Discuss the various religions of the world.

World’s Religions

Islam Glossary

Allah: The God, One God. Strictly monotheist word.

Koran (Qur’an): Sacred textbook of Islam, bestowed upon Muhammad (S.A.W.W) by Allah, over a 20 year period through the angel Jibraeel.

Prophets: Since Islam considers Allah to be the god of the Jews and the Christians (see also People of the Book), it views the important figures of those two religions as prophets of Allah. Some of the figures Islam considers prophets are: Adam, Abraham, Ishmael, David, and Jesus. All these prophets delivered Allah’s message, but somehow it was corrupted or shortened and so their work was only partially successful. This is why Mohammed is considered the Seal of the Prophets, because he brought the complete, final, and uncorrupted message of Allah to humanity.

Islam: The religion which focuses on the human submission to Allah. The term “Islam” itself derives from two different roots, one which means “submission” and the other which means “peace.” A person enters Islam by saying the Shahada.

Animism: The belief that everything has a spirit, including inanimate objects.

Polytheism: Belief of existence and worship of many Gods.

Koreish (Quraysh): A wealthy and influential family of Arab in the times of Muhammad (S.A.W.W).

Superstition: Excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural.

Fratricide: The killing of one’s brother or sister.

Jinn: Invisible begins, in Islamic belief, who were created from fire. They can be good or bad, are held eternally accountable for their actions.

Hanif: A pre-Islamic term referring to certain individuals in the Hejaz region who pursued experience of and interaction with the gods of the region. Mohammed, for example, was initially a hanif of Allah.

Paroxysm: A sudden attack or outburst of a particular emotion or activity.

Revelation: The divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence.

Credulity: A tendency to be too ready to believe that something is real or true.

Calumny: The making of false and defamatory statements about someone in order to damage their reputation.

Vilification: Abusively disparaging speech or writing.

Mecca (Makkah): This is the town in the Hejaz where Mohammed was born. It was the stronghold of the Koreish tribe and the location of the sacred site of the Kaaba. After Muhammad was driven out by the Quraysh tribe in 622 for teaching the monotheistic worship of Allah, the Meccans tried to kill Mohammed through military attacks. In 630, the Meccans were definitively defeated by Mohammed’s Medinan forces, and the Muslims took over Mecca and the Kaaba. Since then Mecca has been the most holy site in Islam (followed by Medina and Jerusalem) and the destination of the Hajj.

Medina (Madina): Originally called Yathrib, in 622 the elders of this town asked Muhammad to come and govern them. He agreed on the conditions that they accept him as a Prophet and allow him to bring his followers. Mohammed governed this town until his death in 632. During his stay, the town came to be known as Madinat al-Nabi (“City of the Prophet”), or Medina for short. The Moslem exodus to Medina is known as the hijra. The year of the hijra, 622, became the first year of the Muslim calendar. Since Muhammad was buried in Medina, it is considered the second most holy city in Islam, after Mecca.

Hijra: The exodus of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622.

Kaa’ba: A rectangular structure (about 20 feet by 30 feet and about 50 feet high) which is build with a special holy stone as its cornerstone. It is in the center of a large mosque in Hajj. The Kaaba serves as the center of the Muslim world and all Muslims pray towards it, wherever they may be in the world.

Night Journey: In the Night Journey of Mohammed, Gabriel took Muhammad from Medina to Jerusalem. They stopped momentarily on the spot that later became the Dome of the Rock. From there, Muhammad ascended into heaven to visit with prophets who had gone before him.

Surah: The Arabic term for a chapter in the Koran.

Facsimile: An exact copy, especially of written or printed material.

People of the Book: Islam considers the Jews and the Christians to be People of the Book. This gives them a special legal status within Islamic regions, essentially one of second-class citizenship, but with clearly defined rights and responsibilities. In Arabic, this status is that of dhimmi. In contrast to other non-Muslims, they could worship as they wished, own property, and had legal rights in Muslim courts. They could also serve in government. By contrast, they could not build new synagogues or churches, proselytize, or serve in the military. These rights gave them a place in Muslim society and protected them from persecution.

Hejaz: The mountainous region of the Arabian Peninsula that is located along the north-east coast of the Red Sea. It is here that both Mecca and Medina are located. At the time of Muhammad’s birth, it was populated by numerous, rival Arab tribes.

Omnipotent: A deity having unlimited power.

Nihilism: The rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless.

Fitra: Primordial human nature is the closest English meaning of this Arabic word.

Ghalfah: Negligence and heedlessness.

Dome of the Rock: The Dome of the Rock is the shrine in Jerusalem which makes Jerusalem the third holiest city in Islam.

Five Pillars: The Five Pillars of Islam indicate the main values and practices of Islam. They are: the Shahada, Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting, and the Hajj.

Adhan (Azan): Arabic word. The call to prayer performed by the muezzin before each of the five daily times of prayer (salat).

Zakat: Almsgiving, in an Islamic country, it is a part of taxation.

Shahada: The Shahada is the central Muslim statement of faith. It is short, but in two parts. The first is: “There is no god but Allah” (Arab. “La illahah illah ‘lla”). The second is: “And Mohammed is his Prophet” (Arab. “Wah Mohammadan rasulu ‘llah”). Saying the Shahada in Arabic with the intent of becoming a Muslim immediately makes a person a member of the Umma (i.e., the Islamic Community).

Fasting: Fasting (sawm in Arabic) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. All healthy and sane Muslims are expected to fast (to abstain from food, drink, smoking and other bodily pleasures) during the daylight hours throughout the entire month of Ramadan. This means that they rise before dawn to eat breakfast and then eat a large meal after dusk. While they fast during the day, Muslims are expected to reflect on themselves and their standing before Allah, and ask for forgiveness for their sins. The evening meal, by contrast, is often a time of enjoyment and the gathering of friends and relatives.

Hajj: The fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam. It lays out the goal of each Moslem performing a pilgrimage to Mecca to worship at the Kaba and to rededicate themselves to Allah at sites important in his life. The Hajj is immediately followed by the festival of Eid al-Adha.

Congregational Prayer: Prayer in congregation (jama’ah) is considered to have more social and spiritual benefit than praying by oneself. When praying in congregation, the people stand in straight parallel rows behind the chosen imam, facing qibla.

Hadith: The stories about and sayings of Muhammad. After his death, these were tested for accuracy and collected into an organized body of material. They provide examples of proper behavior and instances of Muhammad’s understanding of his role.

Primogeniture: The right of succession belonging to the firstborn child, especially the feudal rule by which the whole real estate of an intestate passed to the eldest son.

Polygyny: Polygamy in which a man has more than one wife.

Polygamy: The practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.

Muezzin: The muezzin calls muslims to prayer five times a day from a high place, usually the minaret of the local mosque by crying out the Call to Prayer.

Jihad: There are two types of Jihad. The Lesser Jihad is the expectation that Muslims will defend their homeland and Islam from attack. The Greater Jihad is the inner battle which Muslims continually fight within themselves to submit to Allah and to fulfill his expectations of humans.

Sufi, Sufism: Sufism is a term that designates Islam’s mystical and ascetic movements. A Sufi is one who practices Sufism. Sufis attempt to go beyond the restrictions of a “typical” Muslim life and to seek Allah in more intimate ways.


The sunnah is the paradigm of the behavior of the perfect Muslim, based on the example set by Mohammed. It includes aspects of ethics and morality, purity, prayer and worship, as well as matters of social and familial relations.

Shi’ite Islam:Today, Shi’ite Muslims make up about 15 percent of all Muslims (the rest are Sunni). The main reason for their split from the rest of the Umma lies in their different understanding of the proper succession after Muhammad’s death. The Shiites believed that Mohammed had designed Ali as his successor and spiritual heir.

Sunni Islam: The followers of Sunni Islam make up the vast majority of Muslims, some 80 to 85 percent. Indeed, when people speak about “Islam,” or say “Muslims believe…” or “Muslims do…”, they are usually referring to Sunni Islam.

Faqir: In general, “faqir” means “poor.” In Islam, it is particularly applied to a Sufi who has voluntary become poor. In Sufism, it also applies to one who is “poor in spirit,” who has according to Sufi belief humbled himself before Allah.

Shaikh, Sheikh: The head religious (Islamic) functionary in a town or region.


Jesus:Jesus is the central figure of Christianity. He was a Jewish peasant whose father was a craftsman (carpenter) in the Galilean village of Nazareth. He was probably born about 4 BCE and was killed about 28 CE.

Saint: Typically, the term saint refers to someone who has lived a life of exceptional Christian virtue, totally dedicated to God, and who has passed on into heaven.

Bible: The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament essentially consists of the Hebrew Bible, while the New Testament contains books which tell about Jesus and the early decades of the Church.

New Testament: The 27 books of the New Testament make up the second part of the Christian Bible. It consists of the four gospels (“gospel” means “good news”), the Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of Paul, the letters of Hebrew, I-III John, Jude, James, I-II Peter, and Revelation.

Old Testament: The Old Testament, as it was canonized by the Councils of Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 and 419, consisted of the Hebrew books of the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings as well as the Greek books of Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and I and II Maccabees.

Angels: The angels are created heavenly beings who serve as God’s messengers and helpers. They are made out of spirit and not physical matter and so live forever.

Spirit:This is the part of human beings that gives them life. During life, it dwells within the body, but after death is freed from it. It is the soul that is eternal and receives the punishment of sin or the rewards of salvation.

Baptism: In its most basic form, baptism is a ritual which a person is immersed in water.

Sadducees: A Jewish group of first-century Palestine. Many priests and important people were members. They believed in the Hebrew Bible, but not in religious traditions outside it.

Pharisees: A Jewish religious movement in first-century Palestine that, according to the gospels, opposed Jesus and his teachings.

Compassion: The character of God the Father by which he tempers his divine Justice. It is made possible by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus which has brought salvation from sin to all humanity.

Christ: The term “christ” comes from the Greek word “Xristos,” which means “the anointed one.” It has the same meaning as “mashiach”–that is “messiah”–in Hebrew. It is applied to Jesus as a title, indicating his status as the one messiah.

Christmas: This is the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth to Mary. By the end of the fourth century, most churches celebrated this holiday on December 25th, but the date is not fixed according to any scriptural information.

Disciple: The twelve followers whom Jesus chose during his ministry to be his special companions and assistants. After Judas’ betrayal and death, he was replaced by Mattathias.

Gigantesque: of enormous or grotesquely large proportions.

Galilee: This is the region of northern Palestine around the Sea of Galilee. It is in this area that Jesus lived most of his life and carried most of his ministry.

Crucifixion: This is the term for Jesus’ death on the cross. In Roman times, the cross was an instrument of punishment for criminals, with death taking many hours–sometimes even days–to come upon the criminal so condemned.

Ephesus: Council of The third Church Council which was held in Ephesus in 431. It condemned the Nestorian idea that Jesus was two separate persons, one divine and the other human. It instead reaffirmed that both always existed at the same time in the single person of Jesus.

Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the third part of the Trinity. This is the power that came from God to the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. It is seen as the power that guides and strengthens Christians as they strive to do God’s will.

Trinity: The doctrine that the Christian God is three beings in one. These are the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.

Atonement: In Christianity, atonement is necessary because of God’s character of Justice; he must act at all times with Justice. This means that when humans sin–or more accurately, since all humanity is born with original sin–they must pay the penalty of sin which is death.

Incarnation: The noun indicating the act of God becoming human; “Jesus incarnated himself so that he could die on the cross.” The doctrine of the Incarnation holds that Christ on earth was at one and the same time fully god and fully human.

Doctrine: An official statement of theological belief.

Constantine: Constantine the Great was the sole Emperor of the Roman Empire from 312 to his death in 337. He started the process that ultimately made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, which transformed it into the Holy Roman Empire.

Son: The designation Jesus receives as part of the Holy Trinity. This is the part of God who became human, was killed, and then resurrected to provide humanity with salvation.

Sin: Sin can also be a state, as in “so-and-so is in a state of sin.” If a person is in a state of sin, they have not attained salvation.

Catholic Church: The Catholic Church is the westernmost of two churches that were created by the east/west split of Christianity in 1054. (The other was the Eastern Orthodox Church.) Its headquarters is in Rome, in the Vatican. Its leader is the Pope, who occupies the top point of a hierarchy which begins with the laity and the priests and climbs up through bishops, archbishops, and cardinals. Catholics emphasize the importance of the church’s teaching authority and the sacraments. The central act of worship is the Mass or Holy Communion. It is from the Catholic Church that the Protestant Churches broke off during the Reformation.

Orthodox Churches, Eastern: The Eastern Orthodox Church is one of two churches that were created by the east/west split of Christianity in 1054. (The other was the Catholic Church.) It includes the Orthodox Churches of Russia, Greece, Romania, and other “eastern” countries. The Orthodox Churches have similar beliefs to the Catholic Church: it is hierarchical (at least within each of the national churches), believes in the seven sacraments, holds to the decisions of the early Church Councils (such as Nicea) and the importance of the Church as a teaching authority, and emphasizes the importance of priests and liturgy. They also make extensive use of icons in personal devotion.

Sacrament: The notion of sacrament is particularly important to the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, the latter which sees itself as a “sacramental agent.” This means that sacraments are administered under its authority and care. Sacraments often mirror important life passages and should be seen as the spiritual and sacred reflection of their social/human counterparts.

Holy Communion: Known as Mass, the Eucharist, and the Lord’s Supper, this ritual symbolizes the forgiveness of sins. It is modeled after the “Last Supper” ceremony related in the gospels. It is a symbolic sacrifice in which Christ’s body is presented as the sacrifice which frees people from their sins through their faith in Jesus.

Cardinal: A class of clerics in the Catholic Church who are attached to the Vatican. They may be priests or bishops.

Constantinople: Constantinople was founded by Constantine in 330 as the eastern capital of the Roman Empire.

Alexandria: Alexandria in Egypt, as the second most important city in the Roman Empire, was made one of the church’s first three Patriarchs, along with Rome and Antioch at the Council of Nicea in 325. The Alexandrian bishops often found themselves at loggerheads with those from Antioch in the early theological debates.

Protestant Churches: The Protestant churches had their origins in the Reformation in the sixteenth century, when many European Christians broke away from the Catholic Church–i.e., they “protested.” Martin Luther is considered the founder of the Protestant movement, while John Calvin was influential as well. In the beginning, there were few different churches–much of Germany became Lutheran–later on the Protestant churches kept splitting and breaking off. Today there are thousands of different Protestant denominations across the world.

Protestant Principle: The Protestant idea that God and God alone is to be worshipped.

Faith: In general terms, faith is simply the belief in things unseen and unproven. Demonstrated facts, for example, do not require faith. In Protestantism, faith takes on a deeper meaning. It is the acceptance of God with the whole self, that is, with one’s mind, emotions, and will.


Hebrew: Hebrew is the language spoken during the first three-quarters or so of the Temple Period by the Israelites. Towards the end of the period, Aramaic and Greek supplanted the use of Hebrew.

Jerusalem: Jerusalem was originally the capital city of the United Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon. After Solomon’s death, it was the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, but rebuilt under the Persians by around 520 BCE.

Jews: The name for the people Israel throughout the Rabbinic, Medieval, and Modern Periods. It evolved from the Greek term for someone who lives in Judea (see Judah), namely, Judean. “Jew” has both an ethnic and a religious usage; it designates someone who is descended from Jacob, as well as someone who practices Judaism.

Hebrew Bible: The English word for the TaNaKH, and the Jewish term for what Protestant Christians call the Old Testament. It is a collection of books that were mostly written between the seventh century and the second century BCE, and which purport to describe God, the Israelites, and their history of interaction from before 2000 BCE up to about the third century BCE. It is the most holy book of Judaism, and was written almost exclusively in Hebrew.

Abraham: The founding father of the people Israel and the first of the Three Patriarchs. According to Genesis, he was the first person with whom God chose to have a special relationship.

Promised Land: Part of the covenant that God made with the people Israel is that he would give them a “land flowing with milk and honey.” Hence, “the Land” refers to the land that God gave the Jews. At the time of the Exodus, this land was called “the Land of Canaan” after the Canaanites who lived there. After the people Israel settled there, it began to be called “the Land of Israel.”

David: David was the first king of the United monarchy and transformed the twelve tribes of Israel into a unified nation (around 1000 BCE). He was a mighty warrior who united the tribes under a single leader (himself) and drove off Israel’s enemies (such as the Philistines and the Moabites). He established the capital in Jerusalem and bequeathed a peaceful country to his son Solomon.

Day of Atonement: The Day of Atonement takes place in the fall, between Rosh Hashanah (New Years) and the Feast of Booths. In Hebrew, it is called “Yom Kippur.” It is a time when all Jews atone for their sins and plead with God for forgiveness.

The Exile: Refers to the deportation of thousands of Jews into Babylonia after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE. However, the Babylonians themselves were conquered by the Persians in 539 BCE.

Prophets: The books of the Prophets constitute an important section of the Tanak. They include the historical books: Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. They also include the written prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the works of the Twelve Prophets (Hosea, Amos, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

Messiah: The messiah is a saving figure who is expected to come at the end of time and to rule over Israel. He will carry out God’s will and will restore Israel’s fortunes and make the nation of Israel great again. Different forms of the messiah have been imagined.

Moses: According to the story in the book of Exodus, Moses was chosen by God, in a face-to-face encounter, to lead the Israelite slaves out of Egypt to the Promised Land, the Land of Canaan. Through him, God brought about plagues on the Egyptians–including the death of all their firstborn children–until they let the Israelites leave.

Rabbi: In Hebrew, Rabbi literally means “my teacher” or “my master.” In the Rabbinic Period, it refers to the main religious authorities–the rabbis–who replace the priests after the Temple’s destruction. The rabbi is a teacher, a judge, and an expert in biblical and religious law (i.e., Torah). The rabbis wrote the Talmud and associated literature.

Judah: The first Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and the leader of the twelve sons. It also refers to the Twelve Tribes.

Israel: The common usage is to reference the people who are descended from Jacob/Israel.

Jacob: Jacob is the third patriarch. God changed his name to Israel and made him the father of the people Israel (i.e., the Jews). His twelve sons were each the founding father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Zionism: In short, Zionism is the belief that Jews should return to and live in Israel, the Promised Land. As a historical movement, Zionism began in western Europe in the late nineteenth century. It quickly became in important in eastern Europe as well. Tens of thousands of Jews took up this belief and thousands immigrated to Israel/Palestine. By the 1920s, Jews were establishing farms (mostly communal farms called a “kibbutz”), building in the cities, and establishing a new Jewish presence in Palestine. In 1948, the Zionists who lived in Palestine declared the new, independent nation of Israel. Zionism was largely a secular movement, although there were some religious Zionists. Even the secular Zionists, however, used the Hebrew Bible to create a new Jewish culture in what they considered “their Land.”

Emancipation: When the Enlightenment enabled Jews in Europe to become citizens of the nations in which they lived, they gained the same rights as other citizens.

Solomon: David’s son who became the second king of the nation of Israel (961-922 BCE). He built the Temple in Jerusalem and rebuilt the city into a worthy capital with massive walls, new palaces, houses, and administrative buildings.

Talmud: The Talmud–specifically the Babylonian Talmud–is the central religious text of the Rabbinic and later periods.

Twelve Tribes: The twelve tribes were descended from and named after the twelve sons of Jacob. Together they make up the people Israel. The twelve sons of Jacob are: Reuben, Issachar, Asher, Gad, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, Levi, Zebulon, Joseph, Naphtali, and Dan.

Sabbath: According to the first chapter of Genesis, God created the world in six days and on the seventh he rested. Therefore, Judaism holds that the seventh day is a holy day, and on it no profane work should be done. The sabbath starts at sundown Friday evening and lasts to sundown on Saturday.

Covenant: After God liberated the Israelites (Jews) from their captivity in Egypt (supposedly around 1300 BCE), he brought them to a sacred mountain (traditionally called Mt. Sinai) and made an agreement with them. The central aspect of this agreement–called the Covenant–is that God will be the god of the people Israel if they will be His people. This Covenant established the close tie between God and the the Israelites (Jews).

Ten Commandments: The most famous part of the covenant between God and the people Israel agreed to at Mt. Sinai. The commandments ban idols and idolatry, forbids murder, theft, adultery, and coveting. It enjoins Jews to worship God only, to honor one’s parents, and to observe the Sabbath.

Holocaust: The Holocaust, referred to in Hebrew as the Shoah, is the term given to the destruction of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II.

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