Types of Sources
Primary sources are original materials. In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source (also called original source or evidence) is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. It serves as an original source of information about the topic. A primary source can be an artifact produced by a person with direct knowledge of a situation, or a document created by such a person. In an article about a book (e.g. the Qur'an) it would be the book itself. Careful attention must be paid to the subject of primary sources in the study of the history of Islam. For centuries, both Muslim and western academics have treated documents written in the 8th century and after as primary resources in reference to events which transpired in the 7th century. Although such documents may be primary sources in reference to traditional and original Muslim beliefs about a given topic, since they tend to depend on chains of transmission from the 7th century these must actually be classed as secondary sources.
In academia, a secondary source is a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere. For example, a statement by a scholar about a certain battle in the history of Islam would be a secondary source. The news articles "Productivity suffers during holy month" and "Outcry over Malaysian child marriages" that report on a development or an incident are also secondary sources. Secondary sources involve generalization, analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of the original information. Primary and secondary are relative terms, and some sources may be classified as primary or secondary, depending on how it is used. All documents from around the time an incident occurred may not be primary but rather secondary, and many documents which seem ancient to us may yet be secondary sources reporting on events which transpired in a remote time in the past relative to the author.
Tertiary sources are sources that rely upon primary and secondary sources. Unlike secondary sources, they attempt to provide a broad introductory overview of a topic. As tertiary sources, encyclopedias and textbooks attempt to summarize and consolidate the source materials, but may also present commentary and analysis. The New Encyclopedia of Islam would be an example of a tertiary source. There are a variety of encyclopedias available.
Identifying Reliable Sources
The primary religious sources for Islam include the Qur'an and Hadith collections. Until 2017, WikiIslam used the University of Southern California Muslim Students Association's Compendium of Muslim Texts (USC-MSA). This included the respected and widely accepted Qur'an translations of Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthal and M. H. Shakir. Hadith translations available from the Compendium of Muslim Texts were the translation of Sahih Al-Bukhari by Muhsin Khan, the translation of Sahih Muslim by Abd-al-Hamid Siddiqui, the translation of Sunan Abu Dawud by Ahmad Hasan, and the translation of Malik's Muwatta by A'isha Abd-al-Rahman al-Tarjumana and Ya'qub Johnson. This compendium ceased to function in late 2016, and so is no longer used by Wikiislam.
From 2017 to the time of writing, Quranx.com is used for both Qur'an and hadith citations by means of templates as described on the citing sources page. Quranx.com contains all of the sources and translations from the compendium, including hadiths that were omitted in the USC-MSA collections, as well as additional hadith collections.
Other useful resources concerning primary religious sources are the Master Ayat (Verse) Index from IslamAwakened.com which provides 34 compared English translations, and the iKnowledge Qur'an from IslamicNature.com which provides the English literal translation. The hadith collection at SearchTruth.com is also useful due to including a few narrations that have oddly been misplaced/removed from the Compendium.
Ibn Ishaq's sira, and those of Ibn Hisham, Tabari, and Ibn Saa'd are also important religious sources, second only to the Qur'an and hadith (although in practice, the hadith and sira literature's contribution to mainstream Islam far out-way the Qur'an's). The edition of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah that is generally used is translated by A. Guillaume and published by the Oxford University Press. The various volumes of The History of al-Tabari that is generally use is published by the State University of New York Press (SUNY Press).
Wherever possible documents should be quoted in the original languages and translated to English (or the target language of the article). In particular Arabic sources are essential for the study of Islam.
Secular vs Islamic Sources
Secular academic sources are welcome and in fact required. The Islamic historiographical tradition relies upon the "science" of Isnad, which inter alia classifies historical traditions according to the "trustworthiness" of every person in a given chain of transmittal, a practice which has been repeatedly proven to be fraught with error by western academics since the 19th century. It is also a tradition which is profoundly and even deliberately ignorant of historical sources outside of itself written by non-Arab, non-"Muslim" people. As such, when dealing with the early history of Islam particularly in the 7th century, Islamic sources should be thoroughly vetted through the lens of modern, critical secondary sources and augmented by chronologically closer, non-Islamic primary sources whenever possible. Although parts of the Islamic narrative may appear so ghastly, outlandish, or self-evidently troublesome for Islamic doctrine as to be ipso facto true by the criterion of embarrassment, it must be remembered that what appears as embarrassing or troubling to a modern, liberal person (or person familiar with the modern, liberal values) living in the global internet culture of the 21st century might not have been embarrassing or at all troubling to a pre-modern person living in an Islamic caliphate in the 9th or 10th centuries. As such Islamic primary sources, when it comes to the question of the history of the first Islamic century, should always be thoroughly vetted and interrogated with the help of modern, critical secondary sources.
Sources to Avoid
Generally any translation of the Qur'an, hadith or sira should be accompanied by the original Arabic text and vetted by a person with some familiarity with Arabic language.
Apologetic or "dialogue" sites can be used when the question arrises of what contemporary Muslim scholars and clerics have to say on a given issue, however, for the purpose of historical narrative they should be avoided in favor of modern, critical historians of Islam.
Statements of fact concerning Islam from polemic sources such as books, articles or commentaries by individuals such as Robert Spencer, Pamela Gellar, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Mark A. Gabriel, Wafa Sultan, Ali Sina, Walid Shoebat, Brigitte Gabriel etc. are not to be used under any circumstances as references on WikiIslam. If editors come across any such statements, they must remove them immediately.
News sources that could be considered "right-wing" or "Jewish/Zionist" should also be avoided when possible (e.g. Fox News, WorldNetDaily, FrontPage Magazine, National Review, Daily Caller or the Daily Mail). In the majority of cases, news sources such as the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse or Reuters would have also covered the story and should be used in lieu of the beforementioned sources.
Only published and recognized translations of primary sources are to be used, and they must be quoted exactly as they appear in the cited reference and accompanied by the original language whenever possible (original translations are also acceptable but should be done only by a person who truly has a command of the original language sufficient to translate it to the target language). Furthermore, references that are cited must explicitly support any claims being made. Both of these points are crucial to the integrity of the site, and editors ignoring them will not be tolerated.
WikiIslam's criticism of Islam is based on its own sources, the Qur'an, hadith and Islamic scholars, as well as the painstaking work of modern historians of Islam stretching back more than two centuries from the present date. As such the quotation of primary sources is encouraged so far as it contributes to the understanding of the topic, though the judicious and relevant use of secondary sources is also a must. Pure polemic should only be referenced so far as the topic of the article is the polemic itself, otherwise primary sources and neutral academic sources must be leveraged.
- WikiIslam:Citing Sources
- How is WikiIslam different from Wikipedia? (Differences concerning "non-notable/reliable" sources)