Of some seven billion men, women, and children now living on earth, every fourth proclaims that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah. This testimony makes them Muslims. Muslims believe that the Qurʾān is the last revealed Book sent by Allah to guide humanity to the Straight Path, and that the life of Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, is the best model to follow. Any understanding of Islam beyond a basic minimum requires a deeper reading of the Qurʾān and the vast repository of texts dealing with the sciences of the Qurʾān and the life of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. Both of these are in classical Arabic, but only about 8 to 10 per cent of Muslims today have sufficient knowledge of classical Arabic to understand these texts. This inability to directly access the multi-layered linguistic richness of the original sources is further compounded by a lack of sufficient training to read the Qurʾān, a Book that operates at the supra-rational plane and requires the simultaneous participation of inner resources and faculties including the heart and the intellect guided by revelation.
If the paths to the Qurān have become difficult for Muslims to access, they are almost completely blocked for a vast majority of non-Muslims. This is a great calamity not only for those who have never really come into contact with the Words of their Creator preserved in the in the Qurʾān for all time, but also for the entire human race, because it creates an unbridgeable divide between the fourth of humanity that believes in this Book and the rest who do not.
Non-Muslim scholars in the academy face yet another dilemma when approaching the Qurʾān. They cannot, by definition, commit themselves to any position about the Divine origin of the Qurʾān; their professional obligation is to maintain an objective detachment from their object of study, yet, in this case, the object of study—the Qurʾān—insists and demands that one must settle the fundamental issue of its authorship before any further engagement can occur. This means accepting or rejecting the Qurʾānic claim to be the actual Speech of God Himself. A corollary of whatever choice one makes involves one’s position regarding the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. This dilemma has been recognized by a number of academic scholars in the West along with the admission that no workable solutions are available for this intractable situation.
Against this historical background, the Center for Islamic Sciences (CIS) launched an international project in 2008 to produce The Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qurʾān (IEQ)—a unique reference work in seven volumes that encapsulates fourteen hundred years of Islamic scholarship on the Qurʾān and shares with its sources the premise that the Qurʾān is a revealed text while maintaining scholarly norms of the highest order. The first volume was published in 2013 and received wide-ranging recognition as a superb work of scholarship. IEQ assumes serious engagement but no prior knowledge of Arabic or of the Qurʾān. It employs English-language lemmata and its extensive cross-referencing facilitates a fuller understanding of the Qurʾān. IEQ draws its entries from the thematic structure of the Qurʾān, integrates fourteen centuries of Muslim scholarship, and presents a breadth of authoritative knowledge about the Qurʾān which is not found in any existing reference work in a Western language. IEQ addresses all concepts, persons, places, events, and things mentioned in the Qurʾān. With almost one fifth of its anticipated 525 entries completed, IEQ provides an unmatched source for gaining in-depth knowledge of Qurʾānic concepts as well as specific persons, places, events and things mentioned in the Qurʾān.