- Translating Women and Gender: The Experience of Translating The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures into Arabic
Translation is not merely an act of transferring information, but a process of knowledge production. Thus, the idea of translating the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (EWIC) is an extension of EWIC itself, being a project conscious of the importance of knowledge production in the field of gender and women’s studies and Islamic cultures.1 Suad Joseph, the general editor of EWIC, expresses in her introduction the editorial board’s awareness of the significance and consequences of producing encyclopedic knowledge about women and Islamic cultures. EWIC was originally published in English with the aim of presenting state-of-the-art research in gender and women’s studies and Islamic cultures to an English-speaking readership. Moreover, the authors taking part in the production of EWIC are a group of specialized researchers in this area, who, though coming from various cultural backgrounds and disciplines, share an interest in women’s studies and specialize in different parts of the world dominated by Islamic cultures. The project attempts to define and present examples of specialized and crucial studies in this field, with the prospect of producing knowledge and encouraging novel and continuous research.
The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (EWIC) is an ongoing seven-volume interdisciplinary and cross-cultural project. Joseph, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, worked with an advisory board of scholars and academics specialized in women’s studies and Islamic societies, as well as a group of associate editors, in addition to the contributors. The associate editors were each responsible for a specific region: Afsaneh Najmabadi (Turkey, Iran, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia as far as the borders of Mongolia, and the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union), Julie Peteet and Seteney Shami (the Arab countries in the Gulf, Eastern Mediterranean, and North [End Page 254] Africa, as well as Israel, Andalusian Spain, and Europe under the Ottoman Empire), Jacqueline Siapno (China, Mongolia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Asian Pacific and Australia), and Jane I. Smith (Western Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas). Volume 1 alone includes forty-six thematic entries and twenty-two disciplinary entries, created by specialists—who, with very few exceptions, are women academics affiliated with American and British universities (Joseph 2003, xxi–xlix).
The Translation of EWIC into Arabic
The idea of translating this encyclopedia into other languages, starting with Arabic, highlights several points. First, it reveals the interest held by the editorial board and the publishing house in the wide dissemination of this work, beyond the boundaries of an English-speaking readership, to the extent of providing a free online Arabic edition. Even given the worldwide lack of equality in access to the Internet, the initiative of providing EWIC for free to Arabic-speaking researchers and scholars is in itself a step that can only be appreciated and valued by those living in the Arab world who experience or recognize the inability of most academic institutions to provide such a resource via their institutions. The requirements of annual subscription fees and Internet connection costs exceed the capacities of many (if not most) researchers and academics in the Arab world. We hope that the online edition is a step preceding a low-cost print edition of EWIC in Arabic.
Second, beginning with Arabic in the project of translating the encyclopedia grows out of an awareness of Arab researchers’ need for access to this work, in view of the fact that English, in the Arab world, is a language known by only a small number of researchers, and perfected by an even smaller minority, as the majority’s educational backgrounds are Arabic based. Therefore, an Arabic version of EWIC is, for many (if not most) readers, their only means of access to state-of-the-art studies and research in the fields of women’s and Islamic cultures. This gains more value as we consider the great importance of getting acquainted with the research methodologies and paradigms as well as the sources introduced and listed in this encyclopedia.