Introduction to World Religions by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
A Basic Islamic Glossary
Biblical Names and Arabic Equivalents:
Many characters and concepts familiar from the Hebrew and Christian Bibles are mentioned in the Qur'an and other Islamic Literature. Some modern English translations use the common English spellings of these names, while others use transliterations of the Arabic versions of the names:
Gog & Magog
Yajuj & Majuj
John the Baptist
Some Important Individuals in the Early History of Islam:
Abd Allah – Muhammad’s father, who died a few months before Muhammad was born (ca. 570 CE).
Abd al-Muttalib – Muhammad’s paternal grandfather.
Abu Bakr – Muhammad’s friend and advisor; father of his wife Aisha; recognized as the first Caliph (“successor” of Muhammad) by the Sunnis (ruled 632–634 CE).
Abu Talib – Muhammad’s paternal uncle, who raised him after the death of his parents (died 519 CE).
Aisha – Abu Bakr’s daughter and wife of Muhammad, who outlived him several decades.
Ali – Muhammad’s cousin (son of Abu Talib) and son-in-law (husband of Fatima); considered the fourth Caliph by Sunnis, but the first Imam by Shi’i Muslims (ruled 656–661 CE); his tomb at Najaf (modern Iraq) is important for Shi’i Muslims.
Aminah – Muhammad’s mother, who died when Muhammad was six years old, making him an orphan.
Fatima – Muhammad’s daughter, wife of Ali, and mother of Husayn; a major focus of devotion for Shi’i Muslims.
Husayn or Hussein – younger son of Ali and Fatima; grandson of Muhammad; his martyrdom and tomb at Karbala (modern Iraq) is especially important for Shi’i Muslims.
Khadijah – Merchant woman who became Muhammad’s first wife (married 595 CE); honored as the first convert to Islam; she died in 619 CE.
Muhammad – Primary prophet of Islam; born ca. 570 in Makka, died 632 CE in Madinah; last in the “chain of prophets” beginning with Adam; Muslims believe he received revelations from God, which were later written down as the Qur’an; first wife Khadija; later wives incl. Aisha.
Umar ibn al-Khattab – Recognized by Sunnis as the second Caliph (ruled 634–644); established major Islamic political institutions and greatly expanded Muslim-controlled territories.
Uthman ibn Arran – Recognized by Sunnis as the third Caliph (ruled 644–656); married successively to two of Muhammad's daughters; ordered the compilation of the Qur’an.
Abbasids – Sunni dynasty that ruled most of the Islamic world during the so-called the “Golden Age of Islam” (750–1258 CE), based in Baghdad.
adhan or azan – Islamic “call to prayer”; called out from mosques (traditionally from the minaret) five times a day, calling on Muslims to perform their ritual prayer (salat).
Al-Aqsa Mosque – on the "Temple Mount" in Jerusalem; one of the earliest and most important mosques
Allah – Lit. “the god”; now considered the Islamic proper name for God.
Arabia – birthplace of Islam; includes not only modern Saudi Arabia, but the other "Gulf States";
aya (pl. ayat) – Lit. “miracle, sign from God”; refers to individual verses of the Qur’an.
Ayatollah – High-ranking member of Twelver Shi’i clergy (esp. in modern Iran).
baraka or barkat or bereket – Miraculous power given by God to humans; used esp. in reference to Sufi saints.
birkah – traditional clothing of Muslim women, covering the whole body except the face and hands.
Bedouins – nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East.
Caliph – Lit. “successor”; leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad’s death; from the Arabic word khalifa (lit. “representative, delegate”), implying that Caliphs were representatives of God and successors of the prophet Muhammad, rather than rulers with independent authority.
dhikr or zikr – Lit. “repetition, utterance”; the most common term for Sufi meditative practices and rituals.
Dome of the Rock – possibly the most famous Islamic shrine, associated with Abraham & Muhammad; located on the "Temple Mount" in Jerusalem
Eid al-Adha – “Festival of the Sacrifice,” which comes at the end of the Hajj pilgrimage and commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham.
Eid al-Fitr – “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” which celebrates the end of the Ramadan fast.
faqih – Scholar who studies Islamic legal interpretation, known as fiqh.
fatiha or al-fatiha – Lit. “opening”; the first surah of the Qur’an.
fatwa – Legal opinion or decree; an answer given by a mufti to questions that others ask him.
fiqh – Islamic jurisprudence or legal interpretation; see also faqih.
Hadith – “Traditions” or anecdotes about the life, sayings, and practices of Muhammad; considered a scriptural source of secondary importance (after the Qur’an).
hafiz – Lit. “guardian”; an honorific title for anyone who has memorized the entire Qur’an.
Hajj – Pilgrimage to the Ka’bah in Makka; one of the five “Pillars” of Islamic practice for Sunnis.
Hanafi – One of the four main Sunni “legal schools” (see Shari’a).
Hanbali – One of the four main Sunni “legal schools” (see Shari’a).
Hashim – Muhammad’s clan (part of the Quraysh tribe).
hijab – head scarf worn by Muslim women as a sign of modesty (cf. birkah).
Hijrah – The “migration” of Muhammad and followers from Makka to Madinah in 622 CE; marking the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
ibn – Lit. “son of”; a common element in many Muslim names.
iftar – Lit. “breaking the fast”; a communal meal held many nights during the month of Ramadan.
imam – Lit. “leader”; used for anyone who leads prayer in a mosque, not considered “clergy” by Sunnis; also, the title of the rightful leader of the Muslim community, according to Shi’i Muslims.
iman – Lit. “faith.”
Islam – Lit. “submission, self-surrender”; a monotheistic world religion closely related to Judaism and Christianity; adherents of Islam, called Muslims, comprise about 20-25% of the world’s population (ca. 1.2–1.5 billion in 2000 CE).
Islamic – Adjective used for "things" related to Islam (contrast adj. "Muslim," used for the people)
Islamism (and Islamists) – A movement (and its adherents) that advocates the establishment of a political order based strictly on Islamic law and customs.
Isma’ilis – One of the main sects of Shi’i Islam.
jahiliya – Lit. “ignorance”; often used of polytheistic Arab society of pre-Islamic times.
jihad – Lit. “striving, struggle”; an abbreviation of the expression, “striving in the path of God”; refers to any actions that defend and/or spread Islam; there is both an “internal jihad” and “external jihad.”
jinn – “Spiritual beings” mentioned in the Qur’an; often thought of as demons, but they could be either good or bad; the English word “genie” stems from the Arabic jinn.
Ka’bah or Ka’ba – Cubic building located in Makka; believed to have been built by Abraham, or even already by Adam; Muslims throughout the world pray in its direction (see qibla); it is also the goal or focus of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Karbala – site of the martyrdom and burial of Hussayn (grandson of Muhammad); one of the holiest cities and sites for Shi’i Muslims (in modern Iraq).
Khawarij or Kharijites – Lit. “seceders”; one of the earliest “sects” of Islam, still in existence today (but very small).
Koran – see Qur'an
laylat – lit. "night"; occurs in the names of several lesser Islamic feasts and commemorations
Madinah – Preferred spelling of the city commonly called Medina (in Saudi Arabia); where Muhammad lived and died (622–632 CE) and the earliest Muslim community was formed.
Makka – Preferred spelling of the city commonly called Mecca (in Saudi Arabia); where Muhammad was born and lived (ca. 570–622 CE) and the Ka’bah is located.
Maliki – One of the four main Sunni “legal schools” (see Shari’a).
masjid – Muslim building for communal prayer and gathering, esp. on Fridays; also called mosque.
Mevlevi – One of the Sufi orders, mostly in Turkey, famous for its whirling dances (part of their dhikr practices).
mihrab – Prayer niche inside a mosque that indicates the qibla, or direction of prayer, facing Makka.
minbar – Pulpit from which an imam preaches; a main architectural element inside a mosque.
mosque – see masjid
muezzin or mu’adhdhin – A person who proclaims the adhan, the five-times-daily Muslim “call to prayer.”
mufti – Someone (normally appointed by the governing rulers) who answers questions concerning Islamic law (shari’a).
Muharram – First month of the Islamic calendar.
Muslim (noun; fem. Muslima) – An adherent of the religion of the religion of Islam; possibly a descendant of Muslims, even if no longer a believer.
Muslim (adj.) – used in references related to these people (contrast "Islamic," used for things).
nabi (pl. anbiya) – Lit. “prophet”; belief in prophecy and all the prophets is an important part of Muslim faith (see also rasul).
Najaf – City (in modern Iraq) where Ali is buried, cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad; one of the holiest sites and long a center of learning for Shi’i Muslims.
Ottomans – Muslim dynasty that ruled what the Ottoman Empire (1281–1923), later a.k.a. the Turkish Empire, based in Istanbul.
qibla – Direction toward which Muslims pray, facing the Ka’bah in Makka, from anywhere in the world.
Qur'an – Primary Muslim scriptures, in Arabic; Muslims believe it was revealed by God through the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad between 610 and 632 CE; originally oral, it was written down during Muhammad’s lifetime, but not compiled in its present order until a few decades later.
Quraysh – Muhammad’s tribe, who lived in and around the mercantile and religious center of Makka.
Ramadan – Ninth month on the Islamic calendar, when Muslims fast daily, from before sunrise until after sunset, for the whole month; fasting during Ramadan is one of the five “Pillars” of Islamic practice for Sunnis.
rasul (pl. rusul) – Lit. "messenger"; subcategory of prophets (see nabi), whose messages are written down in holy books or "scriptures."
sajda – Bowing and prostration; one of the most distinctive aspects of Islamic ritual prayer (salat).
salat – Islamic ritual prayer (a.k.a. namaz); one of the five “Pillars” of Islamic practice for Sunnis.
sawm – Lit. "fasting"; esp. as done during the month of Ramadan; one of the five “Pillars” of Islamic practice for Sunnis.
Shafi’i – One of the four main Sunni “legal schools” (see Shari’a).
Shahada – The Islamic profession of faith: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of the God!” Proclaiming the Shahada regularly and with conviction is one of the five “Pillars” of Islamic practice for Sunnis.
Shari'a – Islamic law; the four main Sunni “legal schools” are Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, and Shafi’i.
Shi'a or Shi'i or Shi'ite – Minority branch of Islam (ca. 15% worldwide, with several sub-groups); lit. the “faction or sect of Ali”; division between Shi’i and Sunni Muslims was based primarily on disputes over the status of Ali as the successor to Muhammad (already in the mid-7th Century).
Sufi – Collective term for a variety of different mystical traditions in Islam.
Sunna – Lit. “custom”; traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, used as a legal source and a model of behavior in daily life for many Muslims.
Sunni – Majority branch of Islam (ca. 85% of all Muslims worldwide).
surah or sura – Any one of the 114 “chapters” of the Qur’an.
tawhid – “Divine unity,” the central Muslim belief, that God is one, absolute, indivisible, with “no partners or associates” (not to be confused with ta’widh, talismans often worn to guard against the evil eye).
Twelver Shi'is – An important Shi’i sect, dominant in Iran.
ulama – Group of Muslim religious scholars.
umma – Lit. “nation, community”; refers to the community of all Muslims throughout the world.
Umayyads – First dynasty to rule the nascent Islamic empire (661–750), based in Damascus.
umra – A pilgrimage to the Ka’bah in Makka, if done at any time of the year outside of the required Hajj; umra carries some religious merit, but is considered less important than the Hajj.
Wahhabis – A traditionalist/puritanical Islamic movement, begun in Saudi Arabia in the 19th Century, which considers modern society corrupt and advocates returning to the strict practices of the earliest Muslim community, from the days of the Prophet Muhammad himself.
wudu or wuzu – Ritual washing performed before the daily prayers (salat).
Yathrib - Pre-Islamic name for the Arabian peninsula city of Madinah.
zakat – Ritual almsgiving; annually giving a certain percentage (often 2.5%) of one’s capital assets (not one’s annual income) to charity.