Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies
Voiced Dictionary of Key Terms and Concepts
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Can also mean a person of probity.
Aḥkām al-khamsah- (al) : the five judgments or normative categories. The way in which Islamic law and ethics have traditionally divided human behavior. The five categories classifies behavior as obligatory (wājib, farḍ), recommended (mandūb, mustaḥabb), indifferent, morally neutral or permissible (mubāḥ), reprehensible (makrūh) and forbidden (ḥarām).
Aḥkām al-sulṭaniyyah (al-) : Political Ordinances. It is the title of a book written by al-Māwardī in which the author lists seven conditions or prerequisites the caliph should meet to qualify for the caliphal office. The prerequisites are: justice, knowledge, soundness of the organs of sense, soundness of body, soundness of judgment, courage and finally the Quraysh pedigree.
Ahl al-kalām (also mutakallimūn) : Muslim theologians (see kalām). According to al-Fārābī, the methods used by theologians essentially recourse to persuasive (iqnā‘ī) or dialectical (jadalī) arguments, in which imaginative representations tend to replace demonstrative proofs. Al-Fārābī believed that these arguments are inferior to dialectical ones.
Akhlāq (sing. khuluq) : character, manners; relating to individual mannerism, nature, see [Q68:V4]. According to Ikhwān al-Ṣafā, it is a natural disposition that prepares each and every member part of the body to enable the soul to act.
Allāh : the God.
‘Amal : action, practice, behavior.
articles of faith.
1. Belief in God (Allāh).
2. Belief that Muḥammad is the Messenger of God.
3. Belief in the Books (Torah, Zabūr (Psalms), Injīl (Gospels), Qur’ān).
4. Belief in the existence of angels and jinn.
5. Belief in the Last Day,
6. Belief in divine qaḍā' and qadar.
reason, mind, intellect (see al-Fārābī).
In his treatise On the Meanings of the Intellect (fī ma‘āni
gives a list of the meanings of the intellect or reason as used by the general
public, the mutakallimūn, and
1) prudence or sound judgment in determining what is right and what is wrong.
2) the mutakallimūn use it when referring to certain actions enjoined or repudiated by reason (generally received by the public as a whole or for the most part).
3) for Aristotle, it is a “faculty of the soul whereby man is able to attain certainty by recourse to universal, true and necessary premises, known neither by deduction nor reflection, but rather naturally and instinctively”.
4) a part of the soul which is able to gain, through habituation and prolonged experience, a certain apprehension of premises pertaining to volitional matters, which are susceptible of being sought or shunned. This reason grows with age.
5) potential, actual, acquired and active reason.
‘aql,‘āqil wa ma‘qūl : Plato believed that it is the Active Intellect or the unmoved Mover. Clearly distinguishable from the First Principle (al-awwal) upon Whom it depends, it is the ultimate principle of motion, in substance and actuality.
pillars. They are the ritual practices (‘ibādāt).
1. Declaration of faith. (see Shahādah).
2. Performance of obligatory prayers (see Ṣalāh).
3. Mandatory alms tax (see Zakāh).
4. Fasting all days of Ramaḍān (see Ṣawm).
5. Undertaking the journey of pilgrimage (see Ḥajj).
Ash‘arī (al-), Abū
al-Ḥassan ‘Alī Ibn Isma‘īl (873-4/ 260H -935-6/ 324H) :
A famous medieval Muslim theologian. He was born in
Awwal (al-) : the First. Following the example of Proclus of Athens, al-Fārābī calls God al-awwal or the first being from whom all other beings emanate. Al-Fārābī believed that, the successive orders of intellect (‘aql), soul (nafs) and prime matter (hayūlah) arised from the First Being through a process of progressive overflowing (see al-Fārābī).
(al-), Ḥasan, (born in 642, in Madīnah,
died in 728,
Bay‘ah : It is an oath of allegiance to the caliph, once he has been established as such. Traditionally this endorsement of the caliph had to be open/public. A later development of the bay‘ah distinguished between the bay‘ah khāṣah (done only by Muslims) and the bay‘ah ‘āmmah (secondary to bay‘ah khāṣah, and done by Non-Muslims too).
Consequentialism: a modern Western moral theory that holds that known consequences dictate moral values. In short, an act is morally right if and only if that act maximizes the good.
Deontologism: a modern Western moral theory that holds that actions conform to certain laws, prohibitions, and commandments. Hence, moral acts are acts that conform to the values expressed in the laws, prohibitions and positive commandments (system of obligations).
Ethics: a. in Greek ‘Ethike/ Ethicos’, relating to
good and bad.
b. The corpus of rules and the system of principles governing the practice in respect to a single class of human actions.
Eudemonia (from Greek): a state of being Happy. Not an instance of feeling Happy. Most influential Ancient Greek thinkers thought that the Happy person is the virtuous one. The virtuous person is He who has a settled disposition to reliably do virtuous things. Human virtue (or excellence) consists of courage, moderation, justice and wisdom… in short, in Greek ethical theories, virtuous agents are happy.
Faqīh – (pl. fuqahā’) : jurist, jurisprudence, one who practices fiqh jurisprudence.
Faqr : poverty. It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue), in Sufi teaching.
(al-), Abū Naṣr Muḥammad al-Fārābī (870-950)
one of the renowned Islamic philosophers. He
occupies a unique position in the history of philosophy, as the link between
Greek philosophy and Islamic thought. He is also a leading advocate of the
Islamic Neoplatonism school of reasoning. He became known as the Second Teacher (al-mu‘allim
al-thānī) after Aristotle himself. His major contribution to Islamic metaphysics was
his development of the doctrine of essence and existence. Following the example of Greek philosophers,
al-Fārābī believed in the concept of emanation according
to which the successive orders of intellect (‘aql),
soul (nafs) and prime matter (hayūlah)
arised from the First Being through a process of progressive overflowing.
This issue became one of the most heated controversies between the Islamic
philosophers and the theologians (mutakallimūn). He is the author of the
Farḍ : see wājib.
Fayḍ : “emanation” from a purely technical philosophical point of view. The contrast posed was between a world created ex nihilo at a moment in time by God, and a world which emanated eternally from God. The later was frequently opposed by ahl al-kalām and seen as heretical (see al-Fārābī).
Fiqh : Islamic law. Originally the word meant 'understanding' or 'knowledge'.
Fitnah : social upheaval, civil war. Fitnah is often used to refer to the civil war between ‘Alī Ibn Abī Ṭālib and Mu‘āwiyah Ibn Abī Ṣufyān.
Ghazālī (al-), Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad (1058-1111) : Muslim theologian. He was also a scholar of Islamic philosophy and a Sufi. He is the author of Revival of the Religious Sciences (iḥyā' ‘ulūm al-dīn).
Ḥadīth –(pl. al-aḥādīth) : the Arabic word has many meanings: ‘sayings’, ‘uttering’ ‘conversation’, ‘speech’, ‘report’. In Islam it means ‘tradition’. It is a record of the sayings or doings of the Prophet and his Companions. The Ḥadīth is considered as a source of Islamic law, dogma and ritual second only to the Qur’ān.
Ḥākim (al-) :
the Sage, the Wise. Ḥakīm related to the word ḥikmah (wisdom).
1) Al-Fārābī refers to Plato as al-ḥakīm. Al-ḥakīmān (the two Sages) are Plato and Aristotle.
2) al-ḥakīm is also one of the attributes of the First, according to al-Fārābī (see al-awwal).
Ḥarām : forbidden. One of the five categories in which Islamic law and ethics have traditionally divided human behavior.
Hawā’: air. Ikhwān al-Ṣafā use hawā’ as “climate”.
Hedonism: a moral theory that argues that: a) morals
are of consequence only if they motivate the agent to act,
b) The agent will act only to receive pleasure and avoid pain.
Ḥusn al-dhātī (al) : inherent goodness. A mu‘tazilah doctrine.
Ibn Rushd, Abū el-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn Aḥmad (1126- 1198) : he is known in the West as Averroes, a Hispano-Arab philosopher, commentator on Aristotle, who also was a qadi and a doctor. His books were ordered to be burned and very little has remained of his writings. Ibn Rushd argued that all “imperfect” existing bodies consist of hayūlā (substance) and ṣūrah (form). He considers that any jism (body) has to be a combination of these two components in order to be able to exist (see al-ajsām al-basīṭah, hayūlā, ṣūrah).
Ijtihād : informed independent reasoning.
Ikhlāṣ : sincerity, faithfulness, fidelity. A supporting mystical virtue or a second-order virtue in Sufi teaching.
Ikhtiyār (al-) : Men’s free will to choose.
a secret group of Muslim philosophers, theologians and intellectuals who
flourished most probably in Basra in the 4th/10th or 5th/11th centuries. They
were believed to be isma‘īlī. They are the authors of
fifty-two epistles (Rasā'il) which were encyclopedic in range,
covering subjects as diverse as music, astronomy, embryology, and philosophy.
According to Ikhwān al-Ṣafā, all souls (living beings)
are moved by the desire to live (shahwat at-baqā’)
and contempt of death (karāhiyyat al-fanā’).
Ikhwān al-Ṣafā also believe that humans act only
when faced with:
a) positive and negative commands: amr wa nahy
b) promise of positive reward and promise of painful reward: wa‘d wa wa‘īd
c) praise and bashing: madḥ wa dhamm
d) enticement and threat: targhīb wa tarhīb
Īmān wa ‘amal : faith and action.
Ins : mankind. Ins has the same root as insān (a human being).
Iqnā‘ (adj. iqnā‘ī/ iqnā‘ yyah) : persuasion. According to al-Fārābī, persuasion is a form of conjecture (ẓann), in which one believes a thing to be such and such, although it is possible for it to be otherwise. (see ra’y)
‘Ishq : erotic passion. According to al-Fārābī, it is a disposition of the human soul to seek the satisfaction of ‘beastly’ passion and renounce divine things.
Islām : literally, it means ‘submission’. Islām is one of the three monotheistic religions. It was founded by Muḥammad in the 7th century, after God reveald the Qur’ān to him through the archangel Jibrīl.
Isti‘dād : preparedness.
Ittiṣāl : conjunction. According to al-Farābī, when humans attain the highest stage of theoretical knowledge, they attain the stage of union with the Active Intellect. Al-Farābī sometimes calls this stage conjunction, sometimes proximity, of which humans’ ultimate happiness consists.
Jabr (al-) : Opposite of ikhtiyār.
Jannah (al-) :
literally: ‘the garden’. In the Qur’ān
it is often used to refer to ‘paradise’. Paradise is also referred to with
the words ‘Adan (
Jubā‘ī (al-), Abū ‘Alī Muḥammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (?-303/915-6) : one of the celebrated thinkers of mu‘tazilah. He was born at Jubba in Khuzistan, and he attended the school at Baṣrā of Abū Ya‘qūb Yūsuf al-Shahhām. Abū al-Ḥassan al-Ash‘arī was one of his pupils, but in 912-913 he broke away and founded the Ash‘arite school of thought.
Kabīrah : grave moral or religious wrong.
Kalām : literally it means ‘speech’. In Islam however, ‘ilm al- kalām is the science of theology. Therefore, kalām includes the theological debates that took place in Islam and that dealt with the theological subjects on which some scholars disagreed.
Khalīfah (pl. khulafā’): caliph. Originally the word meant “successor” (i.e. of the Prophet). In Islam, the caliph is the head of the community of believers. His functions are secular as well as religious. The first four caliphs are called “al-khulafā’ al-rāshidūn (the wise caliphs). In the Qur’ān, the title of khalīfah is given to both Ādam and Dāwūd (David).
Khalq : creation. According to al-Māturīdī, God created everything including acts.
Kharajites (in Arabic khawārij) : derives from the Arabic root ‘kharajah’ (means ‘to go out’, ‘to secede’). A revolutionary, and egalitarian group that revolted against the Caliph ‘Uthmān Ibn ‘Affān and later against ‘Alī Ibn Alī Ṭālib. In the battle of Siffīn, opposing ‘Alī Ibn Alī Ṭālib and Mu‘āwiyah Ibn Abī Ṣufyā they refused any form of arbitration saying that the judgment should be left only to God.
Khāṣṣah : the elite. For al-Fārābī, the philosopher should be regarded as a member of the elite in an absolute sense.
Khawf : fear. It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.
Ladhdhah (pl. ladhdhāt) : pleasure, bliss, enjoyment. According to al-Ghazālī, the ultimate pleasure (a‘ẓam ladhdhah) is knowing God.
Maḥabbah : platonic love. It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.
Mālik: Abū ‘Abd Allāh Mālik Ibn Anas (716-
One of the most important jurists of Medieval Islam. He lived and spent most of
his life in Madinah where he also died. He is the founder of the Māliki
school that considers the ‘practice’ (‘amal) of
Madinah as the ideal and example to follow. Mālik is the
author of what is considered as the first major Ḥadīth
in Islam: The
Smoothed Path (al-muwaṭṭa’). Nowadays, followers of the Mālikī
school of law are located mainly in
Manṭiq : logic. According to al-Fārābī, logic is a tool which, when used properly, will yield to certainty (yaqīn) in all theoretical and practical sciences and is absolutely indispensable for attaining that goal. Manṭiq derives from nuṭq.
Māturīdī: Muḥammad Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Maḥmūd Abū Manṣūr al-Samarqandī al-Māturīdī al-Ḥanafī (died in 944 in Māturīd in Samarqand) : he was one of the most important imām of the mutakallimūn of ahl al-sunnah and the founder of the Māturīdī school of theology.
Morality: a. in Latin ‘moralis’, meaning custom;
relating to right and wrong in terms of behavior.
b. Descriptively: a code of conduct put forward by some group, an individual, or society.
c. Normatively: a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.
Muḥāsabah : self-examination or accounting for one's own actions. A supporting mystical virtue or a second-order virtue in Sufi teaching.
Munāfiq : Hypocrite, liar.
Muqārabah : see qurb.
Murāqabah : vigilance. A supporting mystical virtue or a second-order virtue in Sufi teaching.
Murji’ah : a sect of Islam. Murji’ah believe that ‘sinful’ actions do not adversely affect faith the same way that acts of obedience are of no benefit if they are accompanied by disbelief. Murji’ah withheld judgment regarding those who start / participate in fitnah.
Mu‘tazilites (or mu‘tazilah) : the word derives from the Arabic verb i‘tazala: to seclude oneself. In effect, the term refers to some scholars who disagreed with theologians on a number of points among which the doctrine of a created Qur’ān, and man’s free will.
Nāmūs : law, natural law, moral law, possibly religious law. Ikhwān al-Ṣafā, organize all living beings in categories. According to them, plants rank under animals, animals rank under humans, humans rank under wise people, wise people rank under the people of law (nāmūs), who in turn, rank under angels.
Nār : literally: the fire. It is the most common name by which ‘hell’ is referred to in the Qur’ān.
Niyyah : Intention. A supporting mystical virtue or a second-order virtue in Sufi teaching.
speech. Philosophers divided nuṭq in two parts:
1) the power to conceive of intelligible in the practical and theoretical fields.
2) the power of expression in spoken language.
Philosophers : timeline of
medieval philosophers, mystics and thinkers.
Al-Kindī: (805-873 CE)
Abū al-Ḥassan ‘Alī Ibn Isma‘īl al-Ash'arī: (873-936 CE)
Abū Naṣr Muḥammad al-Fārābī (870-950 CE)
Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) (980-1130 CE)
Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad al-Ghaẓālī (1058-1111)
Ibn Tufayl (110-1185 CE)
Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn Aḥmad Ibn Rushd (1126- 1198)
Ramba'm Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) (1135-1204 CE)
Ibn al-'Arābī (1165-1240)
Rabbi Abraham bin Ha-Ramba'm Abraham (son of Maimonides) (1186-1237 CE)
Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
Ibn Khaldūn (1332-1395 CE)
heart. According to al-Ghazālī, it
is the same as al-rūḥ (the
soul, the spirit). The virtues of the heart are:
a) virtues of devils: akhlāq al-shayāṭīn
b) virtues of domestic animals: akhlāq al-bahā’im
c) virtues of predatory animals: akhlāq al-sibā‘
d) virtues of angels: akhlāq al-malā’ikah
Qiyās : 'analogy' or 'analogical reasoning'. A method of extracting (deriving) legal rulings when none exists in the Qur’ān, Sunnah, and ijmā‘ . In his writings, al-Fārābī is critical of this method of analogy on the ground that it is reductible to similarity (shabah), rather than deduction in the strict sense. According to him there are five types of qiyās: the demonstrative, the dialectical, the sophistical, the rhetorical and the poetical.
Qubḥ al-dhātī (al) : inherent badness. A mu‘tazilah doctrine.
Qur’ān : Also spelled in English as Koran. Literally this word means 'Recitation'. The Qur'an is Islam's holiest book.
Qurb (also muqārabah) : proximity. According to al-Farābī, when humans attain the highest stage of theoretical knowledge, they attain the stage of union with the Active Intellect. Al-Farābī sometimes calls this stage conjunction (ittiṣāl).
Quwwah : power.
Rajā’ : hope. It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.
Ramaḍān : it is the 9th month of the Muslim lunar calendar: it is believed that the Qur’ān was descended that month. It is also the month of fasting. During the fast the believer must abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse during daylight hours.
happiness. According to al-Ghazālī, happiness is achieved through:
a) the power of anger: quwwat al-ghaḍab
b) the power of lust: quwwat al-shahwah
c) the power of knowledge: quwwat al-‘ilm
Ṣabr : patience. It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.
Shāfi‘ī (al-), Muḥammad Ibn Idrīs (767-820) : Muslim jurist, founder of one of the four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence. He provided a formal structure of Islam’s obligation materials in law and morality. His name was given to the Shafi‘ī school of jurisprudence founded by his disciples: the Shāfi‘īs.
Shakk : doubt. According to al-Fārābī, shakk is the suspension of judgment with respect to two opinions equally credible.
Commonly referred to as “Islamic law” it is a code of behavior, a composite
science of law and morality that is at the same time more and less than a simple
legal system in the Western sense of the term. More, because it regulates
private acts such as ritual practices of the faith or social behavior. Less,
because it ignores entire parts of human activity that would be taken into
consideration in other juridical codes. Thus,
Shāṭibī (al-), Abū Isḥāq Ibn Mūsā al-Shāṭibī al-Mālikī (?-1388) : One of the founding scholars of uṣūl al-fiqh, he laid great emphasis on the requirement of complete knowledge and erudition in the Arabic language, not merely correct understanding, for those who practice ijtihād. He is the author of muwafaqāt fī uṣul al-Sharī‘ah (The Congruences of the Sources of the Divine Law).
Shawq : yearning. It is a virtue produced by love in Sufi teaching.
Shī‘ah : originally, means ‘group’, ‘party’, ‘followers of someone’. Shī‘ah is one of the two major theological and legal school of thought in Islam. It derives from Shī‘at ‘Alī (followers of ‘Alī Ibn Abī Ṭālib). The Shi‘ites believe that it is ‘Alī Ibn Abī Ṭālib (cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet) rather than Abū Bakr who should have succeeded Muḥammad. In the civil war (fitnah) between ‘Alī Ibn Abī Ṭālib and Mu‘āwiyah Ibn Abī Ṣufyān they supported ‘Alī Ibn Abī Ṭālib. They also argue for the need for infallible imām to head the community.
Shukr : gratitude, thankfulness. It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.
Ṣidq : truthfulness. A supporting mystical virtue or a second-order virtue in Sufi teaching.
Ṣinā‘at al- kalām : art of theology (see kalām).
Ṣūfi : an adept of Sufism (ṣūfiyyah or taṣawwuf).
Sunnah : literally, it can mean ‘trodden path’, ‘way’, ‘rule’, ‘manner of acting’ or ‘mode of life’. Originally it meant 'customary practice', it now indicates the specific actions or doings of the Prophet Muḥammad himself verses the specific sayings (Ḥadīth or reports). Since the life of the Prophet is believed to be virtuous and exemplary, the acts of Muḥammad provide the norms and set the model of human life and behavior (Sunnah). These virtuous acts are then converted into obligations of which total constitutes the Sharī‘ah. Customarily, Sunnah and Ḥadīth are used interchangeably nowadays. (see Ḥadīth).
Tafakkur : meditation, deliberation, pondering. A supporting mystical virtue, or a second-order virtue in Sufi teaching.
Ṭalāq : Divorce. A saying attributed to the Prophet states that among all things permitted by God, divorce is the most blameworthy. Thus divorce is clearly permitted in Islam but not encouraged. If the divorce is done by repudiating a marriage three times then this repudiation cancels any opportunity for reconciliation. Otherwise, it should be followed by a waiting period of three menstrual cycles that is supposed to give the spouses a chance of reconciliation and/or to determine if the wife is pregnant.
Taqiyyah : Dissimulation of one's religion, especially in time of persecution or danger. The practice is permitted by the shī‘ah.
Taṣawwuf : see ṣūfiyyah.
Taṭahhur : see Taṭayyub.
Taṭayyub / Taṭahhur : personal hygiene, ritual purity.
Tawakkul : trust in God, rely on God. . It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.
Tawbah : Repentance, atonement. It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.
Tawḥīd : declaration of divine unity. It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.
Uṣūl al-fiqh : Means ‘the roots’ or ‘sources’ of law: foundation of law. Islamic jurisprudence.
Utilitarianism: modern moral theorists who adhere to a form of Consequentialism.
Wājib, farḍ : Required, obligatory. One of the five categories in which Islamic law and ethics have traditionally divided human behavior.
Zuhd : asceticism, soberness, by the mere necessities (shunning of luxury). It is a principal virtue (a first-order virtue) in Sufi teaching.