Glossary Terms

A B C D F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z
bab

Lit. ‘gate’ or ‘door’. In the vocabulary of Fatimid Ismailism, the term was used for the administrative head of the da‘wa and the highest rank after the Imam. Also a title adopted by various messianic figures in Islamic history.

balagh

A technical term for invitation into the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa. (See da‘i al–balagh.)

Banu Hamdan

The Arab tribe of Hamdan in Yemen

Banu Musa

Lit. the ‘the people of Moses’.

baqa’

Lit. ‘subsistence, survival’. Together with the concept of fana, the idea of baqa’ was developed by Sufis such as al–Sarraj (d. 988) and Abu’l Hasan al–Hujwiri (d. 1072) to explain and describe the stage in which the mystic, whose consciousness has withdrawn from the world (including the self) and merged with God, persists and lives on in the new divinely bestowed attributes. In the writings of these authors, ordinary mystics arrive only at fana, but great mystics, such as the prophets, subsist in the baqa’ stage, returning to a consciousness of the plurality of this world.

Basmala

The standard Islamic invocation, Bismi’llahi al–Rahman al–Rahim derived from the Qur’an, meaning ‘In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.’

batin

The inner or esoteric meaning of a sacred text, ritual or religious prescription, often contrasted with zahir. See also batini ta’wil and Batiniyyah .

batini tawil

Symbolic exegesis of the Qur’an based on the claim that there is an inner (batini) meaning behind the external (zahiri) text. By extension, it can be applied to other scriptures, as well as to rituals and the whole of nature. The theory and practice of this hermeneutical method was elaborated by Ismaili thinkers such as Ja’far b. Mansur al-Yaman (d. 2nd half 10th century), al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 974) and Nasir Khusraw (d. ca. 1088). As a result Ismailis were, sometimes pejoratively, termed batinis (esotericists). According to the authors mentioned above, while the revelation (tanzil) was delivered by the prophet to all people, the knowledge of its ta’wil rests with the imam, the sole authoritative source of interpretation, and they considered that this ta’wil should not be disclosed to the masses, lest it is misunderstood.

batini ta’wil

Symbolic exegesis of the Qur’an based on the claim that there is an inner (batini) meaning behind the external (zahiri) text. By extension, it can be applied to other scriptures, as well as to rituals and the whole of nature. The theory and practice of this hermeneutical method was elaborated by Ismaili thinkers such as Ja’far b. Mansur al-Yaman (d. 2nd half 10th century), al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 974) and Nasir Khusraw (d. ca. 1088). As a result Ismailis were, sometimes pejoratively, termed batinis (esotericists). According to the authors mentioned above, while the revelation (tanzil) was delivered by the prophet to all people, the knowledge of its ta’wil rests with the imam, the sole authoritative source of interpretation, and they considered that this ta’wil should not be disclosed to the masses, lest it is misunderstood.

Batiniyya

Lit. ‘supporters of the batin’. A perjorative term used by Sunni authors such as al-Ghazali (d. 1111) to refer to those, especially the Ismailis, who recognise an inner level of meaning (batin) in the Qur’an and the universe at large. In this usage by Sunni Muslims, the batinis were accused of rejecting the external level of scripture (zahir), rituals and prescriptions, though Fatimid Ismaili authors such as as Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. after 1020) and Nasir Khusraw (d. ca 1088) insist to the contrary. Another Sunni author, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), gathers under the term batiniyya some Shi‘i groups, Sufis and such falasifa as Ibn Rushd (d. 1198).

Batiniyyah

Lit. ‘supporters of the batin’. A perjorative term used by Sunni authors such as al-Ghazali (d. 1111) to refer to those, especially the Ismailis, who recognise an inner level of meaning (batin) in the Qur’an and the universe at large. In this usage by Sunni Muslims, the batinis were accused of rejecting the external level of scripture (zahir), rituals and prescriptions, though Fatimid Ismaili authors such as as Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. after 1020) and Nasir Khusraw (d. ca 1088) insist to the contrary. Another Sunni author, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), gathers under the term batiniyya some Shi‘i groups, Sufis and such falasifa as Ibn Rushd (d. 1198).

Bawanids

See Isphabadiyya.

Bayt al-Hikma

From Arabic; lit. ‘house of wisdom’; best characterised as a research and teaching centre with a library and translation facilities. Located in Baghdad, it was a caliphal institution that reached its zenith under the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun (r. 813- 833 CE). The institution’s chief functions were creating independent works and translating numerous works, including those from ancient Greece, into Arabic. The Bayt al-Hikma also housed a famous library and, thus, is sometimes referred to as Khizanat al-Hikma or storehouse of wisdom.

Bay‘a

(Arabic; derived from ba-ya-‘a, meaning ‘to sell’ or ‘clasp hands’). A practice rooted in Arab tradition and the practice of Prophet Muhammad. It is also mentioned in the Holy Qur’an (see 48:10, 48:18, and 60:12) and defined as an oath of allegiance, an act by which a certain number of people, individually or collectively, recognise the authority of an individual. Thus, the bay‘a of a Caliph was the act by which an individual was proclaimed and recognised as the head of the Muslim State. In many Muslim traditions, the meaning of bay‘a is to offer oneself to a spiritual master, pir, murshid, or shaykh in exchange for spiritual knowledge and guidance. In Shi‘i contexts, the word is used for the oath of allegiance to the Imam by his followers. In the Shi‘i Ismaili tradition, it is the acceptance of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid, uniting all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood.

Bedouin

Nomadic desert Arabs.

Berber

A member of the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa. The term ‘Berber’ today is often seen as derogatory and the term the group refers to itself as, “Amazigh”, is often used.

Bibi

A word of East Turkish origin which means old mother or a grandmother. It is also used in Persian and Urdu in the sense of “woman of the house”, as well as a lady of standing in the community. Hence, Bibi Khadija and Bibi Fatima.

Birjand

A city in Quhistan, in southern Khurasan in Iran.

Bismillah

The standard Islamic invocation, Bismi’llahi al–Rahman al–Rahim derived from the Qur’an, meaning ‘In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.’

Bismi’llahi al-Rahman al-Rahim

The standard Islamic invocation, Bismi’llahi al–Rahman al–Rahim derived from the Qur’an, meaning ‘In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.’

Bohra

Indian community of Musta‘li Ismailis, now found primarily in the Indo–Pakistan subcontinent, Yemen, Egypt and other parts of the world.

Bukhara

A city in modern–day Uzbekistan, Central Asia, known for its Islamic artistic and architectural heritage.

Buwayhids

Muslim dynasty of Shi‘i persuasion that ruled in Baghdad (945–1062), and was succeeded by the Saljuqs.

Buyids

Muslim dynasty of Shi‘i persuasion that ruled in Baghdad (945–1062), and was succeeded by the Saljuqs.

Byzantine

The late medieval Roman Empire which ruled large parts of Southern Europe and the Middle East from its capital Constantinople (present–day Istanbul), conquered by the Turks in 1453 CE.