Secrets of Islam Glossary

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abu — Father of

Ali — Cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad

Allah — Arabic word for God, the same worshiped by Christians and Jews

ayatollah — Title used by a high-ranking Shiite leader

baraka — Blessing

caliph — A successor to Muhammad who has temporal, not spiritual, authority over Muslims; supreme ruler of the early Islamic empires

fatwa — A nonbinding legal opinion; pronouncement or ruling

hadith — The sayings and experiences of the Prophet; a source of doctrine that supplements the Koran

hajj — The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam

hegira — Muhammad's migration to Medina, marking the beginning of the Muslim calendar

houri — One of the beautiful dark-haired virgins who will wait on the faithful in paradise

ibn — Son of

imam — The religious leader of a community

Islam — Arabic for "submission to the will of God"

jihad — Arabic for "striving in the way of God"; a struggle in defense of Islam

Kaaba — Square structure in Mecca believed by Muslims to have been erected by Abraham; the most sacred shrine in Islam

Koran — The holy book of Islam, from the Arabic for "recitation"; God's literal word as revealed to Muhammad

madrasah — A school for teaching Islamic law

Maghreb — Western Islamic lands, including Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Morocco

masjid — Mosque; a place of Muslim worship

mihrab — A niche in the wall of a mosque that faces Mecca

minbar — Elevated pulpit

Miraj — Muhammad's mystical journey to heaven

muezzin — One who calls the faithful to prayer

mufti — A scholar who issues fatwas

mujahid — One who engages in jihad

mujtahid — One who interprets the application of Islamic law

qadi — Judge of a religious court

qibla — Direction of prayer, toward Mecca

Ramadan — The ninth month of the Muslim year, dedicated to fasting during daylight hours

shah — Persian title for a ruler

shahada — The declaration of faith, made by all Muslims, that there is "no god but God"

sharia — Islamic law; the set of rules that govern the daily lives of Muslims

Shiite — One of two major Islamic sects, making up about 15 percent of Muslims. Shiites believe that spiritual authority was passed from Muhammad to his descendants.

Sufism — A spiritual, mystical movement in Islam

sultan — A political leader of a Muslim state

Sunna — The path or the way of the Prophet, a procedure for living a virtuous life

Sunni — The largest sect of Islam, making up about 85 percent of Muslims. Sunnis believe that spiritual authority was passed down from the consensus of the whole community.

ulema — Learned men; elders of a Muslim community

umma — The worldwide community of Muslims

zakat — Alms tax; the donation to charity that is one of the five pillars of Islam