The Institute of Ismaili Studies

The Institute of Ismaili Studies

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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: L - Q

A senior rank in early Ismaili da‘wa corresponding to that of hujja .
Lesser Kabylia
A province in present–day Algeria.
al-ma’dhun; al-madhun
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 to initiates.
al-mu’min al-mumtahan
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 Ithna‘ashari Shi‘ism , 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 Shi‘a 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.
mukasir; al-mukasir
Lit. ‘breaker’ a junior rank in the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa 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).
mullah; mulla
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, pir, shaykh or qutb). 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. ‘guide.’ Spiritual master (See murid). Word used for Imam in the Pandiyat–i Jawanmardi, authored by Imam Munstansir bi’llah II (d. 1480).
Lit. ‘respondent’; a term denoting an initiate to the lowest rank in the Fatimid religious hierarchy.

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 and Shi‘a, 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.
al-Muharram; Muharram
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.
Maghrib; Maghreb
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).
Mawlana Hazar Imam (Ar. Mawlana al-imam al-hadir)
Lit. ‘our lord/master the present Imam.’ Designation used by Nizari Ismailis for their contemporary Imam, who is presently His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.
A town in Algeria.
A small town three miles from Mecca, which is the site of special ceremonies performed by Muslim pilgrims to the Ka‘ba .
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 community.
(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 AH/8th CE century until the 4th AH/10th 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 Shi‘i Arab dynasty which ruled the town of Hawiza or Huwayza in Khuzistan, Persia, in the 15th century CE.
Musta‘lis; Musta‘aliyya
Adherents of a branch of the Ismailis who supported al-Musta‘li, the younger son of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph 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.
nafs-i kull
A term used in medieval Ismaili and other cosmological doctrines for the Universal Soul. See aql–i kull .
Used in the Qur’an more than 300 times, where its primary meaning is the human self or person. In post–Qur’anic 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 Aristotle’s 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 imams Muhammad al–Baqir and Ja‘far al–Sadiq.
Arabic word for ‘adjective,’ which can also mean link, relationship, ancestry, lineage or origin.
nur; noor
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.
Nahj al-Balagha
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)
Persian vizier (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).
Nizariyya; Nizaris
Adherents of a branch of the Ismailis who gave allegiance to Nizar, the eldest son of the Fatimid Imam-caliph al-Mustansir (d. 1094) as his successor.
Ni‘matu’llahiyya; Ni‘mat Allahiyya
A Sufi order named after its founder Shah Ni‘matullah 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, ‘alamat, 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.
Nuqtawiyya; Nuqtawis
A group which split off from the Huruffiyya in 1397–98 CE.
Nurbakhshiyya; Nurbakshi
A Sufi 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.

Ottomans; Osmanlis
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 are ascribed.
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 Qur’an, 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 Tabari’s Tafsir), the qalam was the first thing created by God. Abu Ya’qub al–Sijistani (d. after 971) linked the terms qalam and ‘arsh with aql in an attempt to equate the Qur’anic 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 qasidas are also composed to celebrate festivals. The chanted qasida is part of the religious tradition of Arabic and Persian–speaking Nizari Ismailis.
qawm min al-shi‘a
A group, tribe or community of the Shi‘a .
qa’im al-qiyamah
Lit. ‘the Resurrector of the Resurrection.’ See khudawand–i qiyamat and qa’im .
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-imam (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 in Alamut 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).
qila‘ al-da‘wa
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.
qutb; kutb
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 Shi‘i authors, such as Haydar Amuli (14th c.) the qutb is the Shi‘i imam.
Arabic word for the city of Cairo in Egypt, founded by the Fatimids in 969.
Qadariyya; Qadarites
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).
Qarmatis; Qarmatiyya
A number of revolutionary movements in early Islam which, while adhering with the Ismailis to the Imamat of Isma‘il b. Ja‘far, were generally opposed to the Fatimids .
Qasim Shahis
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).
Qayrawan; Kairouan
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.