(also: Medina) The city of Madinah was originally called Yathrib, a city north of Makkah in western Saudi Arabia. It was renamed “the city of the prophet,” (Madinat al-nabi) after Muhammad and his followers emigrated there in 622 to form the first Muslim community. Muslim pilgrims visit the mosque and tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Madinah.


Shariah, meaning “way or road,” refers to the system of law, ethics, and values based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. As such it is a way of life prescribed by God. The process of interpreting and applying this law led to the formation of four schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).


The crescent or new moon (hilal), marking the beginning of a new lunar month in the Islamic calendar, became a prevalent symbol of Islam after the Mamluk rulers first used it to decorate mosques in 14th century Cairo.


Jerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel from the time of King David (c. 1000 BCE), was the ritual and spiritual center of the Jewish people for 1,000 years until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. For Jews, Jerusalem is still the geographical epicenter of the tradition. For Christians, Jerusalem the site of the mighty events of Christ’s death and resurrection. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the place where the prophet Muhammad came on his Night Journey from Makkah to the very throne of God.


Ramadan is the ninth lunar month during which the first revelation of the Qur’an came to Muhammad. Each year in this month, Muslims abstain from all food, drink, and sexual activity from dawn until sunset. They are also meant to make a conscious effort to abstain from any sinful acts during this month. Ramadan is a time of community, as family and friends share meals and festivities after dark. At the end of the month, Muslims gather to perform the prayers of Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Fast-breaking.


Amir means “Commander” or “Prince.” Originally a military term, the Muslim caliph was known as Amir al-Mu’minin, the “commander of the faithful.. The term amir is used today as a title for princes, and it sometimes designates the executive officer or representative of an Islamic organization.


The Ottoman Turks, based after 1453 in Istanbul (Constantinople), established a vast empire that lasted from the 14th century until World War I; at its height, it stretched from Southern Russia to the Indian Ocean, including the Balkans, Hungary and Egypt as well as most of the Middle East. Supporters of Sunni Islam and Sufi orders, they were known for advanced administrative and social institutions and great architectural achievements.


The adhan, also called azan or the call to prayer, is called out by the muezzin five times each day to all Muslims within hearing distance. Contained in this call is the shahadah, the “witness” to the two fundamental convictions of Muslim religious belief: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”


Imam means “leader,” particularly the person who leads the daily ritual prayer or, more broadly, to the one who serves as a leader of the community because of his religious learning. In Shi’i Islam, it refers to one of a succession of direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who are believed to have inherited the religious and temporal leadership of the community after the Prophet’s death.


The prayer area or hall in a masjid (mosque) is called a musalla, although any open and clean space may serve as a musalla.


Zakat, literally meaning “purification,” is almsgiving (approximately 2.5 percent of annual accumulated wealth) for the needy and for Islamic work. Giving zakat purifies the remainder of one’s wealth for personal use. Zakat al-fitr is a special offering given during Ramadan.


Haram means “prohibited” or “impure.” For Muslims, haram is a legal term referring to sinful actions and impure food. Haram is the opposite of Halal.


A muezzin is the one who beckons the faithful to prayer five times each day. The call is issued in a clear voice, often from atop the minaret of a masjid.


Tauhid means “oneness, unity.” Tauhid is the central monotheistic doctrine of Islam expressed in the phrase: “There is no God but God.”


In Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, Gabriel is an archangel. In Christianity, Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear Jesus. For Muslims, Gabriel is the angel who conveyed God’s message to the Prophets. He recited the Qur’an to Muhammad, instructed him in matters of conduct, and guided him on his journey through the heavens.