Introduction to Glossary
Listings in the glossary are selected terms and names appearing frequently in the text. The meanings given often refer to the technical and religious senses of the words as adopted especially by the Ismailis. The abbreviated forms ‘pl.’ and ‘lit.’ mean ‘plural’ and ‘literally’, respectively.
Glossary: A - Z
ahl al-bayt; ahl al-bait
Lit. ‘the people of the house’, meaning the Prophet Muhammad and members of his household including especially his cousin and son–in–law ‘Ali b. Abi Talib
, his daughter Fatima
and his grandsons al–Hasan
as well as their progeny.
ahl al-da‘wa; ahl al-dawa
Lit. ‘the people of the da‘wa
, or summons’; a term used by the Ismailis
to describe themselves.
‘Commander of the armies’, an honorific title borne by several Fatimid viziers
Lit. foundation. Early Ismaili authors, like Ibn Hawshab (d. 914) and his son Jafar (d. 2nd half of 10th century) divided history into seven eras, each inaugurated by a speaking prophet (natiq
), who is succeeded by a legatee, also called asas
, the founder, a teaching based on the knowledge of the spiritual meaning of the message delivered by the Prophet. In this system of thought, Ali b. Abi Talib
(d. 661) is the foundation of the imamat
in the cycle of Muhammad. The writing of later Ismaili authors such as al–Nasafi (d. 943), Abu Hatim al–Razi (d. 934), Abu Yaqub al–Sijistani (d. after 971), present variants of this system. al–Sijistani, for instance, defines both the prophet and his legatee as asas
A verse of the Qur’an
, (pl. ayat
). It is the smallest semantically independent Qur’anic speech.
The word aya
occurs in Arabic, Hebrew and Syriac, and is often translated as a sign. The word also refers to miracles, as in the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary (Q19:21); and wonders of nature as signs of God’s power in the universe (see, e.g. Q 30:20-25). The number of ayat
(verses) differs from one sura
to another. An individual verse may be just a single word or long passages; the longest aya
in the Qur’an is the verse known as al-Dayn
‘the Debt’, Q 2: 282.
Promise, oath of allegiance. (See mithaq
‘Alavi Bohras; ‘Alavi Ismailis
A subgroup of the Da’udi Tayybi Ismailis in South Asia.
The ‘Alavi Bohras, popularly known as Alya Bohra, follow a different line of succession to the Da’udi Bohras from the 29th da‘i onwards. The 29th da‘i al-mutlaq of the Da’udis, Abd al-Tayyib Zaki al-Din b. Da’ud b. Qutubshah (d.1041 AH/1631 CE), was challenged by Shams al-Din ‘Ali b. Ibrahim (d. 1046 AH / 1637 CE), a grandson of the 28th da‘i al-mutlaq, Shaykh Adam. Supported by a faction of the Da’udi community, he brought his case before the Mughal emperor Jahangir, who decided in favour of the incumbent da‘i. ‘Ali, with a group of his followers, spilt from the Da’udi Bohra community and, in 1034 AH / 1624-1625 CE, founded a new Tayyibi Bohra group called ‘Alavi, after his own name ‘Ali b. Ibrahim. He thus became the 29th da‘i al-mutlaq (distinct from the Da’udi and Sulaymani lines) to the present times. The ‘Alavi Bohras are a close-knit community mainly concentrated in Baroda (Vadodara), Gujarat, where their da‘is also reside.
‘aql-i kull; aql-i kull (Ar. al-‘aql al-kulli)
Universal Intellect or Reason. It is the corresponding term to the concept of nous
as used in the Greek Neoplatonism of Plotinus (d. 270). It is the first entity that emanates from the divinity, and from which the Universal soul emanates. Fatimid Ismaili thinkers such as Abu Yaqub al–Sijistani (d. after 971) built on this concept and wrote that God originates the first intellect through his command (amr
). See also nafs–i kull
Reason, intellect, mind. This word does not appear as such in the Qur’an, although the verb ‘aqala
is used (as in Q 2:44, ‘Do you not understand?’). See also ‘aql–i kull
As a noun, it refers to a proponent of ‘aql
, a rationalist, an intellectual. As an adjective it means related to ‘aql
, i.e. mental, intellective, or more commonly ‘rational’, especially in the classical epistemological opposition between knowledge derived from reason and knowledge derived from tradition (naql
Lit. ‘one who knows’. Used by Sufi
authors like Abu ‘Abd al–Rahman al–Sulami (d. 1021), ‘arif
is one of several technical terms meaning gnostic, mystic, seeker of spiritual knowledge (ma‘rifa
), like salik
and so on. In his work Waystations of the Gnostics
), Ibn Sina (d. 1037) defines several stages on a mystical path, where the ‘arif
occupies an intermediate stage. Shabistari (d. 1339) remarks that the true ‘arif
sees the inward light of the divine being everywhere. The Tayyibi author al–Khattab b. al–Hasan (d. 1138) delineating the difference between ordinary knowledge (‘ilm
) and ma‘rifa says that every ‘arif is a knower, but not every knower is an ‘arif. Some Shi‘i
authors like Bursi (d. 1411), an Ithna‘ashari
, defines an ‘arif as a believer whose love and knowledge (ma‘rifa) of the imams
draw him nearer to spiritual perfection.
‘Throne’. The Qur’an describes God as the ‘Lord of the Throne’ (Q 17:42, etc.), on which ‘He sat himself’ (Q 10:3, etc.) and which is described as being ‘upon the waters’ (Q 11:7) or ‘born by angels’ (Q 69:17, etc.) The concept was an object of debate among theologians. While al–Ash‘ari (d. 935) maintained the literal interpretation, the Mu‘tazilah
interpreted it allegorically to avoid an anthropomorphic reading. In Nasafi’s (d. 943) cosmology, the Qur’anic ‘throne’ is equated to the philosophical concept of Intellect.
A term used in classical philosophical literature for the common folk or masses, who in this usage were contrasted with the elect or elite (khawwas
Lit. rascal, tramp, vagabond. A term used for the members of an organisation grouped under the concept of futuwwa
(chivalry), especially the highway warriors active in the wilderness of Iraq and Persia from the 9th to the 12th centuries CE. The Sufi author Abul Hasan al–Hujwiri (d. 1072) differentiates between the futuwwa
of these ayyar
(which he rejects as merely external) and the spiritual futuwwa
of the Sufis
A word of many meanings usually connoting courtesy, etiquette, rules and manners, civilisation, culture and literature.
Major Muslim dynasty of Sunni caliphs that ruled in Baghdad (750–1258).
A title granted by the Shah of Persia to the then Ismaili Imam
in 1818 and inherited by each of his successors to the Imamate
Aga Khan; Agha Khan; Aqa Khan
A title granted by the Shah of Persia to the then Ismaili Imam
in 1818 and inherited by each of his successors to the Imamate
Muslim dynasty that ruled in North Africa (800–909), succeeded by the Fatimids
Ahl al-bayt; ahl al-bait
Lit. the people of the house, meaning the Prophet Muhammad and members of his household including especially his cousin and son–in–law Ali b. Abi Talib, his daughter Fatima and his grandsons al–Hasan and al–Husayn as well as their progeny.
Ahl al-da‘wa; ahl al-dawa
Lit. the people of the dawa, or summons; a term used by the Ismailis to describe themselves.
From Arabic, lit. ‘People of the Book’ also referred to as ahl al-dhimma (people under protection) a Qur’anic term used to designate Jews and Christians as believers in a revealed book. In the Qur’an, the term also refers to Sabians and whoever has believed in God and the last day. The people of the Book held special legal status under Muslim rule. Being granted protection, they enjoyed minority legal status that allowed them to have their own religious authorities and follow their own religious laws. The term ahl al-dhimma has been used since the early Muslim settlement in Medina between 622- 632 CE. Currently, the term is not used widely.
City in the province of Khuzistan, south–western region of present–day Iran.
A branch of the Kharijites (Kharijiyya) founded by Ibn Ajarrad in the 8th century CE, whose adherents lived mainly in eastern Iran.
A major mosque and institution of learning founded in Cairo by the Fatimid Imam
al-Mu‘izz (d. 975).
Fortress of the Nizari Ismailis
in northern Iran, which fell to the Mongols in AH 654/1256 CE.
Ali b. Abi Talib; ‘Ali b. Abi Talib
Cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law by marriage to his daughter Fatima; the first Shi‘i Imam and fourth caliph (d. 661).
(pl. umara’) Arabic lit. a prince, a commander, or a leader. In early Muslim history, the word amir
referred to an army commander. During the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, the umara’
had full powers over administrative and financial posts in their provinces. In the Abbasid period, the umara’
were given a free hand in their provinces, something which led them later to establish dynasties and to share with the Caliph the attributes of sovereignty by adding their own names to his in the khutbas
(sermons). Examples of such umara’
were the Ikhshidids, the Mamluks
, the Seljuks
and the Ayyubids
. Today, the title ‘Amir
’ has come to mean ‘prince’ and refers to members of the ruling families of some Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Lit. helpers, it refers to the Medinans who supported the Prophet Muhammad and his followers after the hijra (migration) from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE.
A theological school founded in the 10th century CE by the Sunni
theologian and heresiographer Ali b. Ismail al–Ashari (d. 935–936 CE).
From Arabic, lit. Sign of God; a title used by the Imami Twelver Shi‘is
. The rank of Ayatollah is believed to have been established in the Safawid
period (1501-1722 CE). The Ayatollah usually heads the hierarchy amongst the Twelver Shi‘i mujtahids
. The holder of the title in today’s Islamic Republic of Iran has two main roles: on the administrative level, the Ayatollah regulates religious dues (taxes) and heads various centres of learning; on the intellectual and spiritual levels, he is considered as a primary source for religious learning.
Muslim dynasty that ruled in Egypt (1169–1250), succeeded by the Mamluks.
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a contemporary endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat
to realise the ethics and social conscience of Islam through institutional action. The Network brings together a number of agencies, institutions, and programmes that have been built up over the past forty years and are aimed at improving the living conditions and opportunities and assisting cultural and educational development in specific regions of the developing world. The Network’s institutions have individual mandates that range from fields of health and education to architecture, rural development and the promotion of private sector enterprise. For more information, consult the AKDN website
A word of many meanings usually connoting courtesy, etiquette, rules and manners, civilisation, culture and literature.
(Arabic; derived from the root ‘a-da-la
meaning justice, fairness). The word is current in the vocabulary of religion, theology, philosophy, and law. The qadi
(judge) must give judgment with ‘adl
. The seat of an administrative court is often called Dar al-‘Adl
(House of Justice).
Promise, oath of allegiance. (See mithaq.)
An event which is commemorated by many Shi‘a
Muslims as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn ibn Ali
, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, which took place on the 10th
of Muharram in 61 AH/ 680 AD. ‘Ashura
had been observed as early as the time of the fourth Imam Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin. The ‘Ashura
event historically developed to become a popular religious and artistic phenomenon which comprises several rituals including the ziyara
(visit) to the shrine of Imam al-Husayn, and the recitation of the marathi
(elegies) by someone known as al-na’ih
(professional mourner), at places called Majalis al-Ta‘ziya
(commemorative centres). Commemoration of ‘Ashura
was greatly encouraged and became a major public event under the Abbasids. Under the Buydis, in 962 CE, ‘Ashura
was declared a day of public mourning in Baghdad. Subsequently, special edifices called Husayniyya
were built for the ‘Ashura
celebrations. Under the dynasty of the Shi‘i Safawids
in Iran (1501-1722), ‘Ashura
commemorations underwent significant elaboration, and these new forms came to influence many other parts of the Shi‘i world, where the Husayniyya
became more popular. At present, in Shi‘a majority countries such as Iraq and Iran, ‘Ashura
has even become a national holiday.
‘Attar, Farid al-Din Muhammad b. Ibrahim (d. 1220 CE)
A Persian Sufi
poet and author born in Nishapur (d. 1220 CE). He is well known for many of his works, including Mantiq al-tayr
(The Conference of the Birds),
a classic Sufi allegory,
and Tadhkirat al-awliya
(Biographies of the Saints),
a biography of many Sufi figures, including Mansur al-Hallaj
A term used in the Qur’an for Mecca, translated as the city of security, serenity or salvation.
Lit. ‘gate’ or ‘door’. In the vocabulary of Fatimid Ismailism
, the term was used for the administrative head of the da‘wa
and the highest rank after the Imam
. Also a title adopted by various messianic figures in Islamic history.
Lit. subsistence, survival. Together with the concept of fana
, the idea of baqa
was developed by Sufis
such as al–Sarraj (d. 988) and Abul Hasan al–Hujwiri (d. 1072) to explain and describe the stage in which the mystic, whose consciousness has withdrawn from the world (including the self) and merged with God, persists and lives on in the new divinely bestowed attributes. In the writings of these authors, ordinary mystics arrive only at fana
, but great mystics, such as the prophets, subsist in the baqa
stage, returning to a consciousness of the plurality of this world.
Basmala; Bismillah; Bismi’llahi al-Rahman al-Rahim
The standard Islamic invocation, Bismillahi al–Rahman al–Rahim derived from the Quran, meaning In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
The inner or esoteric meaning of a sacred text, ritual or religious prescription, often contrasted with zahir
. See also batini tawil
batini ta’wil; batini tawil
Symbolic exegesis of the Qur’an based on the claim that there is an inner (batini
) meaning behind the external (zahiri
) text. By extension, it can be applied to other scriptures, as well as to rituals and the whole of nature. The theory and practice of this hermeneutical method was elaborated by Ismaili thinkers such as Ja’far b. Mansur al-Yaman (d. 2nd half 10th century), al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 974) and Nasir Khusraw (d. ca. 1088). As a result Ismailis were, sometimes pejoratively, termed batinis
(esotericists). According to the authors mentioned above, while the revelation (tanzil
) was delivered by the prophet to all people, the knowledge of its ta’wil
rests with the imam
, the sole authoritative source of interpretation, and they considered that this ta’wil should not be disclosed to the masses, lest it is misunderstood.
Batiniyyah; Batiniyya; batiniyya
Lit. ‘supporters of the batin
’. A perjorative term used by Sunni
authors such as al-Ghazali (d. 1111) to refer to those, especially the Ismailis, who recognise an inner level of meaning (batin) in the Qur’an and the universe at large. In this usage by Sunni Muslims, the batinis were accused of rejecting the external level of scripture (zahir
), rituals and prescriptions, though Fatimid
Ismaili authors such as as Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. after 1020) and Nasir Khusraw (d. ca 1088) insist to the contrary. Another Sunni author, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), gathers under the term batiniyya some Shi‘i
and such falasifa
as Ibn Rushd (d. 1198).
The Arab tribe of Hamdan in Yemen
Lit. the the people of Moses.
From Arabic; lit. ‘house of wisdom’; best characterised as a research and teaching centre with a library and translation facilities. Located in Baghdad, it was a caliphal institution that reached its zenith under the Abbasid Caliph
al-Ma’mun (r. 813- 833 CE). The institution’s chief functions were creating independent works and translating numerous works, including those from ancient Greece, into Arabic. The Bayt al-Hikma also housed a famous library and, thus, is sometimes referred to as Khizanat al-Hikma
or storehouse of wisdom.
(Arabic; derived from ba-ya-‘a, meaning ‘to sell’ or ‘clasp hands’). A practice rooted in Arab tradition and the practice of Prophet Muhammad. It is also mentioned in the Holy Qur’an (see 48:10, 48:18, and 60:12) and defined as an oath of allegiance, an act by which a certain number of people, individually or collectively, recognise the authority of an individual. Thus, the bay‘a of a Caliph was the act by which an individual was proclaimed and recognised as the head of the Muslim State. In many Muslim traditions, the meaning of bay‘a is to offer oneself to a spiritual master, pir, murshid, or shaykh in exchange for spiritual knowledge and guidance. In Shi‘i contexts, the word is used for the oath of allegiance to the Imam by his followers. In the Shi‘i Ismaili tradition, it is the acceptance of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid, uniting all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood.
Nomadic desert Arabs.
A member of the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa. The term Berber today is often seen as derogatory and the term the group refers to itself as, Amazigh”, is often used.
A word of East Turkish origin which means old mother or a grandmother. It is also used in Persian and Urdu in the sense of “woman of the house”, as well as a lady of standing in the community. Hence, Bibi Khadija and Bibi Fatima
A city in Quhistan, in southern Khurasan in Iran.
Indian community of Mustali Ismailis
, now found primarily in the Indo–Pakistan subcontinent, Yemen, Egypt and other parts of the world.
A city in modern–day Uzbekistan, Central Asia, known for its Islamic artistic and architectural heritage.
Muslim dynasty of Shii
persuasion that ruled in Baghdad (945–1062), and was succeeded by the Saljuqs
The late medieval Roman Empire which ruled large parts of Southern Europe and the Middle East from its capital Constantinople (present–day Istanbul), conquered by the Turks in 1453 CE.
In Arabic khalifa
, the head of the Muslim community. See caliphate
Caliphate; khilafa; khilafat
The Muslim political institution or state centred around the caliph,
which came to an end, historically, in 1924 with the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire.
A term applied to Christian invaders who carried out numerous campaigns to capture Jerusalem and Palestine from the Muslims in the 11th and 14th centuries CE.
al-da‘wa al-hadiya; al-dawa al-hadiya
‘The rightly guiding mission,’ an expression used by the early Shi‘a
and earliest Ismailis,
who felt that the caliphate
had been wrongfully taken from the ‘Alids
. The movement began to be particularly successful around the middle of the 3rd/9th century when a multitude of Ismaili da‘is
began their activities in Iraq, Persia, eastern Arabia and Yemen.
The faith, the religion or ‘the world of religion’; often contrasted with al–dunya
, the material world.
Lit. abode of emigration.
The realm of Islam, a term used in classical Islamic jurisprudence to denote regions or countries subject to Islamic law. Often contrasted with the dar al–harb, lit. the realm of war.
A state or dynasty. Also used to refer to the domain of politics (siyasa).
Lit. ‘period of concealment’. Qadi Nu‘man (d. 974) uses the term dawr al-satr
to refer to the period of around 150 years in which the Isma‘ili imams
were hidden from public knowledge, and which ended with the appearance of ‘Abdallah (or ‘Ubaydallah) ‘al-Mahdi’, who in Nu‘man’s terminology started the period of disclosure (dawr al-kashf
). According to Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani (d. after 971), dawr al-satr refers to the period when truth is concealed from the senses, that is, the period that started with Adam and which he expected to end upon the return of Muhammad b. Ismail as the Mahdi
. Later, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d. 1274) speaks of periods of concealment that can take place when the imam’s true spiritual reality is not manifested, even if he is physically available.
dawr (pl. adwar)
Cycle, revolution, period. Together with kawr
— a great age or aeon. It is a division of the cyclical religious history developed by some early Ismaili authors such as Ibn Hawshab (d. 914) and his son Ja‘far (d. 10th c.) as well as by Fatimid
thinkers such as Abu Ya‘qub al–Sijistani (d. after 971), Qadi Nu‘man (d. 974) and al–Shirazi (d. 1048). These terms are also part of the Tayyibi mythical cosmology introduced by Ibrahim al–Hamidi (d. 1162). They held that history developed in seven cycles, each inaugurated by a speaking prophet (natiq
). See also dawr al–satr.
da‘i al-balagh; dai al-balagh
A missionary in charge of invitation into the da‘wa
during the Fatimid
Lit. summoner, a term for missionary amongst various Muslim communities, especially used among the Ismailis
before and during the Fatimid
period as well as in the Alamut
period of Ismaili history. (See dawa
Lit. summons, mission or invitation to Islam. Amongst Shii
Muslims, it was the invitation to adopt the cause of the Imamat
. It also refers more specifically to the hierarchy of the Ismaili
religious organisation in the pre–Fatimid, Fatimid
, and Alamut
periods of Ismaili history.
da‘wat al-haqq; dawat al-haqq
The true mission or the true summons. A term used by the Ismailis of the pre–Fatimid and Fatimid
periods to refer to their dawa
Da’udi Bohras; Da’udis
A subdivision of Tayyibi Musta‘li Ismailis.
The 26th Da‘i al-mutlaq of the Tayyibi Ismailis (d. 997 or 999 H/ 1589 or 1591 CE) was succeeded by his deputy in India, Da’ud Burhan al-Din b. Qutubshah. But, four years later, the deputy of the deceased da‘i in Yemen, Sulayman b. Hasan al-Hindi, claimed the succession to the leadership of the Tayyibi da‘wa. This heated succession dispute was brought before the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1005 AH / 1597 CE. A special tribunal decided in favour of Da’ud b. Qutubshah, but the dispute, with its Indian-Yemeni dimensions, was not resolved and led to a permanent schism in the Tayyibi da‘wa and community.
The majority of the Tayyibi Bohras acknowledged Da’ud b. Qutubshah as their 27th Da‘i al-mutlaq
and henceforth became known as Da‘udis. On the other hand, a majority of Tayyibis of Yemen and a small group of Bohras in India supported the succession of Sulayman b. Hasan and became designated as Sulaymanis. Thereafter, the Da’udis and Sulaymanis followed different lines of da‘i
s. The Da’udi da‘i
s have continued to remain in India, while the da‘i
s of the Sulaymanis have resided in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Lit. ‘the act of reminding’; ‘remembrance’. The Qur’an exhorts individuals to remember God: ‘Oh ye who believe! Remember (udhkuru) God with much remembrance (dhikran kathiran)’ (Q 33:41). Dhikr designates a kind of prayer, which consists in the constant repetition of a name or formula. It is performed either in solitude or collectively. For the mystic al–Hallaj (d. 922), it is a method that helps the soul to live in God’s presence, another method being fikr (discursive reflection). Later Sufis, such as Ibn ‘Ata Allah (d. 1309) emphasised that dhikr is a particular technique that guarantees access to higher states and wrote manuals on how to perform dhikr.
A social class of land–owning aristocrats in pre–Islamic Iran.
In the Quran it means a) retribution, judgment (as in yawm al–din
, the day of judgement); b) religion in a broad sense. The pair din–dunya
is sometimes used to delineate the relation between the religious and the temporal. Islamist political groups believe din
is intimately linked to dawla
(the domain of politics).
A government registry; ministry, department or office; a collection of poetry or prose.
A religious community that arose as an off shoot of the Fatimid Ismailis around 408 AH / 1017 CE.
The Druze emerged in Syria in the closing years of the reign of the Fatimid Imam-caliph al-Hakim (r. 386-411 AH / 996 AH-1021 CE). Starting with al-Darazi (or al-Darzi), after whom the group came to be known as al-Daraziyya (or al-Durziyya), they organised a movement in Cairo emphasising the messianic role of al-Hakim and attributing divinity to him. The consolidation of Druze doctrines began with their scholar and leader, Hamza b. ‘Ali, who also succeeded in developing a da‘wa organisation for the movement that spread across Syria.
The Druze teachings are mainly founded on the letters of al-Hamza, written between 1017-1020 CE, and transmitted within the community from generation to generation through initiated scholars. The Druze also refer to themselves as Muwahhidun or Unitarians. They have developed their own scholarship and have distinctive practices. The Druze live in various regions of Syria, Lebanon and Israel, with smaller settlements in the Americas, Australia and West Africa.
This world, i.e. the visible world, as opposed to al–akhira (the hereafter).
Dar al-Hikmah; Dar al-Hikma;
Lit. ‘House of wisdom’. A scholarly institution founded in Cairo by the Fatimid Caliph
al–Hakim in 1005 CE. Its building housed a large library containing thousands of volumes and a public reading room. It was the meeting place for traditionists, grammarians, jurists, astronomers, logicians and mathematicians. The institution was also known as Dar al–‘ilm (The House of Knowledge).
Dar al-‘Ilm; Dar al-Ilm
Lit. ‘House of Knowledge,’ an institution of learning established in Cairo by the Fatimid Caliph
al–Hakim (d. 1021). See also Dar al–Hikmah
The highlands in the province of Gilan, near the Caspian Sea in northern Iran.
Da‘udis; Daudis; Dawoodis
Adherents of a sub–branch of the Tayyibi Ismailis. The Tayyibis are one of the two branches of the Mustali Ismailis, the other branch being the Hafizi.
The eleventh month of the Muslim lunar calendar.
Lit. The Proof or The Distinguisher between Good and Evil, a name applied to the Quran and also the title of its 25th chapter.
falasifa (sing. faylasuf)
Practitioners of falsafa
(Arabic word derived from the Greek philosophia
was sometimes identified with the Arabic hikma
(wisdom), a term found in the Quran. The most common usage refers to the Muslim authors who were the inheritors and successors of Greek thinkers. Their technical vocabulary was based on translations or adaptations of Greek terminology. They pursued the study of logic, the natural sciences, metaphysics and the nature of the human mind or soul. They were influenced in various degrees by Neoplatonism and the falasifa
in general endeavoured to establish an ultimate harmony between philosophy and religion. They looked upon philosophy (demonstrative reason) as superior to religion. However, they also recognised that the exacting method of philosophy (or science) can be pursued only by a few. Thus they saw religion as a set of doctrines, narratives and moral and legal injunctions through which the higher truths grasped rationally by the intelligentsia, were made accessible to the broad masses, enabling them to attain happiness in this world and the next. Principal figures include al–Kindi (d. 866), Abu Bakr al–Razi (d. ca. 925), al–Farabi (d. ca. 950), Ibn Sina (d. 1037) and Ibn Rushd (d. 1198).
. Young devotee who volunteers to sacrifice his life for a cause. Between the 11th and the 13th centuries, fida’i
s are known to have gradually formed a corps whose members were sent from Alamut
and the other Nizari
fortresses in Iran and Syria to assassinate certain prominent enemies of the Nizaris, usually in public locations. Legends were developed by Muslim and Crusader authors, who began to attribute every single political assassination to the Nizaris. The myth that fida’i
s were called hashashin
because they consumed hashish was popularised by European authors such as Marco Polo (d. 1324).
The science of Islamic jurisprudence.
Al-Farabi, Abu Nasr
A preeminent Muslim philosopher born in the region known as Turkestan. In Medieval Latin texts, al-Farabi was referred to as Alfarabius or Avennasar. Being an outstanding philosopher, he became known as al-mu‘allim al-thani (the second master), placed alongside Aristotle, (the first master). Early in his life, al-Farabi moved from Central Asia to Baghdad, where most of his works were written. More than one hundred works are attributed by the Arab bibliographers to al-Farabi among which are al-Madina al-Fadila (The Virtuous City), al-Siyasa al-Madaniya (Civil Policy), and Ihsa’ al-‘Ulum (Survey of the Sciences). Al-Farabi aimed at developing a capacity within Islamic culture for the integration of philosophy as a method of analysis and as an intellectual discipline. Al-Farabi was also a musician who invented a musical instrument called al-qanun/ al-qithara (the zither). He also wrote a notable book on music, Kitab al-Musiqa al-Kabir (The Great Book of Music). In 942 CE, al-Farabi was invited by Sayf al-Dawla al-Hamadani to live in his entourage mainly in Aleppo. Later he died in Damascus in 950 CE.
(pl. fuqaha’, derived from Arabic fa-qi-ha meaning to have a correct understanding of matters). Faqih is an expert in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). Early in the 10th century CE, the fuqaha’ represented a major part of the religious elite. They functioned as judges (qudat) and jurisconsults (muftin). The importance of the fuqaha’ has steadily declined during the twentieth-century as a result of the massive legal reforms which took place in most Muslim countries during and after the colonial period. The fuqaha’ have largely been replaced by modern lawyers, jurists, and judges.
From Persian lit. command, authority, will, permission. At the time of the Ottomans, the word ‘farman’ was used in Ottoman Turkish to denote any order of the Ottoman Sultans. In the 15th
century CE, the word was first used in its strict sense of a written document. Typically, such documents would open with an invocation to God and were addressed to a governmental official in the capital cities or in the provinces as well as to dependent/client rulers. In the Shi‘i Ismaili
context, it refers to an address by the Imam
to his community.
A province in southwestern Persia, the capital of which is Shiraz.
Major Muslim dynasty of Ismaili caliphs
in North Africa (from 909) and later in Egypt (973–1171), who claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad through ‘Ali
and derived their name from the Prophet's daughter, Fatima
Old Cairo, the first Muslim city in Egypt, founded by Amr b. al–As (d. 663).
Exaggerators or extremists. A term of disapproval in classical Muslim sources against what they regarded as heretical exaggeration in matters of doctrine.
A Sanskrit word meaning knowledge. In particular, a poetic composition in an Indian language (Sindhi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Hindi or Multani), ascribed to one of the Pirs
who in the Khoja
Ismaili tradition, founded and led their community between the 13th and 19th Centuries. The ginans
have elements of didactic and mystical poetry and are legendary in nature. They are assumed to have been preserved orally until they were committed to writing in the Khojki
Al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid Muhammad (d. 1111 CE)
A noted theologian, jurist and mystic, (1058-1111 CE), whose thoughts and writings had a major influence on the development of Sunni
Islam. He was born at Tus, Khurasan
in Eastern Iran and served as chief instructor at the Madrasa Nizamiyya
in Baghdad between 1091 and 1095 CE. His works include Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din (
Revival of the Religious Sciences)
, al-Munqidh min al-dalal (
Deliverance from Error)
and Tahafut al-falasifah (
Incoherence of the Philosophers).
The name of the angel that appears in the Bible as sent by God to Daniel and in the Quran as bringing the message down to Muhammads heart (Q 2:97). In hadith
literature, Gabriel appears as the constant counsellor and helper of Muhammad. According to authors such as al–Kisai (d. 12th c.), Gabriel was sent to every prophet from Adam to Muhammad.
(Arabic; lit.: ‘pond of Khumm’): Name of a pool (or marsh) located in an area called Khumm between Mecca and Medina, in present day Saudi Arabia. Ghadir Khumm is famous in Muslim history as the location where the Prophet Muhammad, while returning to Medina from his farewell pilgrimage to Mecca in 632 CE, stopped to deliver a sermon during which he uttered the famous words declaring Imam ‘Ali
as the mawla
(lit. patron, lord, master) of the believers. These words are preserved in hadith
collections as: ‘He whose mawla
I am, ‘Ali is his mawla
’. This event, which falls on 18th
of Dhu’l Hijja in the Muslim lunar calendar, is commemorated by all Shi‘a
Muslims as Eid (‘Id) al-Ghadir.
Muslim dynasty which ruled lands from Khurasan in Persia to Northern India (977–1186).
The Gospel (Ar. al–Injil) is the message transmitted by Jesus. The word literally means ‘good news’ of Christ’s appearance in history. In the plural, it refers to the books composed by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as a number of apocrypha.
A name of God meaning The Truth or The Reality.
Lit. edge, boundary, limit,; a technical term in Islamic law denoting Gods limits or punishments for various crimes mentioned in the Quran. Also a technical term for any rank in the Fatimid Ismaili dawa
Lit. ‘report’ or ‘narrative,’ used for the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and in Shi‘i
Islam also for those of the Imams
A branch of Musta‘li Ismailis.
Upon the death of the twentieth Imam of the Musta‘li Ismailis, Fatimid Caliph al-‘Amir bi-Ahkam Allah, the official Musta‘li da‘wa in Cairo, along with the majority of Musta‘lian Ismailis in both Egypt and Syria, and some Musta‘lians in Yemen, recognised al ‘Amir’s cousin, al-Hafiz as the next Imam-Caliph. These Must‘ali Ismailis became known initially as the Majidiyya and then as the Hafiziyya or Hafizis. The Zurayids of Aden and some of the Hamdanids of Sana’a also supported the Hafizi da‘wa
. Hafizis seem to have disappeared soon after the demise of the Fatimid caliphate in 1171 CE.
(Arabic; derived from the root ha-ja-(ja)), meaning ‘to betake oneself to’, also, occurs in other Semitic languages. The word Hajj usually refers to the annual pilgrimage by Muslims to the Ka‘ba in Mecca, also called the Great Pilgrimage, in contrast to ‘Umra, the Lesser Pilgrimage. The Islamic Hajj owes most of its rituals to the pre-Islamic pilgrimage. Currently, it takes place over five days, 8-12 of the twelfth month (Dhu al-Hijja) of the Muslim lunar calendar. On the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijja, pilgrims offer an animal sacrifice to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice. The day is celebrated by Muslims worldwide as ‘id al-Adha. Muslims from diverse ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds come together to perform the ritual. It was only in the 8th year of the Hijra, 630 CE, when the first Muslim community performed the Hajj. The Prophet’s first pilgrimage as head of the Muslim pilgrims was in 10 AH/ 632 CE; it was also his last, whence the title, hujjat al-wada‘ (‘farewell-pilgrimage’).
Pl. of haqiqa
. A system originating in 9th century Ismaili texts, and later modified and developed in a Neoplatonic framework by al-Nasafi (d. 943), Abu Hatim al-Razi (d. 934), Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani (d. ca. 971) and Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. after 1020) in the 10th and 11th centuries. According to these authors, behind the external aspect (zahir
) of religious prescriptions, which can change with every prophet, the haqa’iq are the immutable and eternal truths of the realm of the batin
(the hidden), which are known to the Imam
and accessible only to the initiated or the elite.
haqiqa (Persian: haqiqat)
The reality. In the writing of philosophers such as Ibn Sina (d. 1037), it means the true nature of something, its essential reality; for Sufis
such as Ansari (d. 1089), it is a profound reality discovered after the human souls union with God. This latter concept was understood in different ways by other mystics like al–Hallaj (d. 922) or Ibn Arabi (d. 1240). Yet others, like al–Hujwiri (d. 1071), define it as the immutable profound reality, by contrast to sharia
(the law), seen as a reality that can undergo changes.
Lit. ‘temple of light.’ According to the Tayyibi author Ibrahim al–Hamidi (d. 1162), it is the spiritual body formed by the gathering of the individual souls of believers after their ascension. Suhrawardi: hayakil al–nurr.
A technical term in philosophy derived from the Greek hyle
(matter), opposed to sura
(form). Usually used in the sense of prime matter, being the third emanated principle after the intellect and the soul in the cosmogonies of Ismaili thinkers such as al–Sijistani (d. 971) and Nasir Khusraw (d. ca. 1088), and also in the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity
Greek word for hermeneutics, i.e., the discipline and theory of interpreting texts.
hikma; hikmah; hikmat
A term which in the Quran means wisdom, and later acquired various technical meanings referring to religious, gnostic or esoteric philosophy.
A Qur’anic term meaning both ‘proof’ and ‘presentation of proof.’ In Shi‘i Islam it designates Prophets and Imams as ‘proofs’ of God’s presence on earth. In the Ismaili da‘wa of the pre-Fatimid and Fatimid periods, it was also applied to senior da‘is and in the Alamut period of Ismaili history it came to be applied to those representing the Imam.
huquq al-adamiyyin (sing. haqq adam or haqq adami)
Rights of humans, i.e. private, essentially civil, legal rights or claims. A translation of the modern concept of human rights.
huquq (sing. haqq)
Legal rights, claims, and the corresponding obligations.
Al-Hallaj, Husayn b. Mansur
A Sufi poet and mystic born in Fars
(in present-day southern Iran). He is mainly remembered for his proclamation ana al-haqq
(I am the truth), and for his tragic execution at the hands of the Abbasids
. Early in his life, al-Hallaj moved with his family to live in Baghdad. Soon, al-Hallaj became engaged with the religious and political life of 10th
century Baghdad. He was imprisoned for nine years and executed in 922 CE. It is debatable though, whether it was al-Hallaj’s political activity or his Sufi utterances that led to his execution. It is believed that al-Hallaj wrote forty nine books; the only one that has survived is his Kitab al-Tawasin
, besides a collection of poems collected in his Diwan al-Hallaj
al-Hasan b. ‘Ali
The elder of Alis
two sons (d. c. 669) by Fatima
and grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
A mountain near Mecca where the Prophet Muhammad used to withdraw for prayer and where the first verses of the Quran were said to have been revealed.
A mountainous region in Yemen.
revolutionary group which emerged in the 8th century CE; also used generally to designate the Abbasids
and others who claimed descent from Hashim, the ancestor of the Prophet Muhammad.
(Arabic; lit. ‘the barrier’). A region in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea which includes some of the holiest sites and cities for all Muslims - the Ka‘ba in Mecca, and Medina, the final resting place of Prophet Muhammad.
(Arabic; derived from the root ha-ja-ra
, meaning to emigrate from one's own land and take up residence in another country). Technically, the term hijra
designates the migration of Prophet Muhammad and his early Muslim community from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE. The hijra
was taken as a result of the Meccans’ intensifying persecution of the Muslims following the removal of protection from the Prophet upon the death of his uncle, Abu Talib in 619 CE. The Muslim community left for Yathrib (later called Madinat al-Nabi, ‘City of the Prophet’; also known as al-Madinat al-Munawwara, ‘The Illuminated City’). Then, upon receiving the divine command, the Prophet followed his community there. The importance of hijra
lies in the fact that it is with hijra
that the Muslim community (umma
) was firstly formally constituted. Suras in the Qur’an
are labeled as either Meccan or Medinan; as the content of the suras reflect the changed position of the umma
before and after the hijra
. The Muslim calendar provides another indication of the significance of this event: its beginning was set on the first day of the lunar year in which the hijra
had taken place.
A religious order founded by Fadl Allah Astarabadi in the second half of the 14th century CE in Persia and Anatolia.
A term in classical Islamic jurisprudence denoting religious practice or acts of worship, i.e., worship performed by bodily actions or good deeds. In most classical treatises of Islamic law, it is contrasted to muamalat (worldly activities). In the writings of some Ismaili authors like Hamid al–Din al–Kirmani (d. after 1020), it is contrasted to ibadat batina ilmiyya (spiritual esoteric worship).
Arabic word meaning permission.
Arabic word found in polemical Muslim sources, meaning deviation from the straight path, but may connote apostasy or heresy. (See mulhid
In general usage, a leader of prayers or religious leader. The Shi‘i
restrict the term to their spiritual leaders descended from ‘Ali b. Abi Talib
and the Prophet's daughter, Fatima
Imama; Imamah; Imamat; Imamate
An abstract noun from the term Imam
referring to the institution of hereditary spiritual leadership in Shii
Knowledge, science, learning; also, more specifically religious knowledge. In Shi‘ism
this term also refers to the special knowledge of the Imams
Cognition, knowledge, gnosis. In one strand of modern Islamic discourse, the term is used for an amalgamated category which includes the mystical experience, sufism
, esoteric doctrine and monist philosophy and is related to Shiism
. It is related to the thought of al–Kirmani (d. 1021) and the Epistles of the Ikhwan al–Safa
on the one hand and al–Farabi (d. 950), al–Amiri (d. 992) and Ibn Sina (d. 1037) on the other hand. Major exponents are al–Suhrawardi (d. 1191), Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) and Haydar Amuli (d. 1305). The tradition is presented as reaching its climax in Safavid times with Mir Damad (d. 1630) and Mulla Sadra (d. 1640). Later authors included are Sabzavari (d. 1873) and Khomeyni before his involvement in politics in 1963. See arif
Adherents of a branch of the Kharijis
, named after their leader Abd Allah b. Ibad in the 7th century CE.
Lit. origination. Since the Quran describes God as Originator (badi, see Q 2:117), Ismaili Neoplatonists such as al–Nasafi (d. 661/1262–1263), al–Sijistani (d. after 971) and Razi (d. 934) used the derived term ibda to develop the Neoplatonist idea that God makes existents out of non–existence in a one–off, unparalleled act.
The name given in the Qur’an to the Devil, mostly when he is said to have refused to bow down before Adam (Q. 2:34, etc,). Also called al–shaytan (‘the demon’) in the Qur’an. Muslim commentators and theologians have disagreed as to whether Iblis is an angel or a jinn.
A Muslim dynasty in the Maghrib
founded in 789 (in present–day Morocco).
Mediaeval Muslim name for modern–day Tunisia; also the area where the Fatimids
founded their state in the early tenth century.
(derived from the Arabic root ja-ha-da, meaning ‘to make an effort’, ‘exertion’, or ‘endeavour’.) In Muslim law, the term ijtihad refers to an independent mode of individual reasoning or interpretation using specific methods and sources to arrive at solutions to new legal problems. Ijtihad is applied to communal issues not covered explicitly in the Holy Qur’an or the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad. The one who is qualified to practice ijtihad is called mujtahid. The use of Ijtihad became prominent in the middle of the 2nd AH/8th CE century. With the establishment of the four Sunni schools of Muslim law (between 2ndAH/ 8th CE century until the early 4thAH/ 10th CE century), it came to be understood amongst many Sunni communities that all the essential questions had been discussed and settled by the opinions of medieval scholars. This led to what is known in Muslim traditions as the closing of the door of ijtihad.
Muslim dynasty that ruled in Egypt (935–969), succeeded by the Fatimids
From Arabic, lit. ‘Brethren of Purity’, a group of learned scholars who were based in Basra and Baghdad around the last quarter of the tenth century CE. It is more generally accepted that their line in literature belonged to the Shi‘a legacy with strong connections with the Ismaili tradition. The Ikhwan produced an encyclopaedic work of 52 volumes Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ (The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity). These embodied the scientific and philosophical knowledge of their time. The Epistles treated a wide array of subjects including astronomy, logic, math, music, and natural sciences. Besides, the Epistles also explored the nature of the soul and investigated associated matters in ethics, revelation, and spirituality.
Adherents of a branch of early Shiism
which followed the Husaynid line of Imams, which later divided into the Ismailis
Adherents of a branch of Shii
Islam that considers Ismail, the eldest son of the Shii Imam
Jafar al–Sadiq (d. 765), as his successor.
Refers to the Bawanids (1074–1210 CE), a local dynasty in Tabaristan and Gilan, who used the title of Ispahbadhi, meaning army chief.
A district of Fars province in mediaeval Persia.
Ithna ‘Asharis; Ithna ‘Ashariyya
Lit. ‘Twelvers,’ the majority branch of the Shi‘i
Muslims who acknowledge twelve Imams
in lineal succession from ‘Ali b. Abi Talib
, after the Prophet Muhammad. Following Imam Ja‘far al–Sadiq (d. 765.) the Ithna ‘Asharis acknowledged his younger son Musa al–Kazim as their Imam while the Isma‘ilis recognised Isma‘il, the eldest son of Imam Ja‘far al–Sadiq, as their Imam.
The Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards (ITREBs)
More precisely the Shia Imami Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards. A contemporary term for local and international boards within the Ismaili community, ultimately accountable to the Imam
and responsible for religious instruction and supervision over details of the practice of the faith in the localities under their jurisdiction.
Compulsion, predestination, fate, determination. see Jabriya
Lit. ‘islands of the earth,’ this phrase was used by the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa
for the twelve geographical regions in which its mission was active.
Lit. ‘island,’ peninsula or a territory situated between large rivers. Applied to each of the 12 territories in which the pre–Fatimid Ismaili organisation is reported to have divided the world for its operations, and which were defined by geographic, ethnic and linguistic parameters. In the Fatimid
period, al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 974) lists the lands of the Arabs, Byzantines, Slavs, Nubians (or Turks), Khazars, Hindis, Sindhis, East Africans, Abyssinians, Chinese, Persians and Berbers. Later, in the Anjudan period (15th–17th centuries) it was used for the regions inhabited by the Nizari
Mostly used in Muslim writing to denote holy war. However, in mystical literature, this term was interpreted in its root sense of exertion and came to mean an inner struggle for purification.
A mountainous region in central Syria between Hama and the mediterranean coastline southwest of Jabal al–Summaq.
Name applied to those alleged to hold the doctrine of jabr
(compulsion), according to which it is not man who actually acts, but only God. Mu‘tazilis
and Maturidis accused the Ash‘aris
, who denied the notion of qadar
(free will), of believing in jabr. The Ash‘aris considered their doctrine of kasb (acquisition) a mean between jabr
. Also mujbira
A Muslim dynasty which ruled Iraq, Kurdistan and Azerbaijan (1336–1432 CE), and succeeded by the Qara Qoyunlu.
Jamat; jamat; Jama‘at
Assembly or religious congregation; also a term used by the Nizari Ismailis
for their individual communities.
is from Arabic which means group or community, and khana
is from Persian meaning house, lit., ‘the house of the community’. It means a place where people of certain Sunni
Muslim communities come together for prayers and communal gatherings. Though primarily associated with the activities of Sufi groups, the Jama‘at Khanas are one of the many types of spaces of worship in diverse Muslim contexts. It also refers to the places of worship and communal gatherings in the Shi‘i Ismaili
Adherents of an early Shi‘i
group which recognised Ibn. Mu‘awiya, a descendant of Ja‘far b. Abi Talib, the brother of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib
, as their Imam
Northwest and west–central Persia.
A local Muslim dynasty of Daylam
in northern Persia which ruled over Rudbar, Daylam
and other surrounding regions at the turn of the 8th/9th century CE.
From Arabic, lit. ‘Speech, discussion, argument’, translated as philosophical theology, refers to theological reflection using rational philosophical argumentation to study and express the content of the faith in a coherent manner. It has become a discipline among other religious sciences of Islam and extends beyond theology in the narrow sense to include subjects like free will vs. determinism and theories proper to physics.
Lit. word. Used in the Quran with several meanings, chief among which is the Divine Word. It also refers to the formula for the declaration of faith amongst Muslims (also shahada
). In Shii
and Ismaili esotericism, the concept is linked to the act of creation by various thinkers such as the Ismaili Abu Yaqub al–Sijistani (d. after 971), the Twelver Mulla Sadra (d. 1640) and the Sufi Ibn al–Arabi (638/1240).
Land tax established by Caliph Umar II to be paid by the dhimmis on the earliest conquered lands by the Muslims. As more and more Muslims acquired kharaj–paying lands and kharaj–paying dhimmi, land–owners gradually became Muslim. The kharaj situation varied from region to region and from time to time.
The intellectual ‘elite’ or ‘elect,’ often contrasted in classical philosophical literature with the ‘masses’ (awamm
khudawand-i qiyamat; khudavand-i qiyamat
Lord of the resurrection. Epithet of the Nizari
Imam Hasan (d. 1166), after whose name his followers added the formula ‘ala dhikrihi’l-salam (on his mention be peace). Hasan was the first Imam
in the Alamut
period to declare himself openly as Imam in 1164. He proclaimed the qiyamat
, i.e. resurrection, which as understood by its critics as a rejection of the external forms of religious practice. However, a prevailing tradition amongst the Ismailis interprets the term to mean a spiritual revelation of the truth. See qa’im al-qiyama
A sermon delivered in a mosque at Friday prayers.
Key terms in early Ismaili
cosmology derived from the Quranic creative imperative kun
meaning Be, and qadar
, which means determinations.
In the Quran, the divine imperative (amr
), meaning Be, (as in Q 2:117: when He decrees a thing, He but says to it: be and it is). Ismaili Neoplatonist authors understood the term in a way consistent with their overall doctrine, in relation to Gods will and creation. See amr
A province in present–day Algeria.
A city southeast of Baghdad, it is the site of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn ibn Ali
, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, in 61 AH/ 680 CE. Hence, the city is referred to as Mashhad al-Husayn. Karbala’ houses the tomb of Imam al-Husayn, which is visited by thousands of pilgrims, particularly during the month of Muharram, on the tenth day of which (known as ‘Ashura
, q.v.), Imam al-Husayn and his followers were massacred by the Umayyad
army. The shrine at Karbala’ is well known for its architectural features, its gold and silver ornamentation, and its ornate chandeliers. The soil from Karbala’ is fashioned into small tablets upon which some Shi‘a
, especially among the Twelver
Shi‘a communities, prostrate during their prayers. Historically, the maintenance of the shrine came not only from the Shi‘i rulers of Iran and India but also from some of the Sunni Ottoman
leaders. Nowadays the shrine at Karbala’ is under the protection of the Shi‘a of Iraq and Iran.
Adherents of an early Shi‘i
group originally led by al-Mukhtar (d. 687) who recognised Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya (d. 322/934) as their Imam
In pre–Islamic times, a temple for worship of traditional gods. After the conquest of and re–entry into Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad, he re–dedicated the place to the worship of Allah and established it as a focal point for the pilgrimage (hajj). It also represents the direction to which Muslims turn for ritual prayer.
A sub–sect of the Ibadiyya
branch of the Kharijis
, founded at the beginning of 9th century CE by Khalaf b. al–Sarub (Khalaf al–Hallaj).
(pl. Khaniqahha) from Persian, lit. ‘residence’. Khaniqa
is a term for a Sufi
meetinghouse which serves as a residential teaching centre for Sufi disciples. It seems to have first been used as a term to designate this function in Persia in the 9th
CE century; a famous khaniqa
was established by Muhammad ibn Karram (d. 839 CE) the founder of the Karramiyya tariqah
are usually designed to house Sufis, provide places for communal worship, and feed the residents, guests and travellers. Like zawaya
are also used as burial-sites of Sufi masters. As the institution spread, its architectural form developed according to local needs and customs. Khaniqahha
today are spread over many parts of the Islamic world, especially the Persian-influenced regions (Iran, Central Asia and South Asia).
An early Muslim community, meaning seceders, who withdrew their allegiance from Ali b. Abi Talib
A term probably derived from the Persian khwaja
(lord, master). The Khojas are one of the Ismaili
communities originating from the Indian subcontinent and now living in many countries of the world.
historically developed among the Khojas
of the Indian subcontinent to record their literature.
The northeastern region of early Islamic Persia, immediately south of Transoxania and west of Badakhshan.
A collective term for several early Shi‘i
groups in Persia and Transoxania, also known as the Khurramdiniyya.
A province in southwestern mediaeval Persia and Iraq bordering the Persian Gulf in the south.
A city and province in central Iran.
tribe in North Africa who became key supporters of the Fatimids
in the tenth century.
A province in present–day Algeria.
Lit. ‘licentiate,’; a rank in the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa
structure; an assistant to the regional da‘i
; originally divided into two ranks: al–ma’dhun al–mutlaq
and al–ma’dhun al–mahdud
, or which the latter became known as al–mukasir
. Often, the al–ma’dhun al–mutlaq
became a da‘i
himself and was authorised as the chief licentiate to administer the oath of initiation and rules and policies of the da‘wa
A believer whose faith has been tested by God.
Ma wara al-nahr
Arabic name for Transoxiana.
Arabic word with a range of meanings including doctrine, movement and creed; a system or school of religious law in Islam.
Lit., the rightly guided one, a name applied in Muslim eschatology to the restorer of true religion and justice expected at the end of time. In Ithnaashari Shiism
, the mahdi
refers specifically to the hidden Imam
Pl. of majlis; a term which literally means a place to sit and refers to any formal gathering or assembly of peoples.
Persian term for poems differing greatly in genre and length, normally composed in rhyming couplets.
A term meaning clients. Used for non–Arab Muslims in the early centuries of Islam.
Lord or master,; often used as an honorary epithet, though in early Islam it also meant client.
Arabic word meaning infallible and immaculate; these qualities are attributed to Prophet Muhammad by many Muslims and by the Shia
to their Imams
A covenant, promise or oath. The notion of such a pledge is rooted in the Qur’an and was first given to Prophet Muhammad. In the Ismaili da‘wa
, it referred to an oath of allegiance given to the Imam
of the time. (See ‘ahd
(Arabic; derived from the root ‘a-ra-ja
, meaning ‘to ascend’ or ‘to mount’). The term Mi‘raj
has been associated with the Isra’
. In some sources, they are referred to together by the term Laylat al-Isra’ wa al-Mi‘raj
that is, the night of (the Prophet’s) night journey and celestial ascent. The journey is said to have happened in the month of Rajab; however, there is no unanimous opinion on the precise date. This journey is linked to a verse in the Holy Qur’an (17:1). Isra’
refers to the Prophet’s night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, while Mi‘raj
refers to the Prophet’s ascension through the heavens to the very Throne of God (according to some commentators, this is what Q 53:1-18 refers to). The idea of the Prophet’s Mi‘raj
found its place in the literature of Islamic theology, philosophy and Sufism
. It was and continues to be debated, the key issue being whether the night journey took place in a physical or a spiritual sense. Amongst the esoteric traditions of Muslims, Mi‘raj
is symbolic of the spiritual search leading the soul to the state of spiritual union with the Divine. The story of the journey has further entered into universal literature; it is claimed by some scholars, such as Miguel Asin Palacios, that this was the model which inspired Dante’s Divine Comedy
. It has constituted an important theme in Islamic art.
mo‘allem-e sadeq (Ar. al-mu‘allim al-sadiq)
The truthful teacher. A concept based on the Shi‘i idea that the Imams
are the only authoritative teachers after the Prophet. In the reformulation of Hasan Sabbah (d. 1124), the term implies that there must be one single imam
as instructor for all Muslims in every age. He identifies the figure with the Ismaili Imam.
Lit. breaker a junior rank in the Fatimid Ismaili dawa
mainly responsible for attracting prospective converts and breaking their attachments to other religions.
In Muslim heresiographical literature, a term of abuse for individuals regarded as religious deviants or heretics (pl. malahida).
Derived from the Arabic mawla
, denoting a Muslim religious cleric.
Lit. ‘one who seeks’. Sufi tariqas
developed around the relationship between the murids and a spiritual master (called murshid
). The first Nizari Imams
after the Mongols’ conquest of Alamut
lived as clandestine Sufi
masters, while their followers adopted the designation of murids, which is still in use today. principality was founded in around 958.
Lit. respondent; a term denoting an initiate to the lowest rank in the Fatimid
Al-Ma’mun, Abu al-‘Abbas ‘Abd-Allah (d. 833 CE)
The seventh Abbasid Caliph
(786- 833 CE), who succeeded his father Harun al-Rashid and ruled from 813 to 833 CE. He is known for his support of the Mu‘tazili
interpretation of Muslim theology and for his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to impose it as the state policy. He encouraged the translation of scientific and philosophical works of other civilisations into Arabic at the Bayt al-Hikma
(House of Wisdom),
a centre he founded in Baghdad. With the aim of reconciling divisions between the Sunnis
, he appointed the Twelver Shi‘i Imam
‘Ali b. Musa al-Rida as his successor. But this attempt failed as ‘Ali died a year later and his followers accused al-Ma’mun of having him poisoned.
First month of the Islamic lunar calendar, often referred to as the month of mourning because of the death of Imam Husayn b. Ali
at the Battle of Karbala in 680.
Lit. the place of sunset. In mediaeval Muslim geography it referred to the western part of North Africa (present–day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia).
Adjective from Magi (sing. magus) referring to a member of the Zoroastrian priestly caste in Ancient Persia.
A province in eastern Iran.
(1250-1517 CE), the word Mamluk is derived from Arabic, and literally means ‘owned’ or ‘possessed’. The Mamalik were slave soldiers, mostly of Turkish origin, who served under various Muslim dynasties such as the Ayyubids
, the Abbasids,
and the Ikhshidids. The Sultan’s Mamluks were educated in military schools where they studied Islam, whilst undergoing military training. Mamluks rose to high positions in the army command, coming to play an important part in the resistance to the Crusaders. In 1250 CE, the Mamluks founded their own Sultanate in Egypt and Syria. One of their well known achievements was their success in the battle of ‘Ayn Jalut
against the Mongols in 1260 CE. The Mamluk Sultanate was brought to an end by the Ottomans in1517 CE.
A medieval military engine for hurling stones and other missiles.
Marja‘; Marja‘-i taqlid; Marja‘-i Dini
(Arabic and Persian; lit. ‘source to follow’ or ‘religious reference’). It is a term usually used for a Shi‘i Ithna ‘ashari religious scholar, also called Ayatullah al-‘uzma, who is recognised for his scholarship, knowledge and personal piety. According to Shi‘i Ithna ‘ashari tradition, a Marja‘ has the authority to make legal decisions based on his knowledge and interpretation within the confines of Shi‘i theological doctrines and jurisprudence.
(mosque; pl. Masajid) Arabic derived from the root sa-ja-da, meaning ‘to prostrate’. In the early Islamic era, the word masjid meant a place of prayer which could be any clean spot on earth. The first masjid in Islam was built in Medina in 622 CE. The masjid is primarily a designated space for the offering of canonical ritual prayers by Muslim congregations. Besides its religious function, masjid is also used as the centre of community life which can serve social, political and educational roles. The architectural style of the masjid often reflects the style of the region and the period in which they were established. Important functionaries of the masjid are the prayer leader (Imam al-Masjid) and the person who calls to prayer (al-Mu’adhdhin).
A small town three miles from Mecca, which is the site of special ceremonies performed by Muslim pilgrims to the Kaba
Adherents of an early Shi‘i
group who upheld the Imamate
of Muhammad b. Isma‘il after the death of Isma‘il b. Ja‘far al–Sadiq, representing the nascent Ismaili
(pl. muftin) An Arabic word derived from the root fa-ti-ya; a jurisconsult who is authorized to give a fatwa. The mufti should have a sound knowledge of the Islamic schools of law (madhahib). When issuing fatwas, the mufti usually cites the Holy Qur’an, the sunna of Prophet Muhammad, established precedents, consensus of the ‘ulema, or another accepted authority (e.g., the Imams in Shi‘i traditions) within the school of law to which he adheres.
An Indo-Muslim dynasty (1526 – 1858 CE), founded by the Timurid Prince Baber, a descendent of Genghis Khan and Timur Lang. At their peak, the Mughals ruled over most of South Asia and parts of what is now Afghanistan. Among its famous rulers is Akbar (1556-1605 CE), who introduced a pluralistic administrative system, recruiting Indian Muslims and non-Muslims, Persians and others. Akbar also introduced a policy of religious tolerance among Hindus and Muslims. The Mughal Empire developed a distinguished Muslim architectural heritage based on the Timurid heritage as well as the local Indian one. Their imperial tombs are distinguished examples of architecture in Muslim contexts. Among the grandest mausoleums that have become synonyms of Mughal architecture is the Taj Mahal, which was completed in 1648 CE. This was built in Agra by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-58 CE) for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The last Mughal emperor was Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was dethroned and exiled by the British in 1858 CE.
From Arabic; derived from the root ja ha da
, ‘to make an effort’. Mujtahid
literally means one who strives for a higher position, usually in scholarship and learning. In Muslim law, the term refers to a person who is equipped with the knowledge and authority to perform ijtihad
. The term was extensively used from the middle of the 2nd
CE century until the 4th
CE century when the four Sunni
schools of law were constituted. Amongst Sunni Muslims, the term mujtahid
is restricted to legal scholars of the medieval period. Among the Shi‘a
, the Imam
holds ultimate authority in matters of Muslim law. For the Twelver Shi‘is
, following the concealment of their twelfth Imam, authority over the law was delegated to their ‘ulama’
who excercise ijtihad
in formulating their own religious and judicial principles, based on the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunna
of the Prophet as attested or verified by the Imams.
A major city in the province of Sind (today in Pakistan) where the seat of a Fatimid
principality was founded in around 958.
(derived from the Arabic root na-fa-qa, meaning ‘to dissent, disagree or oppose’). The term is used in the Holy Qur’an for those professing Islam outwardly but who did not inwardly believe in the message of Prophet Muhammad. It is also the title of Sura 63 of the Holy Qur’an. The term is rendered in English as ‘hypocrites’.
A Muslim dynasty which ruled Daylam
, Azerbaijan, Arran and Armenia in the 10th and 11th centuries CE, succeeded in Daylam by the Ismailis.
A local Shii
Arab dynasty which ruled the town of Hawiza or Huwayza in Khuzistan
, Persia, in the 15th century CE.
Adherents of a branch of the Ismailis
who supported al-Musta‘li, the younger son of the Fatimid Imam
al-Mustansir (d. 1094) as his successor.
Mu‘tazila; Mu‘taziliyya; Mutazila
A term referring to diverse scholars in early Islam who belonged to a rationally orientated school of thought that emphasized precepts such as Divine Unity and Justice and human freewill.
A term used in medieval Ismaili and other cosmological doctrines for the Universal Soul. See aql–i kull
Used in the Quran more than 300 times, where its primary meaning is the human self or person. In post–Quranic religious literature it came to mean the human soul or spirit in a metaphysical sense. The conception of the human soul by Muslim philosophers was strongly influenced by Aristotles theories.
A Qur’anic term referring to a voluntary contribution to Prophet Muhammad. Among Ismailis
, it was a due offered by converts to Ismailism to the Fatimid Imam
who used it for the society’s well being. It was abolished by the Imam-Caliph
al-Hakim in AH 400/1009-1010 CE.
naqib (pl. naqaba)
Lit. chief, leader. In the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa, the person in charge of each jazira. Also called hujja, lahiq or yad.
Lit. ‘text.’ In Shi‘ism
, it refers to Muhammad’s declaration of ‘Ali
as his successor, and by extension, to the requirement that each imam
should explicitly appoint the following Imam. The concept of nass
was developed in the early decades of Shi‘ism, when several people claimed the imamat
for themselves, especially in the times of imam
s Muhammad al–Baqir and Ja‘far al–Sadiq.
Arabic word for adjective, which can also mean link, relationship, ancestry, lineage or origin.
Lit. ‘light,’ a term used for God, defined as light in the Qur’an in the so–called verse of light (ayat al–nur
) Q 24:35: ‘God is the light of the heavens and the earth…’). In Shi‘ism
, the term is taken to mean the light that is believed to have emanated through Adam, via Muhammad into the family of ‘Ali
and his successors, the Imams
Lit. ‘the way of eloquence’. A well-known collection of letters, sermons and sayings attributed to Imam ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib (d. 661 CE), compiled in its present form by al-Sharif al-Radi (d. 1016 CE), a renowned Imami Shi‘i writer and poet of the Abbasid period (750-1258 CE). Many commentators, such as Ibn Abi al-Hadid (d. 1258 CE), consider this work as an example of the most eloquent Arabic and have highlighted its importance for theological and philosophical discourse in the Muslim world. The first sermon of the Nahj al-Balagha has been regarded by Shi‘i and Sunni Muslims alike as being among the most important discourses of Imam ‘Ali concerning the essence of faith and the nature of God. His letter to Malik al-Ashtar, appointing him as governor of Egypt, is likewise deemed by innumerable Muslim authorities to be a profound description of just governance according to Muslim principles.
Nizam al-Mulk (d. 1092 CE)
(1059/ 63- 1092) of the Seljuk
Empire who served under Sultans Alp Arsalan and Malik Shah I. After the assassination of Alp Arsalan (1072), Nizam al-Mulk enjoyed full authority in the Seljuk Empire dominating the then eighteen years old Malik Shah. For the next twenty years, Nizam al-Mulk was the real ruler of the Seljuk Empire. Aside from his extraordinary influence as vizier, he is also well-known for institutionalisation of Sunni
Muslim education through the establishment of the famous Nizamiyyah schools of higher education in Iraq, al-Jazira and Persia, which were named after him. The most famed and celebrated of all was al-Madrasa al-Nizamiyya
of Baghdad (founded in 1067 CE), where Nizam al-Mulk appointed noted scholars such as al-Juwayni and al-Ghazzali to professorships. He himself wrote a book called Siyasatnama
(The Book of Government).
Adherents of a branch of the Ismailis
who gave allegiance to Nizar, the eldest son of the Fatimid Imam
al-Mustansir (d. 1094) as his successor.
Ni‘matu’llahiyya; Ni‘mat Allahiyya
order named after its founder Shah Nimatullah Wali (d. 1431 CE), which gained popularity in Iran and India.
(Arabic, derived from the root na-ba-’a
meaning ‘to utter’ or ‘to inform’), also ta-na-ba-’a
to claim for oneself the gift of prophecy or office of a prophet. Hence, nubuwwa
means prophethood. It is a definitive aspect of Muslim religious belief, being the primary means by which God communicates to humankind. Nubuwwa
is a rich and central topic in the Qur'an
which refers to a continuous chain of revelation-bearers who were related genealogically. According to the Quran, this chain starts with Adam, and ends with the khatam al-anbiya’
(the seal of Prophets), that is, Prophet Muhammad. Theologians developed a theory of the distinctive signs of prophethood (dala’il
, or imarat al-nubuwwa
). These included receiving the revelation (wahy
), that the Prophet is of a noble descent, having a mark between his shoulders, having miraculous powers, and being supported with marvels which prove his status. By the 13th
century, theologians went on to develop the doctrine of ‘isma
(infallibility/impeccability) as a fundamental sign of nubuwwa
and this was applied broadly to Prophet Muhammad.
A group which split off from the Huruffiyya in 1397–98 CE.
order founded by Muhammad b. Abd Allah known as Nurbakhsh (d. 1464 CE).
(Arabic; means absence); this term is associated with the Ithna‘ashari Shi‘i Muslim tradition in reference to the ‘hidden state’ of their twelfth imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. Historically, the occultation began with the disappearance of the twelfth Imam in 260 AH/874 CE and continues to the present. According to Ithna ‘ashari tradition, the occultation has two distinct stages, the lesser occultation (al-ghayba al-sughra), which lasted from 260 AH/874 CE to 329 AH/941 CE, during which the hidden Imam was represented by some agents (sufara’, sing, safir) who were believed to be in touch with him and exercising authority on his behalf. The greater occultation (al-ghayba al-kubra), continues to the present time, where the Imam has no special agent. However, the Twelver Shi‘i jurists are recognised as his representatives and the only legitimate interpreters of Shari‘a for the Ithna ‘ashari Shi‘i Muslims.
The name of a Turkish dynasty (from late 13th
century until 1924 CE). At the height of its power in the 16th
century, the empire controlled much of South-eastern Europe, the Near and the Middle East as well as North Africa. The Ottoman rule is especially known for its architectural, literary and administrative achievements. Their mode of managing religious communities within the empire – the millet system – is sometimes referred to in discussions on pluralism in contemporary political philosophy. After the demise of the nominal Abbasid Caliph
in Cairo in 1517, the Ottomans assumed the title of caliph for themselves. From the early 19th century, the Ottomans went through several alternate phases of reformatory and reactionary politics in the wake of their attempts to respond to forces of European modernity. In the process, several areas once under the empire became independent. During the First World War, the Ottomans aligned with the Central Powers whose defeat hastened the decline of the empire. The Ottoman Caliphate was finally abolished in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) who simultaneously founded the Republic of Turkey. The last Ottoman Caliph was Abdülmecid II (d. 1944).
Lit. ‘elder.’ (like the Arabic shaykh
). Spiritual director (=murshid
), who may be the founder of a Sufi tariqa
. The earliest Qasim Shahi Imams were referred to as pirs. In the post-Alamut
period, the term designated the local leaders of Nizari
communities, some of whom had a hereditary position (as in Afghanistan, Badakhshan and elsewhere in Central Asia). In Indian (Satpanth) Ismailism, the pirs are the figures who led the Khoja
community (from at least the 13th until the 19th centuries) and to whom the ginans
Arabic term for the Last Day, the Day of Resurrection. A concept which features prominently in the Qur’an. Belief in the Last Day features as one of the pillars of the Islamic creed.
Derived from Q 33:38, etc and often translated as destiny, fate, or predestination. See qada
Divine decree. In the Quran, it does not appear as a noun, but as a verb meaning to decree, determine. Together with qadar this concept featured in theological disputes on the issue of free will and predestination.
A Muslim judge (pl. qudat).
Reed–pen. The first verse of Sura 68 says: By the pen and what they write and Q 96:4 states that God taught man by the pen. According to some traditions (such as those collected in Tabaris Tafsir
), the qalam
was the first thing created by God. Abu Yaqub al–Sijistani (d. after 971) linked the terms qalam
in an attempt to equate the Quranic concepts with Neoplatonic cosmology.
A polythematic poem originating in pre–Islamic Arabia. It has come to refer to any poem of a certain length in Arabic, Persian and Turkish literatures, often including the eulogy of a personality. Persian qasida
s are also composed to celebrate festivals. The chanted qasida
is part of the religious tradition of Arabic and Persian–speaking Nizari
qawm min al-shi‘a
A group, tribe or community of the Shia
Lit. ‘the Resurrector of the Resurrection.’ See khudawand–i qiyamat
Lit. ‘riser’ or ‘resurrector.’ Used in early Shi‘i
thought for a member of the family of Muhammad who was expected to restore justice on earth by rising against the regime considered as illegitimate. It also came to mean the eschatological mahdi
. The title al-qa’im bi amr Allah was adopted by the second Fatimid caliph
(d. 946) and later by the 26th ‘Abbasid
caliph (d. 1075). Some early Ismailis expected Imam Muhammad b. Ismail to return as the qa’im or mahdi
. In the writings of Qadi Nu’man, qa’im designated the Fatimid imam-caliphs, who had assumed the functions of the qa’im to elucidate the hidden meaning (see batin
) of the prescribed laws. However, some groups continued to expect the second coming of Muhammad b. Isma‘il as the qa’im who would end the last era of mankind. These Ismailis are sometimes called seveners (see sab‘iyya
). The doctrine of qiyamat
gave a central role to the imam as the qa’im and gateway to the divine world (see qa’im al-qiyamah
and khudawand-i qiyamat
The collective name for several Nizari fortresses in Syria’s Jabal Bahra’ after their capture around 535/1140–1, including al-Khawabi, Rusafa, Maniqa and Qulay‘a.
Lit. pole or pivot. In mystical literature, such as the writings of al–Tirmidhi, Abd al–Razzaq and Ibn al–Arabi (d. 1240), it refers to the most perfect human being (al–insan al–kamil
) who is thought to be the universal leader of all saints, to mediate between the divine and the human and whose presence is deemed necessary for the existence of the world. For some Shii
authors, such as Haydar Amuli (14th c.) the qutb
is the Shii imam
Arabic word for the city of Cairo in Egypt, founded by the Fatimids
Followers of a theological school in early Islam who advocated the doctrine of free will; also the name of a Sufi
order founded by Abd al–Qadir al–Jilani (d. 1166 CE).
A number of revolutionary movements in early Islam which, while adhering with the Ismailis
to the Imamat
of Ismail b. Jafar, were generally opposed to the Fatimids
Adherents of one of the main branches of Nizari Ismailis who followed Qasim Shah as the successor to the Imam Shams al–Din Muhammad (d. 1310 CE).
A Tunisian city, often transliterated in English as Kairouan, which became the capital city of the Aghlabids
and later of the Fatimids
The direction of Muslim prayer towards the Ka‘ba
, indicated in a mosque by a niche called mihrab.
Lit. Red–heads, name of Turkish tribesmen and followers of the Safawiyya Sufi order who founded the the Safawid dynasty in Persia in 1501 CE.
A historic city in Iran to the south of Tehran. It is considered by many Shi‘i
Muslims as Iran’s second holiest city after Mashhad. Qum is a leading centre of Twelver
Shia learning in Iran, which contains major institutions for the training of students and is home of leading schools and libraries. Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, Qum’s importance has grown enormously. Qum’s fame as a pilgrimage site, visited by millions from Iran and abroad, is mainly due to the shrine of Fatima (popularly known as Hazrat-i Ma‘suma
), daughter of the 7th Imam
of the Twelver Shia, Musa b. Ja‘far al-Kazim, and sister of the 8th
Imam of the Twelver Shia, Ali Reza, whose shrine is in Mashhad.
(also Koran. Arabic term meaning, ‘recitation’ or ‘scripture’): Muslims believe that the Holy Qur’an contains divine revelations to Prophet Muhammed received in Mecca and Medina over a period of 23 years in the early 7th century CE. It consists of 114 suras (chapters) of varying lengths, each of which is divided into a number of ayat (verses). The suwar (chapters) fall under two categories, the Meccan in reference to those revealed while the Prophet was in Mecca, and the Medinan in reference to those revealed while he was in Medina. After the first sura, called al-Fatiha, the rest of the chapters are arranged roughly in decreasing order of length. There are varying traditions amongst Muslims about the collection and compilation of the Holy Qur’an, although it is generally believed that the authoritative collection (mushaf) was prepared following the demise of Prophet Muhammad. Among Muslims, the Holy Qur’an plays a central role in rituals, law, theology, literature arts and spirituality.
Lit. messenger. A term used in the Quran for the apostles of God, including the Prophet Muhammad who is called Rasul Allah, the Messenger of God.
As an adjective (ruhani
), it means spiritual. As a noun (ruhaniyya
, pl. ruhaniyyat
), it means spiritual beings. In texts such as the Epistles of the Ikhwan al-Safa’
, it refers to the angels that rule the celestial spheres. According to Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 1240), the ruhaniyya is the spiritual essence of a prophet or a deceased wali
receives supernatural assistance.
A posture in the Muslim ritual prayer, involving an inclination of the head with the hands resting upon the knees.
Title of the 30th sura of the Quran; refers to the Byzantine Greeks.
(pl. rubut) An Arabic word derived from the root ra-ba-ta
meaning ‘to attach’ or ‘to link’; and for in certain Sufi
traditions it means strengthening the heart. Ribat
as a building could describe a small fort, a fortified place, or an urban establishment for mystics. The earliest foundations of
this kind of building date back to the first half-century of the ‘Abbasid
period (750-1258 CE). Soon the idea of the ribat
moved to the coastal side of North Africa, Andalusia, and Sicily by means of Harthama ibn A‘yan, who was the first to find a ribat
in North Africa in 795 CE. It usually served to offer refuge and protection to the troops and to the surrounding countryside in case of attack. It also refers to the mystical institution that developed around it, and therefore, the urban residences of Sufis were subsequently known as rubut
. Early rubut
differ in size and intricacy from isolated watchtowers to fortified places with small units for the residents, a mosque, storehouses, and towers. A verified example of the latter survives in Tunisia, e.g., the Ribat of Susa (found in 821 CE). Today, rubut
exist mainly in North Africa as places for Sufi worship.
Rumi, Jalal al-Din (d. 1273 CE)
One of the greatest mystical poets of all time, known by the sobriquet Mawlana (1207-1273 CE). He was born in Balkh, Afghanistan, and died in Konya, Turkey, where he is buried. A significant influence on his spiritual development was a mysterious figure, Shams al-Din Tabrizi. The Mathnawi, Rumi’s most famous work, was written in Persian and has been translated into numerous languages. His disciples formed a Sufi order called the Mevleviyya, which is active in many parts of the world.
sabab (pl. asbab)
Lit. rope. It can also denote anything that binds or connects, anything by means of which one gains an end or an object sought.
A term derived from the same root as that in Islam, which conveys several meanings such as peace, safety and salvation. It is a standard form of salutation between Muslims.
salat (pl. salawat)
A Quranic term referring to prayer in general, which later came to be used more specifically for the daily ritual prayer.
Lit. king of kings, one of the royal titles in Persia and Mughal India. Also the name of a fortress near Nih, a town in Sistan
, used by the Nizari
Ismailis in the 13th century CE.
Lit. the path to be followed; the standard term used for Muslim law; the totality of the Islamic way of life.
Arabic term for old man, elder or tribal chief; also used as an honorific title for any religious dignitary; in particular a Sufi
master or spiritual guide.
Lit. ‘chain.’ A line of spiritual descent linking masters of a Sufi
group, going back to the founder of the order and eventually to Prophet Muhammad. For the Shi‘a
, the line of imams
starting with ‘Ali b. Abi Talib
in spiritual as well as physical descent.
Lit. ‘veil’ or ‘curtain.’ The ceremonial curtain behind which the Fatimid caliph
were seated at the opening of an audience and which was then unveiled.
A ritual posture of prostration in Muslim prayers with the forehead touching the ground.
Persian for Word of God or divine command, equivalent to the Arabic amr.
Sulaymani Bohras; Sulaymanis
A branch of Da’udi Tayyibi Musta‘li Ismailis.
From the 27th da‘i onwards, the Sulaymani Bohras follow a different line of succession to that of the Da’udi Bohras. They believe that the rightful 27th da‘i was a nephew of the 21st da‘i named Suleyman b. Hasan (d. 1005 AH / 1597 CE), after whom they are named Sulaymani.
Suleyman was Indian but had been the local representative, ‘amil
, in Yemen for the 26th da‘i
(who lived in India). He travelled to India to challenge Da’ud b. Qutbshah, but died there without garnering much support from the Indian Tayyibis. He was succeeded by his son, Ja‘far (d. 1050 AH / 1640 CE), who returned to Yemen. From then on, the seat of the Sulaymani da‘wa
remained in Narjan, the mountainous north east district of Yemen. Currently, the seat of the Sulaymani da‘wa
is in Narjan, a city in southern Saudi Arabia. The Arab Sulaymanis call themselves ‘Makarima’, from the family name of their da‘i
s, while the Indian Sulaymanis continue to use the name ‘Sulaymani Bohra’.
Custom or practice; particularly that associated with the exemplary life of the Prophet Muhammad, comprising his deeds and utterances as recorded in the hadith
A chapter of the Qur’an, (pl. suwar). Etymologically it is difficult to trace the term sura, but is probably derived from the Arabic root sa-wa-ra, meaning to enclose or to wall in. The word occurs in Arabic, Hebrew and Syriac. The term is used for the 114 distinct literary units of the Qur’an. Each sura is marked by a specific title, and it is divided into a number of ayat (verses) which are varying in length. The suras fall under two categories, Meccan or Medinan, depending on which of the two cities the verses in the suras were revealed in. Apart from the ninth sura called al-Tawba ‘the Repentance’, all suras start with a basmalla, the phrase: bismi’Llah al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Kind).
From the Arabic root sha-hi-da
, lit. the act of bearing witness or the public declaration of belief. It is among the key principles of Islam. The shahada
has two parts: the first attests that ‘there is no god but God’; the second attests that ‘Muhammad is Messenger of Allah’ It is the second part that distinguishes Muslims from the followers of other monotheistic religions. When pronouncing the shahada
Muslims often add the affirmation of Imam ‘Ali
as the Imam of the faithful (amir al-mu’nin
The mediaeval region of Syria, today comprising Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel.
From Arabic; lit. ‘the straight path’; a Qur’anic phrase meaning ‘the straight path’. It appears thirty three times in the Holy Qur’an. Conventionally, the phrase has been taken to mean the ‘right path’, the path of those who follow Allah’s guidance as conveyed through Prophet Muhammad.
A term used in modern scholarship to designate proto-Ismaili groups, especially the so-called Qarmatis
, who restricted the number of imams
to seven (ending with Muhammad b. Isma‘il). The term ‘seveners’ was used in another sense in authors such as al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 974), who counted the imams
in cycles of seven or heptads. The term seveners is still wrongly used to designate all other Ismaili communities who continued the line of imams
beyond the number seven.
A Muslim dynasty which ruled Sistan in eastern Persia (861–1003 CE).
A major Shii dynasty which ruled Persia (1501–1732 CE), and was succeeded by the Afsharids. (See also Qizilbash
A Sufi order founded by Shaykh Saif al–Din in 1252–53 CE, which later became the Safawid
dynasty. (See Safawid
A local Muslim dynasty which ruled in Azerbaijan during the 10th century CE.
A city in central Syria, which was the residence of several early Ismaili imams
in the pre– Fatimid
Major Muslim dynasty of Turkish origin in Persia and Iraq (1040–1194) and Syria (1078–1178).
Muslim dynasty in the Khurasan
and Transoxania region of mediaeval Persia (900–1005).
A confederation of Berber tribes in North Africa who supported the Fatimids
in the tenth century.
A local Muslim dynasty that ruled in western Khurasan
A Persian dynasty (224 – 651 CE) which ruled over territories that included, at various times, present day Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Afghanistan, eastern parts of Turkey and parts of Syria, Pakistan, Caucasia, Central Asia and Arabia. The empire was founded by Ardashir I and ended with Yazdegerd III, when his army was defeated by the Arab Muslims in the major battles of Qadisiyya (636 CE) and Nahavand (642 CE).The Sassanid era is considered to be one of the most important and influential periods in Persian history and its cultural and courtly traditions continued to influence later Muslim Empires, especially the Abbasids
(pl. Sada- Asyad) Arabic term for ‘lord’ or ‘master’. It is a pre-Islamic term and refers to a person who possesses dignity or enjoys an exalted position among his people. Amongst Muslims, the term came to indicate descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, especially those who descend from his grandson, Imam Husayn ibn ‘Ali
. It is also used as a title for Sufi masters, notable theologians and ‘ulama’
Followers of one of the legal schools of Islam founded by Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al–Shafii (d. 974 CE).
Shah Karim al-Husseini; Shah Karim al-Husayni
The name of a Nizari
Ismaili fortress near Isfahan in the 13th century CE.
A castle in Tarum in Persia ruled by the Musafirids during the 10th and 11th centuries CE.
(pl. ashraaf, shurafa’) Arabic term meaning ‘noble’ or ‘honourable’. Sharif is a pre-Islamic title that was used to denote a free man who would maintain a notable rank because of his descent from recognised tribes or ancestors. Amongst Muslims, to be a sharif
came to mean in most cases being a descendent of the Prophet’s clan, the Hashimids (Banu Hashim); it also meant being an ‘Alid
, a descendant of Imam Ali
The Name of the tenth month of the Islamic lunar year.
The eighth month of the Islamic lunar year.
A province in present–day Pakistan. In mediaeval times, part of the Indus Valley where in 958 a Fatimid
Ismaili principality was established with its seat at Multan
From Arabic, lit. way of life, way of acting, conduct; as a literary genre, sira means a biography and times of an individual. In the Muslim context, the sira typically refers to an account of the life of Prophet Muhammad, often referred to as “sirat rasul Allah”, or “al-Sira al-Nabawiyya”.
A province in eastern Iran.
(Arabic; derived from the root sa-ta-ra, meaning ‘to veil’, ‘conceal’ or ‘hide’). In Shi‘i, particularly Ismaili history, the word is used in the phrase dawr al-sitr (also dawr al-satr), meaning a period when the Imams remained hidden from the public eye due to the prevailing political climate. The Imam remained physically present but not readily identifiable by or accessible to his followers or his detractors. During such periods, communication with the followers was maintained through a small number of religious officials (du‘at).
From sufi,; an exponent of sufism (in Arabic tasawwuf); the most common term used for the mystical approach to Islam.
dynasty in Yemen (1038–1138).
(pl. saltanat) An Arabic word derived from the root sa-li-ta; it is a political office created by the Seljuk dynasty (1038-1194 CE), somewhat parallel to a kingdom in Western contexts; since then the Islamic world has witnessed the rise of numerous sultanates in Africa, Turkey, and India. Currently, there are only two sultanates, namely, Brunei and Oman.
dynasty in Sind
based in the city of Thatta that ruled from 1051 for about three centuries.
Adherents of the majority branch of Islam, Sunnism; from the term sunni which means a follower of the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad.
Freewill, opposite of al–jabr
A memoir; a genre of Arabic and Persian literature pertaining to the lives of poets, saints and learned people.
Praise or glorification of God (as in Q 74:3, etc.). The declaration of the formula Allahu Akbar (God is Most Great).
Arabic word which may be translated as complete or perfect.
The doctrine of metempsychosis, reincarnation or transmigration of the soul.
Lit. sending down. A Quranic term (Q 3:22, etc.). It refers to the revelation of the Book as transmitted by the Prophets.
Precautionary dissimulation of ones religious beliefs, especially in time of persecution or danger, a practice especially adopted by the Shii
Piety, the quality of being God–fearing.
Way or path; the path followed by mystical schools of interpretation in Islam.
Lit. testimony. The recitation of the shahada, a formal declaration of the Muslim faith, normally recited during the ritual prayers.
Lit. comparison, hence, anthropomorphism. A term used by classical theologians to accuse those who described God by analogy with mans physical existence, and who understood in a literal way Quranic expressions such as the hand of God (Q 57:29, etc.), Gods sitting on the throne (Q 10:3, etc.) and so on.
The Oneness of God or belief in Divine Unity, one of the fundamental tenets of Islam.
A branch of the Shi‘a Musta‘li Ismailis with several subdivisions.
Upon the death of the twentieth Imam of the Musta‘li Ismailis, Fatimid Caliph al-‘Amir bi-Ahkam Allah (d. 1130), the Musta‘li community split into rival Hafizi and Tayyibi groups. The official Musta‘li da‘wa in Cairo recognised al ‘Amir’s cousin, al-Hafiz as the next Imam-Caliph (hence, Hafiziyya). In Yemen, the majority of Must‘ali Ismailis along with some groups in Egypt and Syria upheld the rights of al-‘Amir’s infant son, al-Tayyib, as the rightful imam (hence, Tayyibiyya).
The Tayyibis believe that the infant imam al-Tayyib went into concealment (satr) and, since then, the Musta‘li Imamat in his line has continued in concealment. The concealed Imams are represented by the Da‘i al Mutlaq, who has supreme authority to provide leadership to the various Tayyibi communities. For centuries, Yemen was the chief stronghold of the Tayyibi da‘wa. Due to the close relations between Sulayhid Yemen and Gujarat, the Tayyibi cause also spread to India, eventually accounting for the bulk of the Musta‘li Tayyibi Ismailis (mostly of the Daudi branch) there. The Musta‘alis from the Indian Subcontinent are known as Bohras. Over the course of time, the Tayyibis themselves split into Da’udi, Sulaymani and ‘Alavi branches.
Lit. stripping or denudation. A term used mainly by Ashari
theologians from the 9th c. onwards in criticism, especially, of the Mutazila
and also the falasifa
whom they accused of emptying the idea of God of any meaning by divesting Him of all attributes, especially those of power, knowledge and speech.
The esoteric interpretation of a religious text, ritual or prescription. See batini tawil
The elucidation of the inner or esoteric meaning, batin
, from the literal wording or apparent meaning of a text, ritual or religious prescription.
A Muslim dynasty which ruled Yemen (1454–1517); the same name is also applied to unrelated minor dynasties of rulers in Spain, Khurasan and Iraq.
A region of Persia along the middle course of the river Safidrud before its confluence with the river Shahrud.
A city in Sind which was the capital of the of Sumra Ismaili
A Muslim dynasty founded by Timur Lang (Tamerlane) which ruled Persia and Transoxiana (1370–1507 CE).
The region between the Oxus and the Jaxartes Rivers situated in the present–day Republic of Uzbekistan.
Community; people who are followers of a particular religion or prophet. It refers in particular to the Muslims as a religious community.
‘ulama’; ulama; ulema
Pl. of alim, meaning a religious scholar or learned man.
Pl. of ain, meaning eye; source or fountainhead.
First major ruling Muslim dynasty that was based in Damascus (661–750).
Muslim dynasty that ruled in Iraq and Syria (992–1096).
Muslim dynasty that ruled in eastern Arabia in the late 11th and early 12th centuries.
A high officer of state, equivalent of a chief minister.
Friendship or assistance. In Sufism the term is used for qualities that can be translated roughly as ‘sainthood’; in Shi‘i Islam, it is used specifically for devotion to the imam
Saint, friend of God, or patron. In a political context the terms can also mean administrator or ruler (pl. awliya).
Authority. In Shi‘i
Islam, this refers to the authority that the imam
has over his believers.
A metaphysical term meaning existence, employed by philosophically–inclined thinkers such as al–Farabi (d. ca. 950), Ibn Rushd (d. 1198), al–Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra (d. 1050/1640). According to Ibn Sina (d. 1037), God is the wajib al–wujud (the necessary existent or the one whose essence is to exist). Sufis use the term wujud in different ways. Ibn al–Arabi (d. 638/1240) is regarded as the father of the concept of wahdat al–wujud (the unity of being).
A Muslim dynasty that ruled Yemen (847–997 CE) and were succeeded by the Fatimids.
The outward, apparent or exoteric meaning of a sacred text, ritual or religious prescriptions, from which the batin
Manifestation. In Shi‘i
Islam, the term can refer to the manifestation of the Imam
after a period of concealment.
Obligatory alms for Muslims.
A confederation of Berber
tribes in North Africa who were, in general, opposed to the Fatimids
A local Iranian dynasty (1751-1794 CE), founded by Karim Khan Zand who ruled over Isfahan in 1751 CE, and briefly had Shiraz (in present day Iran) as his capital. By 1763 CE, Karim Khan conquered all of what is present day Iran, except for the state of Khurasan
. Karim Khan advocated a Shi‘i
tradition in the area, and he had taken the title Wakil (viceroy) of the people. The dynasty ended with the death of Lutf Ali Khan, a grandnephew of Karim Khan, who was captured and killed by the founder of the Qajar dynasty, Agha Muhammad Khan. Despite the short reign of this dynasty, the art of this era is noteworthy and many Qajar artistic features can be traced back to Zand art.
African slaves who carried out a series of revolts against the Abbasids
in Iraq in the second half of the 9th century CE.
(pl. Zawaya) from Arabic lit. ‘a corner’. It is a Sufi
place of worship which might also coincide with a mausoleum of a saint or the founder of a specific tariqah
. The term zawiya
can also refer to a corner of a mosque where an aspirant would isolate himself reciting dhikr
Third major branch of Shii
Islam, after the Ithnaashari
and the Ismailis
. The Zaydis are named after Zayd, a grandson of Imam Husayn b. Ali
and brother of Imam Muhammad Baqir, whom they followed as Imam
Muslim dynasty that ruled in North Africa (972–1148).
A Muslim dynasty which ruled northern Persia (927–1090 CE).
An Ismaili dynasty that ruled in Yemen (1083–1173).