An Initial Lexicon of Islamic and Jihadist Terminology

Posted By January 14, 2007 No Comments

Trying to understand the workings of the Jihadist threat that now confronts us, and distinguish between what is inoffensive and what is threatening in the Muslim communities inside the West has been difficult. However, there are words and phrases that all of us must learn to understand.

What should be of particular concern to most of us are the followers of the Wahhabi, Salafist and Deobandist traditions in Islam – all of which are recent and highly militant. The frequent notes in the following Lexicon should explain why…

Al-muwahhidun: The unitarians or monotheists, this is the Wahhabi/Salafist description of themselves.

Al-Qaeda: ‘The [military] base’; the name for Osama bin Laden’s coalition of terrorists and their supporters.

Amir/Emir: Variously used to describe a military leader, a governor or a local leader. The Caliph (when one exists) is sometimes described as Amir ul-Momineen – the commander of the faithful. An emirate is a subordinate part of the caliphate.

Bidat: This, according to Wahhabis, is the sin of innovation – primarily in terms of religious practice and belief. However, Wahhabis have proven quite innovative themselves when it comes to propaganda techniques, communications technology, and new terrorist tactics, etc.

Burqa: This is the full-overall covering and veil worn by many Muslim women, particularly at the insistence of Wahhabis and other extremists. More liberal Muslims are content with a headscarf alone.

Calipha/Khalifa: A deputy to Mohammed himself, thus the ultimate political/religious authority for all Muslims. No man has held the title of Caliph or Khalif since the office was abolished with the end of the Ottoman Empire by Kemal Attaturk in 1922. Many extremist Muslims believe the restoration of the Caliphate is an essential step to unifying all Islam and as a prelude to a program of global dominance.

Dar: Domain. For instance:

  • dar-ul-Islam: Domain of the Faith – lands which are ruled by Muslims with Sharia law.
  • dar-ul-harb: Domain of enmity – lands which are not yet part of dar-ul-Islam, and which oppose the spread of Islam.
  • dar-ul-kufr: Domain of unbelief – lands which are not yet part of dar-ul-Islam but which are not actively opposed to Islamic expansion.

Dawa: The call or invitation; the Dawa has been a term associated with the Wahhabis and their ideological associates for over 200 years. The Dawa is also the missionary/outreach arm of the Wahhabi movement and is generously funded by Saudi oil money. It appears to be the mechanism through which Al Qaeda and other terrorists indoctrinate, recruit and fund-raise. The other function of the Dawa has been to clamp down on the diversity of the Islamic world and apparently to restrict the integration of Muslim immigrants inside non-Muslim nations.

Deen: The way [of Islam]; occasionally used as a rallying or war cry for militants.

Deobandis: The Wahhabis started ‘missionary’ work in the late 18th Century and soon had a strong influence in what is now India and Pakistan, where their strictures were welded to Messianic proclivities among local Muslims. This fused in the Deoband School which was formed in 1866 in India, and whose alumni have been notorious (though often clandestine) militants ever since.

Dhimmi: The status of Christians and Jews within a Muslim society. While their right to practice their faith is not to be denied, they may not dress better than a Muslim, live in a better house, testify against one in court; bear arms, or marry a Muslim woman. They must also pay the Jiziya tax for the privilege of being defended by Muslims, nor may they build new churches or synagogues. The strictures of Dhimmi status lapsed in much of the Islamic world until the Wahhabi Dawa gained influence in recent decades.

Eid: The Muslim festival and feasting at the end of Ramadan; the word is sometimes used for other celebratory holidays.

Fatwa: A legal ruling by a mujtahid or a mufti on an issue of Sharia law; this can include the proclamation of death sentences for religious offences.

Fedayeen: Men of sacrifice; currently a common descriptor for Islamic insurgents.

Fiqh: Islamic jurisprudence.

Fitna: Discordance within Islam, particularly if it results from unwanted Ijtihad or Irtidad.

Hadith: ‘Tradition’ or the collection of traditions and sayings attributed to Mohammed by his confederates. The Hadith (of which there are hundreds of thousands of anecdotes in several major collections) are second only to the Quran itself for scriptural authority. This is the mechanism by which Arab cultural traits were firmly stamped on Islam in the two centuries following Mohammed’s death.

Hajj: The pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five expected duties of a Muslim.

Hijab: ‘Cover/to cover’: Both a noun and a verb, the wide sense of the word refers to the covering a woman’s head or her face, or even her whole body.

Hijra: Retreat or withdrawal – particularly the retreat of the Prophet from Mecca in 622, marking the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

Hizb: Party or group: Hizballah, the Party of God; or Hizb ut-Tahrir-al-Islami; the Party of Islamic Liberation.

Ijma: The doctrine of community consensus – which has far more influence among Sunni Muslims than it does among Shi’ia.

Ijtihad: The use of independent reasoning to interpret Sharia law and holy writings; however, the prevailing consensus among the Mullahs and Imams for a thousand years is that this is hardly necessary anymore. Thus has Islam stripped itself of one crucial mechanism for reform and adaptation.

Ikhwan: ‘Brotherhood’. Long an ideal in Islam, and Muslims can be very egalitarian. The word has been co-opted by Wahhabis, and the Ikhwan-al-Muslimeen (Islamic Brotherhood) is one of the larger political fronts for radical and revolutionary Muslims.

Imam: A leader of public prayers, but also a spiritual and temporal leader – particularly among Shi’ites.

Irtidad: Apostasy; which for Muslims is a capital offence in Sharia Law. Although there are (or rather were, until Saudi oil money started to fuel the Wahhabi Dawa) a variety of practices in Islam, militants can be fairly enthusiastic about pasting this label on scholars who question traditional interpretations of Islam. The frequent fatalities among the more-open minded tends to impose a severe limitation on re-interpretation of Islam’s sacred writings.

Islam: Submission, as in submission to God; the acknowledgement of which is one of the five duties of a Muslim.

Jahiliya: ‘State of ignorance’, supposedly the condition of the world before Mohammed started preaching – which explains the widespread Muslim disinterest in pre-Islamic history and archeology. Currently, Wahhabis and other extremists accuse contemporary Arab governments of being in this state, thus justifying their own acts by comparing them to the Prophet himself.

Jamaat/Jamiat: ‘Assembly’ or ‘Party’: It can be part of the name of a political party (such as Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami), a militant faction like the Jamaat-ul-Dawa, or even a terrorist group; Egypt’s Jammat-al-Takfir-wa al-Hirja being a case in point.

Jihad: ‘Striving’, particularly striving to the utmost in the name of God. Originally the Jihad concerned taking up arms to defend Islam, conquer other people, and punish apostasy. Over the centuries, two meanings arose; Jihad Kabeer — the Lesser Jihad – was the warlike tradition while Jihad Akbar, the Greater Jihad, arose to define that struggle against the self which can be found in all great religions. With the late 20th Century spread of Wahhabi/Salafist doctrines and corresponding Shi’ite militancy, the importance of the Greater Jihad has declined again in favor of religious warfare. Westerners often translate the lesser Jihad as ‘holy war’, because that was the West’s main exposure to Islam for 1200 years.

Jiziya: As a part of Dhimmi status, Christians and Jews under Muslim rule are forbidden to engage in self-defence and the ownership of weapons; instead they get to pay an extra tax – the Jiziya — for the privilege of being defended by Muslims. One might think of this as a sanctioned extortion racket.

Kaffir/Kuffir: Pagans or heathens; originally the term was applied to non-Christians and non-Jews alone, but under Wahhabi influence the term now applies to the adherents of those faiths as well. Under the rules of Jihad, Kaffirs are to be offered the choice of enslavement, conversion or death. This is a very derogatory term with very sinister implications.

Madrassa: A school for teaching Islam and Sharia law. Putting other subjects on the curriculum (mathematics, science, the humanities, etc.) for such schools among immigrant communities in the Western World is very much a lesser priority. Teaching standards vary widely and rote learning – including memorizing the Quran in the antique Arabic of the 7th Century – is often deemed of the greatest importance.

Mahdi: ‘expected one’. This is supposed to be the divinely appointed leader, the 12th Imam, who will re-appear in the last days to lead Islam to global rule. Shi’ia believe that he is coming, most Sunnis don’t (there is no mention of a Mahdi in the Quran) but the idea of such a Messianic figure has widespread appeal.

Masjid: A place where Muslims can gather to pray, it can also be the centre of the community and may host many other activities.

Mosque: An English corruption of a Spanish word for Masjid.

Mufti:A senior judge who can deliver Fatwas.

Muhajir: An emigrant to a non-Muslim society.

Mujahedeen: Until recently it could mean those who strive with themselves, but now is largely confined to those who believe they are fighting for the militant Jihad.

Mujtahid: A scholar deemed competent enough to exercise independent judgment (Ijtihad) in interpreting Islamic scripture and Sharia law… except that the prevailing opinion among Muslim clergy is that this has seldom been necessary for over a thousand years.

Mullah/maula: ‘One who shows’, a religious teacher and leader of prayers in the Mosque. It is expected, but not required, that there be a long period of reading religious texts and in the study of holy law before one claims this status; but — particularly among Sunnis –there is no equivalent to Christian seminaries or the formal training required for Jewish rabbinical ordination.

Mumineen: ‘The faithful’, e.g. the Muslims.

Muslim: ‘One who submits [to the will of God].’

Mutawihin: ‘Those who obey’, enforcers of public morality found in Islamic societies where the Wahhabis have a strong influence – Saudi Arabia or Taliban-run Afghanistan. These are the sanctioned oafs who forced Saudi school girls back into their burning school with fatal results in March 2002 because they were improperly dressed.

Nasrani: A politer term for Christians – ‘Nazarenes.’ To Muslims, Moses and Jesus are messengers from God, while Mohammed is the universal prophet who received the final message and is the ultimate religious authority.

Niqab:The face-covering veil worn as part of Hijab.

Pir: A saint in the Sufi traditions who, as in Christianity, can intercede with God on behalf of a petitioner. Shi’ia and some Sunni sects believe in saints, Salafists and Wahhabis emphatically reject the practice, where Deobandis sometimes accept it.

Prophet:The respectful term for Mohammed – the founder of Islam. He received messages from the Archangel Gabriel, fled Mecca in 622 and returned after conquering it before dying in 632. His messages from God were assembled in the Quran, while his sayings and actions (and the customs of his people) were recorded by his companions as the Hadith.

Qadi: A magistrate, combining religious and judicial authority in one figure; also referred to as ‘Cadi’, ‘Kadi’ or ‘Cazi’.

Quran: ‘The recititation’ and also referred to as the Koran; the holy scripture of Islam.

Qutbee:A follower of the Islamist revolutionary philosophies of Sayyid Qutb – whose writings in the 1940s-60s combined with Wahhabism helped generate the modern Jihad.

Ramadan: The month of fasting (during daylight), one of the five duties of a Muslim.

Rashidun: ‘The rightly guided ones’ – the first four caliphs after Mohammed.

Saiyyed/Sayyed/Syed: People who can reasonably claim (or prove) descent from Mohammed.

Salaf: ‘Forefathers’; in this sense meaning the companions of Mohammed and the scholars of the first two generations after his death who defined Islam originally. Today’s Salafists prefer to believe they are returning to a strict form of Islam expounded by Mohammed and his immediate heirs; the sales slogan might well be ‘less mysticism, more militancy’.

Salat: The five daily prayers that a Muslim is expected to make.

Sawm: The period of daylight fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Shahadah: The Muslim profession of faith ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet’. This is the statement of conversion that a non-believer must make.

Shaheed: A martyr; originally narrowly defined but which now can include suicide bombers, anyone killed by Americans and Israelis et al, and even those Muslims who are inadvertently killed as a result of a terrorist attack by Jihadists.

Sharia: ‘The Path’; laws attributed to divinely origin which govern all aspects of Muslim behavior. Around 900 AD, Sunnis decided that all aspects of human conduct were now covered by the law and that no further independent reasoning about these were necessary. There are four major Sunni branches of interpretation of Sharia law – the Hanafi, Hanbali (from which Salafist and Wahabbi doctrines derive), Maliiki and Shafii schools.

Sharif/Sherif: One who has direct descent from Mohammed; a claim made by most Arabian tribal aristocrats; also the guardian of a major holy place.

Shaykh/Sheikh: Mostly found among Arabs themselves than among other Muslims, these are supposed to be learned men and may give sermons in Sunni mosques.

Shi’ites: ‘Members of the Party [of Ali]’; this is the largest splinter sect of Islam and regards the descendents of Imam Ali – Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law – as the only legitimate leaders of Islam. This male line was exterminated by other Muslims, but most Shi’ia believe that someday the 12th Imam of this line will re-appear and lead all of Islam. They reject the authority of religious writings and Hadith collected by early Muslim leaders from outside this line.

Shura: A religious council.

Sufism:A more mystical-oriented Islam (with adherent sects from both Sunni and Shi’ia traditions), with a core teaching of God’s love. Many Sufi sects are considered heretical by orthodox Muslims.

Sunnah: ‘Custom/tradition’, these are precedents provided by the practices of Mohammed and his immediate successors as attributed in the Hadith. Many Muslims regard these as being as binding as anything in the Quran, although Wahhabis and other Jihadists are extremely selective about which ones they intend to observe. The Sunnah also explains the strong Arab cultural traits throughout the Islamic World, having exported not just their religion but much of their ethos and many of their ancient idiosyncrasies this way.

Sunni: The mainstream group of Islam; they acknowledge the authority of the Sunnah and of the line of Caliphs who came after Mohammed.

Tabligh: Preaching. Tablighi Jamaat is the Preaching Party, a large revivalist movement based on Pakistani militants (influenced by the quasi-Wahhabi Deoband school); and which serves many of the same functions as the Dawa movement.

Talib-ul-ulm:A seeker of knowledge, essentially a religious student. The plural of the word is Taliban. Wahhabis have a long habit of offering ‘free’ religious education to male orphans and sons from poor families to indoctrinate them – hence the contemporary association of the word with the militant militia plaguing Afghanistan.

Taqiyya: The principle of deception, or dissimulation, for self-protection by Muslims when under threat because of their religion. The practice is cited in the Quran and Hadith. While conventional Sunni Muslims hold the practice is unnecessary, Wahhabis and Salafists insist that it is right to practice it against all non-Muslims.

Taqlid: Following the past interpretations of Sharia law. Orthodox Islamic Sunni thought must fall within the Sharia law’s four schools; Shi’ites can have more flexibility to explore new directions.

Tariq: Literally, the ‘path’; many Wahhabis feel they are following Tariqa-i-Muhammadia, and are thus following the example and sayings of Mohammed himself while other Muslims (to their thinking) are strayed.

Tawhid: This is the doctrine of God’s oneness – absolute unitarianism. Wahhabis, particularly, cleave to this doctrine and view Muslims from more mystical traditions (like Sufis and Shi’ia) and Christians as ‘polytheists’ like the pagan worshippers of ancient pantheons.

Ulama/Ulema: Those who are learned in Islamic writings – judges, teachers, and – supposedly – senior religious figures (usually true of senior Shi’ite clerics, but not so much of Sunni ones). One who is versed enough in this literature is alim.

Umma: the world community of Islam – at times (like ‘Christendom’) both a descriptor of all followers of the faith and an ideal.

Wahhabi: A follower of the violent reform creed outlined by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1700-92). The creed rejects the less militant interpretations of Islam in favor of a narrow view of the Prophet’s intentions and preaches violent Jihad against all non-Muslims and those Muslims who do not share the ultra-orthodox views of the Wahhabis.

Zakat: A fixed percentage (about 2% of one’s annual worth) all Muslims are supposed to pay for charitable works; one of the five required duties of an observant Muslim.