Glossary Of Islamic Term
Abraham : one of the first Prophets of Allah, who was willing to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, when Allah asked him to. This event is celebrated by the Eid al-Adha or Festival of Sacrifice.
adhan : the call to prayer that can be heard five times a day as the mu'hadhin calls the faithful. It is whispered into the ears of newborn babies, so that holy words are the first sounds that they hear.
al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat : a legal maxim that translates as 'necessities overrule prohibitions' and that allows a Muslim in extreme circumstances to do something that would normally be haram to save his own or another's life. A good example would be a starving Muslim being excused for eating pork, if nothing else were available and the meal saved his life. This principle is important in modern medicine.
Allah : the name of God. Allah is the One and Only, Unique and without end.
aqiqah : the ceremony of shaving a baby's head and giving it a formal name. This ritual is a celebration of the birth of the child, and the giving of a name that welcomes it into the Muslim community. It usually takes place within seven days of the birth.
eid : a celebratory festival. There are two major eid in the Muslim calendar: one to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and the other to celebrate the end of the hajj.
Eid al-Adha : the Festival of Sacrifice held on the last day of the hajj, and celebrating the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael when Allah asked him to.
Eid al-Fitr : the Festival of Breaking the Fast, held on the last day of the month of Ramadan, and celebrating unity in the Muslim community.
five pillars of Islam : the five guiding principles of life as a Muslim; five duties that must be adhered to. They are the profession of faith (shahadah), prayer (salat/salaat), charity or almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm) and a pilgrimage to Makkah (hajj).
ghusl : the greater washing; a full-body cleansing ritual before worship. This is generally necessary after childbirth, sexual intercourse and when it is felt that special penance is needed to become (spiritually) clean again.
Hadith : Muhammad's followers and household kept a careful account of his life, deeds, sayings and examples, and these have been gathered together as the Hadith. Muslims try to live by the rules of the Qur'an, but they also take great advice and comfort from the examples in the Hadith; after all, if an ordinary man such as Muhammad can live well and in a holy manner, so can they. The Hadith also forms part of the literature informing shari'ah.
haji/hajji and hajiah/hajja : male and female titles for those who have completed a pilgrimage to Makkah (the hajj) and so have upheld one of the five pillars of Islam.
hajj : the fifth pillar of Islam. The hajj is a pilgrimage that all Muslims must make if they are able to, so that they can visit Makkah (the birthplace of Muhammad, and now called Mecca) and pray in the mosque there.
halal : anything that is allowed or lawful according to the Qur'an. It is often used in the context of food – especially meat – to indicate that the food has been prepared in accordance with Muslim principles and techniques.
haram : anything that is unlawful or forbidden according to the Qur'an.
hayd : the term used for menstrual blood, and to describe the period of uncleanliness around the menstrual bleed (the minimum time of hayd is three days, the maximum is ten days). After this period of hayd, a ghusl is required to regain the state of cleanliness.
hijab : the term used to describe the full dress code for women to keep them from unwelcome attentions and to preserve their modesty. It includes rules for covering the feet, what jewellery can be worn and even the limits of modern make-up that are permitted. In the UK, it is commonly used to describe only the headscarf that is worn by Muslim women to cover their hair at all times. The traditional hijab headscarf is a long, wide scarf that is wrapped around the head and throat, and can be used to cover the face when necessary for modesty.
Hussain : the grandson of Muhammad and one of the first imams. He was killed in battle, and his death is especially mourned by the Shi'a Muslim community during the New Year festival.
ihram : the state of grace and holiness that is achieved by taking part in the hajj.
imam : the spiritual leader of a Muslim community. He leads the congregation in prayer and acts as an advisor and advocate for and to the community. He is not a priest and has authority by knowing the Qur'an and other sacred texts well.
Ishmael : the son of Abraham, the first Prophet of Islam. Ishmael was nearly sacrificed by his father when Allah told him to do so. At the last minute, Ishmael was spared.
Islam : this can be translated literally as 'peace through willing submission to Allah'. The word 'salaam', which means peace, and 'Islam' share a common root in Arabic, and 'islam' (no capital letter), is a term that is used to indicate the quality of surrender to the Divine will. Islam is a religion based on faith, obedience, teachings and daily practice of the principles contained in the Qur'an.
istihadah : any irregular (vaginal) bleeding experienced by a woman that does not take place during her period of hayd (menstrual bleeding). This includes spotting while on the Pill or disruption to her normal menstrual cycle with the approach of menopause, for example.
khitan : the ritual circumcision of every Muslim male child.
Koran : the Anglicised spelling of Qur'an.
Makkah : the Arabic name for the modern city of Mecca, where the prophet Muhammad was born. It is the spiritual home of Islam and contains the most sacred of mosques as well as the Ka'ba or Black Stone. Muslims position themselves to face Makkah whenever they pray, so that their prayers may go straight there and be heard.
minaret : the tower in the mosque that the adhan is called from by the mu'hadhin.
mosque : the Muslim place of worship. It is usually built as a square building with a central courtyard and a domed minaret (tower). The minaret is where the adhan (call to prayer) is chanted from. There are no images of living creatures or people in a mosque, but one wall will be specially decorated with intricate patterns; this wall faces Makkah and indicates the direction to face while praying. The floor is usually carpeted and everyone will sit on the floor. Women and men pray in separate areas. The mosque is not only the centre for individual contemplative prayer and Friday's communal prayer, but also a community centre, school and meeting place for the Islamic community.
mufti : an interpreter or implementer of shari'ah or Islamic law (essentially an Islamic lawyer). The Council of Muftis gathers together to debate changes to Islamic laws in the face of modern advances, such as organ donation.
mu'hadhin : the man who calls the faithful to prayer five times a day. He climbs into the minaret of the mosque at the appropriate time and begins to chant and sing the adhan (call to prayer).
Muhammad : Muhammad was an ordinary man, who at the age of 40 began to receive instruction from Allah via His angel Jibreel (Gabriel). During the next 20 and more years, he received and wrote down the words of the Qur'an, Allah's final revelation to mankind. Muhammad was just one of the prophets used by Allah to instruct humans, but he was the last and the 'seal of the prophets', completing the line of prophecy and divine communication. Muslims do not worship Muhammad, but they are grateful and full of awe for his work in bringing them the final word of Allah. His life and sayings have been collected and also form holy books (the Sunna and the Hadith) that are part of the basis for Islamic law.
Muslim : one who has submitted to the will of Allah and follows His word (accepts Islam).
nifas : the bleeding experienced by women during and after childbirth.
Prophet : Islam recognises many prophets, including Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. The last Prophet was Muhammad, who received the final communication of law – the Qur'an – from Allah.
Qur'an : the divine word of Allah as recited to Muhammad during a period of more than 20 years. It contains 114 surahs (chapters), which deal with every aspect of life. It is commonly Anglicised to Koran.
Ramadan : the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslims celebrate the sending of the Qur'an to Muhammad. This is the most holy time of the year for Muslims, and they observe Ramadan by fasting between sunrise and sunset. At the end of the month, one of the biggest celebrations of the Muslim year (Eid al-Fitr) is held.
salat (salaat) : the discipline of daily prayers. Muslims pray five times a day, and must perform a ritual wash (wudu) before each one. There are specific movements and passages to recite, which help the faithful to attain a holier mindset. This is the second of the five pillars of Islam.
salat ul-Fajr : the first prayer of the day, taking place before dawn.
salat ul-Jum'ah : Although most Muslims pray on their own wherever they happen to be at the time, there is an opportunity on Fridays to come together as a community to pray together. Traditionally, the midday prayer on Friday is said at the mosque, where the imam or a guest will read passages from the Qur'an and may give a lesson – much as Muhammad may have done thousands of years ago. The congregation is arranged in lines (women and men have separate areas for prayer), and the synchronisation of movement and chanting by hundreds of Muslims is a powerful sight. Although attendance is obligatory for men (although not for women), a man who is sick is excused.
sawm : the discipline of ritual fasting, usually during Ramadan. Between sunrise and sunset, the faithful cannot consume any food or liquid and cannot engage in sexual relations. This helps to concentrate the mind on the message of Allah, and to remind all Muslims that they are equal in His sight. This is the fourth pillar of Islam.
shahadah : the profession of faith, and first pillar of Islam. A Muslim will use this in his prayers. A rough translation is 'There is no God but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah'.
Shi'a : approximately 10% of Muslims across the world would call themselves Shi'ite Muslims; that is, they follow the Shi'a tradition. The Muslim community split in a dispute occurring after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, when there was disagreement about Muhammad's successor. There is a slight difference in the way the two groups – Shi'a and Sunni – conduct their lives, and they have some festivals and events exclusive to each group, but otherwise they both follow the Qur'an.
shari'ah : Islamic law based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and administered by a mufti (Islamic lawyer). It is also sometimes used as a general term to refer to all of the commandments contained within the Qur'an, dealing with every aspect of human life.
Sunnah/Sunna : another source of Islamic law, which is a collection of the sayings of Muhammad, examples of his behaviour, things he approved of and things he condemned during his lifetime. The Sunnah is not a direct revelation by Allah as is the Qur'an, but as Muhammad was divinely inspired by Allah, his words and examples have the weight of divine authority. It also contains the Hadith, which is a collection of anecdotes collected together from his friends and family. Together the Hadith, Sunna and Qur'an form the basis of all shari'ah (Islamic law).
Sunni : most Muslims would call themselves Sunni Muslims, as opposed to Shi'ite Muslims. The Muslim nation split shortly after the death of the Prophet, when a successor could not be agreed on. However, apart from a few differences in holidays and salat times, both groups follow Islam, the Qur'an and Allah in much the same way.
surah : a chapter of the Qur'an. Each surah may comprise several verses and is generally named after something memorable within the surah (for example, the first surah of the Qur'an is called 'The Opener').
tayammum : a ritual washing that can be carried out by those too weak or bed-bound for a normal wudu. Symbolic hand gestures and the use of a stone or clean dust instead of water mean that tayammum can be performed by almost anyone. The patient touches the stone or dust with both hands and then moves the hands over the face, hands and forearms. Tayammum can also be used in dire circumstances when fresh, clean water is not available.
wudu : the general washing before prayer. Wudu consists of ritualised ablutions that include washing the hands, neck, face, feet and legs and rinsing the mouth, eyes and nose. Wudu must also be carried out after excretion, passing wind, urination or touching the genitals.
zakat : charity or almsgiving. Muslims have a duty to look after each other in the name of Allah, and so a proportion of their income has to be given away to support the poor (generally at least 2.5 per cent of their yearly income). This is the third of the five pillars of Islam.