Article Info

published: 3/17/04
updated: 6/13/13

Glossary of Islam



All non-English terms are Arabic unless otherwise indicated.

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adhan
The call to prayer performed by the muezzin before each of the five daily times of prayer (salat). See Practices: Salat.
A.H.
(anno hegirae, "After Hijira"). Islamic dating of years, beginning with Muhammad's flight to Medina in 622 AD.
Allah
("God"). The one true God. See Beliefs: God.
basmala
The Bismi'llah saying, "in the Name of Allah," that invokes a blessing upon an action or undertaking of a Muslim. The full form is bismillahi (ar-)rahmani (ar-)rahim, "in the Name of Allah the merciful the compassionate."
caliph
See khalif, below.
Five Pillars
(Arabic Arkan al-Islam, "pillars of Islam" or Arkan ud-Din, "pillars of the faith"). The five primary duties of every Muslim: profession of faith (shahada), ritual prayer (salat), fasting during Ramadan (sawm), pilgrimmage to Mecca (hajj) and charity (zakat). Fulfillment of these duties brings rewards on earth and in the afterlife. See Practices: Five Pillars.
hajj
("pilgrimmage"). Pilgrimage to Mecca required of every able Muslim at least once during his or her life. One of the Five Pillars of Islam.




Hijira
The Prophet's flight to Medina in 622 AD, marking the beginning of the Muslim calendar. See A.H.
'id
(from Aramaic/Syriac, "festival"). Holiday or festival, of which there are two majaor ones: 'Id al-Adha and 'Id al-Fitr.
'Id al-Adha
("Feast of the Sacrifice"). Holiday marking the end of the hajj.
'Id al-Fitr
("Feast of the Breaking of the Fast"). Holiday celebrated at the end of the month of Ramadan.
ihram
White cloth wound around the body during the hajj.
Ishmael
Son of Jewish patriarch Abraham and the maidservant Hagar (Genesis 16). According to both Jewish and Islamic tradition, he is the ancestor of the Arabs.
islam
("to surrender"). To surrender to the will of God; the name of the religion founded by Muhammad.
jihad
("striving"). Holy war; the defense of Islam against its enemies. Sufism focuses on the "greater" jihad against sin in oneself.
jinn
(from junna, "to be mad, furious, possessed"; singular jinni or genie). Shape-shifting fiery spirits, especially associated with the desert. Belief in jinn predates Islam, where they were widely believed to be the inspiration of poets and seers. In Islam, they are spiritual beings inferior to angels and devils who will face salvation or damnation along with humans.
jizya
Tax imposed on "People of the Book" living under Muslim rule.
Ka'ba
Cube-shaped monument in Mecca containing a sacred black stone. All Muslim prayer faces the direction (qibla) of the Ka'ba.
kafir
(kafara, "conceal; be ungrateful") One who does not believe in Allah, or in the content of the Qur'an, or in the prophetic status of Muhammad. Unbelief (kufr) is fundamental opposition to God and Islam, and is punished eternally in hell.
khalif
("deputy, successor"). A political leader of the Muslim community. The most important of these were the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs who ruled after the death of Muhammad. See History: The Rightly-Guided Caliphs.
khatib
One who gives the khutbah. The position is appointed by the government in most countries.
khutbah
Sermon delivered on Fridays and special occasions.
kiswa
Cloth that covers the Ka'ba shrine in Mecca.
Muharram
First month in the Islamic calendar. Also the name for al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year.
People of the Book
Muhammad's designation for Jews and Christians, and sometimes Zoroastrians and Hindus. Because their religions featured scriptures and some aspect of divine revelation, they were not required to convert. However, they were required to pay a special tax (the jizya) for the privalege.
qibla
("direction"). Direction of the Ka'ba in Mecca, towards which all prayer must face.
Qur'an
("recitation). The sacred text of Islam, revealed to Muhammad over a 20-year period by the Angel Gabriel. See Texts: Qur'an.
qurra'
("reciters"). Professional reciters of the Qur'an, who usually have memorized the text. In early Islamic history, qurra' were called upon to elucidate unclear passages in the written text, often resulting in various schools of interpretation among qurra.
Ramadan
The ninth month in the Islamic calendar, for the duration of which Muslims fast during the daylight hours to commemorate the giving of the Qur'an. See Holidays: Ramadan and Practices: Sawm.
salat
("prayer") Ritual prayer performed five times per day facing the direction (qibla) of Mecca. One of the Five Pillars of Islam.
sawm
("fasting," also spelled siyam). Religious fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan, which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
sa'y
Ritual of running seven times between two low hills in Mecca during the hajj, representing Hagar's search for water.
shahada
("testimony" or "witness"). The profession of faith that "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the prophet of God," which is the only requirement for joining the Muslim community. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, it must be spoken aloud with full understanding and faith at least once in one's lifetime. It is also included in the call to prayer, most ritual prayers, and is recited at death. See Practices: Shahada.
Shari'a
Islamic law, both political and religious.
Sunnah
("Tradition"). Record of the words and deeds of the Prophet. While not the Word of God on a level with the Qur'an, the Sunnah is regarded as inspired and authoritative. See Texts: Hadith.
Sunnis
("Traditionalists")
surah
A chapter of the Qur'an.
tafsir
Branch of Islamic learning devoted to Qur'anic exegesis (interpretation).
talbiya
Ritual formula recited repeatedly during the Hajj. They are the words attributed to Ibrahim (Abraham) when he summoned all people to the pilgrimage to Mecca.
zakat
Almsgiving (one of the Five Pillars of Islam).
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