Glossary to Ten Myths About Islam

Glossary of Arabic and Islamic Terms Used in Ten Myths About Islam


Adhan - The call to prayer from the minaret of a Muslim mosque. The person making the call is called a mu'adhin, often transliterated into English as a muezzin.

Alim (plural, Ulama) - A scholar of Islam who is well-versed in the Qur'an. This term is derived from the word 'ilm, meaning "knowledge", usually of a religious or spiritual nature.

'Asr - The mid-afternoon prayer said by Muslims. This is the third of five prayers said by Muslims through the day.

Ayah (plural, Ayat) - A subdivision of the surah, an ayah is analogous to a verse as found in the Bible. Together, references in the Qur'an are most commonly given in the form of (Surah number : ayah number)

Dar al-Harb - Lit. "house of war", this term describes those parts of the world where Islam does not rule, and which are under the sway of religions or ideologies besides Islam. This term is most often used in contradistinction to dar es-salaam.

Dar es-Salaam - Lit. "house of submission", this refers to those areas of the world in which Islam holds sway as the religious and political force. It is viewed as the opposite of dar al-harb.

Deen - This refers to the way of life of a group of people, meaning their culture, ways of thinking, and ways of doing things. Islam considers itself to be a deen which should govern every mode of thinking and living of those submitted to it.

Dhimma - This is the treaty of protection which victorious Muslim conquerors extend to conquered non-Muslim populations that refuse to convert to Islam. These non-Muslims, called dhimmis, are forced to live as second-class citizens within their own countries, and endure great hardships and humiliations at the hands of Muslims, and are usually forced to pay special taxes such as the jizyah and the kharaj. The dhimma is considered necessary in Islamic law as a means of paying for the "protection" which the Muslim ummah affords to those from conquered populations who refuse to join it.

Fajr - The morning prayer, usually said when a Muslim first wakes up, or at the break of dawn. The first of five prayers made by Muslims throughout the day.

Fardh - In Islamic fiqh this term describes a deed which is considered necessary (such as praying or giving zakat) for a Muslim to be faithful. When performed, it is considered a good deed. Not performing such a deed is considered a sin in Islam.

Fatwa - A decision made by an Islamic jurist based upon Islamic law. Though often associated in the West with an order for the execution of somebody on Islamic grounds, the term more generally refers to any decision issued by a faqih about any matter of Islamic law.

Fiqh - A word meaning "knowledge" or "comprehension" which refers to the interpretation of law made by Muslim legal scholars, and describes several bodies of Islamic jurisprudence that were formulated beginning in the 8th century AD. There are four major schools (often referred to with the term madh'hab) of Islamic fiqh named after their founders - Malik, Ash-Shafi', Abu Hanifah, and Ibn Hanbal. These four schools represent the classical Sunni traditions of jurisprudence, though there are numerous other minor schools as well, most often found in Shi'ite or other non-Sunni traditions. A jurist who inteprets and expounds fiqh is called a faqih, and is considered competent to render verdicts (fatwa) about questions of Islamic law.

Hadith (plural, Ahadith, though the singular form is often used in English to refer to any number of these sayings, or the body of them as a whole) - Collections of sayings, teachings, and doctrines attributed to Mohammed, narrated by several of his companions, and collated by various compilers. These often consist of narrations about Mohammed's life which provide object examples for Muslims to follow. These are also considered a source of authority for doctrine, as they contain the sayings of Allah's prophet, Mohammed. Many Muslim scholars even refer to some of the collections which are more widely held to be authentic as "second inspiration", and place them nearly on par with the Qur'an as sources of doctrine and practice. Among this body of hadithic literature, the collections of Bukhari, Muslim, Malik, Tirmidi, Abu Dawud, Nasa'i, and Ibn Majah are the most widely viewed as authentic, and therefore canonical, by Sunni Muslims, who make up around 80% of the world‘s Muslim population. Other lesser known collections are also held to be authentic by Shi'ite Muslims and other smaller sects.

Examination of the ahadith and the sunnat (below) over the past century has cast serious doubt upon the absolute authenticity of these traditional records and commandments. The evidence put forth by scholarship suggests that at least a large portion of even the canonical collections listed above were probably invented, or at least embellished, during the socio-political struggles between Muslim factions which occurred in the two centuries following Mohammed's death. Therefore, when the records of the ahadith are used to support a point made about Islamic dogma or practice, it must be implicitly understood that this present work is not relying on these sources for their absolute authenticity. Rather, they are utilized because they serve as a record of what the views, beliefs, and actions in Muslim tradition were ideally meant to be in the eyes of the Muslim reciters and collectors who attempted to give their creations added legitimacy through appeal to the authority of Mohammed and/or his Companions.

Hajj - A pillar of Islam, the hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca which every Muslim who is able must make. The hajj involves the performance of a set of prescribed rituals, many of them originating in the pagan pre-Islamic religion of Arabia.

Halal - This refers to something that is permitted in Islamic law, or which is ritually clean.

Hanif (plural, Hanifiyya) - In the Islamic milieu, this term refers to a pre-Islamic monotheist. The term comes from the Syriac, and was, ironically, used to describe a pagan non-Christian by the Syriac Christians.

Haram - In Islamic fiqh this term describes a deed which is absolutely forbidden for Muslims to do (such as eating pork, drinking alcohol, etc.) When performed, it is considered a sin, while not performing such a deed is a good work. It is also applied to things which are ritually unclean.

This term also refers to the forbidden spaces around sacred precincts which were found in Arabian sanctuaries, such as the Ka'bah in Mecca. Such places were usually off-limits to certain types of activities (such as agriculture or other secular activities), and were dedicated to the sanctuary of a god.

Hudna - A temporary truce made by Muslims, typically when they are losing a conflict, so as to allow them time to regroup their forces. The terms of a hudna are considered expendable by radical Muslims, and generally only remain in effect for as long as the Muslims need them to be.

Imam - A term denoting a religious leader in Islam who leads the congregational worship at the mosque. It can also refer to one who leads the Muslim community politically at a local level, usually combining both secular and religious duties.

al-Insan al-Kamil - A title accorded by Muslims to Mohammed, meaning "the perfect man".

Intifada - An uprising, primarily by Muslims against non-Muslims who rule a particular country where Muslims reside.

'Ishha' - The late-night prayer, usually said by Muslims before they go to sleep. This is the fifth of five prayers said by Muslims throughout the day.

Isnad - The process by which a chain of authority for the authenticity of a hadith or sunnah is determined by Muslim scholars. The process suffers greatly from subjectivity on the part of the scholar, as well as the paucity of truly authentic source materials upon which to make determinations of historicity.

Istighfar - The act of seeking Allah's forgiveness. Faithful Muslims will constantly do this, so as to remain right with Allah.

Jahiliyya - The "Time of Ignorance" which preceded Islam, especially as it refers to the pagan culture present in the Middle East prior to the rise of Islam.

Jihad - A term that means "struggle", and is most commonly used to denote the Islamic concept of "holy war". Some modern commentators argue that jihad refers to an inner "struggle", such as against temptation or sin. While the term can include that sense, its historical and theological use in Islam has focused on the struggle against the unbelievers, the outward struggle of holy war. Muslims who participate in jihad are called mujahedeen.

Jizyah - A head-tax levied on conquered non-Muslim populations in Muslim lands, usually as part of the stipulations of a dhimma treaty. Jizyah is usually onerous to those who have to pay it, and is used as a means of "encouraging" dhimmis to convert to Islam.

Ka'bah - The sacred haram of Mecca. In pre-Islamic times, this sanctuary was dedicated to the god Hubal, and worship at the site included circumambulation of the precinct as well as divination involving drawing arrows from a quiver (cleromancy). Muslims believe that the Ka'bah was originally built by Adam, and that it was rebuilt by Abraham after the Flood.

Kabira - In the Islamic view of sin, these are "great sins" which must be forgiven by seeking Allah's forgiveness. They can be roughly compared to the idea of "mortal" sins in Catholic theology.

Kafir - A derogatory Muslim term for a non-Muslim, the infidel. It describes someone who refuses to submit to Islam, and who disbelieves in Allah, Mohammed, the Qur'an, or other foundations of the Islamic religion. Uses of this term generally range from insulting to threatening.

Kharaj - A land tax which is sometimes levied on dhimmis in Muslim lands, though less common than jizyah taxes.

Maghrib - The Islamic prayer said at sunset. This is the fourth of five prayers which Muslims pray throughout the day.

Makruh - In Islamic fiqh this term describes a deed which is detested, but not necessarily forbidden for Muslims to do. Doing such a deed is not considered a sin, but not doing it is considered to be a meritorious act.

Mandub - In Islamic fiqh this term describes a deed which is recommended for Muslims (such as saying extra prayers in addition to the prescribed five times a day), but is not necessary for a Muslim to be considered faithful. When performed, it is considered a good deed, but not performing it is not considered a sin.

Mansukh - The process of abrogation in the Qur'an, whereby an "earlier" revelation was cancelled or modified by a "later" revelation (according to the tradition method of organizing the suwar chronologically). An individual act of abrogation is called nasikh.

Masjid - Another term for a mosque, refers to a house of prayer.

Mubah - In Islamic fiqh this term describes a deed which is considered morally neutral, in and of itself. A Muslim neither gains nor loses merit by performing it, unless there is an extenuating motive which determines the goodness or badness of the deed. Motives can turn a mubah deed into something either better or worse.

Purdah - The seclusion of women away from outside, public life, in fundamentalist Islam.

Qiblah - The direction of prayer for Muslims, often established architecturally in a mosque. The qiblah is now directed towards Mecca, but evidence from early Islamic mosques indicates that this was not always the case.

Saghira - In the Islamic view of sin, these are "lesser sins", which will be forgiven merely by avoiding "greater" sins, and by doing good works. For these, specifically asking Allah for forgiveness is not necessary. They can be roughly compared to the idea of "venial" sins in Catholic theology.

Salat - A general Arabic term referring to the act of praying to or supplicating one's self before another, especially as it refers to doing so before Allah. The term is also used to refer to the various prayers which a faithful Muslim is required to make, five times a day.

Sawm - The practice of fasting from sunrise to sunset, especially during the month of Ramadan.

Shari'a - This is the body of Islamic law, derived from the Qur'an, the ahadith, and the sunnat, as well as from pre-Islamic codes found in the Middle East, such as the Code of Justinian. This is the law which the Islamic scholars known as faqih interpret.

Shirk - The practice of associating other gods with Allah, or of worshipping them with or in place of Allah. Those who commit shirk are known as mushrikeen, people who commit idolatry or associationism.

Sirah (plural, Sirat) - These are biographies of the prophet Mohammed which were collected in the 8th and 9th centuries from the purported writings of companions of Mohammed. Though not generally considered sources of doctrine or example for Muslims, the sirat are viewed as source material for learning about the life of Mohammed. As with the other historical materials, the sirat suffer from questions of authenticity and historicity. The primary sirat are those prepared by Ibn Ishaq and redacted by Ibn Hisham.

Sunnah (plural, Sunnat) - Very similar to the ahadith, these are collections of rules which were said to be laid down by Mohammed, and by which he lived his life. The ahadith, on the other hand, are narrations about Mohammed's life which provide object examples for Muslims. The sunnat are very important to most orthodox Muslims, and they are also considered to be a prime source of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). Most orthodox Muslim teachers consider both the Qur’an and the sunnat/ahadith to be indispensable in the lives of good Muslims.

Surah (plural, Suwar) - A division of the quranic text which most closely approximates the concept of "chapter" in Western literature. There are 114 suwar in the Qur'an as it now exists. Each surah is named after a different topical heading drawn from within the text of the surah, though this heading is not necessarily related to the main point of the surah.

Tafsir - Commentary on the Qur'an by recognized Islamic scholars.

Taqiyya - Refers to permissible lying in Islam. Taqiyya is generally allowable if it is done for the purpose of masking a Muslim's identity as such, or in waging conflict with an enemy. The aim is to mislead the enemy about the true nature, goals, or strength of Islam.

Tawhid - The doctrine of the oneness of Allah in Islam. This doctrine states that there is no other god but Allah, and forbids the association of other deities with Allah, a practice which is known as shirk and which is strenuously condemned.

Taqwa - The sense of fear and awe that Muslims feel towards Allah, and which motivates them to refrain from transgressing the boundaries set by Allah's law.

Ummah - This term refers to the worldwide body of the Islamic community, the population of Dar es-Salaam as well as those Muslims living outside the lands where Islam rules. All Muslims would belong to the Islamic ummah, which is viewed as a universal brotherhood.

Qur'an - The primary religious text in Islam. Orthodox and conservative Muslims understand the Qur’an to be perfect, complete, and heavenly. Muslims view it as the word of Allah, uncreated, and the final revelation made by Allah to mankind. The Qur'an forms the primary and most important source of authoritative doctrine in orthodox Islam. This term comes from a root word qira', which means "recitation".

Studies in recent years have cast serious doubt on both the authenticity and the historicity of the Qur'an. Rather than viewing the Qur'an as a unified product of Arabia in the 7th century AD, some scholars see the Qur'an as a collation of disparate materials collected in the 8th, or even 9th, centuries AD.

Zakat - One of the five pillars of Islam, this is an assessment of 2.5% (usually) of a person's wealth, to be used to support the poor, aged, and debtors in the ummah. In some cases, this assessment may be increased, depending on the wealth of the person, and the means by which they acquire their wealth.

Zuhr - The noon prayer in Islam. This is the second of five prayers said by Muslims throughout the day.


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