Wikipedia is usually the default outlet of information for the active online community, and if correctly used can also help dilute the harm caused by Islamophobes
There’s no denying it. Wikipedia has changed everything. The user-generated internet sensation of an encyclopedia has become the second stop—after Google—for modern learning of every kind. Usually, when I want to know about something, I’ll Google it. Then, Google will faithfully direct me, nine times out of ten, to the relevant Wikipedia page. Alexa, the website rankings company, states that Wikipedia is the sixth most visited website in the world. Wikipedia influences not just regular people, but is often the first port of call for journalists, researchers, and even scholars!
If you’re not convinced of its importance, watch this impressive testimonial from the Wikimedia Foundation of how significant Wikipedia has been for one particular Muslim editor. If you’d like to make the world better informed, you can still do so even if you’re not a journalist writing in The Telegraph, the New York Times, or Al Jazeera.
Conveniently, there are a whole host of good introductory YouTube videos out there on the Wikipedia editing basics. This is a good starting point for the absolute beginner, although it has slightly more advanced material in it too, which will be recapitulated below in other videos. There are also, ironically for Muslims, the five pillars of Wikipedia, which concisely epitomises the ethos underlying the whole enterprise.
Once you’ve registered, which only takes a few seconds, you can get some practice editing done right away using your Sandbox. Wikipedia is a communal effort, and it’s important to work with other editors as you start to edit actual articles. The main way to communicate with fellow editors on a given article is through talk pages. This is especially important if there are disputes over your edits of a given article. Talk page disputes can often make reference to Wikipedia policies. These can seem daunting and labyrinthine at first, but if you persist, and read up on policy issues as you come across them, you will gradually become a master of Wikipedia policy yourself!
When making entries on Wikipedia, you should write from a neutral point of view (NPOV) and use reliable sources as noted in this video. Neutrality is key to this, as Wikipedia is not about advocacy. Once some sources have been established, this video and its second part shows how to insert citations into an article, thus backing up your claims and making it unlikely that they will be undone by other editors, at least not without a discussion on the article’s talk page.
If you’ve put in the time to edit an article, chances are that you’ll want to keep an eye on future edits made on that page. You can do this by adding the page to your Watchlist. Other tips, like those in this video, include how to write text in boldface and how to (hyper)link words in your edits to other Wikipedia articles about them. One of the useful things about linking words or phrases from your edits to other Wikipedia articles is that if a given article doesn’t exist, linking a word or phrase about it will automatically create a blank page for the article that can then be edited to form an actual article on the subject.
Now that you have a basic idea on how to edit Wikipedia, you’re probably thinking what it is that you should be editing. The answer is quite frankly, anything that you’re interested in and would like the world to be better informed about. But this article that I write has a more specific aim. I’m trying to address Muslims and anyone else who is concerned about the worrying way in which Islam and Muslims are misrepresented in wider society and the rising tide of Islamophobia. As a student of the Islamic tradition, I am often deeply saddened by the extent to which Islam’s image has been distorted to the point that many Muslims who have not had the opportunity to learn with our great scholars will themselves harbour misconceptions about the religious tradition.
One of the ways this can be countered is by more balanced media efforts that offset the hateful propaganda spewed by Islamophobes like Robert Spencer. Useful in such efforts is most academic scholarship on contemporary Islam. Scholarly websites online, like the Middle East Research and Information Project are veritable mines of fair-minded writings on Islam and the Muslim world. They can be used to edit various Wikipedia articles that lack a neutral point of view and need to be more balanced with respectable scholarship. In fact, as an academic in training, I know that there are vast numbers of scholarly works out there that remain untapped by Wikipedia, and thus by the world, which could easily be used to enrich the encyclopedia.
But besides scholarly works, one can also use articles from reputable news outlets like Al Jazeera, whose balanced analysis and high quality journalism has earned it global recognition. Less exclusively Islamic issues, like the concerns about the environment, and reportage on the Global South from such outlets can and should also be used to enrich Wikipedia.
Finally, if you are particularly knowledgeable about matters that do not otherwise have cited materials in either scholarly works or reputable journalistic outlets, but can write intelligently about it; these days you can write a piece about it as a citizen journalist, and then send it to a reputable news and commentary outlet, like the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, or even The Platform, as I have done, and if you’re lucky, you can generate the material that can then be incorporated into Wikipedia.
Image from: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/wikipedia/index.html
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