FOREIGN WORDS

This article aims to give some advice to writers in the field of Islamic studies. Authors should aim to write in a style which is familiar to native English readers. This means foreign words should be avoided as much as possible unless there is good reason to use them. This does not include recognisably foreign words which have been adopted by the English language. Examples of recognisably foreign words and phrases which have been adopted by the English language (and therefore do not require italicisation) are as follows:

a priori qibla
a posteriori shaikh
haji, hajji shariah
magnum opus vis-à-vis
mujahidin viva voce
prima facie viz.

Generally speaking, when foreign words are used they should be italicised (except for proper nouns). In some cases use of a foreign word is necessary to convey a particular meaning. In this case it is preferable to use the foreign word only on the first mention of the corresponding English word (and in brackets). The following examples may help clarify this point. Both Sufism (tasawwuf) and ‘irfan refer to ‘mysticism’, but this disguises a large difference between the two. In a narration (hadith) the Prophet said that the Qur’an and his household (ahl al-bayt) will not separate from each other. Note that in the first example above ‘tasawwuf’ was used to explain ‘Sufism’ despite the use of ‘Sufism’ being well established in the English language. This helps an author to be precise about his terms and it helps non-English readers. In the second example above the foreign words were not repeated for each use of ‘jurisprudent’ and ‘manual’. In the third example above ‘hadith’ is considered to be a foreign word. This is because it is used in a different sense to ‘Hadith’ which is naturalised and which refers to the corpus of collected traditions relating to the Prophet Muhammad and his household (peace be upon them). It is common in articles relating to Islamic Studies written in English to see wide use of foreign words for which there are perfectly acceptable English equivalents. This should be avoided. Examples of commonly used foreign words and naturalised foreign words for which equivalents are available follow.

Preferred Not Preferred
chapter
sura
Grand Ayatollah Ayatollah al-Uzma
God willing inshallah
intercession tawassul
jurisprudent faqih
martyr shaheed
Messenger of God Rasulallah
mystic ‘arif
mysticism ‘irfan
non-believer or unbeliever kafir
occultation ghaybah
permissible halal
parliament majlis
sage hakim
reappearance zuhur
scholars ulema
Shi‘a Shi‘i
Sufism tasawwuf
supplication dua’
tradition hadith
verse ayah

The above list indicates that preference is given to terms that a native English reader will be familiar with. This also applies to the plural form of words. Preference should be given to forming plurals according to English grammar, as apparent in the following table.

Preferred Not Preferred
ayatollahs ayaatullah
hadiths ahadith
Imams a’immah
Muslims Muslimin
shaikhs shuyukh

There will of course be exceptions to preferring English terms. For example, ‘ibn’ is often preferable to ‘son of’ as is ‘Allah’ to ‘God’. Authors should use their judgement in this regard. This applies for names also. Generally names should not be translated but this is acceptable – and perhaps sometimes preferable – when translated names are more familiar to native English readers. So, for example, ‘Abraham’ should be used to refer to the great prophet because it is more familiar than ‘Ibrahim’. However, ‘Eber’ is not a familiar replacement for ‘Hud’ and so only the latter should be used when referring to the prophet Hud who is mentioned in the Qur’an. The following is a list of some names for which established English versions should be used.

Preferred Not Preferred
Aaron Harun
Abraham Ibrahim
David Dawud
Elijah Ilyas
Eve Hawa
Gabriel Jibril
Gog Yajuj
Isaac Ishaq
Ishmael Ismail
Jacob Yaqub
Jesus Isa
Job Ayyub
John the Baptist Yahya
Jonah Yunus
Joseph Yusuf
Lot Lut
Magog Majuj
Mary Maryam
Michael Mikal
Moses Musa
Noah Nuh
Solomon Sulayman
Zachariah Zakariyya

Finally, some examples of words commonly used in Islamic studies follow. Please note their spelling, whether they are capitalised, and whether they are italicised or n

‘Abbas
‘Abdullah
‘Alawi
‘Ali
‘aql
Abbasid
Abu al-Qasim
Abu Bakr
Abu Talib
Al-‘Askari
Al-Asfar al-Arba‘ah
Al-Baqir
Allah
Al-Naqi
Al-Rida
Al-Sadiq
Al-Taqi
Amir
ayah
Ayatollah
Ayyub
Bihar al-Anwar
Dhu al-Kifl
Fatimah
Fatimid
Ghazzali
Hadith
hadith
hajj
Hasan

Hud
Husayn
ibn
Ibn Arabi
Ibn Rushd
Ibn Sina
ijtihad
Imam
Isma‘ili
Ja‘far
jihad
Khomeini
Luqman
marja‘
Mecca
Medina
Mu‘awiyyah
Muhammad
mujtahid
Mulla Sadra
Murtada
Musa
Musawi
Mustafa
Mutahhari
Nahj al-Balaghah
Najaf
Ottoman
qibla
Qum

 

Qur’an
Quraysh
Safavid
Sakinah
Salafi
Salih
sayyid
shaikh
shariah
Shi‘a
Shi‘ism
Sufi
Sunnah
sunnah
Tabataba’i
tafsir
tasawwuf
tawhid
ulu al-‘azm
Umar
Umayyid
ummah
Usul al-Kafi
Uthman
wahdat al-wujud
wilayah
wilayat al-faqih

Yazid
Zayn al-Abidin
Zaynab