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Glossary of Islamic terms

Want to know the difference between hajj and halal? Here is a short glossary of some of the most commonly used words and phrases in Islamic religion and culture.

Allah

The Arabic word for “god.”

Hadith

A traditional account of things said or done by Muhammad recorded by his followers, commonly taught as a part of Islamic theology.

hajj

A pilgrimage made by Muslims to the city of Makkah (Mecca), the holiest city of Islam. Every Muslim is expected to to make a religious journey to Mecca if they are physically and financially able to do so. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam.

halal

A term describing something that is lawful and permitted in Islam, according to Islamic law. Often used to described food or drink which is permitted for consumption under Islamic dietary laws.

imam

Person or religious leader who leads prayers in a mosque, a recognized authority on Islamic theology, or a person of authority within the community. For Shiite Muslims, an Imam (capitalized) denotes a descendant of Muhammad.

Islam

A monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Muhammad as detailed in the Koran.

Koran

The central religious text of Islam believed to be the word of Allah revealed to Muhammad.

madrassah

The Arabic word for an educational institution for any kind of learning. Often used to refer to an Islamic religious school or a school with courses in Islamic theology and religious law.

mosque

A Muslim place of prayer for followers of Islam.

Muhammad

The Arab prophet and founder of Islam who, according to the religion, was the last messenger of Allah.

Muslim

A person who believes in or practices the Islam religion.

Ramadan

The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. It commemorates the transmission of the Koran by the archangel Gabriel to Muhammad.

Salat

The Arabic word for prayer. Usually refers to the ritual prayer performed five times daily at specific times; the second pillar of Islam.

Sawm

An Arabic word for fasting; the act of total abstinence from food, liquids and sexual relationships from dawn to sunset, for one lunar month.

Shahada

The declaration of belief in the singularity of Allah and the prophethood of Mohammed; one of the five pillars of Islam.

Sharia

The laws of Islam derived from the Koran and from the teachings and example of Muhammad that regulate the spiritual and secular actions of Muslims.

Shia

The second largest denomination of Islam after Sunni Islam. Shia Muslims believe that the rightful successor to Muhammad after his death was his son-in-law Ali.

Sufi

A mystical branch of Islam that emphasizes self-denial as a means of communion with god.

sunnah

A collection of Muhammad’s words and deeds during his lifetime.

Sunni

The largest branch of Islam. Sunni Muslims believe the first four successors to Muhammad after his death were the rightful leaders and not his son-in-law Ali.

sura

One of the sections of the Koran, which are traditionally arranged in order of decreasing length. The Koran contains 114 suras.

tafsir

Interpretations of the Koran by Islamic scholars; the Arabic word for exegesis or commentary.

tawhid

The central Islamic doctrine that dictates there is no other god but Allah.

Zakat

The giving of alms or contributions to charity as an act of worship, usually about 2.5 percent of one’s annual wealth given mainly for the benefit of the poor and the needy. One of the five pillars of Islam.

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