Glossary

Peace, one and all…

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As one of the major aims of this website is to share the beliefs, teachings and insights of the Islamic tradition with the wider world, I think it is important to include a glossary of key terms.  Muslims use a wide range of terms to express all sorts of things, most of which are in Arabic and derived from the Quran and sayings of Muhammad (as).  Sufi tradition adds another layer of richness to this, contributing words from Farsi, Turkish, Urdu and a range of other languages.

I will add to this glossary as time and space allows, insha Allah.

A

  • Al hamdu lillah: ‘All praise is for God’.  A statement of gratitude.  Often used when completing an action.
  • Allah: literally meaning ‘the God’, according to many authorities, this is the Name of God in Islamic thought.  It is cognate with Hebrew Elohim and Aramaic Alaha.
  • Allahu Akbar: ‘God is Great’ or ‘God is Greater’.  It is used to begin the formal daily prayers, and also in a range of other rituals.
  • Ask olsun: (Turkish). Meaning, approximately, ‘may there be love’, this phrase is used as a prayer/blessing in many Turkish Sufi orders.
  • Asma al-Husna: ‘The Beautiful Names [of God]’.  God possesses 99 Names (or Attributes) according to Islamic tradition (though there are different lists of names). Often sub-divided into names of beauty and names of majesty, these names offer deep insights into the nature of the Divine Reality.
  • Astaghfirullah: ‘God forgive me’.  Used when asking for forgiveness.  It also forms a part of many spiritual litanies (awrad), and is believed to have a cleansing effect.

B

  • Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim: ‘In the Name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful’. This key phrase begins each Quranic chapter, except one, and is used by Muslims when beginning an act, as a way of sanctifying it.  It is sometimes shortened to Bismillah, or ‘In the Name of God’

D

  • Dergah: a Sufi convent or centre.
  • Dervish: (Farsi/Turkish/Urdu, etc).  Literally meaning ‘one who waits at the door’, and more broadly a ‘poor one’ (see Faqir below).  This important term is used to describe a spiritual traveller on the Sufi path.
  • Dhikr/Zikr (Arabic/Farsi): the term means ‘remembrance’ literally and is a common Quranic word. In Islamic teaching it also means to repeat phrases in praise of God, or the Asma al-Husna. Sufi tradition places great emphasis on dhikr.
  • Durood: The Urdu term for Salawat.

E

  • Eyvallah: (Turkish). Literally meaning ‘Yes, by God’, this phrase is used to express deep agreement in many Sufi orders. The traditional response to a request from one’s teacher is Eyvallah.

F

  • Faqara’: Literally, ‘poverty’.  Used in Sufi tradition to refer to spiritual poverty, an inner emptiness and freedom from unhelpful attachments.
  • Faqir: ‘A poor one’.  Often used as a synonym for Sufi.  Mevlevi dervishes are taught to refer to themselves in this way.
  • Fatwa: Meaning ‘legal response or ruling’, it refers to a decision on a point of Islamic law by a qualified religious scholar (a Mufti, ‘One who gives fatwas’, most often).

H

  • Hadra: ‘Presence’. Used to refer to circles of a particular form of remembrance, in which participants often stand and engage in rhythmic movement.
  • Hudur/Huzur (Arabic/Farsi/Turkish): ‘Presence’, denoting a state of attentive concentration, in which the Divine Presence can manifest Itself. Can also refer to that Presence Itself. Can also refer to the presence of the the Spiritual Master (Shaykh or Pir)

I

  • Imam: ‘Leader’.  This important term has a number of distinct meanings in Islamic tradition. A prayer leader at a mosque is often called an imam.  Sunni tradition also uses the term to refer to important scholarly figures, such as Imam Abu Hanifa (founder of one of the main Sunni schools of law).  Shi`a tradition, by contrast, uses the term to refer to one of the legitimate successors to the Prophet (as), all being descendants of Hz. Imam Ali (as).

M

  • Mawlid/Milad: ‘Birthday’. Often used to describe an event to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet (as), or to otherwise remember him.  It is an important part of traditional Sunni practice.

P

  • Pir (Farsi): literally meaning ‘elder’, Pir is the Persian term for Shaykh (see below). In Sufi tradition it is sometimes used to refer to the founding saint (wali) of a particular order (tariqa)

S

  • Sahaba: Literally, ‘Companions (of the Prophet, as)’.  Most commonly defined in Sunni thought as anyone who met the Prophet (as) and followed him.  Seen as the main transmitters of Muhammad’s sacred practice (Sunna). Highly regarded in Sunni thought. The position is somewhat more complex in the Shi’a tradition.
  • Salawat/Salat ‘ala al-Nabi: ‘Prayers/blessings upon the Prophet.’ The Quran encourages Muslims to say prayers of blessing for the Prophet. A poetic and musical genre has also emerged to this end.
  • Sall Allahu alaihi wa salem: Literally, ‘May God bless him and grant him peace’. This benediction is used whenever the Prophet is mentioned.
  • Shaykh: literally meaning ‘elder’, the term shaykh refers to a spiritual teacher, one learned in the path to God.  Can also be used to refer to a learned scholar, or to an older man.
  • Shi`at `Ali/Shi`a: Literally, ‘the Party of Ali’, referring to those Muslims who believe leadership of the Muslim community after the Prophet (as) passed to his son-in-law Ali (as) and his descendants after him.
  • Suhbah/Sohbet: (Arabic/Turkish). Literally meaning ‘companionship’, this term is widely used in Sufi practice to denote the relationship between Teacher and disciple, and more generally, to spiritual conversation.
  • Sunna: ‘Customary practice’, ‘tradition’ or ‘example’, Sunna refers to the totality of Muhammad’s (as) teaching and practice.
  • Sunni: ‘Follower of the Sunna’, the name for the largest denomination in Islamic tradition. The phrase is a contraction of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`ah (or ‘the People of Tradition and Community’).

T

  • Tariqah: meaning ‘path’ or ‘way’, this important term is used to denote the spiritual journey itself and the organised Sufi orders that help a seeker navigate their way.
  • Tasbih: literally ‘glorification’. A reference to phrases in praise of the Divine, as well as to Muslim prayer beads.
  • Tawhid: meaning ‘making one’, tawhid is the foundational concept behind Islamic notions of God.  God is radically One, without partner.  Sufi tradition teaches that a spiritual seeker must make themselves a conscious human unity in order to truly experience Divine Reality.

Y

  • Yaum al-Jumu`ah: ‘The Day of Assembly’. Friday is the day for weekly congregational prayers in Islamic tradition, in which community issues are addressed by an Imam in a sermon (khutba)

W

  • Wird (Awrad pl.): A litany. A set body of Quranic verses, prayers and invocations designed to be read daily. An important element of Sufi practice. Pronounced Evrad in Turkish.
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