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‘Abbāsids (Dawlat Banī al-ʽAbbās) – This dynasty formed the third of the Islamic caliphates to succeed the Prophet, ruling mostly from Baghdad. They came to power in 750 on a wave of disaffection with the Umayyads (qv) and made their claims on the basis of a closer kinship with the Prophet, but at the same time appealed to the non-Arab client peoples who felt excluded from the kinship-based society of the Arabs. Their rule covers what is considered to be the era of greatest cultural achievement of Islam, when the civilisation was at its most open to diverse currents of thought. Due to its size and internal tensions it early faced political problems and the caliphate progressively transformed into a symbolic suzerainty, with actual power wielded at the centre by military factions and in the outer regions by smaller dynastic states. After their destruction in 1258 by the advancing Mongols, the caliphate (now as an exclusively religious institution) lived on at Cairo under Mamluk rule until its dissolution by the Ottoman Turks in 1517.

Aādīth –see Hadīth

Ahl al-Bayt – see Shiʽa.

Ahl al-adith (or Asḥāb al-Ḥadīth) – ‘People of Hadīth’, is a term that has been used to religious movements that emphasize the use of ḥadīth (qv) in the determination of orthodoxy. It is near synonymous with Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamā‘a (qv) since the focus is upon the sunna as illustrated by the hadīth writings. The Ahl al-Ḥadīth came to prominence from the late 8th century AD led by noted scholars such as Ahmad ibn Hanbal, as a countervailing school of thought to the rationalist schools such as the Mu‘tazila (qv) and the Ahl al-Ra’y (the ‘people of speculative opinion’) who held that since religious rulings derived from scripture were not always rational, qiyās (analogical reasoning and logical deduction) was required to determine the correct understanding. However, enforcing such a subjective interpretation and maintaining jurisprudential consistency, meant having recourse to personal reputation and standing over against the evidence of the texts. The Ahl al-Hadīth therefore promoted the more ‘Arab,’ textually-founded sciences of Hadīth scholarship, in which the scholar’s effort was invested in the conceptually more rigorous arenas of grammar and morphology (to elucidate the precise lexicographical meaning of the text) and isnād (to establish the canonicity of the text based on the moral probity and veracity of the chain of transmitters). In this enterprise the exercise of Reason, of speculation as to the theological significance of the Text in the light of other factors (such as context) or qiyās was heavily circumscribed. In the contemporary period the term Ahl al-Hadīth tends to refer to the more literalist, Salafist exponents of the discipline, against the traditional legal schools or modern scholarly re-evaluations of the soundness of the traditions and the legal rulings to be drawn from them.

Ahl al-Kitāb – ‘People of the Book’. In Islamic doctrine these are non-Muslims who are adherents to faith which have a revealed scripture. This has implications in Islamic law since traditional scholarship accords them a condemnation status that is lighter than those that do not have a revealed scripture, on the grounds that they are ‘unbelievers’ but not outright ‘deniers of Allah’, based on Qur’ān III,199: And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in Allah, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to Allah: They will not sell the Signs of Allah for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and Allah is swift in account. This status was the qualification for inclusion under the protection accorded by the Dhimma (qv). However, the attitude towards other faiths such as Zoroastrianism and Hinduism varies greatly and over history it has most often followed the course of pragmatism when their numbers were too great. Those faiths that were founded after Islam, such as the Bahā’ī faith, the Ahmadis (qv) and the Druze, are never accepted as People of the Book.

Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamā‘a – ‘The People of the Sunna and the Consensus’.Although claimed as a badge of authenticity by many denominations as a distinguishing mark against Shīʽa Islam, this term is monopolised by Salafist schools of thought to distinguish themselves from the doctrinal accretions perpetrated by the followers (not the founders, whom they regard as orthodox) of the Māliki, Shāfiʽī, and Hanafī legal schools. Salafists do not outlaw the following of these schools faute de mieux, but do not recommend them as obligatory, arguing that an informed Muslim will discern the correct beliefs, legal rulings and modes of conduct from the Qur’ān and the Sunna itself, as demonstrated by the practices of the Salaf (qv).

Ahmadīs – an Islamic religious movementfounded in British India towards the end of the 19th century by Mīrzā Ghulām Ahmad (1835–1908), who claimed to have embodied the prophecies concerning the mujaddid, the world’s reformer during the end times. Ahmadis (or ‘Ahmadī Muslims’) consider themselves to be restorers of a tainted Islam through emphasizing its peaceful teachings. They share much of the doctrine of the Sunnis but differ importantly in the issue of whether prophetic communication halted with Muhammad, and in the status of the founder whose function was to bring about the final triumph of Islam as the promised Messiah and Mahdi, and indeed the ‘Promised One’ of all faiths including Zoroastrianism, Indian religions and Native American traditions. Ahmadis distinguish themselves from other Muslims by their acknowledgement of the divine origin not only of the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, but also of the Hindu Vedas, the Zoroastrian Avesta. They include Zoroaster, Krishna, the Buddha and Confucius in the roster of recognised prophets.

 ‘Alawites – A religious group, centred in Syria, whose theology is opaquely understood due to the secrecy which attaches to their doctrines. From a history of persecution, ‘Alawis keep their beliefs secret from outsiders and non-initiated ‘Alawites, and due to suspicions of a high degree of syncretism with Gnostic, neo-Platonic, Christian and other doctrines, Sunni Muslims are minded to doubt their affiliation with Islam, often referring to them with the derogatory term Nusayrīs (from the name of the 9th c. founder of the sect Ibn Nusayr). The sect represents some 12 per cent of the population of Syria, and while the current (‘Alawi) regime has been at pains to rehabilitate its Islamic status as a branch of the Twelver school of Shīʽa Islam, Salafists consider them to be pagans.

Al-amr bil-maʽrūf wal-nahī ‘an al-munkar – ‘Commanding that which is recognised (as good), and prohibiting that which is repudiated as contemptible’. The directive is taken from the Qur’ān III (Āl ʽImrān), 104: وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ “And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong, and these it is that shall be successful” and defines why Muslims are “the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind” (Qur’ān III (Āl ʽImrān), 110). The apparatus for enforcing this is the ḥisba function (see Ḥisba below).

Al-Jar wal-Taʽdīl – ‘Injuring and justifying’ – the process of testing the probity of the hadith reporters as an indicator of their reliability. See Hadīth. The term ‘injuring’ takes its reference from Qur’ān XLIX,6: O ye who believe! If a sinner comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye injure people unwittingly. The injuring refers to the impugning of a narrator’s authority by casting doubt on his accuracy (memory capacity, conscientious recording or recounting) or his trustworthiness (personal character, moral probity, piety, orthodoxy). Considerations are also taken as to the narrator’s authority or obscurity. Justifying the narrator’s probity (taʽdīl) falls into a number of gradated categories: skilled and trustworthy, emphatically trustworthy, trustworthy, just, truthful, or acceptable.

Al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ – ‘Loyalty and renunciation’, a polarizing doctrine which divides humanity into ‘believers’ and ‘infidels,’ and seeks to establish that the only relationship between them can be one of hatred and enmity. It is constructed upon the basis of scripture such as: O you who believe! do not take the unbelievers for friends rather than the believers; do you desire that you should give to Allah a manifest proof against yourselves? [Qur’ān IV, 144]; Let not the believers take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah except by way of precaution, that ye may Guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (To remember) Himself; for the final goal is to Allah [Qur’ān III, 28]; O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is one of them [Qur’ān V, 51] and more explicitly in the following sound hadith narrated in Ahmad: The most powerful knot of Iman is to love for the sake of Allah and to hate for the sake of Allah. The concept naturally derives from the understanding of Islam as a faith at war and is a doctrine by which Islamist radicals maintain their control over what constitutes the authenticity of a Muslim’s Islamic faith, gauged according to his expression of love for anything or anybody defined as Islam or Muslim, and his hatred for the infidel. The ‘true Muslim’ under this scheme does not assimilate into the enemy’s society or imitate its ways on even the most trivial level – such as imitating unbelievers in their physical appearance (“because imitating them in appearance points to liking them on the inside”), greeting unbelievers, sending them condolences at a time of grief, employing a non-Muslim or agreeing to be employed by a non-Muslim (“because it cedes authority and demeans the believer to the unbeliever”).

For more details on this important doctrine, see the Almuslih backgrounder paper on Al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ here.

Ansār – The ‘helpers’, members of the Banū Khazraj and Banū Aws at Madina who gave aid to the Prophet Muhammad after his flight from Mecca.

‘Aqīda – ‘Creed’ (e.g Sunna as opposed to Shī‘a, or Ahmadiyya); the basic articles of faith.

Asbāb al-nuzūl – ‘Circumstances of revelation’, an exegetical endeavour focusing on the context (doctrinal or historical) in which verses of the Qur’ān were revealed.

Āya (pl. āyāt)– ‘Verse’ (of the Qur’ān); āyas can be muhkam (verses which, according to the rules of Arabic grammar, only denote one clear meaning) and mutashābih (verses which can have many meanings and which therefore have to be clarified by reference both to Arabic grammar and established Islamic doctrine).

Badā’ – ‘Manifestation’ is a Shīʽa doctrine defined as the happening of an incident that God had willed to take place in a certain way, in contrast to the way in which it actually occurred as a result of God changing His mind, or altering His decision in the light of subsequent events. The controversy arises due to the indication of possible changes in God’s attributes of omniscience, will and creation. The Sunnis accept naskh (‘abrogation’ – q.v) on the grounds that this applies to legal rulings alone, whereas they reject badā’ for its implications for God’s omniscience.

Barelwis – A dominant Sunni denomination in South Asia, so named from the north Indian town of Bareilly, the hometown of the founder of the movement Ahmed Reza Khan (ob. 1921). Its Sunni doctrine has absorbed many features of Sufism and traditional folk Islam, including levels of veneration of the Prophet and of the saints (see Walī) that offend their bitter opponents the Wahhabi-influenced Deobandi movement which is gaining in influence in the radicalising climate of Pakistan.

Bidʽa (pl. bida‘) – ‘Innovations’, construed as unacceptable by a religious intellectual dynamic that that seeks authority in a pristine template, and therefore synonymous with ‘heretical doctrines’. The ahl al-bidaʽ (‘people of innovations’) are thus heretics.

Caliphate – The rule of a caliph (from the Arabic khalīfa ‘successor’), the first system of government established in Islam by the successors of the Prophet Muhammad, as a claimed continuation of the political and religious system which he had established. After the first four Rāshidūn (‘rightly guided’) caliphs, Abū Bakr, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb, ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān and ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib, the Caliphate was claimed by dynasties such as the Umayyads, the Abbasids and the Ottomans and by other competing dynasties. The office of Caliphate is a title with a resonance that goes back to the earliest years of Islam, so the appeal to its restoration following its dissolution by Kemal Atatürk on March 3rd 1924 has all the glamour of authenticity about it. Modern theories, promoted by Islamists, of the Islamic state and the contemporary emphasis that ‘Islam is a faith and a state’ came about as a result of its disintegration. But these discussions demand a specific reading of history that isolates facts and events that do not accord with the desired narrative. Historians are divided on whether the Caliphate existed properly at all after 661, the year of the death of ‘Alī, the last of the ‘Rightly Guided’. Nevertheless the Islamists take the maximalist view that the office extended from its foundation in 622 to 1924, in order to maintain the case for the Umma, governed by this one central authority who is held to be the legitimate successor to the Prophet.

Dahriyya – Holders of materialistic opinions of various kinds, often only vaguely defined. They were empiricists believing all knowledge could only be acquired via the empirical method, and believed that the cosmos was eternal and that everything had always existed and did not require a creator. As materialists they denied the existence of anything that could not be perceived by the senses. The term ‘dahriyya’ derives from a reference to them in the Qur’ān in which they are repudiated for saying, “There is no other than our present life; we die and we live and nothing but the course of time (dahr) makes us perish” (وَمَا يُهْلِكُنَا إِلَّا الدَّهْرُ) (Qur’ān XLV:24). Al-Ghazālī, in the 11th century, traced their origin to ancient Greek philosophy.

Ḍarūra ‘Necessity’, as a legal category overriding other objections, in that the welfare, progress and primacy of the Muslims must take precedence over all other considerations.

Da‘wā – ‘Proselytism’.

Dawla – ‘State’. From its original meaning of ‘era’ or ‘period of rule’, the term came to be adopted in the 19th century to denominate a secular western-style state as opposed to one whose self-definition was religious.

Dhimma – The ‘covenant of protection’. The ahl al-dhimma (‘people of the dhimma’) are free non-Muslim subjects living in Muslim countries who enjoy protection and safety and the freedom of worship within limits. They also retain the right to manage affairs pertaining to personal status (marriage, divorce, etc.) according to their own laws, but enjoy no political rights. Since the state is theoretically theocratic, the ahl al-dhimma are outside the full community of the state.In return they were expected to pay higher taxes in form of the capital tax (jizya), to refrain from insulting Islam, or building new places of worship or restoring them, conduct their services in silence, and were to dress in a distinctive fashion so as not to be mistaken for Muslims. Dhimma status was originally modelled on the contracts between Muhammad and Jewish and Christian tribes of Arabia during the first decade after the Hijra, by which equality was practiced within the Muslim community, but did not extend to non-Muslims.The dhimma is a compact which a believer agrees to respect and the violation of which makes him liable to dhamm (blame). Jurists such as Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya regarded those agreements as a punishment on non-believers, basing their case on the Qur’ānic sūra of Al-Tawba [IX:29] they are to pay tribute out of the hand and be humbled (يُعۡطُواْ ٱلۡجِزۡيَةَ عَن يَدٍ۬ وَهُمۡ صَـٰغِرُونَ) – a position which influenced centuries of tension in communal relationships. Over history the humiliation purpose of the dhimma was emphasized – houses had to be inferior to those of Muslims, dhimmīs were not allowed to exercise authority over Muslims, they could not testify against them, they had to stand up in presence of Muslims, and address them in low tones, and give them the right of way in narrow streets. The jizya was paid in a ceremony that included a slap on the face of the dhimmī to publicly humiliate him. The dhimma system on the status of non-Muslims is a fundamental part of Sharī‘a, and presents a contradiction to modern concepts of nationality, citizenship or the resident alien and is incompatible with the relevant standards of international human rights law.

Dīn – ‘Religion’ construed as a set of observances and rituals, and associated with observance of law – something which may have to do with the etymological cognate of the term in Hebrew דין (dīn), held to derive ultimately from the Zoroastrian term daena – both terms referring to law or judgement. Muslims tend to reserve the term to denote Islam, using the term milla to refer to other religions.

Dunyā – The ‘lower world’, as opposed to the next world (al-Ākhira) and the spritual realm of the Afterlife; under this term is understood the mundane affairs of this world, its earthly concerns, material preoccupations and possessions.

Faqīh – (pl. fuqahā’) a practitioner of fiqh (qv).

Fatwā – a legal opinion or learned legal interpretation, issued by a muftī trained in Islamic law, generally on an unfamiliar issue not covered by previous rulings (ahkām).

Fiqh – The term is often used synonymously with Sharī’a; the main difference being that Sharī‘a bears a closer link with divine revelation, whereas fiqh mainly consists of the works of religious scholars and jurists. Fiqh requires knowledge of the masā’il and the dalā’il, and therefore the usūl al-fiqh (qv):

Masā’il issues under discussion


Ahkāmrulings, conclusions

Fitna – ‘Social disorder’, most commonly associated with matters that place stresses upon or test a Muslim’s certainty about his or her faith. This may therefore imply elements of ‘temptation’ and ‘fascination’. The term also at times denotes ‘sedition’ as something affecting the political cohesion of the Muslim community.

Fuqahā’ – see Faqīh.

Ḥadd (pl. ḥudūd) – literally meaning ‘limit’, or ‘restriction’, is the class of punishments under Sharī‘a that are fixed for certain crimes that are considered to be ‘claims of God.’ They include theft, fornication, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy and unlike the other classes of punishment (qisas ‘retaliation’; dia ‘blood money/ransom’; ta‘zīr ‘corporal punishment’) which were up to the discretion of the injured parties, was an obligation upon the sovereign to administer. They may take the form of capital punishment, amputation or flogging. Only free, adult Muslim men are eligible to testify in hudūd cases and the punishments vary according to the offender: non-Muslims generally receive harsher punishments than Muslims, slaves receive harsher punishments than free people, and in the case of adultery married people receive harsher punishments than unmarried.

Ḥadīth (pl. aḥādīth)–‘Conversations’, ‘Traditions’ recorded of the Prophet. One of the three pillars of the Sunna (the others being the Qur’ān and the Sīra or biography literature) which forms the basis upon which Islamic law is founded. Since the Qur’ān text is limited in size and scope, and contains little detail on which to found an administrative system, Muslim jurists concentrated their researches on the corpus of Aḥādīth that accumulated after the Prophet’s death. The sheer quantity of the material has necessarily incorporated much that is spurious, or politically tendentious, and the work of major ḥādīth scholars was to evaluate the corpus, dividing the texts into ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ depending on the reliability of the isnād (‘chain’ of transmission). Al-jarḥ wal-taʽdīl (qv) refers to this process of testing the probity of the hadith reporters as an indicator of their reliability. Hadīth types may be broken down into the following:

Mursal: a hadīth which a Tābi‘ī (qv) narrates directly from the Prophet

Musnad: a hadīth whose chain of transmission is connected to the Prophet.

Marfūʻ: a hadīth which a Companion narrates directly from the Prophet .

Sahīh (al-Isnād): a hadīth whose chain of narrators is considered to be without fault.

Ḍaʽīf: a hadīth which is held to contain weaknesses, such as a break in the chain of its transmission or a suspected break due to confusion of dates, or a doubt cast on the memory capacity of one of the narrators.

Mutawātir – A hadith of which the narrators constitute a group or large number, on the understanding that it is considered impossible for them all to agree to transmit a lie.

Āḥād (or khabar wāḥid) a hadith where there is only a single narrator for it, or a single, geographically isolated group of narrators for it, thus disqualifying it from being considered mutawātir.

Lam yukhrijāh: a hadīth not included by either of the two foremost medieval scholars Imām al-Bukhārī or Imām Muslim in their compendious collections of hadīth evaluated as to their soundness.

Ḥajj – The ‘Pilgrimage’ to Mecca, which Sunnis regard as the fifth pillar of Islam, alongside shahāda (qv), Salāh (‘prayer’) Zakāh (‘almsgiving’ tax) and Sawm (‘fasting’ during Ramadan’). Unlike the major pilgrimage of the hajj, the ‘umra or ‘lesser pilgrimage’ is not compulsory and the pilgrim (hājj – with a long a) can perform this at any time of the year.

Ḥākimiyya – ‘Sovereignty.’ Most often in the term: tawḥīd al-ḥākimiyya, ‘Oneness of sovereignty’, the doctrine whereby God is singled out as the starting point for all government and legislation. The doctrine is placed in direct opposition to non-Islamic legislative systems, with all the necessary ramifications for religious pluralism and international law. Islamist radicals lay particular stress on their belief that tawḥīd al-ḥākimiyya does not constitute a category separate from ‘monotheism’ as such, fearing that this would open the door to subjective, modernizing tendencies leading to the legitimization of the nation state. In essence the Sovereignty of God is opposed to the sovereignty of the people. The term is held to derive from the Qur’ānic phrase: “ḥūkm (‘authority’) is for God alone” (Qur’ān, XII,40). It is perceived in a much more absolute way than within, for example, 19th and 20th century neo-orthodox Christian or Jewish thinking, which included the idea of ‘man as a caretaker’ and the ‘partnership between man and God’. This held no discrepancy between religion and politics, but accepted the two sovereignties as working in partnership. Among liberal Islamic thinkers something similar is postulated; they argue that man is khalīfa (‘substitute’) of God on earth. Salafist scholars, however, follow the line taken by the founder of Wahhabism, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab in his work Al-Fatāwā al-Najdiyya: “Although some forms of not ruling by what Allah has revealed, such as oppression and neglecting some rulings, are kufr dūna kufr (see Kufr), we cannot maintain that all forms of ruling by kufr law is merely ‘lesser Kufr’. For there is a consensus among the scholars of the Salaf that changing a single ruling from the Sharīʻa of Islam to any other law constitutes ‘major Kufr.’

Hijra – ‘Migration’, the journey undertaken in June 622 by the Prophet and the early Muslim community from Mecca to Yathrib (later Madīna) in a bid to escape the threat of assassination, and following assurances of protection. The Muslim lunar calendar (hijrī) dates from this incident. 

Ḥisba – The principle that legal action in defense of the public interest may be taken, even though the individual making the charge has not personally suffered injury or harm. The function of the muḥtasib is one of calling society and individuals to account, aiming at the eradication of social evils and improving public morality by promoting and enforcing that which ‘Commands Right and Forbids Wrong’ (see Al-amr bil-maʽrūf wal-nahī ‘an al-munkar).

Ḥudūd – see Ḥadd.

Ḥukm (pl. aḥkām) – ‘Ruling,’ an established verdict on a matter of Islamic law.

Ḥulūli – ‘dissolutionist’, ‘incarnationist’, one who believes in the presence, or dissolving, of one separate entity within another. For Sufis this meant the incarnation or presence of God in His creation or in some of His creation. The category is subdivided into: ‘general ḥulūl’ – the belief that God is present in all things and ‘specific ḥulūl’ – the belief that God is present in some, but not all, of His creation.

Hunafā’ (sing. hanīf) – In Islamic doctrine the hunafā’ are the people who, during the Pre-Islamic period were seen to have rejected idolatry and retained some or all of the tenets of the monotheistic religion of Abraham.

Ibādī – The Ibādī movement is an ancient denomination of Islam predating Sunni and Shīʽa denominations and constitutes (in the view of non-Ibādīs) essentially a reformed sect of the ancient Khawārij. Their origins are closely bound up with the dynastic fissures of early Islam, and they maintain an antipathy to the claims of the later Umayyads, and also to ‘Alī for his suppression of the Khawārij. Among the points of difference in doctrine, Ibādīs hold that the Qur’ān is not eternal but created by God at a certain point in time (thus contrasting with standard Sunni doctrine), they place more weight on the Qur’ān and less on the Hadith than other branches of Islam, continue unbroken the process of ijtihād and, unlike Sunni aspirations towards caliphal rule or Shīʽa aspirations towards rule by the Imams, they do not strive towards establishing a universal polity for the Muslim world. They preserve a highly conservative form of Islam, including an exclusivist tendency focused on al-walā’ wal-barā’ (qv), but nevertheless retain a tolerant attitude towards dissidents. They are the dominant sect in Oman.

Ijtihād – Literally ‘exertion’, and technically the effort a jurist makes in order to deduce the law, which is not self-evident, from its sources. It is therefore the exercise of legal reasoning independent of what is literally prescribed by scripture.

Ikhwān – ‘Brothers’ as in al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn, the ‘Muslim Brethren’, founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Bannā’.

Ikhwān al-Safā’ – The ‘Brethren of Purity’ or ‘Sincerity’ who formed in 10th century Basra a secret society of Muslim philosophers. Their identities have never been established, but it is thought that they were proto-Isma’ilis. One of their most famous texts of their Rasā’il (‘Letters’) describes the perfect man, who would be: “of East Persian derivation, of Arabic faith, of Iraqi, that is Babylonian, in education, Hebrew in astuteness, a disciple of Christ in conduct, as pious as a Syrian monk, a Greek in natural sciences, an Indian in the interpretation of mysteries and, above all a Sufi or a mystic in his whole spiritual outlook.”

‘Ilm al-yaqīn – The ‘knowledge of things that are certain’, as a contribution (alongside evidence from one’s own eyes or experience) to building up confidence in the certainty of faith.

 ‘Īsā ( عيسى ) – The term given in the Islamic faith for Jesus. Jews and Christians recognize in the Greek form of the name Ιησους (Jēsūs) – or in the oblique case Ιησου (Jēsū) – the Hebrew name יהושוע (Y’hōshū‘) in its later Hebrew and Aramaic equivalent ישוע (Yēshū‘). The Hebrew name parses grammatically and has a meaning: ‘God is Salvation.’ There is no recognised grammatical parsing for the Arabic name.

Islamic Awakening (Al-Sahwa al-Islāmiyya) – As a result of the turmoil of the 1960s in the Arab Muslim world where the Arab defeat in the June 1967 Six Day War highlighted how the post-colonial period and Arab nationalism had long been failing to deliver its promised benefits, humiliation and frustration galvanized interest in an alternative ideological route re-invigorated by orthodoxy. This came to be known as al-Sahwa al-Islāmiyya (‘the Islamic Awakening’), where reform on religious practice and social issues blended with matters of overtly political import. The constant themes of the various configurations of the Sahwa movement was the conspiracy against Islam, the insidious attempts of Muslim regimes, encouraged by their western masters, to secularize the Islamic Nation, derail its salvific mission and emasculate its political potential. As an antidote to these perceived attacks it laid emphasis on the need for the unity of the Muslim umma, for the re-education of all Muslims in the Salafist conception of the ‘aqīda, and the re-building of excluding cultural walls through the re-invigoration of the doctrine of al-walā’ wal-barā’ (qv). Though initially an intellectually-focused reform movement the trend became activist and dominated university campuses in the 1970s and 1980s, until it was finally in a position by the 1990s to configure and lead an Islamist political opposition to the Saudi regime. Its analysis of the failure of contemporary Muslim regimes to return society to the true path and the implications this held for legitimacy and right to rule would later come to crystallize in the mental universe of the jihadist.

Isrā – The Isrā and Miʽrāj are two parts of a night journey which Muhammad is to have taken over the course of a single night around the year 621, mounted upon the steed Burāq, to arrive at the ‘farthest mosque’, following which (the Miʽrāj phase) he ascends to heaven where he addresses God, who gives him details on how to pray. See Miʽrāj.

Ittiḥādī – ‘unionist’, one who believes in the total union of two entities so that they become one and the same, a pantheistic belief that God is in everything that exists in a وحدة الوجود  (waḥdat al-wujūd ‘a unity of all things’)as held by the Sufis Ibn ‘Arabī and Ibn al-Fāriḍ.

Jabariyya – ‘Compulsionism’, the doctrine whereby mankind is devoid of free will over his actions, in that such would impugn the omnipotence and omniscience of God. The doctrine was particularly supported by the Umayyads who saw the political advantage of being excused, theologically, from responsibility for any unjust acts they committed. The opposite position is Qadariyya (qv). The Sunni formula for resolving the conundrum of man’s active moral responsibility over against God’s omniscience and omnipotence is to hold that ‘God has knowledge of everything that will be but that humans have freedom of choice’ basing this upon the Qur’ānic verse: If Allah so willed, he could make you all one people. But He leaves straying whom he pleases, and He guides whom He pleases and you shall certainly be called to account for all your actions [Qur’ān XVI,93].

Jāhiliyya – ‘Ignorance’. The term was originally understood historically, to denote the unenlightened, pre-Islamic age but under the influence of Islamist ideologues such as Abū al-‘Alā’ al-Mawdūdī and Sayyid Qutb it has come to mean, for the Islamists, a contemporary ‘pagan’ state of mind or a political system that is insufficiently ‘Islamic’.

Jahmiyya – ‘Jahmites’ – relating to the doctrine championed by Jahm ibn Ṣāfwān. The Jahmiyya denied all the names and attributes ascribed to God and argued that the definition of faith was knowledge of God, with kufr being a state of ignorance of Him. They took a pantheistic view of God as omnipresent and existing within all creatures. They believed that the Qur’ān was ‘created’.  Their theories on the khalq al-Qur’ān (q.v.) issue varied from : 1) the Qur’ān  was a set of meanings that Allah had created and sent down to the Prophet, and which the Prophet put ‘expression’ to (اللفظية); 2) they refused to take a position (الواقفة); 3) the Qur’ān is the Speech of Allah, and the written Qur’ān is of Allah,  but what is memorized in the chests cannot be the Qur’ān, “for how could there be an Attribute of Allah within our chests?” 

Jizya – Under Islamic law, jizya is a per capita tax levied on a section of an Islamic state’s non-Muslim citizens. That is, every free adult male member of the ahl al-kitāb (‘People of the Book’) (qv), although this was later extended to all non-Muslims. Slaves, women, children, the old, the infirm, the poor and monastic communities were all exempt from the tax, unless any of them was deemed independent and wealthy. Jizya was paid in exchange for the dhimma whereby non-Muslim citizens were permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, and enjoy the state’s protection from external threat and to be exempted from military service and the zakat taxes obligatory upon Muslims. However, these exemptions were not always observed and were discarded entirely by the Shāfi‘ī School of Law. It constituted material proof of the non-Muslims’ acceptance of subjection to the state and its laws, and when abused was accompanied by disdainful behavior intended to re-enforce the inferior status of the dhimma communities.

Kāfir (pl. kuffār or kāfirūn) – ‘Unbeliever, ‘infidel’, one who rejects Islam or that which is deemed acceptable to God. Disbelief (kufr – qv).

Kalām‘Ilm al-Kalām (‘The Scholarship of Discourse’) denotes scholastic theology, the discipline of seeking theological principles through dialectic, that is, the seeking of philosophical demonstrations to confirm religious principles. The ‘Ilm al-Kalām developed as a rational theology, practiced by mutakallimīn. Its place in Islamic history is controversial, and modern Salafi scholars outlaw it. Scholars such as al-Shāfi‘ī and al-Ghazāli both held that there should be a certain number of men trained in Kalām to defend and purify the faith, but that it would be a great evil if their arguments should become known to the mass of the people.

Khalq al-Qur’ān – (‘The createdness of the Qur’ān’). This formed a core debate in medieval Islamic thought, and focused on the problem of whether the Text of the Revelation was to be regarded as a part of the Divinity itself. The controversy was caused by the Muʽtazila (q.v) position “the Speech of Allah Most High is created, invented, and brought into being”– in the form of the scripture, the Qur’ān. For the Muʽtazila theologians it made no sense to think of God’s commandments as existing before the creation of the beings to whom they were addressed. Nor did the doctrine of an ‘uncreated Qur’ān’ explain the clear references and rulings in the Text that referred to events and people in the lifetime of the Prophet. Nor did the doctrine explain the phenomenon of divine abrogation of an earlier sūra on the basis of such events. The Muʽtazila instead held that God’s word, both in the heavenly and worldly editions, was created and did not exist eternally. In these debates the Ashʽarīs set themselves in opposition to this rationalising approach. For the Ashʽarīs, the fact that the Qur’ān was ‘revealed’ to the Prophet Muhammad, not a source of ‘inspiration’ to him, meant that the Qur’ān was a physical incarnation of the eternal word of God. And if God is eternal, the implications for the Qur’ān were resolved for the Ashʽarīs by Qur’ān XLIII (al-Zukhruf), 4: وَإِنَّهُ فِي أُمِّ الْكِتَابِ لَدَيْنَا لَعَلِيٌّ حَكِيمٌ  And surely it is in the original of the Book with Us, truly elevated, full of wisdom and Qur’ān LXXXV (al-Burūj) 21-22:    بَلْ هُوَ قُرْآنٌ مَجِيدٌ فِي لَوْحٍ مَحْفُوظٍ  Nay, but it is a glorious Qur’ān, On a guarded tablet. The position eventually worked out by the Ashʽarīs was that the Qur’ān was the beginning-less speech of Allah Most High unchanged, uncreated, not of recent origin in time, nor brought into being, but that the alphabetical characters and so on were created, originated, and produced. This became the dominant position.

For a more detailed analysis of this controversy, its likely origins and significance for later Muslim thought, see the Almuslih backgrounder paper on Khalq al-Qur’ān here.

Khārijite – ‘Exiter’ or ‘Seceder’. The term Khārijī (pl. Khawārij) or Khārijite refers back to an incident in early Islamic history in which there was a military standoff on the question of the succession following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. A party of ‘Ali’s supporters objected to his conceding to the idea of arbitration since it implied that his authority was therefore not divinely ordained, absolute and non-negotiable. The objectors’ starting point was the Qur’ānic verse: وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ: ‘Whose judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are the disbelievers’ [al-Mā’ida, V,44] and, remaining intransigent on the issue of kufr dūna kufr (see Murjiʻism below) they ‘exited’ (kharajū) the arena. From this is taken the term khawārij (‘Kharijites’), a term which subsequently came to denote those whose excess takes them out of the fold of Islam.

Khawārij – see Khārijite.

Khwāja – ‘Master’, ’Man of distinction’, ‘Teacher’, from the Persian term khwūja (خواجه).  The honorific title latterly came to be applied in Egypt, via the Turkish hoca, to the European colonials so that it came to denote ‘European’ or ‘Westerner’.

Kufr – ‘Disbelief’, ‘denial’ of the truths of Islam, as summed up in the shahāda (qv). Conservative scholars identify four types of kufr: 1) the kufr of denial and rejection – considered to be unable to be done out of a sincere conviction; 2) the kufr of arrogance and obstinacy in the faith of preaching; 3) the kufr of hypocrisy (mere outward expression of Islam; 4) the kufr of doubting the absolute certainty of the faith. In addition to matters of belief, kufr is also incurred, according to Salafist scholars, for the following actions:

  • making permissible (halāl) what is clearly forbidden (harām), or vice versa
  • denying or deviantly interpreting any chapter, verse, or letter from the Qur’ān
  • treating with levity the tenets, injunctions or symbols of the faith
  • ruling or judging by other than that which Allah has revealed (see Hākimiyya)
  • supporting or aiding the polytheists (mushrikīn) against the Muslims

Scholars have also argued over also a category of ‘disbelief short of full disbelief’ (kufr dūna kufr) first expounded with reference to the phrase in Qur’ān V,44: Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are disbelievers by the Companion Ibn ‘Abbās: “It is not the kufr which you understand it to mean, indeed it is not the kufr which takes you outside the fold of the religious community, it is a kufr less than kufr.” See Murjiʽism.

Laylat al-Qadr – The ‘Night of Destiny’ or ‘Power’, commemorating the night, in late Ramadan, when the first verses of the Qur’ān were revealed to the Prophet and which, according to Qur’ān XCVII, is ‘better than a thousand months’ since angels hasten at this time to answer believers’ prayers. For the Shiʽa the date is also remembered as the night ʽAlī was assassinated while praying at the Mosque at Kufa.

Mawālī  (sing. Mawlā) – ‘Protegés’ or ‘friends’ of the early Arab Muslims. The term later came to be used both for non-Arab client populations and honorifically for a religious teacher or leader, where it morphed into mulla/mollah, and was most often applied to Shi’ite clerics.

Mihrāb – The ‘recess’ or niche in a mosque wall indicating the direction of prayer.

Minhaj – ‘Method’, ‘methodology’. E.g.: ‘Minhaj (methodology) of Salaf is to place texts over intellect and kalām (theological rhetoric)’ [See Salafist]

Miʽrāj –The tale of the miʽrāj (a word that literally means “ladder”) refers to the account of the ascension of the Prophet on the back of the horse Burāq to the heavens, where he tours the seven circles of heaven, and speaks with the earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus.

Misyār marriage – Defined as “traveler’s” marriage, a legal Sunni Muslim contractual procedure but one which usually demands the waiver by the ‘wife’ of rights such as accommodation, maintenance or the husband’s staying overnight with her.

Mu‘attila – see Ta‘tīl

Muftī – see Fatwā

Muhājirūn–‘Migrants’ – the converts to Islam and advisors and relatives to the Prophet Muhammad who migrated from Makka to Madīna in the hijra (q.v.).

Muhtasib – see Hisba

Murjiʻism – An opprobrious term used by militant radicals to denote ‘those who defer’ and state that a Muslim is a Muslim due to his faith, not to his acts. Hence, under murji’ism, a Muslim co-operating with the infidel is still a Muslim, even though his actions are objectionable. It is designated as kufr dūna kufr (‘Disbelief short of full Disbelief’), whereby Muslim regimes that do not strictly conform to the maximalist conception of the radicals do not necessarily incur the charge of blasphemous disbelief. See Kufr.

Mushaf – ‘Volume’, or physically bound codex of the Qur’ān.

Mushrik – see Shirk.

Mutʽa marriage – defined as a temporary marriage for ‘enjoyment’ and taking its starting point from a phrase in Qur’ān IV,24: So with those of whom you have enjoyed sexual relations, give them their dowry as prescribed.

Mu‘tazila – The rationalist Mu‘tazila school is an Islamic school of speculative theology which flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad during the 8th–10th centuries. The adherents of the Mu‘tazilī school held that ‘the Speech of Allah Most High is created, invented, and brought into being’ in that, because of the perfect unity and eternal nature of God, the Qur’an must therefore have been created, as it could not be co-eternal with God. From this premise, the injunctions of God must be accessible to rational thought and inquiry: since knowledge is derived from reason, it is reason, rather than sacred precedent, that is the ‘final arbiter’ in distinguishing right from wrong. What is obligatory in religion is therefore only obligatory ‘by virtue of reason.’ This is opposed to the position of the textual literalists who held the extreme position that ‘the alphabetical characters, the materials on which they are written, the colours in which they are written, and all that is between the two covers [of the volumes of Qur’ān] is beginning-less and pre-existent.’

Mutakallimūn/īn – see Kalām

Muthbita – see Ta‘tīl

Nahda – ‘Resurgence’, ‘renaissance’, ‘efflorescence’. As a historical term it generally refers to the period of the late 19c and early 20c in where a movement of intellectual modernization and reform took hold at first Egypt and subsequently the Ottoman Levant. However, the religious, intellectual and cultural advances were not fully indigenized into Muslim societies and remained the occupation of the (mainly western-) educated élites, with the result that its achievements have been subjected to constant challenge from Islamists and Salafists.

Naskh – ‘Abrogation’, principally referring to Qur’ānic verses that are subsequently revoked by later revealed verses, such as the more pacific verses held to have been revealed at Mecca being cancelled out by those revealed at Madina, at a period when the Muslims were in a position of strength and able to dominate. The Qur’ānic text itself self-references this process in verses such as the following:

We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent? [Qur’ān II,106]

And when We put a revelation in place of (another) revelation, – and Allah knoweth best what He revealeth [Qur’ān XVI,101]

Allah effaceth what He will, and establisheth (what He will), and with Him is the mother Book [Qur’ān XIII,39].

The phenomenon, and the diverse positions concerning it, formed a subject of study all of its own in Qur’ānic scholarship. The controversy focused on the problem abrogation generates for the principle of the ‘eternal Qur’ān’ preserved as a glorious Qur’ān on a guarded tablet [Qur’ān LXXXV, 21-22], a doctrine which contradicts the possibility of change or replacement. If abrogation occurs, the argument runs, the verses were not on the tablet. If they were not on the tablet, how did they come to be delivered to Muhammad as part of the Text? Modern scholars have seen abrogation as an intellectual device allowing traditional scholars to accept invalidation without at the same time engaging in evaluation. ‘Abrogation’ also applies more widely, to the level of civilisations and cultures. Under the orthodox perception, Islam is not a ‘culture’ like any other, since this would imply moral and intellectual equivalence. Islam has therefore come to ‘abrogate’ other cultures which are, by their nature, part of the jāhiliyya (q.v.), a solution which also answers the condundrum of an almighty deity having been unable to preserve earlier revelations – theTorah and the Gospels – from corruption.

Qadar – ‘Fate’, ‘divinely ordained destiny’,  whereby God has written down in the Guarded Tablet (فِي لَوْحٍ مَحْفُوظٍ) [Qur’ān LXXXV, 21-22] all that has happened and will happen, which will come to pass as written. See above entry on ‘naskh‘.

Qadariyya – The doctrine that man is entirely the free agent of his fate, independent of God’s will and knowledge. The term is linked to the word qudra ‘potency’ (not to be confused with qadar) and the position was justified by supporters (such as the Muʻtazila) as asserting human free will in decision-making, thus justifying God’s power to blame or punish humans in that their capacity to make choices makes them responsible for the outcome of their actions and absolves God of responsibility for evil in the world. Opponents of the doctrine, however, deplored what they saw as its implied denial of the omniscience of God as to their future actions and equally a denial of His omnipotence to guide whomsoever He wishes according to His will, and therefore equated this doctrine to setting up a rival ‘deity’ to God. The uncompromising nature of this approach led the opponents of Qadariyya to assert that Evil, just as much as Good, ultimately issued from God, and they thus dismissed Qadariyya as another form of Zoroastranism or Christianity.

Qarmatians (Qarāmita) – These were a Shī‘a Isma’īlī group dominant in eastern Arabia, particularly Bahrain, where in 899 AD they attempted to establish a utopian republic, a society based on reason and equality and the sharing of property. They considered the pilgrimage to Mecca a superstition and in 930 sacked Medina and Mecca, from whose Ka’ba they stole the Black Stone and desecrated of the Well of Zamzam with Muslim corpses. They were defeated and severely reduced by the Abbasids in 976.

Qubūrī – ‘grave venerator’ – those who seek blessing at the grave of a revered religious figure, as a means of attaining (tawaṣṣul) to God, or as a means to intercede with God (tashaffuʽ) or as a means to obtain some assistance (istighātha).

Rāfiḍī (pl. Rawāfiḍ) – ‘refusers’ those who reject the authority of the first three caliphs of Islam. The term is an opprobrious one used by Sunnīs who designate the Shīʽa as Rawāfiḍ since they refuse to recognize Abū Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthmān as the legitimate successors of Muḥammad, and consider that the reference to “those who have been given authority” in the Qur’ānic verse: O believers! Obey God and obey the Apostle and those who have been given authority among you” [Qur’ān IV:59] refers not to the Imams that the Shīʽa revere but to rulers (caliphs and sultans).

Sahāba (sing. Sahabī) – The ‘Companions’, disciples, scribes and family of the Prophet Muhammad.  Their testimony was drawn upon concerning the words and deeds of the Prophet, the revelation of the Qur’an and important matters of paradigmatic Islamic practice. This testimony in the form of hadīth formed the basis of the developing Islamic Sunna (‘tradition’).

Sahwa / Sahwist – see Islamic Awakening

Salaf – ‘Ancestor’, ‘Predecessor’ – see Salafist.

Salafist – The term comes from al-salaf al-sālih or al-salaf al-sālihūn, the ‘pious predecessors’ of the first generations of Muslims who, due to their proximity to the model for living set by the Prophet Muhammad, are held to constitute a paradigm for the Muslim for all time. As a term Salafist mostly overlaps with the ‘Muslim fundamentalist’, but denotes a particular intensification of the tendency, and intentionally focuses upon the legitimizing effect of adherence to a paradigmatic community. Salafists are in unanimous agreement concerning the creed (‘aqīda) that defines their ideologies, and to emphasize their claims to authenticity they arrogate to themselves the label Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamāʽa (qv).  The salient points of their approach (minhaj) come down to the following principles:

  • return to the authentic beliefs and practices of the first three ‘generations’
  • expel practices considered to be bida‘, (‘unacceptable innovations’) that had accrued over the centuries since this pristine period of Islam
  • engage actively against manifestations of Disbelief such as Shi‘ism or anything that constitutes shirk (‘associationism’, effectively polytheism, although Christianity is also subsumed under this)
  • lay emphasis instead on the following categories of tawhīd:

– tawhīd al-rubūbiyya (‘Oneness of Lordship’) – denoting God’s exclusive sovereignty in the Universe as its sole Creator and Sustainer. To attribute any of these power to other than Him constitutes kufr;

tawhīd al-ulūhiyya (‘Oneness of Godship’) – denoting God’s rights to be the exclusive object of worship, failing which the perpetrator is a kāfir. The category is pointedly targeted at saint-worship or the some Sufi views of saints as intermediaries between God and man;

tawhīd al-asmā’ wa-l-sifāt (‘Oneness of the Names and Attributes’) – denoting God’s uniqueness with regard to the way He is depicted in the Qur’ān or the Hadīth, without any debate as to their meaning, that is, without distortion(tahrīf) or negation (ta‘tīl) of them, and without any attempt at explaining how they are (takyīf) or employing likeness or any metaphorical interpretation (tamthīl).

As may be seen from this, while a large part of their effort is expended on ‘aqīda it is not an exercise in theological thinking as such, so much as a defense of the fixèd marks of this theology as they see it, and mostly in the face of non-Salafists. Paradoxical as it may sound, the purpose of the Salafist definition of theology is to establish that there is no more theology. Speculation as to the nature of God, and as to how to approach knowledge of God’s purposes is considered by Salafists to be a closed issue, having been settled by scholars of the stature of Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya and their repudiation of the rationalist-contaminated methodologies of their opponents. From the abundance of works in this arena it is clear that Salafist writers find writing on ‘aqīda the most intellectually satisfying of their endeavors, since its undisputed starting point lends itself to their absolutism and intolerance for alternative points of view.

Shahāda – ‘Testimony’, ‘Bearing Witness’, and specifically referring to the utterance of the Islam-defining phrase lā ilāha illā-Llāh Muhammadur rasūlu-Llāh (‘There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’) It is the most common statement of faith for Muslims and is often designated the ‘two testimonials’ (al-shahādatān) in that what is being born witness to is two-fold: the one-ness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad. In Twelver Shīʽa Islam the shahāda is expanded with the addition of the phrase: wa‘Aliyyun walīyyu-Llāh (‘and ‘Alī is the walī of Allah’).

Sharī‘a – Islamic law as perceived to be contained in the divine guidance of the Qur’ān and Sunnah. ‘Islamic law’ is the nearest English translation of Sharī‘a, yet the latter is not confined specifically to legal subject matter and extends to the much wider areas of moral and religious guidance. However, Sharī‘a law is not “Islamic law”, except as interpreted by Islamists, since it is mostly a post-Qur’ānic, man-made medieval doctrine and though claiming to be derived from the Qur’ān, is thus a politicized interpretation of the Muslim scriptures and other non-revealed sources. The word Sharī‘a is mentioned only once in the Qur’ān, and not at all as a system of jurisprudence, but in its traditional meaning of the “right path” ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَى شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا “Then We have made you follow a course in the affair, therefore follow it,” (Al-Jāthiya, XLV,18)

Shīʽa – The ‘Party’ (of ʽAlī – shīʽat ‘Alī), those who supported ‘Alī’s claim to the caliphate following the death of the Prophet, based on the claim that during Muhammad’s farewell pilgrimage he nominated ‘Alī as his successor, since he had no son to whom to pass on his spiritual and political authority. While ‘Alī’s claim was originally based on his kinship rights, as cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, ‘Alī’s candidature later came to be invested with divine sanction, and hostility to elective Muslim leadership (typified by the selection of Abū Bakr to succeed the Prophet) progressively solidified into a doctrine of the Imāmate. Under this system imāms (‘leaders’) must hold direct descendence not only from Quraysh but from the Ahl al-Bayt – Muhammad’s immediate family. As both political and spiritual successors to the Prophet, and sharing the divine nous (‘aql) that imbues the souls of all the prophets, they are accorded a unique authority to interpret infallibly the divine law and expound its esoteric meanings. The Sunni-Shīʽa schism took definitive form at the battle of Karbalā in 680 with the defeat and death of ‘Alī’s son Husayn. Shī’a Muslims constitute up to 15 percent of total Muslims, and almost 40 percent of Muslims in the Middle East.

Shirk – ‘Polytheism’ (literally, ‘associationism’), used in Islamic doctrine to denote polytheistic faiths and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Among jihadist radicals the term does not simply denote belief in several gods in the classic use of the term, but is extended to denote those that fail to maintain the exclusivity of God’s authority.

Shūrā – ‘Consultation’. In early Islāmic history the term referred to the board of electors that was constituted by the second caliph (head of the Muslim community), ʿUmar I (634–644), to elect his successor. Thereafter, in Muslim states, shūrā variously designated a council of state, or advisers to the sovereign and, in certain Arab states, a court of law with jurisdiction over claims made by citizens and public officials against the government. The word shūrā provides the title of the 42nd sūra of the Qur’ān, in which believers are exhorted to conduct their affairs by consultation: وَالَّذِينَ اسْتَجَابُوا لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَىٰ بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنْفِقُونَ  Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who conduct their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance [Qur’ān XLII,38]. The reference is used by some modernists to determine that all decisions made by and for the Muslim societies are to be made through this consultation of the Muslim community and is therefore the justification for implementing representative democracy. More traditional believers may agree that, to be in keeping with Islam, a government should have some form of council of consultation but argue that it must recognize that God, and not the people, are sovereign, and that it should therefore be subordinate to Sharīʻa law.

Sīra – ‘Biography’, ‘conduct’ – notably the Sīrat Rasūl Allāh, the literature on the ‘life of the Messenger of God’. Along with the Qur’ān and the Sunna (qv) it constitutes the basic source material for Islamic precedent and legal authority.

Sunnī – the majority denomination of Islam, representing some 90 percent of Muslims over the world. The term is derived from Sunna (qv). Unlike the Shīʽa, the Sunnis accept all of the four immediate successors of the Prophet as the ‘rightly-guided caliphs’, and give no special distinction to the fourth caliph ‘Alī. Nor do they believe that the succession to the leadership of the community had necessarily to pass through the family of the Prophet. Instead, the except ijmāʽ (the ‘consensus’ of the learned of the community) as the test of succession. They also do not believe in the infallibility of the caliph or imām. While the Sunnīs are distinguished in having no subdividing sects, they are broadly divided into four schools of law (not mutually exclusive but dominant one or other of them in certain territories and states) which provide legal rulings and regulate modes of conduct. These are the Hanafīs (founded by Abū Hanīfa 699-767), Mālikīs (founded by Mālik ibn Anas 715-195), Shāfiʽīs (founded by Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʽī 767-820) and Hanbalīs (founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal 780-855). They differ mostly in the balance of emphasis they accord to the tools of analogy, equity and public interest in elaborating legislation, but the Hanbalī school is noted for its more literalist, puritanical approach which minimises the function of reason in the discernment of theological truths. It is the school or tendency that provides the intellectual groundwork for Islamic puritanism and radicalism. (See Salafist and Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamā‘a).

Sunna – ‘Habit’ or ‘usual practice’, specifically the practice of Prophet Muhammad that he taught and practically instituted as a teacher of the Sharī‘a and the best paradigm for humanity, on the grounds of passages in the Qur’ān such as Obey God and His messenger [III,32] and Verily in the messenger of God you have a good example (XXXIII,21). It includes his specific words, habits, practices, and silent approvals and often stands as synonymous with hadith since most of the personality traits of Muhammad are known from these. Along with the Qur’ān itself and the sīra literature it forms the basic source material for Islamic precedent and legal authority.

Sūra – ‘Chapter’ of the Qur’ān, containing individual verses or āyāt (qv). The t on the end, as in sūrat al-Anfāl, is a grammatical requirement indicating the construct case (the ‘sūra of al-Anfāl’). There are in total 114 sūras, and these are tradtionally divided into two broad classes, the 86 Meccan sūras and the 28 Medīnan sūras, the division corresponding to the period before, and following, the migration of the Prophet and the early Muslim community from Mecca to Madīna. While the Meccan sūras predominantly deal with issues of faith and the next world, the Madīnan sūras focus more on politics and the public ordering of society.

Tābi‘ī  (pl. Tābi‘ūn / īn) – ‘Followers’, that is, the generation of Muslims who were born after the death of the Prophet Muhammad but who were nevertheless contemporaries of the Sahāba (‘Companions’) (qv).

Tafsīr – ‘Commentary’, ‘Interpretation’, generally of the text of the Qur’ān. Given the conception of the Qur’ān as representing the literal, phonological word of God, Qur’ānic commentaries are heavily focused on the discipline of linguistic analysis. Of the 15 fields that a commentator must master to qualify as an authority eight of them are linguistic. Hence the widely held belief that a knowledge of Arabic is essential for a Muslim if he or she wishes to understand Islam fully. Progressive scholars challenge this literal, philological focus of tafsīr by challenging the relationship itself between the divine inspiration of the revelation and its expression in human, linguistic form in the mouth of the Prophet.

Tāghūt (pl. tawāghīt) – The ‘oppressor’. The term originally denoted a pre-Islamic idol, and thence by extension any object or individual that prevented mankind from doing good. In contemporary Jihadist discourse it is used to denote the ‘unjust ruler’ who is opposing God’s rule by ruling through a system other than that prescribed by God, and thus all heads of state of Muslim countries which are not governed by Sharī‘a law.

Takfīr – ‘Excommunication’, or more accurately, the process of accusing someone of kufr (‘Disbelief’) (qv). The serious consequences of this charge on both the individual and community level, and its implications for political stability, have meant that the process has been hedged with precaution and warning, exemplified by the Hadith “If a man calls his Muslim brother kāfir, it applies to one of the two” (Bukhari). There is also unease among conservative scholars as to how one can determine inner convictions, an unease deriving from the experience of history, which has witnessed the full range of interpretation from takfīr upon any sinner (see Khārijīs) to immunity from the charge from anyone who called themselves ‘Muslim’ (See Murjiʽites). Islamic law has accordingly brought into being an elaborate body of conditions to verify or mitigate the charge. ‘Takfīrī’ groups or individuals are so named for their readiness to adduce the charge of kufr against secularising regimes in the Muslim world and to advocate armed struggle against them, arguing that God’s sovereignty is being compromised (see Hākimiyya) and that society is thus reverting to a pre-Islamic state (see Jāhiliyya). The level of violence peaks when a ‘guilt by association’ is ascribed to a general Muslim population that co-operates with, and fails to remove, the offending system of governance.

Taqiyya – ‘Tactical dissimulation’ – from the verb ittaqā, (‘be on one’s guard’) – signifying to simulate whatever status one needed in order to gain the advantage, and argued for in cases where Muslims were infiltrating enemy areas. It means that at such time as Muslims on the ground constitute the weaker power, they have the right to proclaim in public precisely the opposite of what they hold in secret. The argument made by proponents is that concealment of one’s beliefs does not necessitate an abandonment of them. The doctrine is understandably controversial, since it requires some strenuous justification to overturn what would appear to be a natural law against deceitfulness. The basic starting points, however, are held to be given by scripture, principally the Qur’ānic verse which stipulates dire consequences for Whoso disbelieveth in Allah after his [adoption of] belief – save him who is forced thereto and whose heart is still content with the Faith [Qur’ān, XVI,106]. Similarly the Texts provide the expediency argumentation to counter the fundamental, and equally textual, stipulations of al-walā’ wal-barā’ (qv) to avoid contact and social intercourse with non-Muslims. If this feigned friendship acts to the benefit of the Muslim or prevents him from being cast in an unfavorable light, it is permitted. The usual Qur’ānic verse adduced both to justify al-walā’ wal-barā’ and circumvent it is the following: Let not believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers. Whoso doeth that hath no connection with Allah unless [it be] that ye but guard yourselves against them, taking [as it were] security [Qur’ān, III,28]. Sunni Muslims generally dismiss discussion of taqiyya as a matter in which the Shi‘a Muslims specialize. However, a notable Sunni scholar such as Abū Hamīd al-Ghazālī argues that: “Speaking is a means to achieve objectives. If a praiseworthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish it through lying because there is no need for it. When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie.”

Taqlīd – The imitation of conclusions and analyses of earlier Islamic authorities without an active examination of their reasoning.

Tashbīh – ‘Assimilating’, anthropomorphism or comparing God to created things. See Ta‘tīl.

Ta‘tīl –‘Negation’, a theological concept denying God all attributes (the opposite of tashbīh). By taking such Qur’ānic phrases as لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ البَصِيرُ  Nothing is like unto Him; He hears all and sees all (ash-Shūrā, XLII,11),the Mu‘attila (‘Negators’) argued that what is meant is that He ‘knows’, because seeing and hearing in their real senses apply to creatures only. God is thus merely addressing mankind in the only language he can understand – the language of metaphor. Their opponents the Muthbita (‘Affirmers’) objected that by refusing to liken God to any physical existent one ends up denying His existence. Seeing and hearing are God’s real attributes, they insist, but since nothing is like unto Him, His attributes, though real, are not like the attributes of creatures. They have a different modality. God cannot be an abstract concept, He must therefore have some defining qualities, He must be in principle observable and exist in a ‘place’ (“above His throne in heaven”). To answer the problem of localizing an omnipresent creator the Muthbita held that although God’s person is confined to a particular ‘region’, His power, knowledge and other attributes are not to be considered so limited.

Tawhīd – lit. ‘Declaration of Oneness’. The term is a causative noun of the number ‘one’ (wāhid), and therefore refers to the ‘singularization’ or ‘exclusivization’ of something. Primarily it is a monotheist’s declaration of the single, uniqueness of God, as a single and absolute truth and a unique, independent and indivisible being, but it also extends to the implications of this singularity epistemologically, legally and politically – in that all knowledge must issue from God, that there is no law other than God’s law and that there can be no system of rule founded upon an authority other than that of God as the principal legislator, that is, a theocracy. Although the doctrine of tawhīd is fundamental to all Muslims, The Salafists (qv) make their strict adherence to the implications of tawhīd – as they contradict with contemporary epistemological, legal and political systems – their badge of legitimacy.

‘Ulamā’ (sing. ‘alīm) – ‘Scholar’, one learned in ‘ilm (variously translatable as ‘science’, ‘knowledge’ or ‘scholarship’ depending on the context).

Umma – ‘Nation’, construed as constituting an ethical, linguistic, or religious community as opposed to one based on kinship. Used, in abbreviation, for al-Umma al-Islāmiyya, the ‘Islamic Nation’.

Umayyads (Dawlat Banī Umayya) – This dynasty formed the second of the major Caliphates of Islamic history (following the era of the Orthodox Caliphs) and ruled over the whole of the newly-won Arab conquests between the years 661-750 AD, from their capital at Damascus. Their rule tended towards Arab chauvinism in their favouring of the rights of old Arab families over against those of Muslim converts. They are held to have transformed the Caliphate from a religious institution into a dynastic one, under a conception that Islam was the property of a conquering dynasty. They notably referred to themselves not as the ‘caliphs (‘successors’) of the Messenger of God,’ as came to be the accustomed formula, but as ‘caliphs of God’, that is, as God’s direct representatives at the head of the Muslim community.

Usūl al-Dīn – ‘Principles of Religion’, or ‘Fundamentals of Religion’, the basic articles of faith. These are considered by the Sunnis to be six in number: Belief in God; Belief in the Angels; belief in the Books of God; belief in the Prophets of God; belief in Fate (for good or for ill); belief in the Afterlife. For the Shīʻa they are five in number: Tawhīd, Belief in oneness of God; Nubūwwa, Belief in the Prophets; Qiyāma, Belief in the Day of Judgement; ‘Adl, the Justice of God; and Imāma, the successorship of the twelve Imams to the Prophet.

Usūl al-Fiqh – ‘Principles of Jurisprudence’ or the science of Legislative Principles, concerning the relationship between the sources of truth established on the one hand in usūl al-dīn, the Qur’an and the Sunna, and on the other hand fiqh, the science of how Muslims should behave. In other words, usūl al-fiqh tells Muslims how to develop their understanding of the divine law from revealed texts, balancing the dynamic of what is specific with what is generic, to facilitate the proper exercise of ijtihād. The usūl al-fiqh are four: Qur’ān, Sunna, Qiyās (analogy) and Ijmā‘ (consensus).

Walī (pl. awliyā’) – ‘Protector’, ‘guardian’, someone exercising custodianship or invested with (divine) authority. The term, especially when referring to walī Allāh (‘friend, supporter of God’) has come to be broadly translated as ‘saint’. For Sunni Muslims their rank is lower than that of the prophets or the Sahāba (qv), but Shīʽa Muslims use the term, focusing on its meaning as ‘close friend,’ to confer sainthood on the Ahl al-Bayt and the line of Imāms, whose intercession is required when seeking blessing. These in turn are subordinate in rank to ‘Alī as the walī Allāh. The issue of venerating saints, ascribing miracles to them and seeking their intercession is a major point of division between Sunni and Shīʽa Muslims.

Wudū’ – ‘Ritual ablution’, a comprehensive ritual of symbolic cleansing required before undertaking acts of worship, and which takes as its starting point the instruction in Qur’ān V,6: O you who believe, when you rise for salāh, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe [a portion] of your heads [with a wet hand] and [wash] your feet up to the ankles.

Zandaqa – ‘Atheistic skepticism’, practiced by a zindīq (qv).

Zindīq (pl. zanādiqa) – ‘Atheist’, ‘skeptic’. Originally a term referring to Iranian dualists persisting after the Islamic conquests, the term was later used to denote those who oppose the revealed law, or who ‘personalise’ their religion by following allegorical readings of the holy text. Later the term denoted skeptics who applied a critical eye to revelation or tradition, hence libertines or atheists.