How do we attract scholars' attention?
1. Exploit search engines
StackExchange has fantastic search engine optimization, and we should be leveraging this to our advantage. How? We need specific question titles that people will search for. (See my advice.)
To illustrate, suppose you're a scholar and want to quickly find references to show that the hadith "Seek knowledge even as far as China" is fabricated. You go to Google and input
hadith knowledge China:
We show up 5-th, which is not bad. Now if the question was instead titled "Hadith about knowledge", it probably wouldn't even be on the front page of Google hits, and the scholar would not realize it even exists.
To illustrate how important titles are, here are five questions from April 2014:
Obviously the content of the question plays an important role in whether or not someone wants to click on a Google result, but they're guaranteed not to click if it does not show up in Google.
2. Ask specific questions about scholarly papers
Scholars are going to Google their own names (ego Googling) and titles of their papers (and so are their students and collaborators). When they do so, imagine if they find that in their search results:
there is a question on Islam.SE that refers to them by name (and hence shows up during ego Googling),
that cites a paper they wrote, and
the question asks a specific question about that paper.
If they're anything like me when people show interest in my publications, they'd be thrilled and only too happy to answer. This happens all the time on e.g. math.SE: if you ask a question about a specific paper, often the author of the paper(s) will respond (and the answer is invariably excellent).
I therefore encourage users to ask specific questions about scholarly papers, referencing the papers and the authors by name. The page Religious Studies Electronic Journals by Saundra Lipton contains a list of Islamic studies journals.
I wrote two questions to get the ball rolling:
3. Utilize Wikipedia
I don't think people realize this, but if a question receives a reliable answer, we can add it as a reference in Wikipedia. We do this at math.SE, e.g.: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20.
And, to give an example of how we can do it at Islam.SE: my question Where are the seven levels of the nafs in Sufism mentioned in the Qur'an? received reliable answers, and I added it as a reference here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufi_psychology
Of course, we should only add references to high-quality, reliable content.
Wikipedia not only allows you to create, revise, and edit articles, but it wants you to do it...be bold! (Wikipedia: Tutorial)
How do we get scholars to begin participating?
By the looks of things, there's many fatawa-issuing scholars who are uncomfortable with the idea of having their rulings critiqued/criticised (and particularly by non-Muslims). We simply cannot accommodate them; StackExchange doesn't work like that.
For other scholars, once we have their attention, we need to get them to think:
"I can write an answer [or a better answer] to this question".
"It will be worth my time writing an answer to this question". Thus, we need to give scholars the impression that:
they are contributing to a professional site, which we can do by making the place look well-maintained, and improving the signal-to-noise ratio;
their contributions will be valued here, meaning they can look around the site and see (a) activity, (b) people's contributions being appreciated (i.e., upvoted, not just "not downvoted"); and
their reputation will not be smeared by participating on this site, meaning that the site needs to indicate that they will not be personally attacked nor drawn into arguments.
Given that we have 359K unique global visits in the last 30 days alone (see Quantcast), I'm confident there are scholars coming to Islam.SE and choosing not to participate (or participating, and subsequently being chased off).
How do we get scholars to stay?
In the site's current state, I doubt a scholar will want to stay for longer than a post or two.
A participant's first post is most probably the worst post they will make. Consequently, currently a scholar will probably immediately encounter the following:
- Nobody will recognize their expertise.
- Nobody will welcome them, nor make any effort to help them become familiar with the site. Nobody will calmly explain how to improve/correct the "teething problems" in their posts.
- People will respond to their posts by making snarky comments. They may be personally criticized in the comments, and their name will be tarnished.
- They may be drawn into a frivolous argument, wasting their time. They've probably learned the hard way to be pro-active in avoiding arguments.
- Their first posts won't be appreciated through upvoting. These posts may even be downvoted or deleted without comment.
To use myself as an example, I participated on math.SE for selfish reasons: (a) it improved my real-world reputation (e.g., I was hoping that when a potential employer Googled my name, they would find many well-written answers), (b) it was good experience answering student questions in preparation for lecturing, and (c) in one case, I published one of my answers to a math.SE question (here), so consequently I wrote in a peer-reviewed published paper:
An anonymous user of math.stackexchange.com asked for a formula for [foo]. In fact, this was the original motivation for the author to study this problem.
You can probably expect an Islamic scholar to have a similar what's in it for me attitude.
How can we fix this? We need to reverse this site's attitude: it wreaks of negativity. E.g. the top three up-voted meta posts are essentially "don't be a [four letter word for penis]". There's "punishment" and "one-upmanship", when we need "collaboration" and "positive reinforcement".