Lifelong Learning Articles


ahl al- bayt               Lit. ‘people of the house’, meaning the Prophet Muhammad and members of his house hold, includ ing his cousin and son–in–law Ali b. Abi Talibinfo-icon, his daugh ter Fatimainfo-icon, and his grand sons Hasan and Husayn, as well as their progeny.

ahl al- sunnainfo-icon            Lit. ‘people of the tradition and wa’l- jama‘a (the community)'. A collective term for adherents of Sunni Islam; it was applied to those early Muslims who believed that succession to the Prophet resided in a series of deputy compan ions or caliphs.

alaminfo-icon                         A ‘flag’ or ‘sign post’. Alams are ornate religious stand ards seen in Shi‘i spaces of worship and during Muharraminfo-icon proces sions. They are often made of steel and crowned with emblems detailing the names of the ahl al- bayt.

ashurkhana              A Shi‘i space used for collective mourning rituals and the safekeeping of relics and alams. The ashurkhana hosts annual Muharram rites and serves as a space where worshippers may come to seek blessings through the alams.

baraka pl. barakat    Blessing(s). In Islamic belief, baraka comes from God and can be granted to people, places and objects.

caliphinfo-icon                       Leader of the Muslim community. By the 10th century, the Arabic khalifa meant a successor to the Prophet Muhammad and denoted temporal authority.

dhikrinfo-icon                        Devotional acts of remem brance that include the rhythmic invocation of God’s name and attributes. This practice is most often associated with mystical communities in the Muslim world.

du‘a                         ‘Invocation’ or ‘supplication’. In the Ismaili context the du‘a is a daily prayer which invokes God, the names of the Prophet and the Imams.

hadra                      Lit. ‘presence’. A collective dhikr gathering which can include rhythmic invocations and bodily movements.

husayniyya             Found in Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, the term husayniyya is most commonly attributed to structures which house annual Muharram commem orations and rituals of mourning for Shi‘i communities.

imaminfo-icon                      Gener ally used to denote a leader, whether a prayer- leader or caliph. In Shi‘i Islam, it refers to the designated Imams from the ahl al- bayt.

imamateinfo-icon                 The institution of authoritative political and religious leadership, which in Shi‘i Islam refers to the designated Imams from the Household of the Prophet.

imambara               Lit. ‘enclosure of the imams’. Imambaras are structures found in South Asia that are devoted to the events of Karbala and its martyrs, hosting rituals during Muharram and displaying religious relics.

Ismailis                   Adherents of a branch of Shi‘i Islam following the line of Isma‘il, the eldest son of the Shi'i Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, from whom the Fatimid Imams claimed descent.

Ithna‘ashari            Lit. ‘Twelversinfo-icon’, the major ity branch of Shi‘i Muslims, who acknowledge 12 Imams in lineal succession from Ali b. Abi Talib. After Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, they acknowledged his younger son, Musa al-Kazim, as their Imam.

jami‘                        A larger space of worship used to hold daily salat rituals and in particular Friday congregational prayers which are preceded by a khutbainfo-icon (sermon).

jamatkhana            Lit. ‘house of the community’. For Nizari Ismailis, the jamatkhana serves as the primary space of communal gathering and ritual practices, including the daily du‘a.

khalwa                   A khalwa is a small room for meditation, reflection and reading of the Qur’aninfo-icon. For the Druzeinfo-icon community, the term khalwa can either refer to a physical structure, a person or group seeking solitude for purposes of worship, or the rites performed in these spaces.

khanaqah             The term khanaqah refers to the space used by various Sufi communities. It can serve as a teaching centre for disciples, a lodge, a place of communal worship and the burial site of Sufi masters.

khutba                  A sermon delivered in a mosque at Friday prayers.

madrasa               A place of study, tradi tionally attached to the mosque, where instruction involves Islamic theology.

majlis                   Lit. ‘a place of sitting’, used to signify a religious assembly. For Shi‘i communities this involves the gathering for the purpose of mourning and remembering the ahl al-baytinfo-icon. For the Druze community a majlis refers to their primary communal and ritual space.

maqam                A shrine built on a sacred site or where the body of a saint or religious figure is interred.

matam                 The term matam is used to collectively refer to the gestures of lamentation that Shi‘i communities express during Muharram and Ashurainfo-icon. This may include chest-beating or self flagellation.

masjidinfo-icon                 Lit. ‘a place of prostration’ or ‘mosque’. The masjid is primarily a designated space for the offering of canonical ritual prayers by Muslim congregations. Besides its religious function, the masjid can be the centre of community life which may serve social, political and educational roles.

mihrab                A niche in the wall of a mosque that signifies the direction of prayer.

minbar                A stepped platform in a mosque used by the imam to deliver the khutba.

muezzin             A person who recites the call to prayer at the prescribed times of day.

nassinfo-icon                   Lit. ‘text’ or ‘stipulation’. In Shi‘i Islam, it refers to the Prophet Muhammad’s declaration of Ali as his successor, and by extension, to the require ment that each Imam should explicitly appoint the following Imam. The concept of nass was developed in the early decades of Shi‘i Islam, when several people claimed the imamate for themselves, especially in the times of Imams Muhammad al-Baqir and Ja‘far al-Sadiq.

qiblainfo-icon                  The direction of Muslim prayer towards the Ka'ba in Mecca.

qutbinfo-icon                   Lit. ‘pole’ or ‘axis’. In Sufi communities this title is often used to denote the spiritual leader of an order who is thought to mediate between the divine and the human and whose presence is deemed necessary for the existence of the world.

salat pl. salawat  A Qur’anic term referring to prayer in general, which later came to be used more specifically for the daily ritual prayer.

sama                 Lit. ‘listening’. A practice common to Sufi communities which involves the listening to music, chanting and 140 Glossary sometimes dancing as a means of shifting one’s consciousness to become closer to God.

silsilainfo-icon                 Lit. ‘chain.’ A line of spiritual descent linking masters of a Sufi group to the founder of the order and eventually to the Prophet Muhammad.

tariqainfo-icon                 Lit. ‘a path’. In the Sufi tradition a tariqa indicates an order or school of interpretation that follows its own organization, practices and lineage of spiritual masters.

ta‘ziya                In Iran a ta‘ziya refers to a passion play; a mourning ritual during Muharram that re- enacts the death of Husayn at the Battle of Karbala. In South Asia, a ta‘ziya is a rendition of Husayn’s shrine at Karbala, usually made of paper and bamboo, and carried during processions in Muharram. These are some times ritually immersed into water on the day of Ashura.

takiya                 A site in which annual Muharram commem or a tions are observed by Shi‘i communit ies; its Persian variation ‘takiyeh’ can be used synonym ously with husayniyya in parts of Iran. A takiya can also refer to a Sufi dwelling place.

ummainfo-icon                A community; people who are followers of a particular religion or prophet. It refers in particular to Muslims as a global religious community.

walayainfo-icon               Lit. ‘authority’ or ‘guardianship’. A principal belief of Shi‘i Islam, linked closely to imamate, denoting devotion and obedience to the ahl al- bayt and acknowledgement of the Imam’s right to succeed the Prophet Muhammad.

waliinfo-icon pl. awliya    Lit. ‘friend’. In particular, Friend of God. The term could also be used in reference to the Shi’i Imams and, in Sufi traditions, to saints.

zawiya                A place of worship where Sufi communities congregate for weekly dhikr sessions. The term zawiya may also refer to a corner of a mosque where an aspirant would isolate himself reciting dhikr.




Short definitions of the key terms used in the book.