Glossary Of Arabic Terms

Allahu akbar – ‘Allah is greater’

Ansar – the helpers: people from Medina who helped Muhammad establish Islam there

Asbab al-nuzul – ‘occasion of revelation’: the context in which a particular verse or passage of the Quran was reported to be ‘revealed ‘to Muhammad

ayah – verse of the Quran

dar al-Islam – the house of Islam, the region where Islam dominates other religion

da’wa – ‘to invite,’ ‘summon’ or ‘command’; proselytization, spreading Islam by calling people to submit to Allah, an invitation which is understood to have the force of a command

dhimma – covenant or pact of surrender, by which a conquered non-Muslim community have agreed to live under Islamic rule, and by virtue of which this community is protected from jihad

dhimmi – a non-Muslim living under Islamic rule, who is considered to be subject to the conditions of a dhimma pact

falah – success in this life and the next, promised by Islam to its followers

fay – property which is won by Muslims from non-Muslims without having to be taken by force; including jizya payments

fatwa – a legal opinion or ruling

fitna – persecution or trial which could undermine a Muslim’s faith; by extension, disbelief in Islam

ghazwa – a jihad raid

halal – something which Muslims are free to do, or to take for themselves without any lawful restriction, e.g. food which may be eaten, property which may be seized, or a life which may be killed

Hanafi – a school of Islamic law

Hanbali – a school of Islamic law

hadith – traditions, first spoken and later written, which record things which Muhammad is believed to have said or done, as well as things said and done by his companions

hijra – the migration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina; marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar and the commencement of the Islamic state

huda – guidance, the solution to ignorance about Allah’s requirements

hudud – laws which impose criminal penalties such as death and amputation (e.g. for adultery, theft and apostasy)

Islam – the word means ‘submission’ or ‘surrender’

isnad – the attribution of a hadith; the introductory phrases which state who passed on the tradition

jahiliyyah – ignorance, lacking divine guidance

jihad – the word means ‘to make war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion,’1 i.e. warfare to establish or maintain Islamic rule over non-believers; the root of j-h-d has the meaning ‘struggle’

jizya – tribute paid to Muslims to prevent jihad attack; for dhimmis this is payable as an annual ‘head tax’ by adult dhimmi males

kafir – infidel: an offensive term for someone who is not a Muslim

kharaj – land tax required to be paid by non-Muslims (and later Muslims as well) to the Umma: this is distinct from and additional to jizya payments

khasirin – ‘losers’: those who are not rightly guided

kufr – disbelief, a term implying concealment of the truth

Medinah – Medina

Makkah – Mecca

Maliki – a school of Islamic law

mushrik – ‘associator’, someone who is guilty of shirk; pagans, but also People of the Book (Jews and Christians); usually translated ‘idolater’ or ‘polytheist’

Muslim – the word means ‘submitter’

najis – ritually unclean (see Q9:28); non-Muslims are regarded as unclean, especially in Shiite Islam

naskh – abrogation, referring to the doctrine that Allah can cancel earlier revelations by adding a newer revelation to override the earlier one, or by causing the earlier one to be forgotten

Quran – Allah’s revelation to Muhammad, believed to be dictated to him by the angel Jibril (Gabriel); also spelled Qur’an or Koran

ridda – apostasy, abandoning Islam

sahih – ‘sound’ referring to hadiths which are considered to be the most authentic

salat – the daily ritual of worship often referred to in English as ‘prayers’

Shafi’i – a school of Islamic law

Shahada – the creed of Islam: to recite this is to become a Muslim

Sharia – having common meaning of ‘way’ or ‘path’; as a religious term sharia refers to the whole system of principles and rules by which a Muslim is required to live

Shi’a – a denomination or branch of Islam, which separated from Sunni Islam in the first century over a dispute about the succession of the caliphate

Shi’ite – a follower of Shi’a Islam

shirk – ‘association’: the unforgivable sin of association anything with Allah, but especially idols and other gods

sira – biography (of Muhammad)

Sunna – the example and teaching of Muhammad, recorded in hadith and sira literature; the word sunna also means religiously recommended

Sunni – a denomination or branch of Islam, which separated from Shi’a Islam in the first century over a dispute about the succession of the caliphate; a follower of Sunni Islam

sura – a chapter of the Quran

tafsir – commentary (on the Quran)

taqiyya – lawful deception intended to protect a Muslim from persecution

‘ulama –a religious leader (plural is ‘ulema)

Umma – the Muslim community, considered for theological reasons to be a unitary whole

zakat – one of the pillars of Islam, the zakat is a tax on wealth paid by Muslims which is used to help the Muslim poor, as well as other Islamic causes including jihad


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