Glossary of Islamic Terms

This glossary aims to assist the readers of, as well as readers of any Islamic text, in understanding the definitions of certain foreign terms whose English cognates may or may not convey the true meaning found in the original languages that employ them. Certain foreign words may differ with their English counterparts due to conceptual differences in theology and current conflicting views between cultures. For this reason, many of our authors may have deemed it more appropriate to use certain terms in their original languages in their texts. Keep in mind that some of these languages may not employ the Latin script, therefore we have transliterated the terms in accordance with modern standards in the English language to help aid in correct pronunciation for non-speakers of these languages.



adj. adjective

adv. adverb

alt. Alternative

Ar. Arabic , Language of the Arabs and member of the Semitic language family.

lit. Literally

n. Noun

Per. Persian, Also known as Farsi or Iranian. Member of the Indo-European language family, spoken in Iran and Afghanistan.

Turk. Turkish, Member of the Altaic language family, spoken in Turkey.

Skt. Sanskrit, Member of the Indo-European language family. Classical language of Hindustan (India, South Asia), used in literary texts and holy books.

Ur. Urdu, The language of Pakistan and Muslims in India. The Urdu and Hindi languages are mutually intelligable, yet the Urdu has employed Arabic script and has adopted several terms from Arabic and Persian.

v. Verb



abadi(Ar.) eternal

abqa – (Ar.) stains; immorality

adhan – (Ar.) The call to the five daily prayers

'adl – (Ar.) lit. justice; the technical term for divine justice or theodicy in Islamic theology.

ahliyya – (Ar.) 1.Legal capacity. 2. Aptitude

akhlaq – (Ar.) ethics, good character

ahl al-kitab – (Ar.) lit.The People of the Book: some non-Muslims who believe in the holy scriptures, particularly those which belong to the Christians and Jews. According to Shiite tradition, the magis are also considered People of the Book.

akhirah – (Ar.) afterlife; Hereafter

Allah – (Ar.) God; al “the” ilah “God”

ansar – (Ar.) lit. Helper; the citizens of Medina who helped Prophet Muhammad and the muhajirs with their arrival in Medina.

'aql – (Ar.) reason; rationalism in Islam thought. Intelligence



bashar – (Ar.) mortal man

batil – (Ar.) falsehood; without purpose


da'wah – (Ar.) lit. invitation or call; the invitation to accept Islam that many traditionalist Muslims believe must be extended to non-Muslims.

du’a – (Ar.) supplication



fajr – (Ar.) dawn. Typically referred to the dawn prayer, or salat al-fajr.

fani – (Ar.) mortal 

fard – (Ar.)  lit. Individual. Denotes a religious duty; obligatory. (see wajib)

fard al-ayn – (Ar.) A religious duty incumbent on every Muslim (individually).

fatwa – (Ar.) a non-binding legal interpretation of the Sharia.

fiqh – (Ar.) legal reasoning; disciplined reflection on the sources and foundations of the Sharia.

fitna – (Ar.) disruption or upheaval within the Muslim ummah as a result of religious conflict.



ghayb – (Ar.) the unseen

ghayb al-mutlaq – (Ar.) absolutely hidden

ghusl – (Ar.) full ablution



hadith – (Ar.) lit. speech, account. Referred to speech and traditions the Prophet of Islam.

haya – (Ar.) life

hijra – (Ar.) lit. Emigration; emigration to a place for the sake of Allah. Hijra commonly refers to Prophet Muhammad’s emigration to Medina (622 C.E.)

hilyah – (Ar.) 1. quality, characteristic, form. 2. decoration, ornament



ijma – (Ar.) Consensus: a source of Islamic jurisprudence.

ijtihad – (Ar.) 1. independent struggle. 2. a method of legal reasoning by way of independent interpretation. This method is practiced by the Shi’a Jafari school of jurisprudence, not practiced by the 4 Sunni madhabs. (Mujtahid: the Islamic thinker who gives such an opinion.)

'ilm – (Ar.) knowledge, science, discipline, such as 'ilm al-kalam, theology.

imam – (Ar.) religious leader, such as one who leads the prayer or who is recognized as

an authoritative teacher.

islam – (Ar.) lit. submission, surrender [to God]

isnad – (Ar.) the chain of authorities who transmit religious information. An identifiable isnad of reliable oral transmitters is considered by traditional Muslims to be the condition sine qua non of an authentic Hadith.



janazah – funeral


kafir – (Ar.) an unbeliever, one who has kufr, lit., ingratitude towards God. The antonym is mu'min, believer.

kalam – (Ar.) lit. discourse, speech; within the Islamic context, 'ilm al-kalam or simply kalam denotes theological discourse.



Lawhal-Mahfuz – (Ar.) Preserved Tablet



madhab – (Ar.) school of thought in Islam.

madrasa – (Ar.) lit. school; In the Islamic tradition, the madrasa was the institution of learning that incorporated all subjecs such as the sciences, law, Qur'an, Hadith, and Arabic language, in such a way that maintained their interdependency on one another. Madrasas are often associated with larger complexes that include mosques, libraries, and sometimes dormitories.

mahr – (Ar.) Often translated as dowry, mahr is the amount to be paid by the groom to the bride during the Nikah (marriage). Without this payment, the marriage is not valid. The mahr must be whatever amount the bride requests, and not a petty sum.

masjid – (Ar.) mosque

mubah – (Ar.) A permissible cause.

muezzin / mu'adhdhin – (Tr./Ar.) The person who leads the call to prayer (adhan) from one of the minarets of the mosque before each of the 5 daily prayers, and the Friday services. 

muhajir – (Ar.) lit. Emigrant; those who emigrated to Medina with Prophet Muhammad. (See hijra)

mu'min – (Ar.) lit. a believer, one who has iman, "faith." Compare the term muslim, "onewho submits to God." Antonym: kafir, unbeliever.

mushrik – (Ar.) One who ascribes divinity to someone or something other than Allah. (See shirk)

mut'ah – (Ar.) (a.k.a. nikah al mut'ah) fixed-term or temporary marriage in Shi'a Islam. This type of marriage is not valid in Sunni Islam.



nabi – (Ar.) Prophet

nikah al mut'ah – (Ar.) fixed-term or temporary marriage in Shi'a Islam. This type of marriage is not valid in Sunni Islam.



qada – (Ar.) divine decree; often used as a synonym of qadar.

qadar – (Ar.) God's power to determine events. The Qadariya or Qadarism held that human beings have the power (qudra) to perform their own acts and must bear responsibility for them in the eyes of God. This position, which was refined and defended by the Mu'tazila, was opposed by the Ash'ariya and orthodox madhhabs, who held a doctrine of divine predestination.

qadi – (Ar.) judge; in early and medieval Islam, the qadi was appointed by the political ruler to administer Islamic law on behalf of the state.

qiyas – (Ar.) Analogy: a discursive method used by Islamic jurists whereby a judgment is derived from similar cases ruled upon under the Quran, Sunnah or previously established
ruling by unanimity.

Qur’an – (Ar.) lit. “recitation”; The Word of God in the form of a book, as was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.


raay – (Ar.) lit.personal opinion. As-Haab-ur-Raay: a school of juristic thought which advocated the interpretation of the religious texts and analogy derived from precedents, as opposed to As-Haab-ul-Hadith who adhered to the Quran and the Prophet’s traditions and refrained from judging any hypothetical question.



sadaqa – (Ar.) voluntary charity

sahaba – (Ar.) derived from the wordsahib, which means “friend.”). Companions of Prophet Muhammad.

sahih – (Ar.) Authentic, sound

salat – (Ar.) prayer; Islamic ritual prayer or 5 daily ritual prayers.

sharia – (Ar.) (derived from the word shara, which means “path.”). The Divine Law of Islam.

Shi’a – (Ar.) The Followers of Ali and the People of his house, as contradistinct from the Sunnis who represent mainstream or orthodox Islam. Th e largest Shi’a denomination is the Ithna-Ashari, the offi cial doctrine of Iran and of the Shi’as of the Arab Middle East and Pakistan. Also known as Jaafaris, after the sixth Imam and the first to codify the Shi’a law.

shirk – (Ar.) ascribing divinity or partnership to someone or something other than God. (see mushrik)

sirah – (Ar.) Prophetic biography (of Prophet Muhammad). Plural: siyar

Sunnah – (Ar.) lit. norms, practice; Sunnah of the Prophet. Traditions attributed to Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet’s Sunna is usually divided into (a) verbal utterances (sunnah qualia or hadith); (b) acts of the Prophet (sunnah fi lia); and (3) the tacit assent of the Prophet (sunnah taqririyya).



tadbil – (Ar.) alteration, changes

tafakkur – (Ar.) contemplation

tahrif – (Ar.) to distort; alter; alteration

tafsir – (Ar.) commmentary on the Qur'an, usually verse by verse and traditionally written in the margins of the Qur'an.

taksir – (Ar.) to shatter

talaq – (Ar.) The dissolution of a valid marriage contract forthwith or at a later date by the husband, his agent or his wife duly authorised by him to do so, using the word talaq, a derivative, or a synonym thereof.

taqlid –(Ar.) blind acceptance of the authority of a religious teacher or school of thought; in modern Islam, taqlid connotes tradition, following tradition.

taqsir – (Ar.) to see shortcomings

tawhid – (Ar.) unity; Oneness [of God]



ulama – (Ar.)theplural form of 'alim; one who pursues knowledge in the religious sciences of Islam. The ulama are the religious notables of the Muslim ummah.

ummah – (Ar.) Muslim community; a generation of Muslims

usul – (Ar.) method



wahy – (Ar.) revelation

waqf – (Ar.) Areligious endowment by a Muslim of any property in such a way that the appropriator’s right is relinquished permanently.



zakat – (Ar.) Obligatory charity; almsgiving



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