An Islam Primer

Everything you always wanted to know, from Islam's 'golden age' to the meaning of 'jihad.'

Continued from page 2

Islam: Religion preached by the Prophet Muhammad. It means "surrender" or "submission to the will of God."

jihad: ji-had'; best known of many words formed from Arab. root j-h-d; "struggle" or "effort"

In Islam, struggle "in the path of God" or to "make God's cause succeed" (Qur'an 9:40). In the Qur'an, jihad is connected with the imperative to command good and forbid evil (3:104, 110), especially with reference to the struggle of believers against persecution and idolatry. More...

mosque: mosk; from Arab. masjid, "place of ritual prostration"

A site of assembly and worship for Muslims. More...

Muhammad: moo-ham'mad; Arab., "praised one," ca. 570-632

The founder of Islam. Muhammad was born in the Arabian city of Mecca. His prophetic career started when he was about forty years old when he experienced his first revelation. After an initial period in which only his family knew of his religious experiences, he started a public career in Mecca as a prophet and reformer. He moved from Mecca to Medina in 622. The record of Muhammad's life and prophetic activity is found only partly in the Qur'an, which Muslims hold to be the Word of God. More...

Muslim: moos'lim; Arab., "one who submits"

One who submits to the will of Allah (God). As distinct from the term mumin, which refers to one who holds the Islamic faith, Muslim denotes one who submits to the will of Allah and to the practice of Islam in daily life. More...

Quran (or Koran): The foundational document in the organization of Muslim societies. In its very language the Qur'an has acted as a centrifugal social force throughout the Muslim world. Quranic words and phrases have penetrated the languages of Muslim peoples worldwide, while memorization of the Qur'an, even by non-Arabic-speaking Muslims, has fostered a sense of linguistic fraternity among the whole Muslim community. More...

Shia: shee'uh; Arab., "a separate or distinct party of men who follow or conform with one another, [though] not all of them agreeing together"; applied to one or many, male or female, without variation

A large group of different Muslim schools of thought that believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, through a specific designation by Muhammad, inherited political and religious authority immediately following the Prophet's death in 632. Shia refused to acknowledge and regard as legitimate the first three caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, whom the Shia considered usurpers of the leadership that rightfully belonged to Ali and his descendants. More...

Sufism: Term generally applied to mystical currents in Islam. The word is derived from suf (Arab., "wool"), pointing to the woolen frocks of Middle Eastern ascetics; an etymologically incorrect derivation is from either safa ("purity") or from the Greek sophos ("wise"). There are numberless definitions of Sufism, which is like a mighty tree in which sometimes strange birds have built their nests; perhaps Rumi expresses it best: What is Sufism? To feel joy in the heart at the time of grief. More...

Sunni: soon'nee; Arab., "custom [of the Prophet Muhammad]"One of two major branches of Islam, a Sunni majority (approximately 85 percent) and a Shii minority (15 percent). This division occurred over the question of succession: Who was to lead the community after the death of Muhammad? The result was the institutions of the Sunni caliphate and the Shii Imamate. More...

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