This refers to a Sevener, or Isma’ili Shi’i. This Shi’i group recognizes a living Imam, Karim Ali Khan, or Karim Agha Khan. This term is primarily utilized in Afghanistan and other Central and South Asian countries.

Ahl al-Kitab

A non-Muslim community, usually Jewish or Christian, that, nonetheless is considered legitimate in the eyes of God by Islamic law, or shar‘ia. “People of the Book” is often how it is translated, but “book” is too general in this context. “People of Valid Scrip- ture” would be a more accurate translation, if all the cultural nuances were consid- ered. This is because their prophetic scriptures are recognized as valid in the the Qur’an, as are their prophets.


This is the Arabic word for God. Arabic speakers, both Muslim and Christian, use the term. It is not specifically the god of Islam, but refers to the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, as well as Muhammad.


This is one of the Semitic languages. It is the language of the Qur’an, the central scripture of Islam. Arabic spread worldwide through Islam, although it did not always become the spoken language of the communities Islam influenced. Many Muslim- majority countries speak languages other than Arabic, but use the Arabic alphabet to write their language, just as we use the Latin alphabet to write in English. For example, Urdu is the language of Pakistan, but it is written in the Arabic script.


This is one of the Semitic language. Jesus’s native tongue was Aramaic. According to Versteegh (2001, p.9, p.94):

“Old Aramaic (first millenium BCE) was spoken at least from the tenth century on- wards in Syria. Between the seventh and the fourth centuries BCE, it was used as a lingua franca in the Balyonian and Persian Empires; it is also the language of some parts of the Jewish Bible. More recent forms of Aramaic are divided into Western and Eastern Aramaic. Western Aramaic was the spoken language of Palestine during the first centuries of the common era, which remained in use as a literary language until the fifth century CE. IT was the official language of the Nabatean and Palmyrene king- doms . . .The most important representatives of Eastern Aramaic were Syriac, the lan- guage of Christian religious literature; Mandean, the language of a large body of Gnos- tic literature. . .and the language of the Balyonian Talmud. . . Modern varieties of Aram- sic survive in a number of linguistic enclaves. . .”

“Eastern Aramaic, usually called Assyrian or Neo-Syriac, is still spoken by approxi- mately 300,000 speakers in Iran, Turkey and Iraq [as of 2001, when Versteegh’s book was published – currently, these communities are under severe threat due to wars in the region]. . .Almost all of them belong to the Christian community.”


The Arabic word for decision by consensus of a group. Can be translated as group “contract”, or “agreement”.


This is the historic form of government for the (Sunni) Muslim umma, although Shi’i Muslims recognize what they call an Imamate, or Imama, rather than a caliphate. In Arabic, this is called Khilafa. A caliph is a successor to the prophet Muhammad. The role of Caliph refers only to the leader’s temporal powers, however. It specifically does not confer the status of prophet, although it means “successor” of Muhammad. Ac- cording to Islamic doctrine, he was the last prophet, or “the seal of the prophets”. Sometimes caliphs have also been called Sultans. One tradition is to bless the Caliph during the Friday sermon for communal prayer.

Colonial Dynamics

This term refers to the relationship between a powerful country and a less powerful country. It encompasses varying levels of control, and multiple forms of colonization, Western countries have imposed on Middle Eastern countries. The form it takes for the dominated country can range from “colony” to “protectorate” to “mandate”. In the post World War One era, European countries agreed that territories formerly under Ottoman control would be divided between them as “mandates”. This meant that the European powers should assist those countries in becoming independent. Sover- eignty achieved status as a right for every nation-state, and the international system for approaching global affairs was established.

Formal imperialism, with direct control of colonies around the world, and the ability to implement imperial policy from the “mother country”, has not been the predominant form since roughly mid century, marked approximately by the conference in Bandung Indonesia in 1955. Very rich and powerful countries, however, continue to have more power than other countries to set the standards for participation in global economics and political affairs. Forms of economic dominance via the current capital- ist global economic system were developed as part of European colonization; the Dutch/British East India Tea Company, for example, imposed financial and administra- tive systems developed in Europe that continue as institutions today.


The writing system developed by the Sumerians and later adopted and further devel- oped by the Babylonians, Assyrians and others.


This refers to an Ancient Egyptian form of writing, used during the Greek era when the Ptolemes ruled. It is more-or-less a shorthand for heiroglyphics. It is one of the types of writing on the Rosetta Stone.

Diaspora communities

Diaspora comes from the same root word for “spore”, a type of seed which is caught on the wind and spreads far and wide. It refers to cultural communities which have dispersed worldwide, but continue to acknowledge their roots in a particular geo- graphical location.


Emic refers to a perspective on a phenomenon coming from inside its cultural setting; an insider’s view. Insiders look at their own activities from this point of view, and inter- pret their meaning according to an internal, taken-for-granted cultural framework. Etic is opposite of etic. This is a term taken from anthropology.


Etic refers to a perspective on a cultural phenomenon coming from a different cultural mindset; an outsider’s view on a cultural community and their practices. Etic is oppo- site of emic. This is a term taken from anthropology.


The Hadith are accounts of what the Prophet Muhammad said. They are part of the Sunna of the Prophet, which consists of both his words and his actions. The Sunna constitutes the second most important source of Islamic Law, after the Qur’an.

Hagia Sophia

This is the church founded by Eastern Roman/Byzantine Emperor Justinian (483- 565,CE) in Constantinople (now Istanbul). It was the center of Eastern Christianity. It is now a museum overseen by the government of Turkey, the modern nation state where it is located.


The Haj, or pilgrimage, is the sacred compulsory visit to Mekka that Muslims must make at least once in their lifetime, provided they have the means. This is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.


One of the major Sunni schools of thought in Islamic jurisprudence.


One of the major Sunni schools of thought in Islamic jurisprudence.


Hebrew is one of the most important Semitic languages. It is the traditional language of the Jewish people, and has become a living language again in Israel, since the late 19th century. It is the language of the central Jewish scripture, the Torah.


This refers to the faith and worship aspects of human life.


This is a concept in Shar‘ia, or Islamic law. If there is no precedent, a judge must en- gage in the intellectual struggle of Ijtihad. Ijtihad is based on the same root as jihad, indicating the level of effort required for identifying new paths for new circumstances that remain true to God’s will. A specialist in Ijtihad is a Mujtahid.


This is the historic form of government for the Muslim umma recognized by Shi’i Mus- lims. In Arabic, it is called Imama. Although Sunni Muslims recognize what they call a Caliphate, or Khilafa, rather than an Imamate.

Ja’afari Shi’i

These are the Shi’i who belong the the Twelver sect, and recognize Ja’afer as the key interpreter of Islamic Law.


This is the English word for God, translated from the Hebrew word Yahweh.

Jihad al-Akbar

The meaning of Jihad is struggle – it can be internal and spiritual/moral (Greater Jihad, or Jihad al-Akbar).

Jihad al-Asghar

The meaning of Jihad is struggle – this form refers to external and physical/combat (Lesser Jihad, or Jihad al-Asghar, which must be against injustice, oppression or invasion).


The jizya was a tax for non-Muslims. Aspects of Islamic law, or shar ‘ia, often compen- sated for this. For example certain recognized communities amongst non-Muslims, or ahl al-kitab, were not required to serve in the military.


This refers to the structure that, according to Islamic tradition, was built by Abraham with his son Isma’il. It is located in Mekka, in what is now Sa‘udi Arabia, and marks the center of Muslim prayer worldwide, or the qibla, in Arabic. Circumambulating it is a required part of Haj.


Secessionist from the Muslim community, or Umma.


This is the Persian word for God.


This is a significant member of the Indo-Iranian language family, spoken by Kurdish populations in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

League of Nations

The organization was established based Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points in the 1920’s. It later became the United Nations. Both organizations have played a defining role in the political affairs of the Middle East.


The word liminal is used in the humanities and sometimes in the social sciences to re- fer to a person or location that exists on the border between two worlds. This is espe- cially in reference to cultural boundaries.

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta was an agreement signed by King John of England on June 15, 1215, to appease nobles, and guarantee his accountability to his subjects. Account- ability of the state toward its citizens became one of the fundamental tenets of West- ern democracy, and was likely patterned after the ideas in this document.


One of the major Sunni schools of thought in Islamic jurisprudence.

Mandate System

This codified a the new international policy of gradual self-rule for colonized countries. It was based on Wilson’s 14 points, and diverged from the previous overtly competitive nature of colonial policy. Many of the modern borders of the Middle East reflect the borders defined by the post-World War I mandates.


Islamic states tolerated religious laws of non-Muslim communities, provided they had status as a “people of the book” or ahl al-kitab. The Ottomans called these communi- ties millet, which is sometimes translated as nation. Because their prophets and scrip- tures are recognized, ahl al-Kitab were allowed to continue their religious and commu- nal functions within the larger Ottoman context. At the same time they had different rights and obligations than their Muslim counterparts. For example, the jizya was a tax for non-Muslims, while they were not required to serve in the military.


“Minoritize” is a verb used in the social sciences to critically describe the processes which create inequity between groups in a given country. As a verb it emphasizes the historical nature of inequity, and as a phenomenon which is continually reinforced in a country. It is the culmination of laws, educational practices and popular culture which favor the perspectives and interests of the more powerful group. It refers to the rela- tionship between the dominant group which identifies with national identity is more supported by the country’s political, social and economic systems, and less powerful communities whose interests are not as well-served by them. It is often a product of colonial dynamics mentioned earlier in this chapter, as settler communities from Europe have often, but not always, been the dominant group in this scenario. For a more detailed explanation, see: Sensoy & DiAngelo (2012).

Mission Civilisatrice

The French policy towards its colonies and other areas of the world considered less advanced. It was based on the common conceptions of culture, and the belief that because cultures “progressed” certain cultural communities were less developed and required help to become more “advanced”.


“Mizrahi Jews, Mizrahim (Hebrew: מזרחים) or Mashriqiyyun (Arabic: المشرقيون), also re-

ferred to as Edot HaMizrach(עֲד תהַ ִזְ ח; Communities of the East; Mizrahi Hebrew: ʿEdot(h) Ha(m)Mizra), Ben ha-Mizra; Bene ha-Mizra(“Sons of the East”) or Oriental Jews,[3] are Jews descended from local Jewish communities of the Middle East. The term Mizrahi is most commonly used in Israel to refer to Jews who trace their roots back to Muslim-majority countries.”

Wikipedia Entry, “Mizrahi Jews”


This term refers to multiple aspects of technical and scientific developments centered in Europe, and is based on the idea that human civilization can “progress” over time. The concept of modernity was an important rationale in colonization projects of Euro- pean imperial powers. There are different ways of conceptualizing modernity, how- ever. A less Euro-centric definition acknowledges the scientific sophistication of non- European countries and communities. Despite the pronounced influence Europe had on the Middle East, it is an oversimplification to say that the Middle East was modern- ized by Europeans. The push for modernization was felt most intensely from within, with a constant debate raging about whether that entailed Westernization. On page 50 there is a gallery with modernizing leaders of the Middle East who began their re- forms in the post World War One era.


This refers to the outer aspects of human life; i.e., work life, family/household, commu- nity service, etc.


This refers to the individuals who call people to prayer, and provide other aspects of prayer service, with religiously prescribed songs. The “dh” is pronounced like the “th” in the word “the”. It is pronounced Muazhan more commonly.


Jurist scholars, or those who practice ijtihad.

Mutual Intelligibility

The ability of one speaker to make him or herself understood to another, and vice versa. This is the way a linguist evaluates the distance between two forms of speech; i.e., whether or not they are two distinct languages.


This is an Arab-centered form of nationalism inclusive of aspirations for Arab unity. President Nasser of Egypt was a proponent.


Persian is the main language spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Being an Indo-Iranian language, and part of the Indo-European family of languages, it is much closer to English in structure than the Semitic or Turkic languages. Practices from Achaemenian, Sassanian and other Persian civilizations show up in modern concepts of literature, the arts and courtly life.


This refers to the cultural setting of Ancient Egypt, as opposed to later Christian and Islamic cultural norms.


“A pogrom is a violent riot aimed at the massacre or persecution of an ethnic or relig- ious group, particularly one aimed at Jews. The term originally entered the English lan- guage in order to describe 19th- and 20th-century attacks on Jews in the Russian Em- pire (mostly within the Pale of Settlement, what would become Ukraine and Belarus). Similar attacks against Jews at other times and places also became retrospectively known as pogroms. The word is now also sometimes used to describe publicly sanc- tioned purgative attacks against non-Jewish ethnic or religious groups.”

-Wikipedia Entry “Pogrom”

Positive Neutrality

This was Nasser’s non-alignment strategy, neutrality without indifference. This means that a sovereign state reserves the right to be involved in world affairs without taking sides, necessarily.

Prestige Language

A language which gains more prestige than others in society because of its impor- tance in education, administration, commerce, and/or other factors. Gradually this may take hold in people’s homes as they increasingly adopt it as their mother tongue. This happened in many of the countries which became Muslim (but not all). This is a concept from the field of socio-linguistics.


Territories endowed with semi-autonomous government. The Sultanate of Egypt (1914-1919) was one of those, a short-lived protectorate of the British Empire. A local king was placed in power, but the purpose was mainly to sever it from the Ottoman Empire during World War I (L.O.C., Egypt).


This is an Arabic term that is usually translated as nationalism. It comes from the Ara- bic word for a people, qawm.


The primary scripture of Islam. According the Muslims, Prophet Muhammed received messages from God through the angel Gabriel, which he recited, and others memo- rized and wrote down. The Caliph Uthman (644-656 C.E.) codified the fragments of the Qur’an in circulation and unified them into a book.


This is one of the months in the Muslim calendar, which is a lunar calendar. This month does not correspond with any month in the Gregorian calendar, and so gradu- ally moves throughout the year. It is the time period designated for reflection and fast- ing. Observant Muslims refrain from food, water, sex and smoking during daylight hours. They are also supposed to remain in control of their thoughts and emotions, treating those around them in a way which is pleasing to God. The traditional food for breaking fast is the date. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have broken his daily fast during this month with dates and camel’s milk. At the end of the month there is a celebration called ‘Eid al-Fitr, or Ramazan Bayramı, in Turkey. The entire month is a time for family and connecting with loved ones, but especially during that holiday.


Salaf means ancestors, and the Salafis, or followers of the Salaf, believe that the relig- ious and temporal practices of the earliest Muslims and companions of the prophet provide a comprehensive guide for religious life and government.


Sazeman e Et-tela va Aminiyat e Keshvar (SAVAK), or security and intelligence serv- ice, was the secret service of Iranian Shah, Muhammad Reza Shah.


One of the major Sunni schools of thought in Islamic jurisprudence.


This refers to Islamic law. There are two distinct realms for religious oversight: faith and worship (ibadat); temporal and worldly activity (mu’amilat). The Shar’ia, is a sys- tem of law which covers both facets. Its purpose is to both guide the conduct of Mus- lim communities, and also to serve as a basis for government in Islamic states.


A Shi’i is a Partisan of ‘Ali, or, Shi’at ‘Ali, in the full Arabic phrase. Shi’ite is a another standard term in English for Shi’i. ‘Ali was the Prophet’s cousin, his daughter’s hus- band, and as his only living male heir, the preferred candidate by many for taking on leadership of the Muslim community, after Muhammad passed away. These partisans disagreed with the decision to make Abu Bakr the Prophet’s successor for political leadership (no one could inherit his spiritual role as a prophet). See page 37 for infor- mation on Shi’i splinter groups.

Sufism, or Tasawwuf

Sufism, or Tasawwuf, is the mystic path within Islam. It has produced much of Islam’s philosophical content, as well as provided a means for dissent. Many folk practices
of Islam center on a mystic figure, or
wali. The maintenance of wali shrines, and visita- tion to the mausoleums of revered spiritual figures, are major practices within Muslim communities around the world.


This is a revered word when used in the context of Islam. A sunna was a path worn into the sand, hardening the sand with perpetual use.  It came to stand for tradition.  In Bedouin culture, the nomadic culture of the Arabian Peninsula, such paths are very important, as unknown territory could be deadly.   Over time, the word some of its original complexity, but it has kept the meaning of correct path, or tradition.  Sunni Muslims can be translated literally as “Muslims following the sunna, or the right path, or the traditions of the Prophet.


Just after the death of the prophet in 632, C.E., there was disagreement over who should be his successor. A meeting was convened, and the prophet’s friend Abu Bakr was chosen by the group. Those who agree with that decision call themselves followers of the traditions, or Sunna, of Islam. They are thus called Sunnis. The differences between Shi‘i and Sunni Muslims are primarily focused on this history, and not as much on religious activities or doctrine.


Talmud means “teachings”, and is the primary text in Jewish scholarly, or Rabbinic, literature. It is written in Aramaic and Hebrew. It is one of the bases for Jewish Law, or the Khalakha.


Technological leaps which provided Europeans advantages in the global competition to control resources. This is Middle East historian, Marshall Hodgson’s term (1974).

Temple Mount

It was the location of Judaism’s first and second temples (built by Solomon and David, respectively), which remain central to Jewish spirituality and traditions. Medieval Christian Europe centered its geography on Jerusalem (Willinsky, 1998), the landscape of the Christian Bible. According the Christian’s, Jesus is the rightful heir of David and his temple. The Dome of the Rock (gold dome above), and the al-Aqsa mosque, sacred to Muslims, are located on it. This site marked the center of Muslim prayer worldwide, prior to the direction being moved to the Ka’aba.

The Great Game

This term was popularized by Rudyard Kipling, a well-known literary figure who wrote about British colonial experience, especially in regard to what was then “the Indian subcontinent” (inclusive of Bangladesh and Pakistan). It refers to the competition to control Indian territory, especially in the region of what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan, between Russia and Great Britain.

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone, with inscriptions in Hieroglyphics, Egyptian Demotic and Greek. The inscriptions were of the same message, but in different tongues and writing sys- tem, allowing scholars to decipher Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Discovered by Na- poleon’s team of scholars in Rosetta, Egypt, in 1799, this artifact now symbolizes the act of decoding and uncovering lost knowledge.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement

France, Britain and Russia negotiated a treaty in secret prior to the end of World War One, a plan for dividing Ottoman territory amongst them once the war was over.


This refers to Jewish scripture; specifically, the five books of Moses.


The process of transferring phonemes from one writing system to another. This can also be referred to as Romanization, in the case of transcription into the Latin alphabet. For example, taking an Arabic word written in the Arabic alphabet, and writing it in the Latin Alphabet. It implies that care has been taken to correctly represent the sounds of the word in Arabic, according to a scholarly standard. We use the American Library Association-Library of Congress standard in this book.

Treaty of Westphalia

This 17th century treaty ended the Thirty Years War, and defined sovereignty as a re- spect for political borders. This is the basis for modern conceptions of statehood.


This is the official language of Turkey, and a member of the Turkic language family.


This is the Arabic word for “the Muslim community.” It is sometimes also translated as “nation”. It can also mean, simply, community.

Usul al-Fiqh

Religious legal interpretation, or fiqh, encompasses nearly every permutation of social structure, area of human activity and aspect of government. The usul al-Fiqh are the sources of Islamic legal interpretation. These sources are used according the se- quence below:

1. The Qur’an
2. The Sunna
3. The consensus of jurist scholars
4. Analogy by deduction
Ijtihad, or the application of all four prior sources toward an unprecedented case.

The Qu’ran is the most important source, and must be looked to first, but it is not the only source. There is a massive body of law from which scholars of Islamic jurispru- dence may draw upon.


This is the Arabic word for Rose. It originally entered Arabic from Avestan Persian.


This is the Hebrew word for God.


From the BBC (BBCb):

“Their own name for themselves is Daasin (plural Dawaaseen), which is taken from the name of an old Nestorian – the Ancient Church of the East – diocese, for many of their beliefs are derived from Christianity. They revere both the Bible and the Koran, but much of their own tradition is oral. Due in part to its secrecy, there have been mis- understandings that the complex Yazidi faith is linked to Zoroastrianism with a light/ dark duality and even sun worship. Recent scholarship, however, has shown that al- though their shrines are often decorated with the sun and that graves point east to- wards the sunrise, they share many elements with Christianity and Islam.”

Zoroastrian Equinox Holidays, Now Ruz/Mehregan

Now Ruz and Mehregan refer to the Spring Equinox and the Autumn equinox, respec- tively. Now Ruz, means “new day”, and is celebrated as the new year across much of the Middle East, especially among communities who speak languages of the Indo- Iranian family, such as Kurds, Iranians and Persian- speakers throughout Central Asia.


Its founder, Zoroaster, was born in what is now Afghanistan, and the faith continues among a small number of adherents in Iran, India, and other parts of the world. Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asian countries continue to practice its traditions alongside their religious practices. For example, marking the Spring Equinox in the festival of Now Ruz is a major traditional holiday in Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan. The scripture of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta.



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