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Definitions, pronunciations, and correct spellings of key terms

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Allah (al'lah): Literally, "The God." Muslims use this Arabic term as the proper name for God. Muslims view Allah as the Creator and Sustainer of everything in the universe, who is transcendent, has no physical form, and has no associates who share in His divinity.

Asr (asr): Performed in the afternoon, the Asr is the third of the five daily prayers offered by Muslims.

Chador (sha-dor'): A loose outer garment worn by some Muslim women that covers all of the body and most of the face.

Du'a (doo'ah): Term designating personal prayer, supplication, and communication with God, as distinct from salat (formal worship). Muslims make du'as for many reasons and at various times, such as after salat, before eating a meal, before retiring to sleep, or to commemorate an auspicious occasion such as the birth of a child. Personal du'as can be made in any language, whereas salat is performed in Arabic.

Dhuhr (thuhr): Performed in the midday, it is the second of the five daily prayers performed by Muslims.

Dhul-Hijjah (thul hij'ja): The last month of Islamic lunar calendar in which Hajj is performed. The Eid al-Adha, one of Islam's two major religious holidays and commemorates the end of the Hajj, is on the tenth day of this month.

Eid al-Fitr (eed al-fitir): Eid is an Arabic term meaning "festivity" or "celebration." Muslims celebrate two major religious holidays, known as Eid al-Fitr (which takes place after Ramadan), and Eid al-Adha (which occurs at the time of the Hajj). A traditional greeting used by Muslims around the time of Eid is "Eid Mubarak," meaning "May your holiday be blessed." A special congregational Eid worship, visitation of family and friends, new clothing, specially-prepared foods and sweets, and gifts for children characterize these holidays.

Fajr (fajr): Performed at dawn, it is the first of the five daily prayers performed by Muslims.

Hadith (ha-deeth'): Unlike the verses contained in the Qur'an, Hadith are the sayings and traditions of Prophet Muhammad himself, and form part of the record of the Prophet's Sunnah (way of life and example). The Hadith record the words and deeds, explanations, and interpretations of the Prophet concerning all aspects of life. Hadith are found in various collections compiled by Muslim scholars in the early centuries of the Muslim civilization. Six such collections are considered most authentic.

Hajj (haj): The pilgrimage (journey) to Mecca (in modern-day Saudi Arabia) undertaken by Muslims in commemoration of the Abrahamic roots of Islam. The Hajj rites symbolically reenact the trials and sacrifices of Prophet Abraham, his wife Hajar, and their son Isma'il over 4,000 years ago. Muslims must perform the Hajj at least once in their lives, provided their health permits and they are financially capable. The Hajj is performed annually by over 2,000,000 people during the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Dhul-Hijjah.

Hijab (ha-jab'): Commonly, the term hijab is used to denote the scarf or other type of head-covering worn by Muslim women throughout the world. However, the broader definition of the term refers to a state of modesty and covering that encompasses a woman's entire body, excluding hands and face.

Hilal also halal (hi-lal', ha-lal'): Arabic term designating that which is deemed lawful in Islam, based on the two authoritative sources, the Qur'an and the Sunnah (way of life and example) of Prophet Muhammad.

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Ihram (ih-ram'): State of consecration into which Muslims enter in order to perform the Hajj or Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). The term also refers to the specific dress, made of white, unstitched, seamless cloth, donned by pilgrims while in this state. During the Hajj, the ihram worn by pilgrims serves to reinforce a sense of humility and purity, and human equality in the eyes of God.

Iftar (if-tar'): The meal served at sunset that breaks the day's fast.

Isha (ih'sha'): The Isha is the night prayer and the last of the five daily prayers offered by Muslims.

Islam (iss-lam'): Islam is an Arabic word derived from the three-letter root s-l-m. Its meaning encompasses the concepts of peace, greeting, surrender, and commitment, and refers commonly to an individual's surrender and commitment to God the Creator through adherence to the religion by the same name.

Jihad (ja-had'): Jihad is an Arabic word which derives from the three-letter root j-h-d, and means "to exert oneself" or "to strive." Other meanings include endeavor, strain, effort, diligence, struggle. Usually understood in terms of personal betterment, jihad may also mean fighting to defend one's (or another's) life, property and faith. Because jihad is a highly nuanced concept, it should not be understood to mean "holy war," a common misrepresentation.

Ka'bah also Kaaba (ka'ba): An empty cube-shaped structure located in the city of Makkah (in modern-day Saudi Arabia). Built by Prophet Abraham and his son Prophet Ishma'il about 4,000 years ago, the Ka'bah stands as the first building dedicated to the worship of the One God. The Ka'bah is made of stone, and is covered by a black and gold cloth embroidered with verses from the Qur'an.

Madrasah (me-dra'se): An institute of higher learning in Islamic studies.

Maghrib (megh'rib): Performed at sunset, the Maghrib is the fourth of the five daily prayers offered by Muslims.

Masjid (mes'jid): A term meaning "place of prostration," masjid designates a building where Muslims congregate for communal worship. The term comes from the same Arabic root as the word sujud, designating the important worship position in which Muslims touch their forehead to the ground. Often, the French word mosque is used interchangeably with masjid, though the latter term is preferred by Muslims. The masjid also serves various social, educational, and religious purposes.

Mecca also Makkah (mek'ah): An ancient city (in modern-day Saudi Arabia) where Abraham and Ishma'il built the Ka'bah. Muhammad, a member of the Quraysh tribe, which traced its lineage back to Abraham, was born in Makkah in 570 C.E. After migrating to Madinah (Medina) to further the message of Islam, Muhammad returned to Makkah in 629 C.E. with fellow Muslims to reinstitute the age-old monotheistic Hajj. In 630 C.E., after the Quraysh violated a peace treaty, Muhammad marched on Makkah and gained control of the city peacefully, thereafter clearing the Ka'bah of idols and reintegrating the city into the fold of Islam.

Mosque: see masjid

Muhammad (mu-hem'id): The prophet and righteous person believed by Muslims to be the final messenger of God, whose predecessors are believed to include the Prophets Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus and others. Born in 570 C.E., Muhammad grew up to become a well-respected member of Makkan (Meccan) society. In 610 C.E., he received the first of many revelations that would eventually form the content of the Qur'an. Soon after this initial event, he was conferred prophethood and began calling people to righteousness and belief in One God. Muhammad died in 632 C.E., after successfully (re)establishing the religion known as Islam and providing Muslims with a model for ideal human behavior.

Muslim (mus'lim): Literally, the term means "one who submits to God." More commonly, the term describes any person who accepts the creed and the teachings of Islam. The word "Muhammadan" is a pejorative and offensive misnomer, as it violates Muslims' most basic understanding of their creed. Muslims do not worship Muhammad, nor do they view him as the founder of the religion. The word "Moslem" is also incorrect, since it is a corruption of the word "Muslim."

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Qur'an (kur'an): The word Qur'an means "the recitation" or "the reading," and refers to the divinely revealed scripture of Islam. It consists of 114 surahs (chapters) revealed by God to Muhammad over a period of twenty-three years. The Qur'an continues to be recited by Muslims throughout the world in the language of its revelation, Arabic, exactly as it was recited by Prophet Muhammad nearly fourteen hundred years ago. The Qur'an is viewed as the authoritative guide for human beings, along with the Sunnah (way of life and example) of Muhammad.

Ramadan (ram'a-dan'): The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan is important because it is the month in which the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Muhammad. Thus, it is considered a blessed and holy month. Furthermore, Ramadan is the month in which Muslims fast daily from dawn to sunset to develop piety and self-restraint.

Sa'i (sa'ee): The act of walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah during pilgrimage. This act retraces the footsteps of Hajar, the wife of the Prophet Abraham, during her frantic search for water to satisfy the thirst of her son Ishma'il.

Salat or Salah (sa-lat'): Salat refers to the prescribed form of worship in Islam, and is one of the "five pillars" of Islam. Muslims perform the salat five times throughout each day as a means of maintaining God-consciousness, to thank Him for His blessings and bounty, and to seek His assistance and support in one's daily life.

Shahadah (sha'ha-deh): An Arabic word meaning "witnessing," Shahadah refers to the declaration of faith ("La-Ilaha-Illa-Lah Muhammadur-Rasul-Allah") which all Muslims take as their creed -- namely, that there is no deity but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. The Shahadah constitutes the first of the "five pillars" of Islam.

Shari'a (sharee'ah): Literally, "the path." This term refers to guidance from God to be used by Muslims to regulate their societal and personal affairs. The Shari'a is based upon the Qur'an and the Sunna (way of life and example) of Muhammad, and is interpreted by scholars in deliberating and deciding upon questions and issues of a legal nature.

Sawm (soam): Sawm refers to the daily fast Muslims undertake during the month of Ramadan, and is one of the "five pillars" of Islam. For Muslims, fasting means total abstinence from all food, drink, and marital sexual relations from dawn to sunset. Muslims fast for many reasons, including to build a sense of will-power against temptation, to feel compassion for less fortunate persons, and to reevaluate their lives in spiritual terms.

Surah al-Fatihah (soo'ra al-faati'hah): Arabic name meaning "The Opening," and referring to the opening chapter of the Qur'an. This chapter, recited during the daily formal worship, is comprised of seven short verses and summarizes the essential beliefs of Muslims and the obligation of human beings to seek guidance and aid from God alone.

Tawaf (ta-waf'): The circling of the Ka'bah seven times during pilgrimage.

Ulema (oo'la-ma') pl. of alim('aa-lim): One who has knowledge. This term refers commonly to a Muslim religious scholar.

Umrah (um'rah): The "lesser" pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca). This journey to worship at the Ka'bah and offer prayers can be performed by Muslims at any time during the year, unlike the Hajj, which takes place during a specified period in the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

Zakaat (za'kaat) also Zakah (za'kah): Zakah literally means "purification," and refers to an almsgiving tax, roughly 2.5% of one's accumulated wealth, that eligible Muslims pay annually. Zakah is one of the "five pillars" of Islam, and is usually collected by local masjids or charitable organizations. The funds are distributed to poor and needy persons in the Muslim community. Paying the zakah reminds Muslims of the duty to help those less fortunate, and that wealth is a trust from God rather than something to be taken for granted.

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Glossary definitions courtesy of the Council for Islamic Education.