The words “Bismillahir rahmanir rahim,” “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compasssionate,” begins all but one of the surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an. The entire phrase or simply “Bismillah” is frequently used to invoke divine blessing before the acts of daily life. It is also a common motif in Islamic calligraphy, especially on amulets. “Basmalah” is shorthand for the whole phrase.


I’tikaf is the practice of secluding oneself in a mosque or other private space for the purpose of prayer and Qur’anic recitation. I’tikaf is most commonly practiced during the last ten days of Ramadan, during which the Night of Power (revelation of the first verses of the Qur’an) occurred.


The word Qur’an literally means “recitation.” Revealed orally to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, he recited it to his followers. These recitations collected in written form are arranged in 114 surahs, generally from longest to shortest. Muslims consider the Qur’an to be the literal word of God. While it is possible to translate the message of the Qur’an into other languages, Muslims consider translations to be interpretations and not the Qur’an itself.


Allah is the word for God in Arabic, used by Arabic-speaking Christians, Jews, and Muslims. According to Islam, Allah is the creator and ruler of the entire universe, the ultimate judge of all human beings, characterized by mercy and compassion. By means of revelations to various prophets, Allah guides the faithful along the path of righteousness.

Islamic center

An Islamic center will typically include a mosque, school, and area for social and cultural activities. When a new Islamic center is being organized in the United States, attention is paid to community needs, including a weekend or full-time school, indicating an emphasis on educating the next generation.

Nation of Islam

The Lost-Found Nation of Islam in America, begun by Wallace D. Fard in Detroit in the 1930’s, was developed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad preached some Islamic principles, but his lessons about the superiority of the Black Man were considered by many Muslims to be contrary to Qur’anic teachings of racial equality. His son W. Deen Mohammed disbanded the Nation in 1975 and called followers to embrace Sunni Islam. In 1977, Minister Louis Farrakhan revived the old Nation of Islam, with some 20,000 members and over 60 affiliated mosques. The Nation publishes the Final Call... Read more about Nation of Islam


Ummah means “community,” referring to the worldwide community of believers bound by their faith in Islam which, ideally, is seen as transcending ethnic, racial, and national differences.


Abraham is the patriarch, acknowledged as the father of the lineage of faith by the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. He is presumed to have lived sometime in the period 2000-1700 BCE. He is the father of Isaac by Sarah (Genesis 12.25), and the “Friend of God” and Father of Ishmael by Hagar (Qur’an 37.83-113), and the exemplar of faith. (Galatians 3-4).


Ibadat refers to the duties of worship to God according to the law, including the five pillars. Obligations toward other human beings are called Mu’amalat.

Muhammad, Clara

Clara Muhammad was the wife of Elijah Muhammad (leader of the Nation of Islam) and the mother of Imam W. Deen Mohammed. For her energetic leadership, the more than 50 Islamic schools associated with either the Nation or the Ministry of W. Deen Mohammed are named in her honor. These schools, often located in poor areas, cater both to the needs of the local Muslim children and to a substantial number of non-Muslim children as well.


Hajj, or pilgrimage to the Ka’bah in Makkah, is one of the five pillars of Islam, performed by millions annually during Dhu’l-Hijjah, the last lunar month. The Hajj is required at least once in a lifetime of every Muslim in good health and with financial means.

Mohammed, W. Deen

Imam W. Deen Mohammed was born Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1933, son of Elijah Muhammad, charismatic leader of the Nation of Islam, and his wife Clara. He later changed his name to Warith Deen, meaning “the heir of the religion” in Arabic, and altered the spelling of his last name. Although twice expelled for questioning his father’s teachings, W. Deen was appointed Elijah Muhammad’s successor in 1975. However, he soon led the movement away from Black nationalist separatism to integration with Sunni Muslim belief and practice. Today, the Ministry of W. Deen Mohammed serves a loose federation of... Read more about Mohammed, W. Deen

Five Percenters

The Five Percenters, also called the Nation of Gods and Earths, was established by Clarence 13X in 1964 after he broke away from the Nation of Islam. Their strongest presence is in New York City, although their influence can be felt elsewhere, as in the lyrics of the rap group, Public Enemy. According to Five Percenter theology, Blackman is God, the Black woman Earth, and each Black man becomes a god when he learns his lessons. These gods then join the 5% of humankind who will deliver 85% of the rest of humanity from the 10% who oppress them.


Called “Rasul” in Arabic, the messenger is a special type of prophet commissioned to lead a community and often entrusted with a major revelation from God. Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are examples of messengers in Islam. Other prophets (called nabi) interpret these messages and reform existing communities.


Sunnah, meaning “custom,” refers to the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, remembered by the early Muslim community and preserved in narrative accounts (hadith). Because Muhammad is considered to be the best example of how to live, his Sunnah is second in authority only to the Qur’an. In the Shi’i tradition, the Sunnah of the Imams is another important source of guidance.