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Ahl al-Bayt — members of Muhammad’s Household. Also known among Shia as the Ma’sumin (infallibles; spiritually pure). For Sunnis this includes the wives of the Prophet while for Shias it is limited to those who have a blood relation with him.

Allah — God (in monotheistic understanding of the word), the only entity worthy of worship.

Almsgiving — one of the Five Pillars of Islam, it constitutes one of the main means by which Islam strives for an economically just society. It is an obligatory “poor tax”–reckoned at somewhere between two and ten percent of income and holdings — which can be given directly to the poor or to a distribution official. The money is used for hospitals, schools, helping indigent debtors and freeing slaves, as well as poor support. From the perspective of the giver, “zakat” (as it is known in Arabic) purifies the giver and the remainder of his “wealth.” It is also envisioned as a loan to Allah, who will repay it double.


Burqa — (also burkha, burka or burqua from برقع in Arabic) is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions for the purpose of cloaking the entire body. It is worn over the usual daily clothing and removed when the woman returns to the sanctuary of the household.


Caliph — literally successor; refers to the successor of the Prophet Muhammad.


Eid — a festivity, a celebration, a recurring happiness, and a feast. There are two major Eids namely the feast of Ramadhan (EId Al-Fitr) and the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid Al-Adhha). The first Eid is celebrated by Muslims after fasting the month of Ramadhan as a matter of thanks and gratitude to Almighty Allah. It takes place on the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month of the lunar calendar. The second Eid is the Feast of Sacrifice and it is to be celebrated for the memory of prophet Ibrahim trying to sacrifice his son Isma’il (Ishmael). This ‘Eid lasts four days between the tenth and the thirteenth day of Zul-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the lunar calendar.

Eid al-Adha — the holiday after the pilgrimage


Fasting — one of the Five Pillars of Islam. All healthy and sane Muslims are expected to fast (to abstain from food, drink, smoking and other bodily pleasures) during the daylight hours throughout the entire month of Ramadan. This means that they rise before dawn to eat breakfast and then eat a large meal after dusk.

Fatwa — legal opinion concerning Islamic Law.

Fiqh — jurisprudence built around the Sharia by custom. Literally means “deep understanding”, refers to understanding the Islamic laws.

Five Pillars — five main values and practices of Islam: the Shahadah, Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting, and the Hajj



Hadith — stories about and sayings of Muhammad.

Hajj — one of the Five Pillars of Islam, it is pilgrimage to Mecca.

Hijab — is the Arabic term for “cover” (noun), based on the root حجب meaning “to veil, to cover (verb), to screen, to shelter.” In some Arabic-speaking countries and Western countries, the common meaning of hijab currently is of “modest dress for women,” which most Islamic legal systems define as covering everything except the face and hands in public.

Hui — a Chinese ethnic group. Most Hui are similar in culture to Han Chinese with the exception that they practice Islam. They follow Islamic dietary laws and reject the consumption of pork. Their mode of dress also differs only in that men wear white caps and women wear headscarves or (occasionally) veils.


Ijma — consensus.

Imam — is a religious leader. Any person who leads a congregational prayer is called an Imam. A religious leader who also leads his community in the political affairs may be called an Imam, an Amir, or a Caliph.

Islam — is an Arabic word the root of which is Silm and Salam. It means among others: peace, greeting, salutation, obedience, loyalty, allegiance, and submission to the will of the Creator of the Universe.


Jihad — means to strive for a better way of life. The other meanings are: endeavor, strain, exertion, effort, diligence, fighting to defend one’s life, land, and religion.

Jummah — Friday.


Kaba — a cubed shaped structure based in the city of Mecca to which all Muslims turn to in their five daily prayers.

Keffiyeh — (Arabic ية‎, kūfiyyah, plural كوفيات, kūfiyyāt)), also known as a (ya)shmagh (from Turkish: yaşmak “tied thing”), ghutrah (غترة), ḥaṭṭah (حطّة) or mashadah (مشدة) is a traditional headdress for Arab men made of a square of cloth, usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head.

Khutbah — a speech or sermon. It is sometimes used to refer to the sermon given during the Friday congregational prayer.



Mosque — a house of prayer for community worship.

Mullah — Islamic clergy. Ideally, they should have studied the Qur’an, Islamic traditions (hadith), and Islamic law (fiqh).


Niqab — face veil



Prayer — one of the Five Pillars of Islam. All Muslims are expected to pray five times a day. Prayers can be said in private, where ever one happened to be when the time for prayer comes, or with the community in a mosque.


Qiyas — reasoning by analogy.

Qur’an — Muslims believe the Qur’an (Koran) to be the literal word of God and the culmination of God’s revelation to mankind, revealed to prophet Muhammad. The revelation began in 610 and was completed over the course of 23 years.


Ramadan — the month of fasting to commemorate when the Qur’an was revealed.


Shahadah — one of the Five Pillars of Islam, it is declaration of faith: “I testify that there is no god but Allah and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” A person must recite it to convert to Islam.

Sharia (Arabic: شريعة meaning “way” or “path to the water source”) is the body of Islamic religious law. It is the legal framework within which the public and private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Islamic principles of jurisprudence and for Muslims living outside the domain. Sharia deals with many aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics, banking, business, contracts, family, sexuality, hygiene, and social issues. There is no strictly static set of laws of sharia. It is more of a system of law, a consensus of the unified spirit, based on the Qur’an, hadith (sayings and doings of Muhammad and his contemporaries), Ijma (consensus), Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), and centuries of debate, interpretation, and precedent.

Shiah, Shia — means “party” or “partisans,” and refers to the followers of Ali who held that Muhammad had appointed Ali as his successor. After Ali’s assassination, they split from their fellow Muslims (who became know as the Sunni Muslims). In English, this branch of Islam is called Shiite Islam.

Sufi — is a Muslim mystic. Sufis attempt to go beyond the restrictions of a “typical” Muslim life and to seek Allah in more intimate ways. There has always been a tension between Sufism and classical Islam because many of the beliefs, actions, and statement of Sufism appear heretical to non-Sufis.

Sukuk — is an Islamic financial certificate, or Islamic bond that generates revenue from sales, profits, or leases rather than interest.

Sunnah — is the “path” or “example” of the Prophet Muhammad, i.e., what the Prophet did or said or agreed to during his life.

Sunni — is the largest denomination of Islam. The word comes from the word Sunnah, which means the words and actions or example of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.



Uyghur — a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China.


A veil is an article of clothing, worn almost exclusively by women, that is intended to cover some part of the head or face. As a religious item, it is intended to show honor to an object or space.






  1. Muslim Students Association at the University of Southern California
  2. Introduction to Religion, taught by Paul V. M. Flesher at the University of Wyoming
  3. Wikipedia