plus pages almanac of encyclopaedic nature contains almost everything about Islam and its followers. It is a mine of information on a community much talked about these days. The post-Sept. 11 world has brought unprecedented focus on Muslims throughout the globe. Starting with their faith to their everyday life, their politics, economy, education and every action (or lack of it) are being scrutinized in the West. That is why all sorts of literature related to Muslims are currently in circulation. But most of the work is done either from the West's own perspective or done without proper knowledge.
The almanac under review has been compiled with all the sincerity that is required for this kind of work. It covers features such as a country-wise panorama, an unobstructed scene, or comprehensive portrayal of different regions of the Muslim world; importance given to human rights and social egalitarianism by Islam; the significance of such an important and widely-misunderstood Islamic institution as jihad, or striving for a right cause; the significance and role of mosques in Muslim community life; the dignity, status and security of women in Islam; terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and other subversive cults and ideologies and the cardinal teachings of the Holy Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Based on these features, the almanac has been divided into 14 sections. The first section, which occupies half of the total pages of this volume, contains the profiles of 60 Muslim countries. Detailed information has been provided on each country which gives an idea not only about the present state of affairs in that country but also helps the reader in knowing the historical background of the country. This has been done with the help of standard sub-headings like brief introduction followed by its history (modern and medieval); geography; people (including population, ethnic division, religion, language, birth rate, death rate, infant mortality rate, life expectancy, literacy); education; government (including country, official name, type of government, capital, administrative division, national holiday or independence day, chief of state, cabinet, legislative branch, judicial branch, political parties and leaders, member of international organizations); economy (including GDP, natural resources, agriculture, major industries, electric power, exports, imports, major trade partners, budget, external debt, currency, monetary conversion rate, labor force); health and nutrition; media and communication (including telephone both landline and mobile, satellite earth stations, radio broadcast stations, radios, TV broadcast stations, TV sets and Internet); transportation (including railroad, highways, airports and waterways); defence (including branches, military manpower and military budget); universities; library and archives; museums and art galleries. The list is comprehensive. The text on each country is supported by pictures of country leaders, important buildings, places and events.
Another section that would be equally useful for a researcher or an objective reader is "Statistical Data: An Analytical Treatise." Two articles - "Demography of Muslim Countries" by Professor Mehtab Karim and "Economic Overview of OIC Countries" by Dr. Akhtar Ali" - give enough food for thought to those who are really interested in knowing the community. The two articles are supported by statistical data covering 127 variables of individual countries such as agriculture, demography, education, energy, exports, health, imports, industry and manufacturing, international finance, labour force, money and prices, national account, public finance, tourism and transportation and communication.
A separate section on Islam deals with various aspects of the faith. Articles by well-known writers are informative and objective in nature. Various Islamic institutions such as zakat, Haj, jihad, mosque and madrasa are discussed. Also, there are articles on human rights and women's rights in Islam. The section also contains eight articles on Islamic banking which is much in demand these days, prompting most Western banking giants to join in.
Profiles of 15 Muslim institutions including Egypt's Al-Azhar, India's Aligarh Muslim University, Darul Uloom Deoband and Islamic Research Foundation, Malaysia's International Islamic University and United States' Islamic Society of North America are given.
The section on science and technology contains four comprehensive articles by eminent writers. Under the title, "Science Park," a detailed list of centres of scientific and technological research in Muslim countries is given. This includes centres in all the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia and also in Iran, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Tunisia and Turkey. Titles of other articles are self-explanatory: "State of Science in the Muslim World" by Dr. Athar Osama; "Science and Technology - Where do Muslims Stand?" by Dr. Anwar Nasim and Ikram Abbasi and "Seeking Knowledge - An Imperative" by Dr. Habib Siddiqui. A list of Muslim scientists and their contributions is also provided. But this has been taken from the pages of history. The last name in the list is that of Ghiyat Al-Deen Al-Kashani who died in the 15th century. What about modern-day Muslim scientists? There are not many. But one cannot believe that a community numbering more than a billion has not even one worthy of mention!
The same is the case with the section on environment. It contains only one article which gives an Islamic perspective of the subject. But this theoretical article is not supported by information on actions that Muslim countries are taking. Saving our planet from environmental disaster is the biggest concern of today's world. Countries from East to West and from North to South are struggling to do everything possible to preserve ecology. Muslims are part and parcel of this struggle. The Organization of the Islamic Countries (OIC) fully cooperates with the United Nations in all its environmental programs. These facts should have been covered in the almanac.
A separate section is devoted to "Conflicts and Disasters" which contains a chronology of major events from 2002 to 2007. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, changed the world forever. The over-reaction of the United States has vertically divided the whole world. The US-initiated War on Terror has sidelined all issues of concern to humanity and caused misery to Muslims from Afghanistan to Iraq and from the Palestinian territories to Iran. Muslims living in the so-called civilized societies in the West are no exception. Reports of racial profiling have become common. This section traces the trauma and the tragedy that the world faces today. It also covers the internal strife and struggles in Muslim countries. Countries and regions that have been covered, besides Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, are Iran, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Kosovo, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. Besides, a chronology of events between 2002 and 2007 (that includes the whole world) is also given. A separate article on natural disaster such as tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes is given which discusses people and regions affected by these disasters during the last five years.
The section "Current Muslim Issues" deals with the plight of Muslim minorities in Myanmar, southern Philippines, southern Thailand and India's Gujarat. Three separate articles on America's Guantanamo, Iraq's Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base remind its readers of the persecution and discrimination that the community faces today.
A special section deals with unresolved issues faced by the Islamic community such as Palestine and Kashmir. An article in chronological order has been given on the fate of over 300,000 Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh.
This almanac is a massive endeavour for which Editor Saqib Jawaid and Managing Editor Jawaid Anwar Al-Hasan deserve commendation. Their success lies in the fact that they have gathered eminent personalities of Saudi Arabia and beyond for this project. That is why we see in the 13-member Editorial Advisory Board names of former editors in chief of at least three dailies besides professors and writers based in the US, UK, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The board is headed by Adil A. Kaki, president, Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
— The online version of almanac can be accessed at http://www.muslimworldalmanac.com
Source: Arab News