Glossary

Terms:

  • Ahl al-Bayt – ( Arabic: “People of the House,”) designation in Islam for the holy family of the Prophet Muḥammad, particularly his daughter Fāṭimah, her husband ʿAlī (who was also Muḥammad’s cousin), and their descendants. Shīʿites closely identify this family with the imams, whom they regard as the legitimate holders of authority in the Muslim community, the infallible bearers of sacred knowledge, and the source of messianic deliverance in the end time. Since the 12th and 13th centuries most Sufi orders have included members of the Prophet’s family in their elaborate spiritual lineages (silsilas), which they trace back to the Prophet through ʿAlī.
  • Caliph – ruler of the Muslim community. When the Prophet Muhammad died (June 8, 632 ce), Abū Bakr succeeded to his political and administrative functions as khalīfah rasūl Allāh, “successor of the Messenger of God,” but it was probably under ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, the second caliph, that the term caliph came into use as a title of the civil and religious head of the Muslim state. In the same sense, the term was employed in the Qurʾān in reference both to Adam and to David as the vice-regents of God.
  • Caliphate – political-religious state comprising the Muslim community and the lands and peoples under its dominion in the centuries following the death (632 ce) of the Prophet Muhammad. Ruled by a caliph (Arabic khalīfah, “successor”), who held temporal and sometimes a degree of spiritual authority, the empire of the Caliphate grew rapidly through conquest during its first two centuries to include most of Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Spain. Dynastic struggles later brought about the Caliphate’s decline, and it ceased to exist with the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258.
  • Colonialism – a political-economic phenomenon whereby various European nations explored, conquered, settled, and exploited large areas of the world. The age of modern colonialism began about 1500, following the European discoveries of a sea route around Africa’s southern coast (1488) and of America (1492). With these events sea power shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and to the emerging nation-states of Portugal, Spain, the Dutch Republic, France, and England. By discovery, conquest, and settlement, these nations expanded and colonized throughout the world, spreading European institutions and culture.
  • Dar al-Islam – in Islamic political ideology, the region in which Islam has ascendance; traditionally it has been matched with the Dār al-Ḥarb (abode of war), the region into which Islam could and should expand. This mental division of the world into two regions persisted even after Muslim political expansion had ended.
  • Fatwa – a formal legal opinion (fatwā) in answer to an inquiry by a private individual or judge. A fatwā usually requires knowledge of the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth (narratives concerning the Prophet’s life and sayings), as well as knowledge of exegesis and collected precedents, and might be a pronouncement on some problematic legal matter.
  • Fiqh – (Arabic: “understanding”), Muslim jurisprudence; i.e., the science of ascertaining the precise terms of the Sharīʿah, or Islamic law. The collective sources of Muslim jurisprudence are known as uṣūl al-fiqh.
  • Hadith – Arabic Ḥadīth (“News” or “Story”), also spelled Hadīt , record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, revered and received as a major source of religious law and moral guidance, second only to the authority of the Qurʾān, the holy book of Islam. It might be defined as the biography of Muhammad perpetuated by the long memory of his community for their exemplification and obedience. The development of Hadith is a vital element during the first three centuries of Islamic history, and its study provides a broad index to the mind and ethos of Islam.
  • Hijab – a veil that covers the head and chest, which is particularly worn by a Muslim woman beyond the age of puberty in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family. It can further refer to any head, face, or body covering worn by Muslim women that conforms to a certain standard of modesty. Hijab can also be used to refer to the seclusion of women from men in the public sphere, or it may embody a metaphysical dimension, as the veil which separates man or the world from God. (Regional variations: niqab, busana Muslim, burka, head scarf)
  • Imam – Arabic Imām, (“leader,” “pattern”), the head of the Muslim community; the title is used in the Qurʾān several times to refer to leaders and to Abraham. Imam has also been used as an honorary title, applied to such figures as the caliph and theologians. The title imam also is sometimes given to the specially trained Muslims who lead prayers in the mosques.
  • Imperialism – state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas. Because it always involves the use of power, whether military force or some subtler form, imperialism has often been considered morally reprehensible, and the term is frequently employed in international propaganda to denounce and discredit an opponent’s foreign policy.
  • Islam – major world religion promulgated by the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the 7th century ce. The Arabic term islām, literally “surrender,” illuminates the fundamental religious idea of Islam—that the believer (called a Muslim, from the active particle of islām) accepts surrender to the will of Allah (in Arabic, Allāh: God). Allah is viewed as the sole God—creator, sustainer, and restorer of the world. The will of Allah, to which human beings must submit, is made known through the sacred scriptures, the Qurʾān (often spelled Koran in English), which Allah revealed to his messenger, Muhammad. In Islam Muhammad is considered the last of a series of prophets (including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Solomon, and Jesus), and his message simultaneously consummates and completes the “revelations” attributed to earlier prophets.
  • Mamluk – also spelled Mameluke, slave soldier, a member of one of the armies of slaves that won political control of several Muslim states during the Middle Ages.
  • Mecca – city, western Saudi Arabia, located in the Ṣirāt Mountains, inland from the Red Sea coast. It is the holiest of Muslim cities. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca, and it is toward this religious centre that Muslims turn five times daily in prayer. All devout Muslims attempt a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Because it is sacred, only Muslims are allowed to enter the city.
  • Medina – One of Islam’s two holiest cities, along with Mecca. Medina is celebrated as the place from which Muhammad conquered all of Arabia after his flight from Mecca (622 ce), and a pilgrimage is made to his tomb in the city’s chief mosque. Only Muslims are allowed to enter the city.
  • Muslim Brotherhood – religio-political organization founded in 1928 at Ismailia, Egypt, by Ḥasan al-Bannāʾ. It advocated a return to the Qurʾān and the Hadith as guidelines for a healthy modern Islamic society. The Brotherhood spread rapidly throughout Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and North Africa, and has played a central role in Egyptian politics since the Arab Uprisings over the past decade.
  • Nationalism – ideology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests. Nationalism is a modern movement. Throughout history people have been attached to their native soil, to the traditions of their parents, and to established territorial authorities; but it was not until the end of the 18th century that nationalism began to be a generally recognized sentiment molding public and private life and one of the great, if not the greatest, single determining factors of modern history. After penetrating the new countries of Latin America it spread in the early 19th century to central Europe and from there, toward the middle of the century, to eastern and southeastern Europe. At the beginning of the 20th century nationalism flowered in the ancient lands of Asia and Africa. Thus the 19th century has been called the age of nationalism in Europe, while the 20th century has witnessed the rise and struggle of powerful national movements throughout Asia and Africa.
  • Ottoman Empire – empire created by Turkish tribes in Anatolia. One of the most powerful states in the world during the 15th and 16th centuries, it spanned more than 600 years and came to an end only in 1922, when it was replaced by the Turkish Republic and various successor states in southeastern Europe and the Middle East. At its height the empire included most of southeastern Europe to the gates of Vienna, including modern Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania, Greece, and Ukraine; Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Egypt; North Africa as far west as Algeria; and most of the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Quran – the sacred scripture of Islam and, for all Muslims, the very word of God, revealed through the agency of the archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. The Qurʾān, which is the central theophany (divine manifestation) of Islam, is written in Arabic, which is Islam’s sacred and liturgical language. Because of Arabic’s sacred status, the Qurʾān is, strictly speaking, untranslatable, though the text has been rendered into nearly every other language.
  • Shia – Arabic Shīʿī, collective Shīʿah, member of the smaller of the two major branches of Islam, distinguished from the majority Sunnis. Early in the history of Islam, the Shīʿites were a political faction (Arabic shīʿat ʿAlī, “party of ʿAlī”) that supported the power of ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (the fourth caliph [khalīfah, successor of Muhammad]) and, later, of his descendants. Starting as a political faction, this group gradually developed into a religious movement, Shīʿism, which not only influenced Sunni Islam but also produced a number of important sects to which the term Shīʿah is applied.
  • Sunni – Arabic Sunnī, member of one of the two major branches of Islam, the branch that consists of the majority of that religion’s adherents. Sunni Muslims regard their sect as the mainstream and traditionalist branch of Islam, as distinguished from the minority sect, the Shīʿites. The Sunnis recognize the first four caliphs as the Prophet Muhammad’s rightful successors, whereas the Shīʿites believe that Muslim leadership belonged to Muhammad’s son-in-law, ʿAlī, and his descendants alone. In contrast to the Shīʿites, the Sunnis have long conceived of the theocratic state built by Muhammad as an earthly, temporal dominion and have thus regarded the leadership of Islam as being determined not by divine order or inspiration but by the prevailing political realities of the Muslim world.
  • Sufism – mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. It consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of humanity and of God and to facilitate the experience of the presence of divine love and wisdom in the world.
  • Tafsir – ( Arabic: “explanation”) the science of explanation of the Qurʾān, the sacred scripture of Islam, or of Qurʾānic commentary. So long as Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was alive, no other authority for interpretations of the Qurʾānic revelations was recognized by Muslims. Upon his death, however, commentaries were needed because the text, when it achieved written form, lacked historical sequence in the arrangement of materials, suffered from ambiguity of both text and meaning, showed a variety of differing readings, was recorded in a defective script, and even contained apparent contradictions. Many Muslims in the early period sought to explain the Qurʾān on the basis of pure personal speculation, known as tafsīr bir-raʾy, and such interpretation, though generally disapproved, has persisted down to the present time. Others explained or embellished Qurʾānic passages using stories drawn from Christian—and especially from Jewish—sources (Isrāʾīliyyāt). To counter the arbitrariness of such interpretation, in the fourth Islamic century (10th century ad) there emerged the religious science called ʿilm al-tafsīr, a systematic exegesis of the Qurʾānic text, which proceeds verse by verse, and sometimes word by word. Over time this science developed several methods and forms of its own.
  • Shariah – also spelled Sharia, the fundamental religious concept of Islam, namely its law, systematized during the 2nd and 3rd centuries of the Muslim era (8th–9th centuries ce). Total and unqualified submission to the will of Allah (God) is the fundamental tenet of Islam: Islamic law is therefore the expression of Allah’s command for Muslim society and, in application, constitutes a system of duties that are incumbent upon a Muslim by virtue of his religious belief. Known as the Sharīʿah (literally, “the path leading to the watering place”), the law constitutes a divinely ordained path of conduct that guides Muslims toward a practical expression of religious conviction in this world and the goal of divine favour in the world to come.
  • Qazi – a judge ruling in accordance with Islamic religious law (sharia), appointed by the ruler of a Muslim country. Qadis traditionally have jurisdiction over all legal matters involving Muslims. The judgment of a qadi must be based on ijmah, the prevailing consensus of the Islamic scholars (ulema).
  • Umma – is an Arabic word meaning “nation” or “community”. It is a synonym for ummat al-Islamiyah (Arabic: الأمة الإسلامية‎) (the Islamic Nation), and it is commonly used to mean the collective community of Islamic peoples. In the Quran the ummah typically refers to a single group that shares common religious beliefs, specifically those that are the objects of a divine plan of salvation. In the context of pan-Islamism and politics, the word Ummah can be used to mean the concept of a Commonwealth of the Believers (أمة المؤمنين ummat al-mu’minīn).

People:

In the Prophet’s Time

  • Ali – in full ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib   (born c. 600, Mecca, Arabia [now in Saudi Arabia]—died January 661, Kūfah, Iraq), cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, and fourth of the “rightly guided” (rāshidūn) caliphs, as the first four successors of Muhammad are called. Reigning from 656 to 661, he was the first imam (leader) of Shīʿism in all its forms. The question of his right to the caliphate (the political-religious structure comprising the community of Muslims and its territories that emerged after the death of Muhammad) resulted in the only major split in Islam, into the Sunni and Shīʿite branches.
  • Ayesha – one of Muhammad’s wives.[2] In Islamic writings, her name is thus often prefixed by the title “Mother of the Believers” (Arabic: أمّ المؤمنين umm al-mu’minīn), per the description of Muhammad’s wives in the Quran. According to Sunni views, Aisha had an important role in early Islamic history, both during Muhammad’s life and after his death. According to Sunni views, Aisha had an important role in early Islamic history, both during Muhammad’s life and after his death. She was an active figure in numerous events and an important witness to many more. Aisha contributed to the growth, development, and understanding of Islam. Being a role model to a significant amount of others added to her attributions as a consultant regarding Muhammad’s prayer and practices, soon introducing herself into a world of politics.
  • Khadījah – (died 619, Mecca, Arabia [now Saudi Arabia]), the first wife of the Prophet Muḥammad (the founder of Islām), whom she met when she was the widow of a wealthy merchant and had become prosperous in the management of her own commercial dealings. Having hired Muḥammad as a business agent, Khadījah soon came to see him as a suitable husband. She had been married twice before and had children from each marriage. According to most sources she was about 40 and Muḥammad about 25 when they married. That she bore him at least six children, however, may suggest that she was younger. She gave Muḥammad support and encouragement when he received his first revelations and remained loyal to him when many prominent Meccans began to oppose him. While she lived, Muḥammad took no other wives.
  • Muhammad – in full Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim  (born 570, Mecca, Arabia [now in Saudi Arabia]—died June 8, 632, Medina), founder of the religion of Islam, accepted by Muslims throughout the world as the last of the prophets of God.
  • Fatima – ( Arabic: “Shining One”) also called al-Zahrāʾ (born c. 605, Mecca, Arabia [now in Saudi Arabia]—died 633, Medina), daughter of Muhammad (the founder of Islam) who in later centuries became the object of deep veneration by many Muslims, especially the Shīʿites. Muhammad had other sons and daughters, but they either died young or failed to produce a long line of descendants. Fāṭimah, however, stood at the head of a genealogy that steadily enlarged through the generations. To the Shīʿites she is particularly important because she was married to ʿAlī, whom the Shīʿites considered to be the legitimate heir of the authority of the Prophet Muhammad and the first of their imāms. The sons of Fāṭimah and ʿAlī, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, are thus viewed by the Shīʿites as the rightful inheritors of the tradition of Muhammad, a further ramification of Fāṭimah’s significance among Shīʿite believers. Accordingly, many Islamic traditions give a majestic if not miraculous quality to Fāṭimah’s life.

 Modern Era

  • Mohammed Abduh – (1849 – 11 July 1905) an Egyptian Islamic jurist, religious scholar and liberal reformer, regarded as one of the key founding figures of Islamic Modernism, sometimes called Neo-Mu’tazilism after the medieval Islamic school of theology based on rationalism, Mu’tazila. He broke the rigidity of the Muslim ritual, dogma, and family ties.
  • Jamal al-Afghani – (1838/1839 – March 9, 1897) a political activist and Islamic ideologist in the Muslim world during the late 19th century, particularly in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe. One of the founders of Islamic Modernism and an advocate of Pan-Islamic unity.
  • Ali Khamenei – (born July 15, 1939?, Mashhad, Iran) Iranian cleric and politician who served as president of Iran (1981–89) and as that country’s rahbar, or “Supreme Leader”, from 1989. A religious figure of some significance, Khamenei was generally addressed with the honorific ayatollah.
  • Mohammad Khatami – (born September 29, 1943, Ardakān, Iran), Iranian political leader, who was president of Iran (1997–2005).
  • Ruhollah Khomeini – (born Sept. 24, 1902 Khomeyn, Iran—died June 3, 1989, Tehrān), Iranian Shīʿite cleric who led the revolution that overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979 and who was Iran’s ultimate political and religious authority for the next 10 years.
  • Mohamed Mossadegh – (born 1880, Tehrān, Iran—died March 5, 1967, Tehrān), Iranian political leader who nationalized the huge British oil holdings in Iran and, as premier in 1951–53, almost succeeded in deposing the shah. His overthrow with U.S. support formed a deep resentment in Iran towards Western political interference and ultimately fueled the overthrow of the western-backed Shah in 1979.
  • Hassan Rouhani – (born November 12, 1948, Sorkheh, Iran), Iranian politician and cleric who became president of Iran in 2013.
  • Amina Wadud – born September 25, 1952) is an American scholar of Islam with a progressive focus on Qur’an exegesis (interpretation of the holy text). professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. An internationally known scholar on the subject of women in Islam, Dr. Wadud is also an expert on influences of Islam in America. She is well-known for being one of the first Muslim women to lead Friday prayers in a large public setting in 2005.

Courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica online and personal sources.

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