Glossary of Terms


The ‘Ulama (sing. ‘alim) is the body of Muslim religious scholars and chief religious authorities, members of which often serve as teachers, judges, jurists, preachers, urban and rural imams, market inspectors, and advisers in various capacities.

See also: Islam

Abul A’la Maududi

Abul A’la Maududi (1903–1979) was an influential Islamic revivalist, Islamist thinker, prolific author and political activist, and founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist political organization that has profoundly shaped the Islamic character of Pakistan. Among Islamists globally, Maududi was one of the first to articulate a modern Islamic political vision and to forge a path independent of both traditional Islamic leadership (the ‘ulama) as well as nationalist leaders. His writing and political life had an important impact on global Islamism, inspiring others across...

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Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera is a Qatar-based television network which began broadcasting in 1996. Al Jazeera grew in notoriety in the West for its highly critical coverage of the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan and, especially, Iraq. Connections with Islamists facilitated access to people that other networks didn’t have, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Not only was Al Jazeera the first global network on the ground in Afghanistan, it could offer interviews with Taliban leaders. It was also the first network during the war that could bypass Pentagon restrictions on images of violence, which are normally...

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See also: Qatar, Islam

Al-Azhar University

Al-Azhar University is one of the world’s oldest educational institutions, founded in 972 by the Fatimids, and continues to serve as one of the most prominent centers of Sunni religious orthodoxy in the Muslim world. Many members of Egypt’s religious scholarly class, the ‘ulama, are graduates of al-Azhar. Al-Azhar has long played a role in Egyptian and wider Muslim politics, at times lending support and legitimacy to ruling powers and at other times serving to represent popular opinion against ruling powers.


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See also: Egypt, Islam


The Alawi creed originated in Iraq during the ninth century. Muhammad ibn Nusayr al-Bakri al-Numari (d. 883) was a disciple of the eleventh Shi’a Imam Hasan al-Askari (d. 873) but was reportedly denounced by the Imam for his unorthodox views. He did establish a wide following, however, and the community grew enough to develop into a faith and to train theologians. By the eleventh century, there were two Alawi centers; one in Baghdad, Iraq and one in Latakia, Syria. The Baghdad center was destroyed by the Mongols in 1258.

Alawi Muslims practice an esoteric form of...

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See also: Syria, Islam


Alevism is a branch of Shi’a Islam that is practiced in Turkey and the Balkans among ethnic Turks and Kurds, and is related to—though distinct from—Alawism in Syria. Alevis make up 20% of Turkish Muslims and comprise Turkey’s largest religious minority community.

Alevism emerged in Turkey during the 10th...

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See also: Turkey, Islam


The caliphate refers to Islam’s politico-religious position of authority established with the death of the Prophet Muhammad, at which point the caliphate, or “God’s deputy on earth,” passed to his successor Abu Bakr al-Siddiq. The Ottoman Empire inherited the caliphate from the defeated Mamluks upon conquering Egypt, and maintained a succession of caliphs until the fall of the Empire and the abolition of the caliphate under ...

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See also: Middle East, Islam


The surgical removal of the foreskin covering the head of the penis. In Judaism, this is a ritual practice traditionally undertaken eight days after birth.

See also: Islam, Judaism

Coptic Christianity in Egypt

Coptic Christians make up Egypt’s largest and most significant minority population and the largest population of Christians in the Middle East. It is an Eastern Orthodox tradition, and most Copts follow the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Historically, the Coptic Church has roots in Egypt originating in the earliest days of Christianity; Christian religious sites mark the location where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are believed to have stayed during their flight to Egypt and are proximal to centuries-old Coptic churches.

The Coptic Church experienced a religious revival beginning...

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See also: Egypt, Islam


A dhimmi refers to a non-Muslim subject of the Ottoman Empire. Derived from Islamic legal conceptions of membership to society, non-Muslims ‘dhimmis’ were afforded protection by the state and did not serve in the military, in return for specific taxes. The dhimmi status was legally abolished in 1839 with the Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane and was formalized with the 1869 Ottoman Law of Nationality as part of wider Tanzimat Reforms....

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Druze in Syria

The Druze are an ethnoreligious group concentrated in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel with around one million adherents worldwide. The Druze follow a millenarian offshoot of Isma’ili Shi'ism. Followers emphasize Abrahamic monotheism but consider the religion as separate from Islam.

The Druze are named for Muhammad al-Darazi, an Isma’ili missionary from Persia who lived in Fatimid Cairo, and was propagated by Hamza ibn Ali. The Druze believe in the imamate of al-Hakim ibn Amr Allah (d. 1021), the sixth caliph of Egypt's Isma’ili Fatimid Dynasty. Though the Fatimids (909-1171) were...

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See also: Syria, Islam

Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen (b. 1938) is a prominent Turkish Islamic scholar and founder of the international Gülen Movement, which evolved from the Nur Movement in the 1960s. Gülen stresses education as the vehicle for transforming the contemporary world. Where Said Nursi emphasized personal transformation as a means to effect social change, Gülen looks both to personal transformation and social and political activism, and fully embraces Turkish nationalism—the defining...

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See also: Turkey, Islam

Imam Musa al-Sadr

Imam Musa al-Sadr (1928-1978) was an Iranian-Lebanese Shi’a religious leader. As head of the Supreme Islamic Shi’ite Council in 1973, he issued a highly influential fatwa recognizing Syria’s Alawis as Shi’a Muslims.

See also: Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Islam

Islam in Brazil

Islam is practiced by over 200,000 Brazilians—making it the largest Muslim community in Latin America—most of whom are Arab in origin, with smaller but growing numbers of Brazilian converts. The Brazilian Muslim community includes both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.

Islam arrived in Brazil with West African slaves, including Hausa, Malinkes, and Yoruba. Muslim slaves...

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See also: Brazil, Islam

Islam in Egypt

Islam is practiced by 90% of Egyptians. Most Egyptian Muslims are Sunni and follow the Maliki school of jurisprudence, though all legal schools are represented. Shi’a Muslims make up a small minority. There are a wide variety of traditions followed and perspectives represented among Egyptian Muslims, from a historically strong adherence to ...

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See also: Egypt, Islam

Islam in France

Islam is the largest religious minority faith in France at approximately 9% of the population. Most Muslims in France today are immigrants or descend from immigrants from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, and smaller populations from ...

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See also: France, Islam

Islam in Myanmar

Myanmar has had a Muslim presence since as early as the ninth century. Muslim sailors intermarried with local Burmese woman and settled permanently in port cities along the Burmese Coast, especially in the Arakan/Rakhine region. Arab and Persian sources mention Myanmar in the 9th and 10th centuries in the context of trade; historically, Myanmar has been at the center of a vast trade network spanning China, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and North Africa. Other Muslims in Myanmar included Indians captured in war and resettled in the interior and Muslim mercenaries in service of Burmese...

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See also: Myanmar, Islam

Islam in Nigeria

Nigeria’s Muslim population continues to grow. Estimates suggest 80-85 million Nigerians identify as Muslim (roughly 50% of the total population), of which the majority are probably Sunni (60 million), though this is not a unified identity and includes a wide variety of different viewpoints. For example, members of Sufi orders, members of the Jama‘atul Izalatul Bid’ah Wa’ikhamatul Sunnah (or Izala) movement, and members of Boko Haram might all...

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See also: Nigeria, Islam
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