Allah: Literally, "The God." Arabic speaking Jews, Christians and Muslims use this term as the proper name for God. Muslims view Allah as the Creator and Sustainer of everything in the universe, Who is transcendent, has no physical form, and has no associates Who share in His divinity. In the Qur’an, God is described as having at least 99 Divine Names, which describe His attributes.

Ba’ath: Arabic for "renaissance." A secular Arab nationalist movement, which had rival branches in Iraq and Syria. They were pan-Arabist, socialist and anticolonialist. The Ba’ath party still rules Syria.

Binladen: One word, with no space between "bin" and "laden," is the correct spelling of the family name. The company is the Saudi Binladen Group. Members of the family do not spell their name in two words in English, although some prefer the variant spelling Binladin. Spelling of Binladen in two words, bin Laden, is a Western affectation.

Fatah: Reverse acronym for Harakat al-Tahrir al-Falistiniya, literally, "Palestinian Liberation Movement." Primarily secular and nationalist major Palestinian political party.

Fatwa: A legal ruling in shari’ah (Islamic Law), made by a learned and qualified scholar, usually in response to an unprecedented situation or to address a novel issue.

Five Pillars of Islam: A term referring to the five core religious practices incumbent upon all Muslims. They are as follows: Shahadah (declaration of faith), Salah (formal worship), Zakah (mandatory alms-giving tax), Sawm (fasting during Ramadan), and Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah [Mecca]).

Hamas: Harakat Muqama al-Islamiyya, meaning the Movement of Islamic Resistance, which has called for the creation of an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine. Democratically elected into leadership of the Palestinian legislature in 2006.

Hizbullah: "The party of God." Shi’ite group formed in Lebanon around 1982 with the original aim of ending the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.

Intifada: "Insurrection" or "uprising" in Palestine. The first Intifada broke out in December 1987 and ended in 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accords. The Second Intifada (or al-Aqsa Intifada) began in September 2000 in response to a visit to the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa by Ariel Sharon.

Jesus: An eminent prophet in Islam. Muslims believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a chaste and pious woman, and that God miraculously created Jesus in her womb. After his birth, he began his mission as a sign to humankind and a prophet of God, calling people to righteousness and worship of God alone. Muslims do not believe Jesus was crucified but rather that God spared him such a fate and ascended him to Heaven.

Jihad: Jihad is an Arabic word that derives from the three-letter root j-h-d and means "to exert oneself" or "to strive." Other meanings include endeavor, strain, effort, diligence, struggle. Usually understood in terms of personal betterment, jihad may also mean fighting to defend one’s (or another’s) life, property and faith.

Makkah: This is the correct spelling of the city known in the West as Mecca. Makkah was officially adopted by the Government of Saudi Arabia in the 1980’s, both to make it more phonetically correct and to differentiate the Holy City from the more common and generic Western usage of the word.
Read full glossary compiled by the Institute on Religion and Civic Values »

Muhammad: The prophet and righteous person believed by Muslims to be the final messenger of God, whose predecessors are believed to include the Prophets Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus and others. Born in 570 C.E., Muhammad grew up to become a well-respected member of Makkan society. In 610 C.E., he received the first of many revelations that would eventually form the content of the Qur’an. Soon after this initial event, he was conferred prophethood and began calling people to righteousness and belief in One God. Muhammad died in 632 C.E.

Muslim: Literally the term means "one who submits to God." More commonly, the term describes any person who accepts the creed and the teachings of Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood: Founded in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, it is the largest and best-organized political movement in the Middle East. They currently are the largest opposition political bloc in the Egyptian parliament, having won a decisive victory in the last election.

Orientalism: As defined by Edward Said, it refers to Europeans and Westerners who portray Middle Easterners as somehow inferior, with less intelligence and culture and unable to manage their own affairs.

Qur’an: The word Qur’an means "the recitation" or "the reading" and refers to the divinely revealed scripture of Islam. It consists of 114 surahs (chapters) revealed by God to Muhammad over a period of 23 years.

Shari’ah: Commonly referred to as Islamic law, it refers to guidance from God to be used by Muslims to regulate their societal and personal affairs.

Shi’ism: A branch of Islam comprising about 10 percent of the total Muslim population. In Shi’i Islam, Shi’ahs believe that Ali, the fourth Caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, was granted a unique spiritual authority, which was passed on to certain of his descendants given the title of imam (leader).

Sufism: A particular spiritual approach and lifestyle adopted by some Muslims (known as Sufis), rather than a distinct branch of Islam. Sufism holds that direct and intimate knowledge of God can be achieved through spiritual discipline, exertion and austerity.

Sunni: A term designating those Muslims who recognize the first four successors of Prophet Muhammad as the "Rightly-Guided" caliphs. Sunnis hold that any pious, just and qualified Muslim may be elected Caliph. Sunnis comprise the majority of Muslims, about 90 percent of the total.

Wahhabi: Muslim Sunni reform movement founded mid-18th century by Muhammed Abdul-Wahhab and revived by Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud in the early 20th century. Wahabi is the name used for them by others. Wahhabis, who believe in a narrow, literalist understanding of scripture, dominate Saudi Arabia.

Zikr: Remembrance of Allah (God) through verbal or mental repetition of His divine attributes. Zikr is a common practice among all Muslims, but is especially emphasized by Sufis.

Islamic terms used are excerpted with permission from "Teaching About Islam and Muslims in the Public School Classroom" (3rd edition), published by the Council on Islamic Education, now known as the Institute on Religion and Civic Values. The link to the full glossary can be found at Additional definitions provided by Robert Azzi.

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