Nathan Gonzalez

                                                        The Glossary

This glossary was created to accompany my book The Sunni-Shia Conflict: Understanding Sectarian Violence in the Middle East. A PDF version can be downloaded by clicking here. Please feel free to send suggested edits/additions to:


Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258): Second Muslim dynasty, established by Caliph Abu al-Abbas

Abu Bakr (d. 634): Close companion of the Prophet Muhammad and first caliph of Sunni Islam

Abu Muslim (d. 755): Freedman and insurgent leader, who galvanized support for the Abbasid movement in opposition to the Umayyad Dynasty.

Abu Talib (d. 619): Prophet Muhammad's uncle and father of Ali, the first Shia Imam

Akhbari: A now-defunct reformist/fundamentalist school within Twelver Shiism that sought to lessen the influence of the clergy; focus on individual interpretation of Islam.

Aisha bint Abi Bakr (d. 678): Wife of the Prophet Muhammad and leading figure in the opposition to the Party of Ali during the first Muslim civil war (fitna).

Alawite: A branch of Islam associated with Shia beliefs. It is the faith of the ruling Assad family of Syria. 

Ali al-Asghar (679-80): Child of Husayn, killed at the age of six months by Caliph Yazid's troops in the Battle of Karbala (680); mourned yearly, along with his father Husayn, during the commemoration of Ashoura.

Ali ibn Abi Talib (ca. 600-661): Son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the First Imam of Shia Islam.

Amal Movement: Lebanese Shia political faction and militia created by Musa al-Sadr in anticipation to the Lebanese Civil War.  

Anatolia: Region of Asia Minor encompassing modern-day Turkey; formerly associated with the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Empire.

Arafat, Yasser (1929-2004): Late president of the Palestinian National Authority and long-time Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Arba'in (Persian: Chehlom): lit. "forty"; Ritual mourning ceremony in Shia Islam, coming forty days after a person's death.

Ashoura: Muslim holy day of voluntary fasting on the 10th of the month of Muharram. In Shia Islam, Ashoura marks the martyrdom of Husayn at the Battle of Karbala (680).

Assassins: See Nizari.

Atabat: A reference to the Holy Shia cities of Southern Iraq.

ayatollah: lit. "sign of God." A denotation of high clerical rank in Shia Islam.

Ayyubid Dynasty (1171-1250): Egypt-based anti-Crusader state founded by famed Kurdish leader Salah al-Din (Saladdin).


Baath Party: Secular, Syrian-founded political party based on principles of Arab unity.

Badr Organization: Militant wing of the Iranian-founded Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

Banu Hashim: "Clan of Hashim," the family to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged; see also Hashemites.

Basij ("Mobilization): An all-volunteer paramilitary force of the Islamic Republic of Iran charged with enforcing strict Islamic codes at home, while serving as a homeland defense militia in times of war.

Basra: Predominantly Shia city of southern Iraq. Also refers to the Ottoman province of southern Iraq prior to the British mandate.

Baybars: Legendary anti-Crusading commander of the Mamluk Empire.

Bell, Gertrude (1868-1926): British colonial administrator, who helped found modern Iraq.

Beqa Valley: Fertile region in East Lebanon.

Bremer, L. Paul III (b. 1941): U.S. administrator of Iraq from June 2003 until June 2004.

Buyid Dynasty (945-1055): Shia Iranian dynasty that ruled much of Iran and Iraq as a result of the weakness of the Abbasid Caliphate.

Byzantine Empire: Also called the Eastern Roman Empire, or Rome, the empire continued Roman rule long after the Western portion of Rome had fallen. Starting in the fourth century, Eastern Rome became an assertive Christian Empire. The empire fell when Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, though the Ottoman Sultan maintained the title of "Caesar of Rome" (Kaysar-i Rum) until the end of the World War I.

Byzantium: Roman city on the Bosphorus, renamed Constantinople after Roman Emperor Constantine. Today, it is Istanbul, Turkey.

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