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course introduction

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islamic glossary

islamic chronology

general bibliography

prescribed texts

writing history essays




Understanding Muslim Societies in Asia



     Islamic Glossary


  • 'abd: slave; property rights in a person, regulated by law and Quranic ethics. In Muslim countries slaves were commonly employed as household servants and soldiers. See also ghulam, mamluk.
  • 'adl: justice; in law, the quality required to be a legal witness; in religion, the state of personal perfection of one who fulfills God's teaching; in philosophy, the harmony among the faculties of the soul.
  • ada: (in Indonesia and Malaysia, adat); custom or customary law as opposed to Sharia or Muslim law.
  • adab: habit, upbringing, behaviour, refinement of manners, literary cultivation, urbanity; the ideal behaviour of a scribe or spiritual cultivation of a Sufi.
  • adhan: the call to prayer announced from the top of minarets and other places to draw the attention of the community to the time for the canonical prayers.
  • agha: Turkish word for elder brother, chief, or master; in Ottoman usage the title of a high-ranking military official; in Algeria, the head of the janissary corps.
  • ahl: people who occupy a tent; family or community.
  • ahl al-bayt: people of the house, family of the Prophet.
  • ahl al-dhimma: the people of the covenant; Jews, Christians, and others accepted as subjects under Muslim rule and entitled to legal protection in return for payment of taxes; also called ahl al-kitab, or people of the book .
  • ahl al-hadith: partisans of hadith as a principal source of Muslim law and morals; 'People of the Tradition', or traditionalists for whom the Prophet's example was supreme, even against Quranic injunction; a term for the supporters of the Hanbali school of law.
  • ahl al-kitab: literally 'people of the book', the Quranic expression used to describe people to whom a holy book has been revealed. At the beginning of Islamic history the term was used in reference to the Christians, Jews and the Sabeans and later with the conquest of Persia to the Zoroastrians. But the principle was applied afresh whenever Muslims encountered a genuine living tradition so that later Hindus and Buddhists were also described by certain Islamic spiritual authorities as 'people of the book'.
  • ahl al-Sunna: 'People of the Sunna' who uphold customs based on the practice and authority of the Prophet and his companions.
  • ahl-i hadith: a community in India and Pakistan who profess to follow only the Quran and hadith as sources of Muslim law and do not accept the traditional schools of law.
  • akhi: member of fourteenth-century Anatolian groups of young men who held to the ideals of futuwwa (q.v.); generally urban, artisan, and middle class.
  • akhlaq: ethics; Greek ethics conveyed into Islamic thought by the translation of Aristotle and Galen and incorporated into the writings of Miskawayh, al-Ghazzali and others.
  • 'Alids: descendants of the Prophet's cousin 'Ali; the family which claims to be the heirs of the Prophet's religious and political legacy and the rightful heads of the Muslim community.
  • 'alim: (pl. 'ulama) a learned man, particularly in Muslim legal and religious studies; occurs in varying forms such as mullah, molla, etc.
  • al-insan al-kamil: the universal or perfect man who contains within himself all the possibilities of universal existence and who finds his embodiment in the prophets and saints, foremost among them for Muslims being of course the Prophet of Islam, who is al-insan al-ka-mil par excellence in Islamic esotericism.
  • Allah: God; the Greatest Name of God. Literally 'The God'. Allah designates the Source from which all things seen and unseen emanate and return. The name encompasses all the Divine Names (also known as the Most Beautiful Names of God) such as al-Awwal (the First), al-Akhir (the Last), al-Zahir (the Manifest), al-Batin (the Hidden).
  • amin: trustworthy; title for the holder of an official position such as the head of a guild.
  • amir: title of a military commander, governor or prince; commonly transliterated 'emir'; equivalent of the Turkish bey or beg.
  • amir al-mu'minin: Commander of the believers, 'Commander of the Faithful', the proper title of the Caliph or successor to the Prophet.
  • amir al-umara': supreme commander; title used for the military rulers who took over the 'Abbasid government.
  • amsar: see misr.
  • anjuman: assembly; refers to religious educational and political associations of Muslims, especially in Iran, India, Pakistan, and Turkey.
  • ansar: 'helpers' of Muhammad at Medina; later used as designation for members of Muslim religious and political associations.
  • 'aqida: creed, article of faith.
  • 'aql: both intellect, in its original sense as nous, and reason (ratio) depending on the context in which it is used and the way it is qualified; reason: reasoning, intelligence; the rational faculty as opposed to the lower faculties of body and soul.
  • 'arud: Arabic metrics.
  • 'asabiya: spirit of kinship or faction; the tribal or group solidarity that enables a small pastoral community to conquer city dwellers and create new empires; the political solidarity of ruling elites. Term used by the philosopher Ibn Khaldun in his theory on state formation in North Africa.
  • 'ashura: the 'tenth' of the Muslim month of Muharram, the first month in the Muslim calendar, when Shii Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn at Karbala; see sharif.
  • ayatollah (ayatullah) miraculous 'sign of God,' title of a high ranking Shii religious leader, scholar of law.
  • 'ayyarun: vagabonds; tenth-twelfthcentury urban gangs who subscribed to futuwwa (q.v). ideals and often appeared as military opponents of state regimes.
  • baba: Turkish for father, old man, Sufi leader.
  • baqa: to rest or abide in God; Sufi experience that follows the annihilation (fana) of the ego-self; survival in God, the divinely granted attribute of the mystic, who experiences the unity of God but returns to the world of daily activity.
  • baraka: grace, the spiritual presence and influence which is at once 'supernatural' and flowing within the arteries of the cosmos, blessing, vested in and available from holy people, places or objects.
  • batin: the inner, esoteric or hidden meaning of a religious text; the inward aspect of revelation and of manifestation both cosmic and supracosmic; and also a name of God, who is described in the Quran as being both the Inward (al-batin) and the Outward (al-zahir).
  • bay 'a: contract; oath of allegiance recognizing the authority of a Caliph; oath of allegiance binding members of an Islamic sect or Sufi tariqa to their spiritual guide.
  • bayram: see 'id.
  • bida: innovation; deviation from Islamic tradition; distinct from custom and law legitimised by the Sharia.
  • Bohras: a Muslim community in India, mainly Ismailis. Most are merchants but many are Sunnis and peasants.
  • borqa': a plain tentlike garment worn by women, usually of white cotton which covers completely.
  • caliph: for Sunni Muslims, successor of Muhammad as leader of the Islamic Community; q.v. khalifa.
  • chador: traditional Iranian garment, worn in public, covering a woman from head to foot.
  • da'i: 'summoner'; propagandist or missionary for Shii movements; usually the lowest-ranking figure in a Shii hierarchy.
  • dakwah: see dawa.
  • dar al-harb: the land of war, territory not under Islamic law and subject to conquest by Muslims; contrasts with dar al-lslam, the lands in which Islamic law prevails.
  • dar al-lslam: 'abode of peace'; Islamic territory, where Islamic law is in force.
  • dargah: royal court or residence; shrine and tomb of a Sufi master.
  • dawa: the summons to acknowledge religious truth and join a religious community; missionary movement; used in the variant forms da'wah and dakwah in Southeast Asia; propagation of the faith; more broadly, social welfare and missionary activities
  • darwish: Persian for Sufi; see Sufi.
  • dawla: dynasty; by extension, government or state.
  • dhikr: Remembrance of Allah, stimulated by the invocation of His Divine Names and other formulae from the Qur'an and sayings of the Prophet. From dhakara, to remember, think, relate; to strike a man on his private parts. Derivatives: tadhkirah, warning, admonition, recollection; dhakar, male; Sufi practice of repeating or remembering God's name to become more conscious of God's presence; meaning literally to mention, to invoke and to remember, it is the central technique for spiritual realization in Sufism.
  • dhimma: contract of hospitality and protection for peoples of the revealed religions; see ahl al-dhimma.
  • dhimmi 'protected' or covenanted people; non-Muslim citizen afforded security of life and property (dhimma) under the Sharia on payment of a poll tax (jizya).
  • dihqan: landowner, village chief, the local notables of the late Sassanian and early Muslim empires.
  • din: life-transaction. Usually translated as religion which does not transmit the full significance of the term. Din is the transaction between the Creditor (Allah) and the indebted (man). From the root dana, to owe, be indebted to, take a loan, be inferior. Hence 'living the din' means repaying one's debt to the Creator in a manner that befits the high station of man in creation.
  • diwan: a collection of poetry or prose; a register, the name applied to government bureaux which keep tax, military, and other records.
  • falasifa: wise men, philosophers, the Muslim proponents of Greek philosophy.
  • fana': in Sufi usage, annihilation of the self, the state that precedes the experience of the unity of God.
  • faqih (pl. fuqaha): legal expert; jurisprudent; exponent of fiqh; scholar of Islamic law, jurist; see 'alim.
  • faqir: 'poor' or mendicant; a follower of Sufism who has embraced poverty or detachment from worldly goods.
  • fata (pl. fityan): young man, member of a group or gang devoted to the ideals of futuwwa (q .v.)
  • fatwa (pl.fatawa): an opinion on Islamic law given by a mufti collected legal opinions form a corpus which modifies the application of the early codes of Islamic law.
  • fiqh: Understanding, comprehension, knowledge. Has come to refer specifically to Islamic jurisprudence; the discipline of elucidating the sharia; also the resultant body of rules. A faqih (pl. fuqaha) is an exponent of fiqh. From faqaha, to be superior in wisdom, and faqih to be wise, to be skilled in matters pertaining to law; tafaqqaha is to be assiduous in instructing oneself.
  • firman: command, edict of a ruler.
  • fitra: the original nature of man and of things.
  • futuwwa: virtues or qualities of young men, including bravery and nobility; the ideology of fraternities and young men's street gangs; see 'ayyarun, akhi.
  • ghaflah: negligence or forgetfulness of God, which in Sufism is considered as the major impediment to spiritual realisation and in Islam more generally speaking as the root of most sins.
  • ghazal: love song; an Arabic poetic form which passes with variations into Persian, Turkish, and Urdu poetry.
  • ghazi: a frontier warrior for the faith.
  • ghulam: a young male slave in military or palace service; see 'abd, mamluk.
  • ghulat: Shia who hold 'extreme' views of the spiritual qualities of the imam.
  • hadd: (pl. hudud) 'limits'; boundary; Quranically prescribed penalty or punishment for theft, adultery, fornication, false witness, drinking intoxicants.
  • hadith (pl. ahadith): literally saying or tradition but more specifically in the context of religion the sayings of the Prophet of Islam, which are one of the major pillars of Islam, both as a religion and as a civilisation and culture. In Shiism the sayings of the Imams are also incorporated in the collection of Hadith, although still distinguished from the sayings of the Prophet.
  • hadith qudsi: 'sacred tradition', a small number of hadith in which God speaks in the first person through the Prophet. This collection is of particular importance for Islamic esotericism.
  • hajib: chamberlain, chief of palace administration and sometimes head of government.
  • hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca which is incumbent on all Muslims who have the means at least once in their life-time; one of the five duties (rukns) of Islam.
  • hakim: one skilled in medical, philosophic or scientific learning.
  • hal: a Sufi term for spiritual state received by the grace of God; opposed to makam, a station on the way toward mystical union achieved by the Sufi's own effort.
  • halal: permitted, lawful activities particularly foods which comply with Islamic dietary rules.
  • hanif: Quranic term for a pure or true monotheist; used for Abraham and for those in pre-lslamic Arabia who before the revelation of the Quran remained monotheists despite the paganism and polytheism of their times.
  • haqiqa: in Sufism, truth or reality which is experienced through union with God; ultimate reality; inner reality, truth, science of the inward; the realm of senses. See also tariqah to understand this trial of terms. From haqqa, to be true, right, just, authentic, valid; and haqqaqa, to realise, make something come true. Divine Name: al-Haqq, the Truth, Whose being is never changed.
  • haram: the portion of a house reserved for the women, from which males are excluded; prohibited, unlawful activities; 'that which is forbidden' by the sharia.
  • hijab: 'screen', 'veil'; head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women in public.
  • hijra: the emigration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina in 622, the base year of the Muslim era.
  • hikma: wisdom, sapientia; also the school of 'theosophy', which in certain contexts is used synonymously with traditional Islamic philosophy.
  • hila (pl. hiyal): legal stratagem; artifices, tricks, legal methods to get around general prohibitions.
  • hilm: forbearance, moderation, tranquility in the face of passion.
  • hizbullah: party of God
  • hujja: proof, the person through whom God's presence becomes accessible; a rank in the hierarchy of Shii missionaries; see da'i.
  • 'ibadah: (pl. 'ibadat), worship under all its forms, obedience to rituals including ablutions, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage.
  • 'ibadat: 'worship', regulations in Islamic law governing religious observances.
  • 'id: the Muslim festivals; 'id al-fitr, the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, and 'id al-adha, the sacrificial festival of the tenth of Dhu al-hijja; in Turkish called bayram.
  • Id al-Adha: 'festival of sacrifice', the last day of the hajj.
  • Id al-Fitra: 'festival of the breaking of the fast', the end of Ramadan.
  • 'idda: legally prescribed period during which a woman may not remarry after having been widowed or divorced.
  • ihram: 'state of ritual consecration' during hajja, when pilgrims wear white garments; see also haram.
  • ihsan: beneficence, charity, doing good deeds.
  • ijaza: a certificate given by a teacher to a student certifying his capacity to transmit a particular text.
  • ijma: consensus, or agreement of the community, a source of Islamic law.
  • ijtihad: independent analysis or interpretation of Islamic law.
  • ikhwan al Muslimin: Muslim brotherhood, a society founded in 1928 by Hasan al Banna; originally aimed at re-establishing a Muslim polity in Egypt.
  • ilm: imam, literally he who stands at the front, hence the leader of the daily prayers and also he who is the leader of the community. In the Sunni world the term is also used as an honorific title for outstanding religious scholars while in Shiism imam refers to the person who carries within himself the special initiatic power issuing from the prophetic revelation.
  • imamzada: a descendant of a Shii imam; the shrines of sanctified descendants of 'Ali revered by pilgrims, who believe they have miraculous qualities.
  • iman: faith, trust, belief, acceptance. From amana, to believe; and amina, to be tranquil in heart and mind, to become safe or secure, to trust; amana to render secure, grant safety. Iman is being true to the trust with respect to which Allah has confided in one by a firm believing of the heart, not by professing it on the tongue only. Derivatives: amn, peace, security, protection (the opposite of khawf); amin, trustworthy, faithful, honest (designation of the Prophet); mu'min, a believer, he who is given certainty and trust; Divine Name: al-Amin, He Who is secure from any causality.
  • imaret: in Ottoman usage, an endowed complex of religious and charitable facilities, commonly including a place for prayer, a college, library, soup kitchens, etc.
  • infitah: the 'opening up' of the Egyptian economy to the West in 1972, in the hope of attracting foreign capital.
  • insan: 'human being' from the root meaning 'to be companionable, agreeable or genial'.
  • iqta': a grant of the rights to collect taxes from land collected in return for development or administrative and military service; see jagir, timar.
  • 'irfan: gnosis or divine knowledge.
  • ishan: an honorific used in Inner Asia as the equivalent of a Sufi shaykh or spiritual leader.
  • islah: reform, purification, and revitalisation of the Muslim community based on a return to the first principles of thc Quran and hadith; see tajdid.
  • Islam: submission, unconditional surrender to God, the name of the religion of Muslims, the institutions and cultural style of states and societies formed by the Islamic religion.
  • 'isma: immunity from error sin; a quality of the Prophet attributed by the Shia to the imams.
  • Isma'ilis: a branch of the Shia who look to the leadership of Ismail, a son of Ja'far and his descendants; this branch includes the Fatimids; later divided into several branches, including the Nizariya who spread from Syria and Iran into India; subcommunities include the Khojas, Bohras, and others.
  • isnad: 'support', a chain of authorities, the series of transmitters of hadith whose names guarantee their validity.
  • ithna-'ashari: the branch of the Shia who believe in the twelve imams descended from 'Ali, the last of whom disappeared and went into hiding in 873 and will return as the messiah; the branch of Shiism to which the majority of the populace of Iran adheres.
  • jagir: an assignment of revenues in Mughal India in lieu of payment of salary; see iqta' timar.
  • jahiliyyah: period of ignorance, i.e., pre-lslamic Arabia; used by contemporary revivalists to refer to un-lslamic behaviour in society.
  • jama'a: meeting, assembly, the community of believers, the umma.
  • jamatbandi: a collectivity or small community; used especially of the Shii sects .
  • jami': mosque for Friday prayers.
  • janissary: member of the Ottoman infantry corps, the elite regiments of the Ottoman regime.
  • jihad: literally, striving (for the sake of Allah); fighting (so-called Holy War) for the sake of establishing truth and justice in an unbalanced situation. From the verb jahada: to endeavour, strive, do one's utmost, expend energy, Mujahid is a warrior, fighter; effort directed toward inner religious perfection and toward holy war of the Muslims against the infidels.
  • jinn: intelligent beings, usually invisible spirits, who can sin as well as be sacred; the Western word 'genies' is derived from this term.
  • jizya: poll-tax on dhimmi (non-Muslims) which entitled them to protection and to practice their faith.
  • kaba: cube-shaped shrine located in the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the focal point for daily prayer and the pilgrimage.
  • kafir: 'unbeliever' or infidel, one who is 'ungrateful' and rejects the message of Islam.
  • kalam: speech, debate, theology, the subject which attempts to give rational proofs for religious beliefs; deals with the problems of the divine unity, attributes, human free will, self-determination, etc.
  • kanun: state-promulgated administrative regulations or codes of law, usually dealing with financial and criminal matters; in contemporary usage, all codes of law promulgated by governments.
  • kasb: economic gain, in theology, the technical term for acquisition of responsibility and of reward or punishment for good or bad deeds.
  • kashf: lifting of the veils, the realisation or vision of God as ultimate reality.
  • khalifa: successor of the Prophet and head of the Muslim community, the Caliph; in Sufism the disciple of the master authorised to transmit prayers, initiate new members, and act as a deputy or head of the Sufi order; vice-regent or lieutenant; in the political domain, it refers to the representatives of the Prophet in his politico-social and juridical functions who came to be known as caliphs and in the spiritual sense it is a designation for the universal man in his function as God's vice-regent before the whole of creation.
  • khan: a Turkish title, originally the ruler of state but then applied to subordinate chiefs and nobles; also a caravansarai.
  • khanaqa: a building for Sufi activities where the shaykh may live, instruct his disciples, and carry on Sufi worship. see also ribat, tekke, ziwaya.
  • kharaj: the tax on land.
  • kharijism: early religio-political movements whose followers held that the Caliph should be elected by the community.
  • kharja: see muwashshah.
  • khatib: official preacher who presents the Friday sermon; in principle, the representative of the ruler.
  • khirqa: the patched cloak worn by Sufis and passed from master to initiate as a symbol of the communication of the blessings inherited from the Prophet.
  • Khojas: a sect of Nizari Ismailis in India.
  • khul: 'renunciation', or divorce initiated by the wife, according to the sharia.
  • khums: 'fifth'; a tax of one-fifth of all trading profits, payable to mujtahids in Shiite areas.
  • khutba: sermon delivered in a mosque at the Friday congregational prayer.
  • khwaja: a title variously used by merchants, scholars, and oflicials; in modern Turkish, hoja, a professional man of religion.
  • kiswa: 'black clothing', or covering of the kaba, renewed annually.
  • kufr: 'disbelief', an ungrateful rejection of Islam; see also kafir.
  • Madhhab: (pl. madhahib), a system of fiqh, or generally the system followed by any given religious group; specifically, four madhahib were ultimately accepted as legitimate by the Sunnis, while the Shi'is and Kharijis had other madhahib. Sometimes rendered 'sect', 'school' or 'rite'; Muslim school of law; the four principal schools are the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali.
  • madrasa: a college whose primary function is the teaching of law and related religious subjects.
  • mahalla: a town quarter.
  • mahdi: literally the 'guided one'; a Messiah and reformist leader who aims to restore the original purity of the Islamic faith and polity. In Sunnism the identity of the mahdi is not specified while in Shiism he is identified with the Twelfth Imam.
  • mahr: in Muslim law, the gift which the bridegroom gives the bride and which becomes her personal property, retained by her if she is divorced by her husband.
  • majlis: a gathering, assembly, or council.
  • maktab: an elementary school for teaching children recitation of the Quran and the basics of reading and writing.
  • mamluk: a slave or freedman in military service.
  • maqam: a station on the Sufi path to unity with God acquired by the Sufi's own efforts.
  • ma'rifah: Gnosis, realisation, knowledge on which all knowledge rests. From 'arafa, to know, recognise, differentiate, perceive. The 'arif, the gnostic, is he who never sees anything but that he sees Allah in it, before it and after it. In Sufism, ma'rifah is part of a triad that includes makhafah, 'fear' and mahabbah 'love' of God.
  • ma'ruf: 'known'; term used in the Quran for familiar and approved custom; hence, generally, 'the good'.
  • marja-i-taqlid: 'source of emulation'; supreme authority on law in Shii Islam whose interpretation should be followed; title is conferred by the people on the most distinguished clergymen of the period.
  • masjid: a mosque or place of prostration and prayer; a centre for Muslim communal affairs.
  • masnavi: an epic poem in Persian and related literatures.
  • ma'sum: a person who possesses 'isma, infallibility, freedom from committing sins.
  • mawali: see mawla.
  • mawla (pl. mawali): master or servant, also a man of religious authority. In the plural form mawali it especially refers to persons associated with Arab tribes other than by birth, particularly in Marwani times; non-Arab converts to Islam; client or freedman; the word also applies to the patron or master.
  • mawlid: the celebration of the birth of the Prophet; also applies to celebrations at saints' shrines.
  • mihrab: 'niche' in thc wall of a mosque, indicating the direction of Mecca, which Muslims face when performing their daily prayers (salat).
  • millet system: non-Muslim religious communities living within the Islamic domain; distinctive system used by Ottoman rulers to recognise and regulate the rights and duties of non-Muslims.
  • minaret: the tower of a mosque from which the call to prayer is proclaimed.
  • minbar: pulpit from which a sermon is delivered at the Friday prayer.
  • mi'raj: the ascent of the Prophet to heaven in Jerusalem after the miraculous night journey from Medina.
  • misr (pl. amsar): the military camps and garrisons constructed in the early Islamic conquests; administrative capitals for the conquered provinces.
  • mobad: a Soroastrian clergyman.
  • mosque: see masjid.
  • muamalat: human relationships; Islamic laws (e.g. civil, criminal, family) governing social relations.
  • mufti: specialist on Islamic law competent to deliver a fatwa or legal interpretation/brief.
  • muhajirun: the emigrants who accompanied the Prophet on the hijra from Mecca to Medina.
  • muhtasib : originally an inspector of markets who supervised or policed business transactions and practices; the office was later expanded to include the monitoring of public morality in general.
  • mujaddid: 'the renewer'; the scholar or holy-man who comes once every century to restore the true knowledge and practice of Islam.
  • mujahid (pl. mujahidin) soldier of God, fighting a holy war or jihad.
  • mujtahid: he who because of his mastery of the religious sciences and integrity of character has gained the right to practise ijtihad that is, give independent judgment on religious problems.
  • mulk: 'dominion' or existing Muslim state as distinct from the ideal Islamic state (khilafa).
  • mullah: a learned man; often used in the Indian subcontinent; the equivalent of 'alim.
  • mumin: believer, one who possesses faith (iman).
  • munkar: 'unknown'; term used in Quran for wrongful action as distinct from maruf: hence evil generally.
  • muqri: 'reciter' of the Quran.
  • murid: 'aspirant', or follower of a Sufi master.
  • murshid: guide; a Sufi master and teacher; see Sufi
  • muslim: one who submits (islam) to God's will.
  • mustazafin: the wretched; impoverished inhabitants of Iranian shanty towns.
  • mut'a: Shiite legal institution of temporary marriage contract.
  • mutawwif: guide caring for pilgrims in Mecca.
  • mu'tazilis: 'those who stand aloof'; theologians belonging to the rationalist school which introduced speculative dogmatism into Islam.
  • muwahhid: (pl. muwahhidin) 'unitarian'; one who believes in God's unity (tawhid). Term used by Druzes and Wahhabis (among others) to describe their beliefs.
  • muwashshah: love poem; form of Arabic verse popular in Spain, commonly ending in a kharja, or refrain of Romance origin.
  • nabi: prophet, he who brings tidings from the invisible world.
  • nafs: Self, soul, mind, human being. The nafs includes man's innate nature, his genetic predisposition, and his conditioned behaviour. Its manifestation may be base and animalistic, or spiritually elevated, according to the state of its purity. From the verbs nafusa, to be precious, valuable; naffasa, to comfort, relieve; and tanaffasa, to breathe, pause for a rest. The soul or the psyche which stands between the body (jism) and the spirit or intellect (ruh or 'aql).
  • naqib: a syndic or headman.
  • naqil al-ashra: the syndic or headman of the groups of descendants of the Prophet found in many Muslim countries.
  • nasiha: faithful advice to a ruler; exhortation to do good.
  • nass: in Shia usage, the explicit designation of a successor to the imamate, which confers upon him knowledge and power appropriate to the office.
  • niya: intention, necessary state of mind for the validity of religious actions.
  • nizam: system, e.g., nizam al-lslam, Islamic system of government.
  • pancasila: the five principles of Indonesian independence.
  • penghulu: headman, used in Indonesia as a title of a village administrator.
  • pesantren: in Indonesia, a school or seminary for Muslim students.
  • pir: Sufi master.
  • pirzada: see pir.
  • priyayi: the governing and scribal class; the elite of pre-modern Indonesian society.
  • purdah: seclusion and covering of women in public.
  • qadi: judge who administers Sharia law.
  • qalb: in Sufism, the heart, the soul, the seat of conscience and knowledge.
  • qanat: an underground irrigation canal, commonly used in Iran.
  • qari: 'reciter', particularly of the Quran.
  • qasaba: a fortified castle, residence of government officials; a chief town; in lndia, qasbah.
  • qasbah: see qasaba.
  • qasida: the classical Arabic ode which often eulogises the tribe of the poet or a great man; the Persian qasida is a Iyric poem.
  • qawm: lineage, tribe, religious commmunity, nation.
  • qibla : direction of the Kaba at Mecca which Muslims face when performing their daily prayers (salat).
  • qiyas: The principle of deriving new judicial decisions by way of analogy with those given in the body of hadith or the Quran. One of the four roots of fiqh recognised by Sunnis. From qasa, to gauge, measure, compare, correlate.
  • Quran: Muslim scripture, the book containing the revelations of God to Muhammad.
  • qutb: the pivot around which something revolves; the head of the invisible hierarchy of saints upon which the order of the universe depends.
  • ra'i: 'opinion' or personal judgement of faqihs in interpreting Quranic rules.
  • Ramadan: the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, the month of annual fasting.
  • rashidun: the rightly guided, a title applied to the first four Caliphs.
  • rasul: a particular class of prophets who bring a message for a particular humanity.
  • riba: 'usury', as prohibited in the Quran.
  • ribat (pl. ribatat and rubut): a hospice or fort on the frontier of Islam. From the verb rabata, to bind or to post.
  • rida: 'satisfaction'; stage through which a Sufi progresses in his search for God.
  • riddah: apostasy from Islam. An apostate is a murtadd. The word is also applied to the period of insurgency and the rise of false prophets among the desert tribes, which followed the death of the Prophet.
  • risala (pl. rasail): 'report' or 'epistle'.
  • ruh: soul, sometimes the equivalent of qalb.
  • rukn (pl. arkan): 'pillar'; one of the five religious duties prescribed for Muslims: hajj, salat, sawm, shahada and zakat.
  • rustaq: an administrative district comprising a town and subordinate villages.
  • sabr: steadfastness, patience, endurance in fulfilment of religious obligations.
  • sadaqa: voluntary alms, sometimes a synonyn for zakat.
  • sajjada nishin: 'one who sits on the prayer carpet'; the successor to the leadership of a khanaqa or the custodian of a Sufi shrine.
  • salaf: 'ancestors', the first generations of the Muslim community; because of their proximity to the Prophet Muhammad, their beliefs and practice are considered authoritative
  • salat: Muslim ritual prayer performed five times daily; in Persian called namaz.
  • sama': Sufi musical session intended to inculcate states of ecstasy.
  • santri: in Indonesia, a student of lslam; devout and correct Muslim.
  • sawafi: crown estates seized by the Umayyad dynasty from former Sasallia royal and noble landowners.
  • sawm: fasting, the fourth pillar of Islam which requires abstention from food and drink from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan.
  • sayyid: prince, lord, chief; a descendant of Husain, the son of 'Ali.
  • shahada: the testimony of faith in Islam consisting of the two formulas La ilaha illa'llah, 'There is no divinity but the Divine' and Muhammadun rasul Allah, 'Muhammad is the messenger of God'.
  • shahid: martyr ('witness' to faith).
  • sharia: the path to be followed; Muslim law, the totality of the Islamic way of life; revealed Islamic code of conduct; the outer path. From the verb shara'a, to begin, enter, unbind, introduce, prescribe, give (laws). Shari' means road; mashra' means spring. It is the complement and container of haqiqa for the waters that gush from Reality's spring cannot be contained or drunk from except by a proper vessel.
  • sharif (pl. ashraf or shurafa'): noble; a descendant of the Prophet.
  • shaykh: (shaikh) an elder, head, chief, respected man of religion, Sufi Ieader, teacher.
  • Shaykh al-lslam: a chief jurisconsult or mufti; the head of the religious establishment in the Ottoman empire. .
  • shia: 'party or faction' of Ali, those Muslims who believe that Muhammad designated Ali and his rightful descendants the true leaders of the Muslim community.
  • shirk: the cardinal and only unforgivable sin in Islam, which consists of envisaging a partner for the Divinity and therefore of compromising God's inviolable Unity. Polytheism - the ultimate blasphemy.
  • shura: consultation; council; specifically the council established by the Caliph 'Umar to choose his successor.
  • silsila: the sequence of Sufi masters reaching back to the Prophet through whom a particular Sufi acquires his knowledge.
  • sipahi: a cavalry soldier in the Ottoman empire; appears in India as sepoy.
  • Sufi: an exponent of (tasawwuf) Sufism, the commonest term for that aspect of Islam which is based on realising the seen and unseen; Islamic mysticism; named after the early ascetics who wore garments of coarse wool; see also ishan, murshid, pir, shaykh.
  • sultan: ruler, military commander in medieval Islamic states.
  • sunna: 'the trodden path', custom, the practice of the Prophet and the early community which becomes for all Muslims an authoritative example of the correct way to live a Muslim life.
  • sunnis: those who accept the Sunna and the historic succession of Caliphs, as opposed to the 'Alids; the majority of the Muslim community.
  • sura: a group of Quranic verses collected in a single chapter.
  • tafsir: commentary upon the Quran, which is usually distinguished from ta'wil, the hermeneutic and esoteric interpretation of the Holy Book.
  • tajalli: the theophany of God's Names and Qualities, which in Islamic metaphysics is expressed in the symbolism of the reflection of an object in a mirror or shiny surface so as to emphasise that the 'object' is reflected without entering into the mirror. The Truth is reflected in this world through tajalli and therefore does not enter into the world.
  • tajdid: renewal, applied to the post-eighteenth-century movement to revive the true practice of Islam based on the Quran and hadith; see islah.
  • talaq: pronouncement of divorce or repudiation by husband.
  • talji'a: commendation; see himaya.
  • Tanzimat: reorganisations; the name for the Ottoman reforms of the nineteenth century.
  • taqiyya: resort to dissimulation in the face of danger, especially among Shii.
  • taqlid: 'imitation', the principle of following the established doctrines of the Muslim schools of law; the opposite of ijtihad.
  • tariqa: 'way or path', means, manner, mode The middle way between sharia and haqiqa. From taraqa, to knock, forge, reach. The teachings and devotional practice of mystical brotherhoods, specifically, any one of the groupings of Sufis with a common chain of transmission and a common invocation. The Prophet said 'Sharia is my words, tariqa my acts and haqiqah my state'.
  • tasawwuf: the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam, which acquired this name from the 2nd/8th century onward, a name which is the source for the word Sufism.
  • tasdiq: faith, affirmation of the truth of God's existence.
  • tawaf: ritual circumambulation of the kaba by a pilgrim during the hajj or 'umra.
  • tawakkul: trust in God.
  • tawba: repentance, turning to God.
  • tawhid: unity, the oneness of God's being and the unity of the mystic with the divine being.
  • ta'wil: literally 'to take something back to its origin', hence the esoteric and spiritual interpretation of both the Quran and creation, the esoteric or the inward being also the origin and the beginning.
  • ta'ziya: the lamentation for a martyr, the mourning for Husayn displayed in processions and mystery plays in the month of Muharram; also refers to a model of Husayn's tomb at Karbala kept in imamzadas.
  • taziyyah: Shii passion play depicting the martyrdom of Husayn.
  • tekke: the Turkish name for a Sufi residence; see khanaqa.
  • ulama: the collective term for the religious scholars or learned men of Islam.
  • uleebalang: an intermediary administrative official in the Malayan Sultanates.
  • umma: Islamic community, refers to the worldwide Muslim community.
  • umra: 'visitation', lesser pilgrimage to Mecca which can be performed any time of the year.
  • 'urs: marriage, especially of a saint with God; the celebration of his death date marked by ceremonies at his shrine.
  • 'ushr: the tenth of the produce levied on Muslim-owned lands.
  • ustadh: a name for a Sufi master or other learned teacher.
  • usul al-fiqh: 'roots' or principles of Islamic jurisprudence, sources of Islamic law (Quran, Sunna of Prophet, consensus (ijma), analogical reasoning (qiyas)).
  • vilayat-i-faqih: guardianship or government by an expert in Islamic law.
  • wahdat al-shuhud: unity of witness.
  • wahdat al-wujud: the transcendent unity of being, the central and characteristic doctrine of Sufi metaphysics, formulated explicitly for the first time by Muhyi al-Din ibn 'Arabi.
  • wahy: revelation in its technical Islamic sense, which is distinguished clearly from inspiration (ilham), the first being reserved exclusively for prophets and the second being available in principle to all men.
  • wali: a protector, a benefactor, a companion, a governor; a friend of God, a saint or a Sufi whose tomb is visited for its blessing; the legal guardian of a minor, woman, or incapacitated person.
  • waqf (pl. awqaf), pious endowment or 'foundation' of certain incomes (commonly rents or land revenues) for the upkeep of a mosque, a hospital, etc. Sometimes the main purpose of such endowment was to provide entailed and unconfiscatable income for one's descendants.
  • watan: country, motherland, homeland or nation; a concept borrowed from Western nationalism.
  • wazir: 'a helper', the chief secretary of a ruler; head of the bureaucracy; prime minister.
  • wilayat: a legal competence; power delegated to a governor or wali; in Ottoman usage, a term for an administrative district.
  • wird: a litany or patterned devotion chanted by Sufis; private prayer in addition to the salat.
  • wisaya: 'testament', designation of Ali as executor of Muhammad's will and testament.
  • yaqin: Certainty. From yaqina, to be certain. Yaqin has three parts: 'ilm al-yaqin, the knowledge of certainty; 'ayn al-yaqin, the source of certainty; and haqq al-yaqin, the eye of certainty.
  • yasa: Mongol law.
  • zahir: the outward or the external aspect of manifestation and also of God, al-Zahir being a Divine Name, contrasted with al-batin, the inward; the external, literal meaning of a text as opposed to its inner significance.
  • zakat: 'purity'; a portion of one's substance given in order to purify the rest, hence alms tax; tithe of two and a half per cent levied on wealth and distributed to the poor. From zakiya, to grow, be pure or purified.
  • zamindar: a landowner; under the Mughals, a person who has a right to collect revenues from the land.
  • zanadaqa: a body of dualistic or heretical beliefs.
  • zawiyah: literally 'corner'. A building for Sufi activities, where dhikr was observed and where one or more shaykhs lived, entertained travelling Sufis, and taught their disciples or followers; residence, place of prayer, school, and tomb of a saint, (see khanaqa).
  • zina: illegal sexual intercourse, includes both adultery and fornication, prohibited in the Quran.
  • ziyara: a visit to the tomb of a saint or holy-man to pray for intercession before God.
  • zulm: oppression; sin.

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Last update August 2000
Email: moshea@metz.une.edu.au