A basic vocabulary for understanding Islam

We are hearing a lot of terms about Islam these days. Here is a brief vocabulary list to help provide basic understanding of the religion.

CHARLOTTESeptember 24, 2012 – With all the news coming from the Middle East in recent weeks there has been much discussion and analysis of how to deal with that region of the world.

The presidential campaigns have been debating who is best qualified to handle foreign policy while pundits have been throwing around verbiage that is either familiar but misunderstood or that is relatively new to many Americans.

Islam, and the problems that go with it, is a complex subject with no clear solutions in a 21st century world. There is, however, a small list of terms that can useful in understanding the confusion.

Following is an alphabetical vocabulary of a few basic terms that can help make Islam slightly less mysterious.

Abrogation – This word is rarely discussed by the mainstream media, but it is important to understanding the Koran when it is quoted by scholars and journalists. Abrogation is used to explain inconsistencies in Koranic scripture or to override earlier revelations. This is a relevant aspect of Islam because early verses can be nullified by later concepts, which means the chronology of a quote becomes significant. The Koran justifies abrogation on at least four occasions.

Dar al-Islam (“House (Territory) of Islam”)/Dar al-harb (“House (Territory) of War”) – Islam is divided into several realms. After the death of Muhammad, Islam began widespread expansion to the west. Populations that came under Muslim control became places where Islam could be practiced freely and, therefore, provided government protection under Sharia Law; dar al-Islam. Non-Muslims, or unbelievers, are known as “infidels.” Countries at war with Islamic regions reside in the realm of dar al-Harb, or the “House of War.”

Dhimmitude – People from other religions, usually Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, which are non-slave populations that are permitted to live relatively freely under Muslim rule are known as “dhimmi.” Dhimmitude has several variations but the original term was coined by Bat Ye’or, a Jewish writer and political commentator, to describe poor treatment of non-Muslims by Muslims. Some authorities are critical of the term “dhimmitude” as being Islamophobic.  

Hadith – Muhammad was illiterate, which means that the Koran was transmitted by the Prophet and written down by others. Many episodes from the life of Muhammad that provide specific examples of how to live that are not included in the Koran were written in the 8th century AD in the Hadith. The Hadith is second only in importance to the Koran in Islamic authority.

Islam – For the purposes of this story only the translation of the word “Islam” is provided because it is revealing. Islam means “submission” or “surrender”, and a Muslim is “one who submits.”

Jihad – Some say that “jihad” is the sixth pillar of Islam. The word “jihad” means “struggle.” It is mentioned more than 40 times in the Koran, but frequently it refers to the personal struggle people endure throughout their lives. This can be far ranging and cover a multitude of subjects. The most common meaning, and the one we are most familiar with, is “holy war” or the struggle to defend Islam, by forceif necessary. Many Islamic scholars claim that a holy war as defined by “jihad” is misleading and a product of contemporary media.

Kaaba (Cube) – This temple in Mecca existed before the life of Muhammad. There were numerous pagan idols inside the temple until the Prophet conquered his home town in 632 and eliminated them. Today, the Kaaba, which is said to be the stone on which Abraham was told to sacrifice his son Ishmael, is one of the most revered objects in Islam. Muslims from all over the world walk counter-clockwise around the Kaaba during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj.

Koran (Kuran, Quran, Qur’an) – The Islamic holy book is well known, but what is lesser known is that “Koran” means “recitation.” Muslim scholars insist that the Koran cannot be translated and only interpreted in its native language of Arabic. Muslim prayers throughout the world are recited in Arabic even though most Muslims do not speak the language.

Sharia – Islam is more than a religion. It is also a political system where there is no separation between church and state. From a Western perspective, this makes it complicated to deal with because the Islamic moral code covers both secular laws as well as personal matters. Different Muslim countries and sects interpret sharia in various ways, with the Wahabbi faction in Saudi Arabia being the strictest.

Taqiyya (Taqiya, Taqiyah, Tuqyah) – This practice is not a popular topic for discussion because it allows Muslims to deny their faith or commit illegal acts if they believe they are at risk of persecution or physical harm. Taqiyya is primarily a Shi’a concept because that faction of Islam was often in the minority and faced severe pressure. The practice is sanctioned in the Koran in Sura 16:106 which says, “Those who are forced to recant while their hearts remain loyal to the Faith shall be absolved…” In its simplest form, taqiyya is regarded as “lying” which perpetuates another area of conflict between the West and the Middle East.

Islam is a difficult religion for Westerners to grasp because it has so many variables and because many of its basic tenets are so foreign to our codes of morality. This guide to some of Islam’s most common terms is meant to provide some element of clarity for understanding.

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.







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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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