Glossary of Terms Related to Saudi Arabia and Islam

ABAYA  A black, full-length outer garment worn by Saudi women. 

ABU  Father.

Double headcord worn on top of the Arabian cloth headdress.

Uppercase connotes family or belonging to, as in Al Saud (q.v.), or Al Sudairi; lowercase represents the definite article the, as in Rub al Khali.

Allahu Akbar  Allah is the Greatest.

Al Saud
Literally, the House of Saud; the patrilineal descendants of Muhammad ibn Saud.

Strictly speaking, commander. In Saudi Arabia, amir often means prince, but can mean governor of a province.

BEDOUIN  A nomadic desert people, the original Arabs.

BIN (or IBN)  Following a man’s given name and preceding a man’s father’s or grandfather’s name.  Means “son of.”
Literally ‘successor’ to Muhammad.

Dayyooth One who lacks ghayrah; one who does not care if (non mahram) men approach his wife, mother, sister or daughter. A dayyooth is prohibited from entering Paradise (Recorded by Ahmad).

Blood money, paid by the guilty as a compensation for killing, wounding, etc. (pl. Diyaat).
Supplication: invoking Allah for whatever one desires.

Eid al Adha
Feast celebrating the end of the Hajj. Marks the day when sacrifices are offered in Mecca.

Eid al Fitr
The feast ending the fast of Ramadhan. One of the two principal holidays in Saudi Arabia.

Arabic for ‘commander’. Male members of the house of Saud are referred to as emir, usually transliterated as ‘prince’.

A decision, usually written, on a point of Islamic law, given by a mufti.

Fitnah (Plural: Fitan) Trials, persecution, confusion in the religion, conflicts and strifes among the Muslims.

Gheerah protectiveness or jealousy  see

The full ritual washing of the body with water alone to be pure for the prayer. to do Ghusl:  1. Wash your private parts, 2. do Wudu (ablution), 3. wash your entire body without touching your private parts again.

Arabian cloth headdress. In Saudi Arabia, it is usually red and white, but may be solid white in very hot weather.

Tradition based on the precedent of the Prophet Muhammad’s words and deeds that serves as one of the sources of Islamic law.

The word hadith literally means communication or narration. In the Islamic context it has come to denote the record of what the Prophet (S.A.W.) said, did, or tacitly approved. According to some scholars, the word hadith also covers reports about the sayings and deeds, etc. of the Companions of the Prophet in addition to the Prophet himself. The whole body of Traditions is termed Hadith and its science ‘Ilm al-Hadith.
Halal Lawful as defined by Allah the Almighty.

 Haram   1. Any act or deed which is prohibited by Allah and will incur His wrath and punishment. 2. Sanctuary or boundary of any Masjid (mosque), but usually used with regard to the sanctuaries of the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah and Masjid al-Rasool in Madinah. This is why they are referred to as ‘Al-Haramain al-Sharifain,’ the two Holy Sanctuaries.

The Pilgrimage. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, all Muslims are required to attempt one pilgrimage to Mecca in their lifetimes.

Arabic word for pilgrim. One who makes a hajj.

The migration of the prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D.

‘He who goes before.’ Those who lead prayer in Saudi mosques.

‘As God wills’. Commonly used Arabic expression. Often used to disclaim responsibility for one’s mistake.

Islam: In Arabic, the word means “surrender” or “submission” to the will of God. Most Westerners think of Islam as one of the three major monotheistic world religions (the others being Judaism and Christianity). But the historian Bernard Lewis observes that “Islam” means both a religion (analogous to “Christianity”) and the civilization that developed under that religion (analogous to “Christendom”).

Holy war or struggle. More than referring to military warfare, it means the total effort of the Muslim community to reach a religiously sanctified objective.

Jihaad Striving and fighting to make the Word of Allaah supreme; in Allaah’s cause.

Jinn Jinn are an independent species of creation about which little is known except that unlike man, who was created out of earth, the jinn were created out of fire. But like man, a Divine Message has also been addressed to them and they too have been endowed with the capacity, again like man, to choose between good and evil, between obedience or disobedience to God. See Surah 72 of the Qur’an. 

KAABA  Islam’s holiest shrine, a sacred sanctuary for all Muslims. The Kaaba is a small building in the Holy Mosque of Makkah, nearly cubic in shape, built to enclose the Black Stone, which is the most venerated Muslim object.

Koran/Qu’ran: The holy book of Islam, recorded by the prophet Muhammad beginning in the year 610 A.D. Muslims consider it to be the word of God. Islam teaches that the Christian and Hebrew scriptures are also holy books, though they had become distorted over time. The Koran is the primary source of Islamic law, followed by hadith (teachings attributed to Muhammad that are not recorded in the Koran) and the sunna (the habits and practices of Muhammad’s life). The word Koran means “recitation.”

Kitman – Lying by omission.

The Muslim Holy Book. God’s revelation to the prophet Muhammad containing 114 chapters or suras.

LA  Arabian word meaning “no.”

MAHRAM  Males to whom a woman cannot be married, such as her father, brother, or uncle, who are allowed to be a woman’s escort when traveling. Must be a close relative.

Mahram A person who is closely related to another in such a way as to perminently prohibit them from marrying each other. This relationship results from blood, suckling, or marriage ties. A womans mahram’s are her: father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, immediate uncle (paternal and maternal), father-in-law, son-in-law, foster son (by milk), foster brother (by milk), etc. Examples of mon-mahram’s: cousin (from either side), step brothers, brothers in law etc.

Arabic reception or sitting room.

Tribal council; in some countries the legislative assembly. Also the audience of the king, amir (q.v.), or shaykh (q.v.) open to all citizens for the purposes of adjudication.

Mecca: Islam’s most sacred city, located in what is now western Saudi Arabia. Mecca is the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of the Kaaba.

Medina: Also located in western Saudi Arabia, Medina is Islam’s second-holiest place. Muhammad migrated to Medina with 70 Muslim families in 622 after being persecuted by the Meccan establishment. It is also the site of Muhammad’s tomb.

Mosque: The Arabic word is masjid, meaning “place of prostration” before God. Muhammad built the first mosque in Medina. A mosque should be oriented toward Mecca. In many Islamic societies, mosques serve social and political functions in addition to religious ones.

Muslim: In Arabic, “one who surrenders to God”; a follower of Islam. There are 1 billion Muslims in the world and 6 million in the United States.

A Muslim cleric or legal expert. Authorized to render opinions on religious matters.

MUTAWWA  The religious police, also known as the morals police. Men who seek out, arrest, and punish those who do not abide by Saudi religious law.

Literally, those who volunteer or obey; sometimes known by popular name of Committees for Public Morality, or more formally, as the Committees for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

NAJD  The traditional name for central Arabia. The inhabitants of this area are known for their conservative behavior. The ruling family of Saudi Arabia are Najdis.

Nikah  Marriage

Niqab A type of veil that covers the entire face somethimes including the eyes  See

 POLYGAMY  Marriage to more than one spouse at the same time. Men of the Muslim faith are legally allowed four wives at one time.


Peace be upon him. Somewhat English equivalent of S.A.W. used whenever the name of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) is read or heard. See S.A.W.
PURDAH  A practice of confining women to their homes. This total seclusion of females can occur in some Muslim countries.

The ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Fasting is obligatory during this month for all Muslims.
RIYADH  The capital city of Saudi Arabia, which is located in the desert.

RUB AL KHALI  An enormous desert wilderness that occupies the southeast portion of Arabia. It is often referred to as the “Empty Quarter.”

Alternative transliteration for Koran.

The Islamic month of fasting in which Muslims celebrate God’s gift of the Koran to man.

Modern Saudi Arabian unit of currency.

Rub al Khali
‘The Empty Quarter’. Loose transliteration from the Arabic for the great, featureless desert that comprises the southeastern part of Saudi Arabia.

Peace be upon you. The traditional Arabian greeting.

Prayers. There are five daily obligatory prayers. These prayers and their time zones are: 1. Fajr (morning prayer); After dawn but before sunrise; 2. Duhr (early afternoon or noon prayer); early afternoon till late afternoon; 3. ‘Asr (late afternoon prayer) late afternoon prayer till sunset; 4. Maghrib (sunset prayer); just after sunset; 5. Isha (late evening prayer); late evening till late at night.

Sallallahu ‘Alaihe wa Sallam (S.A.W.)
“May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.” This is said whenever the name of prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) is mentioned or read. Th equivalent English phrase is usually abbreviated as S.A.W. (peace be upon him).

People who spoke a Semitic language which originated in Arabia and Mesopotamia. Some of the peoples include the: Arabs, Hebrews, Canaanites, and Phoenicians.

Descendant of the prophet Muhammad.

The law of God. Arabic word for Islamic law.

From the Arabic word for ‘elder’. A title that is earned, not inherited. Given to tribal leaders, business chieftains and public figures.

Shia (from Shiat Ali, the Party of Ali)
A member of the smaller of the two great divisions of Islam. The Shia supported the claims of Ali and his line to presumptive right to the caliphate and leadership of the Muslim community, and on this issue they divided from the Sunni (q.v.) in the major schism within Islam. Later schisms have produced further divisions among the Shia over the identity and number of imams (q.v.). Most Shia revere Twelve Imams, the last of whom is believed to be hidden from view.

Shii: The “partisans” of Ali, the fourth caliph, the Shiis eventually became a distinct Muslim sect. The largest Shii Muslim sect is the “Twelver Shii,” named after the first 12 leaders (or imams) of Shii Muslims. Twelver Shii believe that the descendants of Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, were the legitimate leaders of Islam. Shiis believe the last imam is in hiding, and they await his return. Shiis are the majority in Iran, and many can be found in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan. There are more than 165 million Shii Muslims in the world. (Also known as Shia or Shiite Muslims.)

shwaya shwaya  – little by little or slowly or gently does it
Sunni: Unlike Shii Muslims, Sunni Muslims believe that Islamic leadership is vested in the consensus of the community, not in religious and political authorities. Their name comes from the word sunna, which is thought to mean “middle of the road.” The religious scholar Karen Armstrong emphasizes that, despite their differences, Sunnis and Shiites alike observe the five pillars of Islam. “Like Judaism, Islam is a religion that requires people to live a certain way, rather than to accept certain credal propositions,” she writes. “It stresses orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy.”

The larger of the two great divisions of Islam. The Sunni, who rejected the claims of Ali’s line, believe that they are the true followers of the sunna, the guide to proper behavior set forth by Muhammad’s personal deeds and utterances.
SUNNA  Traditions of the Islamic faith as addressed by Prophet Mohammed.

Arabic word for market.

Takiyya  or Taqiyya  

 Within the Muslim moral universe, the concept of “takiyya”, which is religiously-sanctioned deception to protect or promote Islam, is not only moral, it is admirable because it comes from the Koran and experiences of Muhammad himself. This by no means is to excuse the behavior of a character like Moussaoui, but to place that behavior in a context about which most Americans know nothing. Clare M. Lopez Executive Director, Iran Policy Committee Washington, DC see also and


The long shirt-like garment worn by Arabian men. It is usually white and thin in the summer, and heavy and dark or striped in winter.

Religious scholars. In modern Saudi Arabia, they meet weekly with the king and regulate religious life.

Umma: The worldwide community of Muslims.

UMRAH  A short pilgrimage (to Makkah) undertaken by those of the Muslim faith that can be made anytime of the year.
VEIL  Black fabric that is used to cover a Saudi Arabian Muslim woman’s face. The material can be sheer or thick.
Name used outside Saudi Arabia to designate adherents to Wahhabism (q.v.).
Name used outside Saudi Arabia to designate official interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia. The faith is a puritanical concept of unitarianism (the call to the oneness or unity of God–ad dawa lil tawhid) that was preached by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, whence his Muslim opponents derived the name.

Arabic word for a rocky watercourse. Dry except in the rainy season.

Wali   guardian.

Wasta – connections,  like friends in high places. See

Wudu refers to the ablution made before performing the prescribed Prayers. it requires washing (1) the face from the top of the forehead to the chin and as far as each ear; (2) the hands and arms up to the elbow; (3) wiping with wet hands a part of the head; and (4) washing the feet to the ankle.

ZAKAH  Obligatory alms giving required of all Muslims that is the third pillar of Islam.

Zina means illegal sexual intercourse and embraces both fornication and adultery.