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I'm proposing we go back to the site's original scope.

About three years ago, Islam.SE changed its scope from:

Islam Stack Exchange is for Muslims, experts in Islam, and those interested in learning more about Islam.

to

Islam Stack Exchange is for experts in Islam, students of knowledge, and those interested in Islam on an academic level.

The relevant posts are: Should we tighten our scope? and Proposal for new FAQ

So I'm proposing we change it back to "...for Muslims, experts in Islam, and those interested in learning more about Islam."

The bigger picture: the on-topic page

This is intended as part of a rewrite of the on topic page which I proposed here: Proposed revision of the FAQ (on-topic) page, February 2017 I opened this meta thread anticipating that this single sentence would be more controversial than any other aspect I proposed.

If what I propose in this meta thread is implemented, it would read:

What topics can I ask about here?

Islam Stack Exchange is for Muslims, experts in Islam, and those interested in learning more about Islam.

Anyone may participate constructively here, regardless of their beliefs. We welcome useful contributions from the viewpoints of all denominations, provided they are not ascribed as belonging to groups that do not hold those viewpoints. For the purposes of this site, Islam includes all groups that identify themselves as Islamic.

[snip]

Why revert back?

1. Incompletely implemented.

It has changed at the tour page on on-topic page, but not when one first visits the site:

[Old scope showing up when joining

And the former scope shows up at StackExchange list of sites. It also shows up when questions are migrated away from Islam.SE (e.g. Law (2016), Politics (2015)) and when questions are migrated from meta.Islam.SE to the main site, e.g. (this question from 2015). And at Area51, and Leagues, and WinterBash.

The change has failed to be implemented in numerous prominent places and no-one seems to have noticed over a number of years. This gives an indication of how unimportant this change was practically.

The old scope shows up on search engines, e.g. Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Baidu, which (according to the Site Analytics page) is where 89.1% of traffic comes from.

2. It's unprecedented.

It's unprecedented to exclude the practitioners of a religion from the scope of religious StackExchange sites. The four other religious StackExchange sites say:

  1. "Christianity Stack Exchange is for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more." (on-topic page) [launched]

  2. "Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more." (on-topic page) [launched]

  3. "Hinduism Stack Exchange is for followers of the Hindu religion and those interested in learning more about Hinduism." (on-topic page) [beta]

  4. The Buddhism.SE on-topic page isn't informative currently, but... "Buddhism Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people practicing or interested in Buddhist philosophy, teaching, and practice." (tour page) [beta]

3. In practice, this site is "for Muslims".

I'm concerned that someone will arbitrarily apply this scope to exclude the existing userbase. How many of the current questions could be closed for not being academic, and therefore off-topic?

  • The site is frequented by Muslims asking questions motivated by problems they encounter in their religion, so it's effectively "for Muslims" whether it's stated or not.

  • Muslims are doing the lion's share of the legwork here.

  • Muslims have a vested interest in seeing this site succeed.

  • If someone were to propose a "for Muslims" site on Area51, it would surely be closed as a duplicate of this site.

  • On Islam.SE, aspects of Islam are presented as if they're fact. E.g., Allah is often assumed to exist, and isn't just theoretical.

4. It sounds clunky.

What is a "student of knowledge"? Sounds analogous to a "dentist of teeth" or "walker of steps". Aside from being tautological, it's also unspecified what one has to be studying to be a "student of knowledge". (Also questioned by Kaveh at the time.)

And why do we need to say "experts in Islam" when they form a subset of the people in "those interested in Islam on an academic level"?

5. Islam.SE is not an academic site

Note: Digging through meta posts, I discovered that I misinterpreted "...on an academic level" to mean an "academic site" (see Does "...on an academic level" imply that Islam.SE is an academic site?). No-one corrected me on this, indicating few users are making the distinction between "academic level" and "academic site".

I don't see a problem with having a non-academic site; math.SE is not an academic site, yet welcomes academic-level questions. What's wrong with Islam.SE doing the same thing?

  • I'm worried that the current non-academic userbase are working hard to make the site succeed, only to be excluded at a later point ("this site is not for you").

  • It contradicts the current on topic page, which states:

    Any questions on the subject of Islam are welcome here...

    ...answers may be posted by anybody regardless of training or expertise.

  • The site is named "Islam" not e.g. "Islamic Studies" which would be more appropriate for an academic site, analogous to Biblical Hermeneutics vs. Christianity: "Hermeneutics" sounds technical and specific, whereas "Christianity" sounds broad.

  • It doesn't take much looking around to find non-academic questions, e.g., look at . Indeed the non-academic question Interested in learning more about Islam -- is there a podcast that goes over the history, basic principles, etc? has currently received 10 upvotes and no downvotes, and it was warmly welcomed with the comment:

    This community is for all people like you, who want to know about islam, they have unanswered questions about islam. And don't hasitate to post any confusions on this forum. May allah guide you – Zia Ul Rehman Mughal Sep 18 '16 at 11:34

    which was upvoted twice and has gone uncontested for 6 months.

  • There are some academic-level StackExchange sites, e.g., MathOverflow, Theoretical Computer Science, Quantitative Finance. Unlike Islam.SE, academics both use and operate these sites.

Why was it changed originally?

Here's snippets from the relevant dialogue at the time:

The Stack Exchange model works best by focussing on one particular area of expertise. Our current scope, however, includes three distinct classes of people, which don't really have much in common except for their interest (not the same as expertise) in Islam. -- goldPseudo

...we can't really say that this Q&A site is for any particular group if we're telling them that their answers are not welcome here... -- goldPseudo

(goldPseudo has been a long-term moderator and participant here.)

I find the second comment a bit odd; a doctor's office is "for patients", but a patient's medical advice would be unwelcome. Their medical questions, on the other hand, would be welcome.

...Even this scope change would not actually prevent questions from the public but it would change the focus to put it on the part that this site could best handle... -- Caleb

(Caleb is a moderator at Christianity.SE, where "for committed Christians" is currently used in the on-topic page.)

This is an excellent change as long as it's not used to exclude people rather than content. Several sites on the network have gone a bit overboard in that respect and practically required people to show their credentials. ... -- Jon Ericson

(Jon Ericson is an official StackExchange community manager.)

Referring to the original scope sentence:

I think the scope is fine. The description you mentioned is common for SE sites and seem to work fine on other similar sites like Christianity and Judaism. I think as graduated sites we can use their experience. -- Kaveh

(Kaveh is a former moderator at cstheory.StackExchange.com.)

I guess the reader can judge for themselves how applicable these points are currently. Hopefully the other Islam.SE participants can express their points.

  • Could we maybe add "this site is about Islam, not an Islamic one or one for spreading Islam" or something to that effect? Many users seem to take it like it's the latter instead of the former. – G. Bach May 2 '17 at 15:16
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I'm strongly against making this site explicitly for Muslims - the hair-trigger rejection of the user base against answers that only represent facts about Islam without assuming that Islam is a repository of truth and goodness is quite unwelcoming already.

  1. "Incompletely implemented." - if other sites handled this properly, why not islam.se. If things like the ones you mentioned were not problems for other sites, they will not be problems for islam.se either.

  2. "It's unprecedented." - While christianity.se lists "Christians", its meta is quite clear - the site is not Christian. The linked post points out a number of insights that, if the user base of islam.se internalized them, would bring about quite a positive change here as well.

  3. "In practice, this site is "for Muslims"." That is how I experience the attitude of much of the user base - I have seen some things I said dismissed on the basis of "he isn't a Muslim" alone. I don't think that is a site policy that works with the SE model, and certainly not a way to incentivize factual answers, or anything one could call "academic". The site is sorely lacking in users who even know usul to a useful degree, even fewer that have a reasonable amount of knowledge about the history of Islam, and of those who do, some still put a sectarian spin on it. Orienting the site towards Muslims specifically makes it less attractive for anyone who wants to contribute knowledge that's presented in a non-partisan way - which seems to be the best mode to convey factual information - or which you can't find easily on google.

  4. "It sounds clunky." - Hardly a reason to change the content of the scope instead of its phrasing. Other than that, a student of knowledge ("talib ul ilm") is someone looking to learn Islam in a systematic manner, or "in training" to become an alim.

I'd hope islam.se manages to learn to evaluate descriptions of facts about Islam being represented by people other than Muslims based on whether they are true, not whether they are palatable to Muslims, and without regard for whether one likes or agrees with a described doctrine or fact, as long as the doctrine or fact is accurately described; explicitly addressing itself to mainly Muslims with a conviction of Islam being Truth does not seem to be a good fit for the SE model.

  • I'm not intending to make it exclusive; just making it welcoming for Muslims again. I'm working on a revision for the on-topic page (it still needs editing), and the current draft has the next line "Anyone may participate constructively here, regardless of their beliefs." I anticipated this first sentence would be the most controversial so I posted it separately. – Rebecca J. Stones Feb 6 '17 at 15:26
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    @RebeccaJ.Stones I don't see how it is unwelcoming for Muslims at the moment, can you explain what you mean by that? Almost all of the active user base is Muslim, and most questions are about minutiae that concern the fiqh of daily life for Muslims. – G. Bach Feb 6 '17 at 20:09
  • That's point #3---that's why I feel it should say "for Muslims". Muslims are providing a lot of the content, and according to the current scope, this site is not even for them. (In fact, changing from the original scope, including removing "for Muslims", suggests that this is a "not for Muslims" site.) – Rebecca J. Stones Feb 7 '17 at 0:05
  • @RebeccaJ.Stones I disagree; explicitly mentioning Muslims excludes Non-Muslims. That a site about Islam will predominantly attract Muslims is pretty much a given; SE really isn't "for" someone based on their beliefs or motivations, it's for people who share a common interest in knowing more about a topic, without placing a restriction on the motivation behind the interest. If this site explicitly said it's for Muslims, that would give me even more indication than the reactions of some of the user base that I'm not welcome here. – G. Bach Feb 7 '17 at 0:35
  • @RebeccaJ.Stones That being said, a lot of the changes you suggest in your draft look like a strong improvement over the current help center text to me. – G. Bach Feb 7 '17 at 0:36
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  1. "Incompletely implemented." I don't see how that has any relevance unless some unknown power is preventing anyone from changing the mentioned text. I mean yes, if one of your pant legs is ripped open you can damage the other to make them look the same, but for the pant's durability it's probably better to fix the ripped one instead.
  2. "It's unprecedented." Then let's lead by example! ;)
  3. "In practice, this site is "for Muslims." See G. Bach. It would be good for some users to realize that it's not exclusively for Muslims.

    "I'm concerned that someone will arbitrarily apply this scope to exclude the existing userbase. How many of the current questions could be closed for not being academic, and therefore off-topic?"
    This mainly refers to the current alternative phrasing. How about just shortening the old one to "Islam Stack Exchange is for experts in Islam, and those interested in learning more about Islam."?
  4. "It sounds clunky." See alternative in 3.

I also agree with the additional points G. Bach makes in his answer.

  • Hmm... Is there any relationship between the accounts "G. Bach" and "The Raven Queen" that should be declared? [Up till now, I assumed these accounts were by the same user, as the behavior, interests, preferences, site familiarity, and argumentativeness show striking similarity, far more than any two other users I can think of.] – Rebecca J. Stones May 3 '17 at 4:46
  • I'm neither the same person nor in any way affiliated with him (now that I think about it I'm not even sure if 'him' is correct). I don't know what else to tell you. – The Raven Queen May 3 '17 at 9:23
  • Okay. Thanks for clarifying. (Users have occasionally used "he" to describe G. Bach; I'm yet to see it confirmed or corrected. It's a personal matter.) – Rebecca J. Stones May 3 '17 at 9:31

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