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
Ma wara al-nahr

Arabic name for Transoxiana.

madhhab

Arabic word with a range of meanings including ‘doctrine’, ‘movement’ and ‘creed’; a system or school of religious law in Islam.

Maghreb

Lit. ‘the place of sunset.’ In mediaeval Muslim geography it referred to the western part of North Africa (present–day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia).

Maghrib

Lit. ‘the place of sunset.’ In mediaeval Muslim geography it referred to the western part of North Africa (present–day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia).

Magian

Adjective from Magi (sing. magus) referring to a member of the Zoroastrian priestly caste in Ancient Persia.

mahdi

Lit., the ‘rightly guided one,’ a name applied in Muslim eschatology to the restorer of true religion and justice expected at the end of time. In Ithna‘ashari Shi‘ism , the mahdi refers specifically to the hidden Imam.

majalis

Pl. of majlis; a term which literally means ‘a place to sit’ and refers to any formal gathering or assembly of peoples.

Makran

A province in eastern Iran.

Mamluks/Mamalik

(1250-1517 CE), the word Mamluk is derived from Arabic, and literally means ‘owned’ or ‘possessed’. The Mamalik were slave soldiers, mostly of Turkish origin, who served under various Muslim dynasties such as the Ayyubids, the Abbasids, and the Ikhshidids. The Sultan’s Mamluks were educated in military schools where they studied Islam, whilst undergoing military training. Mamluks rose to high positions in the army command, coming to play an important part in the resistance to the Crusaders. In 1250 CE, the Mamluks founded their own Sultanate in Egypt and Syria. One of their well known achievements was their success in the battle of ‘Ayn Jalut against the Mongols in 1260 CE. The Mamluk Sultanate was brought to an end by the Ottomans in1517 CE.

mangonel

A medieval military engine for hurling stones and other missiles.

march_link

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Marja‘

(Arabic and Persian; lit. ‘source to follow’ or ‘religious reference’). It is a term usually used for a Shi‘i Ithna ‘ashari religious scholar, also called Ayatullah al-‘uzma, who is recognised for his scholarship, knowledge and personal piety. According to Shi‘i Ithna ‘ashari tradition, a Marja‘ has the authority to make legal decisions based on his knowledge and interpretation within the confines of Shi‘i theological doctrines and jurisprudence.

Marja‘-i Dini

(Arabic and Persian; lit. ‘source to follow’ or ‘religious reference’). It is a term usually used for a Shi‘i Ithna ‘ashari religious scholar, also called Ayatullah al-‘uzma, who is recognised for his scholarship, knowledge and personal piety. According to Shi‘i Ithna ‘ashari tradition, a Marja‘ has the authority to make legal decisions based on his knowledge and interpretation within the confines of Shi‘i theological doctrines and jurisprudence.

Marja‘-i taqlid

(Arabic and Persian; lit. ‘source to follow’ or ‘religious reference’). It is a term usually used for a Shi‘i Ithna ‘ashari religious scholar, also called Ayatullah al-‘uzma, who is recognised for his scholarship, knowledge and personal piety. According to Shi‘i Ithna ‘ashari tradition, a Marja‘ has the authority to make legal decisions based on his knowledge and interpretation within the confines of Shi‘i theological doctrines and jurisprudence.

Masjid

(mosque; pl. Masajid) Arabic derived from the root sa-ja-da, meaning ‘to prostrate’. In the early Islamic era, the word masjid meant a place of prayer which could be any clean spot on earth. The first masjid in Islam was built in Medina in 622 CE. The masjid is primarily a designated space for the offering of canonical ritual prayers by Muslim congregations. Besides its religious function, masjid is also used as the centre of community life which can serve social, political and educational roles. The architectural style of the masjid often reflects the style of the region and the period in which they were established. Important functionaries of the masjid are the prayer leader (Imam al-Masjid) and the person who calls to prayer (al-Mu’adhdhin).

mathnawi

Persian term for poems differing greatly in genre and length, normally composed in rhyming couplets.

mawali

A term meaning ‘clients.’ Used for non–Arab Muslims in the early centuries of Islam.

mawla

‘Lord’ or ‘master,’; often used as an honorary epithet, though in early Islam it also meant ‘client’.

Mawlana Hazar Imam (Ar. Mawlana al-imam al-hadir)

Lit. ‘our lord/master the present Imam.’ Designation used by Nizari Ismailis for their contemporary Imam, who is presently His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.

ma‘sum

Arabic word meaning ‘infallible’ and ‘immaculate’; these qualities are attributed to Prophet Muhammad by many Muslims and by the Shi‘a to their Imams.

Mila

A town in Algeria.

Mina

A small town three miles from Mecca, which is the site of special ceremonies performed by Muslim pilgrims to the Ka‘ba .

mithaq

A covenant, promise or oath. The notion of such a pledge is rooted in the Qur’an and was first given to Prophet Muhammad. In the Ismaili da‘wa, it referred to an oath of allegiance given to the Imam of the time. (See ‘ahd.)

Mi‘raj

(Arabic; derived from the root ‘a-ra-ja, meaning ‘to ascend’ or ‘to mount’). The term Mi‘raj has been associated with the Isra’. In some sources, they are referred to together by the term Laylat al-Isra’ wa al-Mi‘raj, that is, the night of (the Prophet’s) night journey and celestial ascent. The journey is said to have happened in the month of Rajab; however, there is no unanimous opinion on the precise date. This journey is linked to a verse in the Holy Qur’an (17:1). Isra’ refers to the Prophet’s night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, while Mi‘raj refers to the Prophet’s ascension through the heavens to the very Throne of God (according to some commentators, this is what Q 53:1-18 refers to). The idea of the Prophet’s Mi‘raj found its place in the literature of Islamic theology, philosophy and Sufism. It was and continues to be debated, the key issue being whether the night journey took place in a physical or a spiritual sense. Amongst the esoteric traditions of Muslims, Mi‘raj is symbolic of the spiritual search leading the soul to the state of spiritual union with the Divine. The story of the journey has further entered into universal literature; it is claimed by some scholars, such as Miguel Asin Palacios, that this was the model which inspired Dante’s Divine Comedy. It has constituted an important theme in Islamic art.

mo‘allem-e sadeq (Ar. al-mu‘allim al-sadiq)

The truthful teacher. A concept based on the Shi‘i idea that the Imams are the only authoritative teachers after the Prophet. In the reformulation of Hasan Sabbah (d. 1124), the term implies that there must be one single imam as instructor for all Muslims in every age. He identifies the figure with the Ismaili Imam.

Mubarakiyya

Adherents of an early Shi‘i group who upheld the Imamate of Muhammad b. Isma‘il after the death of Isma‘il b. Ja‘far al–Sadiq, representing the nascent Ismaili community.

Mufti

(pl. muftin) An Arabic word derived from the root fa-ti-ya; a jurisconsult who is authorized to give a fatwa. The mufti should have a sound knowledge of the Islamic schools of law (madhahib). When issuing fatwas, the mufti usually cites the Holy Qur’an, the sunna of Prophet Muhammad, established precedents, consensus of the ‘ulema, or another accepted authority (e.g., the Imams in Shi‘i traditions) within the school of law to which he adheres.

Mughals

An Indo-Muslim dynasty (1526 – 1858 CE), founded by the Timurid Prince Baber, a descendent of Genghis Khan and Timur Lang. At their peak, the Mughals ruled over most of South Asia and parts of what is now Afghanistan. Among its famous rulers is Akbar (1556-1605 CE), who introduced a pluralistic administrative system, recruiting Indian Muslims and non-Muslims, Persians and others. Akbar also introduced a policy of religious tolerance among Hindus and Muslims. The Mughal Empire developed a distinguished Muslim architectural heritage based on the Timurid heritage as well as the local Indian one. Their imperial tombs are distinguished examples of architecture in Muslim contexts. Among the grandest mausoleums that have become synonyms of Mughal architecture is the Taj Mahal, which was completed in 1648 CE. This was built in Agra by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-58 CE) for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The last Mughal emperor was Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was dethroned and exiled by the British in 1858 CE.

Muharram

First month of the Islamic lunar calendar, often referred to as the ‘month of mourning’ because of the death of Imam Husayn b. ‘Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.

Mujtahid

From Arabic; derived from the root ja ha da, ‘to make an effort’. Mujtahid literally means one who strives for a higher position, usually in scholarship and learning. In Muslim law, the term refers to a person who is equipped with the knowledge and authority to perform ijtihad. The term was extensively used from the middle of the 2nd AH/8th CE century until the 4th AH/10th CE century when the four Sunni schools of law were constituted. Amongst Sunni Muslims, the term mujtahid is restricted to legal scholars of the medieval period. Among the Shi‘a, the Imam holds ultimate authority in matters of Muslim law. For the Twelver Shi‘is, following the concealment of their twelfth Imam, authority over the law was delegated to their ‘ulama’ who excercise ijtihad in formulating their own religious and judicial principles, based on the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet as attested or verified by the Imams.

mukasir

Lit. ‘breaker’ a junior rank in the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa mainly responsible for attracting prospective converts and ‘breaking’ their attachments to other religions.

mulhid

In Muslim heresiographical literature, a term of abuse for individuals regarded as religious deviants or heretics (pl. malahida).

mulla

Derived from the Arabic mawla, denoting a Muslim religious cleric.

mullah

Derived from the Arabic mawla, denoting a Muslim religious cleric.

Multan

A major city in the province of Sind (today in Pakistan) where the seat of a Fatimid principality was founded in around 958.

Munafiqun

(derived from the Arabic root na-fa-qa, meaning ‘to dissent, disagree or oppose’). The term is used in the Holy Qur’an for those professing Islam outwardly but who did not inwardly believe in the message of Prophet Muhammad. It is also the title of Sura 63 of the Holy Qur’an. The term is rendered in English as ‘hypocrites’.

murid

Lit. ‘one who seeks’. Sufi tariqas developed around the relationship between the murids and a spiritual master (called murshid, pir, shaykh or qutb). The first Nizari Imams after the Mongols’ conquest of Alamut lived as clandestine Sufi masters, while their followers adopted the designation of murids, which is still in use today. principality was founded in around 958.

murshid

Lit. ‘guide.’ Spiritual master (See murid). Word used for Imam in the Pandiyat–i Jawanmardi, authored by Imam Munstansir bi’llah II (d. 1480).

Musafirids

A Muslim dynasty which ruled Daylam, Azerbaijan, Arran and Armenia in the 10th and 11th centuries CE, succeeded in Daylam by the Ismailis.

Musha’aha’

A local Shi‘i Arab dynasty which ruled the town of Hawiza or Huwayza in Khuzistan, Persia, in the 15th century CE.

mustajib

Lit. ‘respondent’; a term denoting an initiate to the lowest rank in the Fatimid religious hierarchy.

Musta‘aliyya

Adherents of a branch of the Ismailis who supported al-Musta‘li, the younger son of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mustansir (d. 1094) as his successor.

Musta‘lis

Adherents of a branch of the Ismailis who supported al-Musta‘li, the younger son of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mustansir (d. 1094) as his successor.

Mutazila

A term referring to diverse scholars in early Islam who belonged to a rationally orientated school of thought that emphasized precepts such as Divine Unity and Justice and human freewill.

Mu‘tazila

A term referring to diverse scholars in early Islam who belonged to a rationally orientated school of thought that emphasized precepts such as Divine Unity and Justice and human freewill.

Mu‘taziliyya

A term referring to diverse scholars in early Islam who belonged to a rationally orientated school of thought that emphasized precepts such as Divine Unity and Justice and human freewill.