Instructions for Readers

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As an electronic monograph with an invented interface, this book’s form is connected to its argument. I recommend that readers begin with the introduction, which explains my understandings of Islam and time as a human construct amenable to multiple forms of analysis. The book’s contents describe the significance of interpretive variability, while its design performs the effects of taking this position on time. Anticipating readers’ active participation in the interpreting process, the book’s chapters can be approached in three ways:

  • The most straightforward option, closest to the experience of reading a physical book, is to navigate from the textual table of contents. This option is always available via the three-line menu icon in the top right corner. Once you are in a chapter, a pop-up box activated by the “Overview” button under the main header in every section provides the chapter’s framing narrative. At the bottom right of the screen, titles for sections included in each chapter appear in the sequence prescribed in the textual table of contents.
  • Readers can also get to sections via the visual table of contents in which sections are laid out in a form akin to constellations. Here, clicking a chapter number (bottom right) highlights a path showing how sections in a chapter are linked. A chapter’s prescribed sequence can be locked on screen, after which hovering over the rest of the visual map identifies sections from other chapters in the vicinity of those lit up already that bear topical resonance. The relevant parts of the constellations map appear at the end of each section, inviting the reader to either continue reading a chapter or skip to a different part of the book based on topical proximity. The visual mapping of sections is a secondary, embedded table of contents that reorganizes the book using the digital format’s enhanced indexicality. It exemplifies the book’s major argument that stories change meanings when recontextualized.
  • The third option, likely useful after a reader has become familiar with the book’s contents, is to read the sections by navigating at will by either hovering over icons in the visual table of contents or selecting from the textual one.
Resources and Referencing

Each chapter includes a “Resources” tab that is available under section headers next to “Overview”. Clicking on this will open a small overlaid window containing references for works cited and a short list of further readings relevant for the chapter’s topic. The chapter-specific bibliographies that result from these sections are available on a single page via the “References” link in the textual table of contents.

Each section of the book has a separate digital object identifier (DOI) that is always available via an icon when one is in that section. Clicking on the DOI icon copies an HTML address that can be used to cite the book. Text within each section is searchable through the browser’s search function, while the search tool does this across the book. To annotate the book for personal or group purposes, I recommend that readers install Hypothesis on their web browsers. This excellent tool, available for free, allows bookmarking, highlighting, and commenting.

Introduction to tool for annotating web documents.

Audiovisual Elements

The book’s multimedia content runs in the right-side column in all content sections and, on occasion, across the page. Elements placed in these areas range between illustrations for matters discussed in the text and evidence that expands the topics in new directions. Videos can be played on the page in the right column or by expanding to full screen view.

Clicking on still images (single or in stacks) enlarges them, and clicking on them again activates a magnifying tool that can be used to see details at close range. This feature provides movement to the still images, controlled by the reader. The book’s visual program is available in its totality via the “Illustrations Gallery” link on the textual table of contents.

The interface is designed to encourage visual exploration even if that results in leaving the thread of the discussion being presented in words. The book’s edges are expandable, their management left to the reader’s discretion rather than being dictated by the author. The audiovisual content imparts a shape-shifting quality to the book, which is intentional and meant to work in conjunction with the book’s approach to the question of time.

Reading on Screen

This book is the work of a team consisting of the author, editors, web designers, and engineers. When inventing and refining the interface, we wished to make the work easily accessible and close to the feeling of reading a printed volume. Nevertheless, elements such as the possibility of reading in varying sequences and audiovisual enhancements make the experience of reading this book different from the mainstream norm. Moreover, reading a long-form monograph on a screen, without mimicking print pagination, creates a distinctive impression.

The change from print to the digital format is not frictionless. The book may demand that readers be deliberate about determining the appropriate pace at which to read, managing attention between the textual and audiovisual elements and using browsing and note-taking tools for the web to optimally match their approaches to reading.

As our surrounding world becomes ever more mediated by screens, getting used to reading a work like this may pay dividends beyond the book. If reading this book requires adapting from what is needed for a print book, I hope the conceptual connection between the topic and the mode of presentation will compensate for the effort.

Related Sections in Other Chapters