Dictionary of Islamic Words & Expressions
By Prof. Mahmoud Ismail Saleh
Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Dictionary of Islamic Words
Since the majority of the followers of Islam are not native speakers of Arabic, and many of them may not have the chance to learn it properly, translation has been resorted to. however incomplete it may be. But even good translators always find it difficult to translate the special terms from Arabic. A cursory look at the translation of various Islamic works would reveal the discrepancies between the Arabic text and its translation, on one hand, and the different renderings of the same Arabic terms by different translators or even by the same translator at different times.
It is a well known fact that any reasonable understanding of Islam requires some knowledge of the language of the Qur’an, Arabic, due to the following reasons:
1. The two main sources of Islamic teachings, the Qur’an and the Sunnah, are in Arabic. There have been many attempts to render the meanings of these into other languages through translation. However, no translation can really convey the whole meaning of the original text, especially of religious or literary nature. For no two languages in the world have exact equivalents for their lexicons, even if they belong to the same family of languages. Naturally, the gap increases with the distance between the relevant languages in history and culture; the greater the difference (such as between Arabic and English) the wider the gap, and it is hard even for the cleverest of translators to close it. Besides, many Qur’anic verses and words have more than one meaning, which a translator has to choose from; thus, the translation is by nature restricted and incomplete in such cases. Examples abound even in one “surah” (chapter) of the Qur’an, the first one, where we find words like, “al-Hamd”, “ar-raHmaan, ar-raHiim” that are rich with meanings and implications which have only been partially conveyed in the various translations.
2. The bulk of references on various Islamic subjects have been written in Arabic. For even scholars living in nonArabic speaking lands have most often made their valuable contributions in Arabic. There are tens of thousands of books on Islamic issues and topics, including Qur’anic exegesis, theology, jurisprudence, principles of Qur’anic exegesis, tajweed (rules of correct recitation of the Qur’an), principles of hadeeth (prophetic traditions) authentication, principles of Islamic jurisprudence etc. Very little of these references have been translated into other languages.
3. There are many key terms and expressions, such as ” raHmaan , Salciah, zakaah, ‘umrah, ‘ishaa’, tajwiid, laa Hawla zoalaa quwwata illaa bi-llaah ” which are not easy to translate into other languages.
Since the majority of the followers of Islam are not native speakers of Arabic, and many of them may not have the chance to learn it properly, translation has been resorted to, however incomplete it may be. But even good translators always find it difficult to translate the special terms from Arabic. A cursory look at the translation of various Islamic works would reveal the discrepancies between the Arabic text and its translation, on one hand, and the different renderings of the same Arabic terms by different translators or even by the same translator at different times.
Attempts have been made by Muslim scholars to compile glossaries and dictionaries of Islamic terms to help both translators and readers of Arabic texts. But we find that despite the efforts made in these works, none of them is fully satisfactory for some reason or another, including the background of the author and his/her area of interest and the arrangement of the entries.
It is with the objective of filling some of the gaps or shortcomings in these attempts that this Dictionary of Islamic Words and Expressions has been prepared.
The present dictionary has the following characteristics:
4. It is written with the speaker of English in mind, though speakers of Arabic will find it useful as well. A knowledge of Arabic is not required. Therefore, the entries have been arranged according to their romanized pronunciation. This is accompanied by the word or expression in Arabic script, followed by an explanation or commentary.
5. The words and phrases have been selected on the basis of their special technical senses and/or their frequency in the Islamic religious writings. Often, general meanings and senses are ignored in the Dictionary.
6. An index of the words or expressions in Arabic script, according to the rules of Arabic alphabetical system, is given at the end of the dictionary for the benefit of Arab users of the Dictionary.
7. The comments or definitions are given in a brief and simple manner. Wherever appropriate, references to relevant verses of the Holy Qur’an are made. The reader will find more information there.
The Dictionary, as mentioned earlier, is arranged according to the romanized script and English alphabetical system. (A transliteration table is given below.) Therefore, Arabic words that have small and capital letters (e.g., “h, H or s, S”) are grouped together, though these symbols represent different Arabic letters and sounds.
9. A special mention should be made of the case of the words that include ( ‘ and ‘ – hamzah and ‘ayn) consonants, such as ‘”adab” and ” ‘iddah ” These are arranged according to the vowels that follow them, since they are not letters of the English alphabet.
10. In the transliteration, a distinction is made between (-iyy) asin”nabiyy” (‘prophet’) and (-ii) as”fii” (‘in’). This makes the word easier to spot when it occurs in combinations, such as “nabiyy-uun” (‘prophets’) or “nabiyy-uk” (‘your prophet’)…etc.
11. The taa’ marbuuTah (feminine marker in nouns) is usually written (h), which is the pause form. But in cases where it is normally pronounced for liaison purposes, as in “zakaat al-fiTr” it is written (t).
12. The definite article (al-) is assimilated to the consonants that follow them, such as “al-Salaah” (which is transliterated “aS-Salaah” according to its pronunciation in Arabic). This makes the word easier to read by non-native speakers of Arabic.
13. Normally, nouns are given in their singular forms, but if the plural form is frequently used or it is heard more often than its singular form, then the word is given in the plural form too.
14. Arabic nouns that have irregular plural forms (and a few others) are normally followed by their plural form or singular forms (if the entry word is in the plural form) in parentheses (with pi. meaning plural and sg. meaning singular). Examples: “khuluq (pi. akhlaaq)” and “naSaaraa (sg. naSraaniyy)”. This makes it easier for the reader to recognize them when they are encountered in both their singular and plural forms.
15. Verbs, which are normally given in their basic past tense forms, are accompanied by the present tense forms between parentheses, because the reader would most often see them in these two forms.
16. Wherever appropriate, cross-reference is made to other entries in the Dictionary, which is indicated by putting the Arabic word between double quotes.
17. Double quotes are used for Arabic words in quotations and for cross-reference purposes. A word in double quotes is found in its place in the Dictionary. The reader may refer to it if he so wishes. Single quotes, on the other hand, are used to give the English meaning of the Arabic words and expressions in the comment/ definition part.
I sincerely hope that this Dictionary will be of some help to the readers of Islamic works and the seekers of knowledge about Islam and its lofty teachings.
Mahmoud Ismail Saleh, Ph.,
Professor of Applied Linguistics Riyadh, Rabi’ 1,1432 A.H./ February, 2011.