Glossary of Muslim and Islamic Terms

I thought, given some of the feedback, that I would create a list of terms, a glossary as it were, for some of the words that get used here in this Blog as well as on other blog [many words are transliterations of Arabic terms, where if the reader does not have a background in either Arabic or Islam, they may have no idea what they mean]. The terms are listed alphabetically in English and will be an on-going process of updating and refining. To find your way back to your post, simply use your browser’s back button.

‘Adl [عدل]: justice.

Allah [الله]: the Arabic word for God. It is the definite of ilaah اله meaning “a god or deity [infinitive]”. While there are a number of grammatical opinions that look at the root of  و ل ه  there is one opinion that I hold to more and that is the root coming from the possessive, lahu له meaning, “for him or belonging to him”. This was a pre-Islamic understanding of the Arabs in which, by adding ال the definite article [تأليف] making it “all that belongs to Him” or “to Whom everything belongs”.

‘Aqidah: a creed or collection of practices and beliefs of a Muslim. There is more than one.

Bid’ah [بدعة]: in religious terms, it refers to unsanctioned innovation in the religion. As defined by Abu Is’haq Ibrahim bin Musa al-Shatibi [d.790]: “A concocted manner of proceeding in religion that mimics the scripturally mandated way, with the aim of achieving through this concocted way that which should only be sought through the scripturally mandated way”.

To demonstrate in another way, for instance, some Muslims will not kiss their wives while fasting during the month of Ramadan, notwithstanding the documented fact that the Prophet did kiss his wives while fasting. The idea is that despite this fact, some believe in “just being sure” or “keeping it safe”, insinuating that the Prophet’s own example is no longer sufficient evidence for a permissible act. Instead, even if a Muslim were to follow the example of the Prophet [i.e., his “sunnah“] he or she might end up committing an act which would be displeasing to God. This further indicts the Prophet, who was sent as a perfect example for humanity, in that he was in possession of erroneous knowledge that would lead to the displeasure of God, rendering his sunnah unreliable. Upon this thought, a Muslim must then render his or her own infallible path to salvation.

For a further explanation, see Towards Empowering the Common Muslim, “The Prophet’s Actions As A Source For Legal Rulings In Islam” by Dr. Sherman Jackson.

Fiqh [فقه]: the root of  ف ق ه  in Arabic means, “to grasp or understand”. In its relation to Muslim societies, it refers to the jurisprudence. In conjunction with language لغة, fiqh al-Lugah is philology.

Usuwl al-Fiqh [أصول الفقه]: the principles of jurisprudence. In relation to Muslim society, this is term may be called Muslim jurisprudence [I prefer “Muslim” versus “Islamic” whereby the term Muslim is far more specific and temporal whereas “Islamic” can be mistakenly conflated to overextend its scope, becoming ontological. The word أصزل being the plural of أصل meaning, “source, origin or root”.

Fitnah [فتنة]: basic meaning is “to test”. This term can be broken up into two major terms:

[1] God’s trying and testing of His servants – “Every soul shall taste death; and We visit you with good and evil, as a test [fitnah] for you,” Qur’an, 21: 35; or “Your money and your children are simply a test [fitnah] for you,” Qur’an, 64: 15.
[2] Human beings testing and trying other human beings – “And fight them until there exists no “fitnah” and religion is practiced solely out of devotion to God,” Qur’an, 2: 193; or “Verily those who test [fatana] the believing men and women and do not repent, their’s shall be the penalty of Hell and a Blazing fire,” Quran, 85: 10.

For a further explanation of fitnah, see Dr. Sherman Jackson’s, Islam and the Blackamerican, pg. 179.

Halaqah [حلقة]: literally meaning “ring”, they are informal gatherings where a guest speaker or the imam may give a talk in the masjid and the people will form a circle to listen. Not a mandatory act.

‘Ilm [علم]: knowledge or science. The verbal root ع ل م means to learn, know, study or to reason. It is used as a preceding term to refer to the science of this or that – for example, ‘ilm al-ijtimaa’ [علم الاجتماع], is sociology. Its plural is ‘uluwm [علوم]. For more on how Islam perceives knowledge, read or listen to the khutbah here.

Ijmā’ [اجماع]: I like the definition that Dr. Sherman Jackson uses to define orthodoxy and ijma’ [unanimous consensus]:

1) orthodoxy in Islamic law is made up of a) universally agreed upon (mujma’ ‘alaihi) rules and b) disputed (mukhtalaf fihi) rules; 2) as long as a disputed view is endorsed by an orthodox school of law, it is orthodox — equal in effect to views supported by unanimous consensus; and 3) any disputed view endorsed by an orthodox school is authoritative when it appears in the form of a legal opinion (fatwa), and binding and unassailable when issued in the form of a judicial ruling (hukum).

Taken from Dr. Jackson’s: In Defense of Two-Tiered Orthodoxy: a Study of Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi’s Kitab al-Ihkam fi Tamyiz al-Fatawa ‘an al-Ahkam wa Tasarrufat al-Qadi wa al-Imam. A dissertation in Oriental Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1991.

Khatīb – also spelled khateeb or khatib [خطيب]: the person who delivers the speech of the Jumu’ah [Friday] Prayer. The khatīb must be a male of adult age, sane, and competent in the ways of Muslim thinking [basic knowledge of Qur’an, Sunnah, Hadith, etc.].

Khut’bah – also spelled khutbah or kutbah [خطبة]: the sermon or speech that is delivered in the day of Jumu’ah [Friday] during the Jumu’ah Prayer. The khut’bah is mandatory for all males of a responsible age and of sound mind. And while women are not compelled to go they may do so.

Masjid [plural: masajid]: the place of worship for Muslims. Also known as a mosque.

Mālikī Madh’hab [المذهب المالكي أو مذهب إمام مالك بن أنس]: this is the school of juridical thought based on Imam Mālik ibn Anas’ [d. 796/179 AH] work. It is one of the four major schools of jurisprudence, comprising about 15% of the total Muslim population. It is most popular in North and sub-Saharan Africa. One of the things that distinguishes this school of thought from the others is the preference for the proclivities, knowledge and transmissions from the people of Madinah, who Mālik saw as a sort of “living, communal understanding” of what the Prophet Muhammad brought [i.e., the Revelation as well as non-revelatory-based things for which there was no Qur’anic precedent]. Imam Mālik’s famous work is the “Approved” [الموطأ].

Minbar [منبر]: the pulpit the imam stands on when delivering the Jumu’ah [Friday] sermon.

Muruw’ah [مروؤة]: sense of honor, chivalric sense of honor or generosity, or manliness. This is a term that is often used to describe the honorific sensibility that many of the pagan Arabs of the Prophet Muhammad’s time behaved in. As an example, the Arabic name, Marwaan [مروان] comes from this root م ر ؤ meaning one who is manly.

Salāh [صلاة]: the five-times daily prayer, performed either communally or individually by Muslims. This should be be mistaken for supplication.

Sarf [صرف]: morphology. A component of the study of Arabic language where additionally related meanings are derived from “morphing” the root of a verb through various forms [I-X approximately]. For a further explanation, see Wikipedia’s definition.

Shahādah [شهادة]: the verbal act of professing, “there is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger [ash’hadu an laa ilaha illa Allah wa ash’hadu anna Muhammadan rasuwlu’llah]”. This is the first “pillar of Islam” – the Testimony of Faith.

Sharī’ah [شريعة]: Islamic law. A historical process of determining rulings based on the validity or lack thereof of precedent. As described by Dr. Jackson,

“It was not theology but law that achieved primacy in classical Sunni Islam. Islamic law, however, was not the creation of the early Muslim state. Rather, private Muslims during the first two centuries after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (632 C.E.) succeeded in gaining recognition for their interpretive efforts as representing the most reliable renderings of divine intent.”Islam and the Black American: Looking Towards the Third Resurrection, 7.

This would include interpretive processes such as interpretive methodology (usuwl al-fiqh) along with the Qur’an and Sunnah (normative practice and supplemental commentary of the Prophet Muhammad) combined with the Unanimous Consensus (ijma’) of jurists as the main source in tandem with analogy (qiyas) as the main method of using the law to address cases and issues for which there is no precedent. For a further explanation, see Dr. Jackson’s, Islam and the Blackamerican, pg. 7.

Taqwā [تقوى]taqwā is often translated as God-consciousness, though in fact, this does not quite reflect the nature of how the word was used in the Qur’an. There, it is almost always used in an admonishing way, in which the recipient is encouraged to “defend” or “protect” his or herself from some form of Divine chastisement. Like many terms found in the Qur’an, taqwā was not unknown to the pre-Islamic Arabs, as al-Tabrizi demonstrates in his commentary on the poetry collection, al-Hamāsah:

الإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

“Taqwā is the idea that you [A] place something [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”

What al-Tabrīzī is demonstrating to us is that taqwā, in a sense, is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom.

Let’s take a quick look at taqwā in few lines of Jāhiliyyah poetry. In the Mu’allaqah, Zuhayr states boldly:

و قال سأقضي حاجتي ثم أتقي * عدوي بألف من روائى ملجم

“I will satisfy my vengeance [on my brother’s killer by taking his life!], then I will defend myself from their reprisal with a thousand horses, all bridled in support of my cause!”

What al-Tabrīzī is demonstrating to us is that taqwā, in a sense, is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom. For more on taqwā read here.

Zulm [ظلم]: brute tyranny or injustice. Injustice.

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