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6 Words You Should Know Before Talking About Islam

02/02/2016 11:39 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016


A lot of the suspicion surrounding Islam comes from a lack of knowledge or understanding of a religion that is still foreign to many people, despite its 1.6 billion followers. Often this lack of knowledge results in the public cooptation of important aspects of the faith.

Words like jihad and shariah have become synonymous with things like terrorism, violence and radicalism, resulting in Muslims being unable to freely use or express these important tenets of their faith.

To help clarify some common misconceptions about one of the world’s largest religions, here is a page from my Muslim dictionary.

: peace that comes from submission

Islam derives from the Arabic root consonants s-l-m, which means submission.Islam is also derived from the root word salaam, meaning peace. Islam is thus the submission of oneself to God through which the highest form of peace is attained. Assalaamu alaykum, a common Muslim greeting, is translated from Arabic to be “Peace be upon you.”

: one who has submitted

The word Muslim in Arabic is also derived from the same root consonants as Islam, s-l-m. A Muslim is one who has submitted or surrendered; in this religious context, a Muslim is one who has voluntarily submitted to God’s will or God’s decree to achieve peace.

: The God

The word Allah can be broken down into two parts. The al is a prefix definite article that translates to the. The second part luh simply translates to God. Therefore, Allah refers to The God. This is an important clarification to make because Allah is not a God Muslims believe in that is inherently antithetical to other groups’ beliefs; rather, Allah just refers to The God. From an Islamic viewpoint, this is the same God that the other Abrahamic faiths believe in. For example, Christian Arabs would also refer to God as Allah.

: a spiritual self struggle

Jihad is derived from the Arabic root word juhud, which means effort. Jihad is thus generally the process of exerting effort and can be applied to nonreligious actions. In the religious context, however, jihad does not mean waging a holy war or engaging in violence. Rather, the greatest form of jihad is an individual’s struggle with the self — the heart, the soul. A Muslim exerts effort in daily life activities — such as pursuing an education or a career — to do and achieve good for the personal process of self-improvement so as to achieve internal peace and closeness with Allah.

: legal reasoning; law

Shariah derives from the root shara’a and refers to a pathway or a path that leads to water. Shariah refers to the pathway upon which the believers should tread so as to reach this source of water i.e. the righteous way of life. The shariah is derived from Quranic revelation, the Prophet Muhammad’s sunnah (Peace be upon him) or his traditions and sayings, and other sources of law and legal reasoning.


: a school

The word madrasah derives from the root consonants d-r-s, meaning to learn or to study. Derived from this root, madrasah literally translates into a place where one goes to learn or study. A madrasah, though it can be, is not necessarily exclusively for religious studies; for example, a high school Muslim American student in the United States would refer to her public high school as a madrasah.

The implications of this false use of rhetoric is neither trivial nor inconsequential; rather, it has serious implications for the millions of Muslim Americans living in the United States. This false rhetoric — used by everyone from the 2016 presidential frontrunners to our next door neighbors — contributes to the increasingly unwelcoming and hostile environment and promotes dangerous Islamophobic sentiment.

The use of jihadists to refer to terrorists and Islamism to terrorism is detrimental to American Muslims’ ability to freely and confidently practice and express faith. Reversing the seemingly continuous stream of hatred directed towards Muslims requires fostering a deeper understanding of Islam among Americans, and so I offer to you a page from my Muslim dictionary.


30 Rabiul Akhar 1437

By Ismail ibn Nazir Satia

I'm for the truth no matter who tells it. I'm for justice no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being first and foremost and for whoever benefits humanity...

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