In an effort to move away from science, sports, and the Simpsons, and to improve the WikiProject Report's coverage of religion-based projects, this week's Report is on WikiProject Islam. Here to tell us more about this project is Itaqallah.
First off, tell us about your history on Wikipedia and WikiProject Islam.
I've been an editor on Wikipedia for several years now, having joined in March 2006. In that time I've edited quite a few articles, most of them within the scope of Islam-related issues. My main area of focus has always been improving content quality currently-existing articles by ensuring that it conforms to content policies, is coherent and well-balanced, and uses appropriate references. In that regard I've helped to produce a number of Good Articles, such as Jesus in Islam, Battle of Uhud, and Fustat. I also brought Muhammad - an article so contentious that it had been reported on in mainstream media - up to Good Article status after it having seemed highly unlikely given the controversy. The contribution I'm most pleased with however is having taken Islam, from a contentious B-class article, up to GA-class, and then all the way to Featured Article status. It also received an external peer review from an expert in Islamic studies while we were still developing it, and it was quite a positive appraisal. I've also contributed a few 'Did you know?' articles as well, such as Al-Hurr ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Thaqafi, Global Peace and Unity and Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism, among others. I'm also interested in XfD discussions and help to maintain the Deletion Sorting/Islam page.
Wikiproject Islam is one of the many Wikiprojects on Wikipedia, and represents a collaborative effort to help improve Islam-related articles. A few of us regularly monitor the Wikiproject talk page to see if any articles or disputes require attention. My main contribution to the project has been to help establish a standard with regards to the kind of sourcing that is/isn't acceptable on Islam-related articles. Given the vast amount of sources available on Islamic topics and their varying quality or reliability, setting down a uniform standard to be applied on all respective articles has always been extremely important, and it's something we discuss often. I've also helped to get the assessment and peer-review departments up and running, as well as reviewing articles needing quality and importance ratings, or tagging article talk pages with the Wikiproject template where necessary.
It says on your user page that you are Muslim. How does this affect your work within WP Islam?
In Islam, we are told to seek knowledge. As a Muslim and as a human being, imparting knowledge to others is something I find extremely gratifying. Wikipedia's aim of collecting the sum total of human knowledge is something I appreciate a lot. So I try to ensure that my work is genuinely educational, beneficial and will increase readers' knowledge and understanding of the subject. Helping the collaborative effort over at Wikiproject:Islam means that this shared aim of providing information, spreading knowledge, improving article quality and so on can be realised more efficiently.
While you may find people wanting to spread views of a particular skew (pro-Muslim, anti-Muslim, etc.), I feel that the most appropriate approach is simply to present the facts in an objective and impartial manner. Let people read the facts and make their own judgement, but don't skew the way in which you present it. Now, more than ever, people are looking for objective sources about Islam and Islamic topics, and I believe it's our responsibility as editors that we make Islam-related articles as scholarly, professional and clinical as possible.
What about your knowledge of the Arabic and Urdu languages? Do you ever use them to read non-English sources or to translate your work?
To date I haven't relied upon it much. I believe that a feature of good citation is that it should be easily verifiable, so that a person can check for themselves how the source has been represented without too much difficulty or having to translate texts for themselves. For this reason, the sources I use in articles are usually written in English. One issue that often crops up is to what extent non-Western scholarship should be used and in what way. Other institutions around the world (i.e. Al-Azhar University, University of Madinah) maintain their own standards of scholarship and have curricula which are quite different from what you get in the West. While I'm aware that there's a vast amount of quality material within Arab-Islamic scholarship, the key points often feature in Western scholarship as well as they rely upon the former to varying degrees. I'm not exactly fluent in either language anyway, and it's important to be absolutely precise in the way you represent a source. I think some of my work has been translated to other wikis, but it isn't something I've ever tried myself.
During the FAC for Battle of Badr, Palm dogg said, "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to write a good NPOV article on Islam." Do you agree with his sentiments?
To a degree, yes. Islam and Islam-related issues have increasingly become topics of discussion, analysis, and debate on a global scale. So you'll have a lot of passionate opinions of all flavours and perspectives, and I'm sure this is the case when it comes to other contentious issues on Wikipedia. Not only will many sources be strongly opinionated, but it's sometimes the case that editors will be as well. There will be often be intense disputes on content, style and presentation - even about things which on other articles may be no-brainers. I think anybody who regularly edits Islam-related articles knows just how stressful and frustrating it can be.
But writing a good article isn't impossible. You may not get far if someone opposes your every mouse-click, but it's important to deal with things in a steady and patient manner, utilising all methods of dispute resolution. Stick to the core content policies, ensure material is balanced and of good quality, get more eyes on the issue, and don't be afraid to reconsider your arguments or make changes to what you propose. So long as your interest is in dispassionately representing the academic sources, and paying close attention to article balance, then you're on the right tracks. Ultimately, while Islam related articles present a different set of challenges, the experience of getting a low-quality contentious piece to something befitting an encyclopaedia can feel highly rewarding. And I say that as someone who has been in a fair few disputes!
WikiProject Islam has the somewhat rare distinction of having its central article (Islam) at the Featured Article level. Its successful FAC was a whopping 53 kilobytes long with comments from more than 15 editors. What was it like working on this highly viewed and highly contentious article?
Getting a high-traffic article like this up to Featured Article status requires a good deal of collaboration, and requires a lot of talk page discussion. I'm glad I was able to work alongside User:Aminz and User:Merzbow, two highly competent editors, in making substantive changes to the article. We all had to be flexible and open-minded, open to suggestion, willing to compromise where necessary. This was especially the case when trying to work on potentially divisive areas within the article. The level of scrutiny we applied to the article with regards to balance and neutrality was something I'll always remember. There were countless discussions about the respective weight we would try to give to different themes within the article. Even in writing a single paragraph, we had to ensure the balance was just right: not too many or too few sentences about that specific sub-topic. The risk was that there was so much to talk about and so many different aspects that we would end up bloating the article. At one point at the article size was around the 130k mark, even though all of the content was brief, concisely written and relevant. We had to make some tough decisions and it meant removing some aspects, merging others, or summarising several paragraphs into a few sentences. So a lot of our work was about paying attention to detail, as we knew how rigorous the FAC process could be. Looking back on that experience, it's one I enjoyed thoroughly even though there were often quite high-pressure situations and disputes. As one would expect, disruption attempts increased as the article was approaching its scheduled date to feature on the main page. So I would say that getting an important and highly viewed article like Islam up to FA status is one thing, but keeping it there in the weeks, months and years afterwards is also a challenge in itself. And I intend to help Wikiproject:Islam to get other core Islam-related articles up to the same standard as well.
Are there any major articles in particular that you or the other project members plan on improving in the near future?
There's quite a few important articles that need some attention. Qur'an, God in Islam, Fiqh and Sharia are most probably the highest priority articles needing improvement, and it would be great if we could get them to GA status and above. Muslim history and associated daughter articles spring to mind as well. To be honest, while WP Islam has produced some good work in the past, there's still plenty to be done on most articles to bring them up to a respectable standard. But the ones I've mentioned are certainly at the top of the to-do list.
WP Islam has another unusual feature: in addition to its lengthy participant list, it also has an Islamic experts list designed to help Wikipedians find answers for specific Islam-related questions. Can you tell us a little about this page?
There's lots of sub-topics when it comes to Islam articles, and it's often the case that people have their own specific areas of interest or focus where they happen to be more experienced. The list allows editors to identify these areas for the convenience of non-project editors, who might be seeking assistance for an article they're working on. For example, if someone's writing about the Mongol invasions, they might be interested in finding editors who are familiar with Muslim history. So it ultimately helps project members put their skills to better use. Putting yourself on the list is optional, and another way to find assistance is simply to post on the project talk page.
In closing, how can those editors with little knowledge of Islam or who shy away from heavy disputes help out with the project?
It's not necessary to know much about a subject to be intimately involved in the editorial process. A lot of Islam-related articles require copyediting to assist readability and clarity. An article might cover all the important points, but it cannot become great until the style and presentation is improved. The project also focuses on article assessment and rating, categories, adding project tags to talk pages, updating to-do tasks, helping out with standardising citations, maintaining the recently-featured Portal:Islam, and so on. Obtaining, producing or taking pictures and adding them to the Commons so that they can be used in Islam-related articles is also extremely useful. Thus you don't have to be knowledgeable about Islam or spend hours in dispute resolution in order to be involved and make a difference. Even then, a lot of the basic knowledge about Islam is easily available in some of the introductory academic texts available on websites like Google Books, and often it's the very basic information that's actually missing from articles. So involvement is possible on all levels, and we're always happy for members to simply do what they're comfortable with, as much or as little as that might entail! It's a project open to everyone, and the more people involved in improving Islam-related articles, the better!