Pathways of Faith

Glossary of Terms about Muhammad and Islam from Oxford Islamic Studies Online

About This Resource

The glossary defines terms about Islamic teachings and Muhammad's biography, as background for the Pathways of Faith theme. The excerpts are reprinted from the glossary feature of the Oxford Islamic Studies Online.



Muslim call to prayer.

ahl al-bayt

literally, “people of the house,” referring to members of the household of the prophet Muḥammad.

ahl al-kitāb

literally, “people of the book,” referring to Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

ahl al-sunnah

literally,“people of the sunnah,” meaning the people in the early Islamic centuries who emphasized the importance of following the practice and custom (sunnah) of the prophet Muḥammad and established the foundation for Sunnī Islam.


prophet Muḥammad’s cousin and son-in-law by marriage to Muḥammad’s daughter Fāṭimah. Shīʿīi Muslims believe that ʿAlī was the first caliph to succeed Muḥammad, Sunnīs place him fourth. Shīʿīi s trace the ruling descendants of Muḥammad (imams) through him.



Allahu Akbar

literally, “God is most great,” a phrase used in the Muslim call to prayer and other occasions for glorifying God.


literally, “sign,” meaning a verse in the Qurʾān, and more generally a sign or wonder.


literally, “In the name of God,” referring to the phrase “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim” meaning “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” This phrase opens each surah of the Qurʾān as well as letters, books, speeches, ceremonies, and official documents throughout the Muslim world.


title for successor to prophet Muḥammad as political leader of Muslim community.

Constitution of Medina

constitution promulgated by Muḥammad, which established the principle of religious pluralism within a single political entity.

Dhū al-Ḥijjah

last month of the Islamic calendar and month of pilgrimage to Mecca.

dīn, deen

literally, “religion.”


daughter of prophet Muḥammad, wife of ʿAlī, and mother of Ḥassan and Ḥusayn. Considered to be an example of perfect womanhood in Islam, especially honored in Shīʿīi tradition.

Five Pillars of Islam

the five acts required of all Muslims: profession of faith (shahādah), prayer five times daily (ṣalāt), almsgiving (zakāt), fasting during Ramaḍān (sawm), and pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime (ḥajj).


pilgrimage to Mecca, which Muslims are required to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able. One of the Five Pillars of Islam.


literally, “emigration,” referring to the departure of Muḥammad and early Muslims from Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E., which marks first year of Muslim lunar calendar.


prayer leader and person who delivers Friday sermon for Sunnī Muslims. Shīʿīi Muslims use Imam as title for Muḥammad’s male descendants through ʿAlī and Fāṭimah who are the rightful leaders of the Muslim community. Shīʿīi believe that Imams, although human, are divinely inspired and infallible. The term is also used as an honorific for religious scholars believed to be especially learned, pious, and just.


literally, “submission (to God).”


literally, “chain,” referring to a chain of transmission among sources


cube-shaped structure in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the focal point of the ḥajj (pilgrimage), and the location that all Muslims face during prayer.


mosque, place for Muslim prayer.

Mecca (Makkah)

holiest city in Islam, located in Saudi Arabia. Birthplace of Muḥammad and location of the Kaʿbah. City where Muslims go on the ḥajj (pilgrimage).


second holiest city in Islam; located in Saudi Arabia; city to which Muḥammad and the early Muslims emigrated (hijrah) when they were forced to leave Mecca; city where Muḥammad is buried.


Muslim place of prayer.


prophet of Islam who received revelation of the Qurʾān. Muslims believe that he was the perfect human being (al-Insān al-Kamīl) and seek to emulate his example (sunnah), as recorded in the ḥadīth.


(plural: muslimīn) literally, “one who submits.” Adherent of faith of Islam


literally,“one who announces”; Arabic term for prophet.

People of the Book (ahl al-kitāb)

religious group with a revealed scripture or divine revelation. Used by Muslims to refer to Christians and Jews.

pre-Islamic (Jāhilīyah)

refers to the Arabian Peninsula or to the Arabic language before the founding of Islam in the early 600s C.E.


direction of prayer for Muslims, located in Mecca..


literally, “recitation”; the record of revelations received ad seriatum by Muḥammad between 610–632 C.E., forming the Holy Book of Muslims.


The major Arab tribe in Mecca at the time of the Prophet. Muḥammad and many early Muslim leaders came from clans of this tribe.


message from God to humans transmitted through a prophet.

salaf, salafīyah

pious ancestors, the early Muslims.

As-ṣalam alaykum

literally, “Peace be upon you”; the Muslim greeting whose response is “And peace be upon you also” or “Wa-alaykum as-ṣalam.


prayer required of all Muslims five times daily. One of the Five Pillars of Islam.


fasting during the month of Ramaḍan. One of the Five Pillars of Islam.


bearing witness to or making the profession of faith: “There is no God but God (Allāh), and Muḥammad is the messenger of God.” One of the Five Pillars of Islam.


customary practice or way of life. “al-Sunnah” refers to the approved standard of practice established by Muḥammad and early Muslims.


Muslims who emphasize the importance of the actions and customs of Muḥammad and the first generations of Muslims, viewing as legitimate the establishment of the caliphate, in contrast to Shīʿī beliefs (See Shīʿī). About 85 percent of all Muslims are Sunnīs.


chapter of the Qurʾān.


the circumambulation of the Kaʿbah in Mecca during the ḥajj (pilgrimage).


oneness of God, monotheism.


the worldwide Muslim community, community of believers.


literally, “purification”; annual almsgiving or charity consisting of 2.5 percent of a Muslim’s entire wealth (not just income). One of the Five Pillars of Islam.


literally, “bubbling”; well in Mecca that Muslims believe was revealed to Hagar by God in order to preserve her and Ismāʿīl from dying of thirst. Drinking water from this well is one of the ḥajj (pilgrimage) rituals.


"Glossary." Oxford Islamic Studies Online,

How to Cite This Page

"Muslim Journeys | Item #143: Glossary of Terms about Muhammad and Islam from Oxford Islamic Studies Online", May 21, 2024


, ,