The Encyclopaedia of Islam is the grand reference book of its subject. The Encyclopaedia's topics mostly deal with the pre-modern period, but some entries are contemporary (such as the Islamist thinker Sayyid Abu 'l-A`la Mawdudi and the history of Sudan up to 1995). The first Encyclopaedia was compiled in 4 volumes between 1913 and 1936. The second edition, still underway, began publication in 1954 and has now finished the letter "S." Its nine printed volumes make up more than 10,000 double-columned pages and over 10 million words. Some entries amount to small book-length studies on their particular subjects (such as the one on Egypt). At the other end of the scale, many Encyclopaedia entries are the only place a topic can be looked up (where else could one find a discussion of the term miswaq, a wooden toothbrush endorsed by Islam, or locate a biography and bibliography of Abu'l-Fadl Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Sukkari al-Marwazi, a tenth-century Arabic poet living in Iran?).
This monumental work of scholarship has always has two great drawbacks: cost and accessibility. The information age, happily, has solved both. For a mere $375, or less than a single published volume, the entire reference work can be had on CD-ROM. (It lacks only the photographs and line drawings of the paper edition.) Better yet, in an age of hard drives of 30 gigabytes and counting, the CD's mere 626 megabytes fits handily on a hard drive, thereby making the contents ever-accessible and particularly speedy to access. Best of all, this version offers the incomparable ability to conduct a search. Looking for "Jabriya," the school of thought that held that man has no choice but in all things follows the divine will? Remembering to use the Encyclopaedia's slightly eccentric spelling system (one that needs to be learned before trying out the CD), enter "Djabriyya," and you'll find one entry and another reference. Want to find out about `Ali Pasha of Yanina? Enter "`Ali Pasha" and you'll quickly locate him under "Ali Pasha Tepedelenli" - something the print edition might well have kept hidden.
Perfecting this CD, the page and column of each entry's printed version is clearly announced, making electronic and printed editions completely compatible. The wildcard, Boolean, and proximity search capacities are flexible and sophisticated. Every arcane transliteration letter is easily available for exact spelling. How many times a specific string of text turns up in each entry is readily available. Cross references are quietly marked in blue type. Typos are rare. Click on a bibliographic abbreviation (ZDMG) and the full name pops up (Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft). This, in short, is a masterly version of an incomparable reference tool.