Frontline Muslims: Pre-Viewing Vocabulary Activity

Overview: The purpose of this activity is to acquaint students with vocabulary related to Islam and Muslim history in the film Frontline: Muslims. Students will work with the vocabulary from the film by categorizing the names and terminology, then work with the definitions after viewing.


The student will be able to:

  • Categorize terms and proper names associated with beliefs, practices, groups and historical events related to Islam and Muslims in the modern era.
  • Locate place names on contemporary and historical maps.
  • Define terms related to Islamic beliefs and practices.
  • Identify individuals and define categories related to contemporary Muslim society.


  1. Cut the vocabulary words and definitions from Handout 1a into strips. Form students into groups of three or four and give each some strips to sort into four categories. Have them record the words in each category on the chart, Handout 1b. The teacher can assist if necessary.
  2. Locate place names on a world map, or use the IslamProject Map "Muslim World, ca. 2000" (see
  3. Terms on beliefs and practices may be familiar to students who have already studied Islam in a history or geography course prior to viewing the film. If not, the class should read and discuss the definitions of these basic terms, groups and concepts in the glossary, and plan to use the introductory lessons in this collection.
  4. Adaptation: For younger, ESOL or mixed ability students, the definition strips can be cut so that each includes only the words in boldface type and/or use only those marked with **, which denotes basic terms.
  5. As other lessons for the Frontline: Muslims film require, refer to the definitions of terms in the glossary and discuss. Some of these terms are quite complex, such as those referring to spiritual, legal and intellectual traditions, or Islamic concepts that have been applied in varied historical settings and situations over 1400 years, across many Muslim regions.
  6. Extension or Assessment: Make vocabulary flashcards. Use glue sticks to mount the word on the front side of a 3x5 index card, and the definition (simplified or full) on the back. Cards can be used for an information recall game, in which an announcer reads the word on the face of the card, and contestants take turns giving the definition. Contestants can gain extra points for additional information.


Handout 1a: Vocabulary from Frontline: Muslims


Adhan [ad-HAAN] = The Muslim call to worship. The adhan is recited aloud in Arabic before each of the five daily prayers. Upon hearing the adhan, Muslims assemble for group prayer, often at a local Masjid. **

Al-Azhar University = The Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt was established in 977 AD in the Al Azhar Masjid. It is the oldest institution of its kind in the world and a leading center for higher Islamic learning.

Allah [al-Lah] = God; Muslims believe that there is only one God who is all-Powerful and who created everything in the universe. Allah literally means "the God." Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews also use this term as their name for God. **

Angels; mala’ikah [ma-LAA-ik-ah] = according to the Qur’an, angels are a class of God’s creations created from light, who continually serve and glorify God. The angel named Gabriel (Jibreel) is considered to be the angel who brought revelation to humankind through the prophets, and who visited Mary to tell her of Jesus’ birth.

Fatwa [FET-wa] = a legal ruling in Shari’ah (Islamic Law), made by a learned and qualified scholar . Such rulings are the opinion of the jurist and are made in response to new issues as they apply to the body of precedent in Islamic Law. Fatwas are not legally binding.

Five Pillars = the five required acts of worship in Islam. Muslims are required to perform these acts to demonstrate their commitment to God. They are: shahadah (declaration of faith), salah (prayer), zakah (required charity), siyam (fasting during Ramadan) and hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).

Hijab [hee-JAAB] = literally, "a condition of modesty"; represented in public appearance by loose-fitting clothing and a head covering. Hijab also is a symbol of Muslim identity for many women. Hijab should not be confused with the veil (face covering), which is a cultural practice among some Muslims rather than a religious obligation.**

Ibrahim [ib-raa-HEEM] = Abraham, among the earliest prophets recognized in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He is considered the patriarch (founding father) of monotheism, or belief in one God.

Ijtihad [ij-ti-HAAD] = the effort by qualified Muslim jurists to find legal solutions to new situations and issues, based on knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah and other Islamic disciplines, including Arabic language.

Imam [ee-MAAM] = This term refers to the person who leads group prayer. The term also applies to religious leaders in the Muslim community. An imam may perform religious duties for the Muslim community, but the word does not mean "clergy," since Islam has no established religious hierarchy or ordination of clergy.**

Islam [iss-LAAM] = "seeking peace through submission to God"; also means peace, greeting, surrender and commitment. The Qur’an names Islam as the religion first revealed to Adam and then to all of the prophets, ending with Muhammad.**

Jihad [ji-HAAD] = literally, "effort," "striving," or "struggle"; jihad means both the effort needed to improve oneself and resist doing bad deeds, and any struggle for justice in society, including speaking out, writing, and community service. Also, according to the doctrine of just warfare in Islam, it is a response to attack on property, community and religion when peaceful means have been exhausted. Jihad must be conducted under the authority of the state, and combat must observe limits such as avoiding harm to civilian non-combatants, fruit trees and livestock, and homes.**

Khutbah [KHUT-bah] = a public sermon held every Friday in the Masjid before the midday prayer. **

Madhab [MADH-hub] = a school of Islamic law, among five major schools of Islamic law that were founded in the early centuries of Muslim history. Each interprets the Qur’an and Sunnah somewhat differently in giving practical solutions to situations that arose after Muhammad’s death. Each school’s opinions are respected as a source of practical guidance for Muslims; they are not considered sects of Islam.

Masjid [MASS-jid] = literally, "place of kneeling down in prayer"; the house of worship where Muslims gather to pray. The French word mosque used in English is a translation of masjid; it is based on mesquita, a Spanish language corruption of the original Arabic. There are three sacred masjids in the world = Masjid al-Haram in Makkah; Masjid an-Nabawi in Madinah; and Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.**

Muhammad [moo-HUM-med] = according to Islamic teachings, the last messenger of God to humakind; according to the Qur’an, he is the last of the prophets, who include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus Muhammad was born in Arabia in about 570 CE at Makkah, and died at Madinah in 632 CE. A descendent of Abraham through his son Ishmael.**

Muslim [MUSS-lim] = literally, "one who seeks peace through submission to God"; any person who declares faith in the One God and his messengers, and accepts the teachings of Islam.**

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk = first president of Turkey from 1923 until his death in 1938. He was given the title Ataturk ("Father of the Turks") by the Turkish parliament to honor his role in creating the new state of Turkey after the defeat of the Ottoman empire in World War I. Ataturk was responsible for "Westernizing" Turkey by changing the alphabet to Roman letters, creating a secular state, and adopting Western dress.

People of the Book; Ahl al Kitab [AHL al-kee-TAAB] = a term in the Qur’an that refers to Jews and Christians. Ahl al-Kitab most often describes Jews and Christians, because they received divinely-revealed scriptures and accepted monotheistic teachings.

Qur’an [kur-AAN] = literally, "the recitation"; according to Islamic teachings, the Qur’an is the word of God sent to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. For Muslims, it is the source of knowledge about God and His creation, and the source of guidance in life. Only in Arabic language is the Qur’an considered to be actual scripture. Translations express only meaning as an aid to understanding, but are not a substitute or basis for interpretation.**

Salah [sa-LAAH] = the five daily prayers required of Muslims, one of the "Five Pillars" or basic acts of worship in Islam. Muslims pray at five specific times each day, preferably with others. The salah is a means of maintaining God-consciousness, giving thanks for God’s blessings, and seeking His aid and support. **

Shari’ah [sha-REE-ah] = guidance from God to be used by Muslims to regulate their societal and personal affairs. The Shari’ah is based upon the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Muhammad, and is interpreted by scholars when deliberating and deciding upon questions and issues of a legal nature.

Shaykh [shay-kh] = an Arabic term meaning "leader" or "chief," a title of respect for scholars. In Sufi groups, the title refers to a spiritual master who guides others in their spiritual growth.

Shi’ah [SHEE-ah] = Muslims who believe that the rightful successors to Muhammad’s leadership after his death were Ali ibn Abi Talib and his descendants. A political divide arose among Muslims when Mu’awiyyah ibn Sufyan challenged the caliphate of Ali ibn Abi Talib; Mu’awiyyah subsequently established the Umayyad dynasty in 660-661 CE, yet some Muslims, known as Shi’ahs, continued to favor Ali’s household. Shi’ah Muslims represent about 10% of the world’s Muslims and mainly live in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, India, and the Persian Gulf.**

Sufi [SOOF-ee] = a mystical movement in Islam whose followers seek inner knowledge of God through spiritual practices and study. These include frequent remembrance of God, living simply (sometimes as an ascetic), and participating in spiritual gatherings, usually under the leadership of a spiritual master or shaykh. Historically, Sufis belonged to organizations known as tariqahs, which developed around the teachings of a master.

Sunnah [SOON-nah] = the example of Muhammad’s sayings, acts, and habits; the second source of Islamic teachings after the Qur’an. Hadith, the oral and written record of Muhammad’s words and deeds transmitted is the main source of knowledge about the sunnah. Sirah, or biography of Muhammad, is another source of knowledge about the sunnah.**

Sunni [SOON-nee] = A term designating those Muslims who recognize the first four successors of Muhammad as the "Rightly-Guided" caliphs. Sunni Muslims respect Ali ibn Abi Talib as an outstanding companion of the Prophet and fourth caliph, but they do not ascribe religious or political authority to him or his descendants as the Shi’ah do. Sunnis represent about 90% of all Muslims in the world today.**

Ottoman Empire = a multi-ethnic and multi-religious empire that included much of the modern Middle East and Turkey. The Turkic state in Asia Minor was founded in the 14th century CE, which unified much of Southwest Asia and North Africa under its rule. The Ottoman Empire ended after WWI, leaving only the modern nation of Turkey. Former Ottoman territories were divided between France and Britain, and later became independent nations. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria were former Ottoman territories in the Middle East, like Southeastern European nations such as Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, and parts of the former Soviet Union in the Caucasus.

Ummah [OOM-mah] = the worldwide community of Muslims; the collective body of believers in Islam. Muslims in the world today number over 1.2 billion, with majority and minority populations in more than fifty nations.**

Wudu [woo-DOO] = ritual washing with water before performing Muslim prayer or recitation of the Qur’an. It symbolizes purification of the body for prayer.**


Handout 1b: Vocabulary from Frontline: Muslims


Places and political entities

Persons and Groups

Elements of Muslim culture

Islamic Beliefs

Muslim Practices