Reading Arabic Terms

Pronunciation Guide

Taking Arabic words like “ضخم” which, of its three letters, two have no English equivalent, is not always easy. There are several different, although similar, schools on how to properly transcribe, transliterate or Romanize the Arabic alphabet.

The system I usually practice is as follows:


m م T/ṭ ط d د a أ
n ن Z/ẓ ظ dh ذ b ب
h ه ` / 3 ع r ر t ت
w و g/gh غ z ز th ث
y ي f ف s س j ج
‘/2 ء q ق sh ش H/ḫ/ḥ/7 ح
aa / oo / ee or û / â / ê آ / ُؤْ / ِيْ k ك S/ṣ ص kh خ
al- / l- ال l ل D/ḍ ض    


So for the word mentioned above, one would type “Dakhm”. Capital letters are not uncommon when representing sounds without an English equivalent and sound like heavier more forceful versions of the normal English letter to whom there already is an assigned Arabic letter. Other writers prefer to use a line, dot or other symbol above and or below the letter. For example, ح would be h, or ḫ, or ḥ, or even the number 7, especially in digital communication, because of the number’s resemblance to the Arabic character.

The only thing regrettably unintuitive about this transliteration method and any resembling the Qalam school is the “dh” for ذ. The “th” is already taken by ث for the forceful “thanks” but not the passive “they” ذ, and how awful it looks to transliterate the word حذّر or even مذهب, in spite of how common and important it is. Most authors break the rules for words like that because of how nasty it inevitably turns out in English. I won’t even give you an example.

Sometimes overlap occurs when looking at the two letters ع and the ء since they are each frequently rendered with an apostrophe or accent ` ‘… hardly a noticeable difference between the two. However, since their pronunciation isn’t too far apart, respectively, and with similar attributes, this can be forgiven. Especially, since I personally view the goal of transliteration to be aiding the uninitiated in pronouncing Arabic words with the English alphabet. As for those with years of experience reading and writing with Arabic words and chatting with others using numbers, etc., it is my hope and expectation that they will understand what is meant, no matter which system I follow and switch between. Thus is my justification for following the system I feel will be most helpful and intuitive to the one unfamiliar to Arabic, except of course, in more technical posts where I do not foresee or hope inexperienced readers will peruse.

As for elongated vowels [ نُوْحِيْحا ] there are several schools on how best to render them. One is to give each “movement” a letter, e.g. nooHeeHaa, or uu/ii because of the equivalent sounds known to English speakers when saying, for example, beet and noose while demonstrating elongation. The other school suggests, for the sake of structural brevity, using the traditional three vowels, but with a circumflex or line above or below the vowel, signifying its duplication, e.g. nûhêhâ. One could say a third school, simplicitism, would be to forget trying to mimic the Arabic sound with a duplicate letter or symbol only understood by transliteraters, so leave it as nuhiha or nuheha and quit bickering. This is the approach almost universally adopted in the most common Arabic words known: Allah and Islam. Although some will use a capital vowel in these cases, for example, the ASCII system.

Obviously, while the second school appears more sophisticated, the first is undisputedly easier for the typist, and in my opinion, more intuitive to the reader who has no familiarity with Arabic. When I first purchased and read English books about Islam, I always skipped the transliteration pronunciation guide at the front of the book. Booooriinng. I went straight to the actual content. I admit that such tables are a technical necessity. Yet I seriously doubt they would be referred to by any uninitiated who would do better to sit with a teacher for letter pronunciation, nor by the specialist who has seen it all and has enough familiarity with the language that he or she will immediately know what is being referred to by dhiraa3 or fAtiHah and mu’minûn.

Confusion then only comes from the direction of writers using the Roman script, but from a non-Germanic foundation. For example, the Turkish “jeem” and “baa” as in Recep or mascid, or the Southeast Asian hamzah as in mukmin.

I only took the time to explain all this as a calculated response to some of my beloved colleagues, respectfully, who have a knee-jerk reaction to certain methods of transcribing due to other groups or individuals that have subscribed to those methods as well. Let us stay calm and spread Islam.

Glossary of Arabic Islamic vocabulary




ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) – Pronounced SallaLLaahu Alayhi wa Sallam, meaning, “May Allah exalt his mention and grant him security, peace and salutation” frequently added after the mentioning the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

– Pronounced Jalla jalaalah, added occasionally after mentioning the name “Allah”, meaning “Allah of majestic majesty.” There are many phrases frequently added after the name of Allah in speech and in writing. For example,  subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa which means, “glorified and exalted”.

raḥimahullāh (may Allāh have mercy upon him) – Pronounced rahimahullaah, which means, “may Allah be merciful to them” and is usually seen or uttered when saying the name of any deceased person whom you hope Allah admits to His mercy, someone who died a Muslim, whether recently or centuries ago. It is almost always mentioned after the names of scholars.

raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) / raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) / raḍyAllāhu 'anhum (may Allāh be pleased with them) – Pronounced raDiyallaahu ‘anhu/’anhum, which means “may Allah be pleased with him/them”. This is usually seen or uttered after mentioning any of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions, or anyone who the Muslims in general have approved of, like the four imams. It is based on the verse 9:100.

'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – Pronounced alaihis-salaam, meaning “upon him be [Allah’s] security” and is usually seen or mentioned after naming any of Allah’s chosen messengers, whether human or angelic, based on the verse 37:181.



Aayah – Most commonly, a “verse” from the Qur’aan. Literally, a great sign, pointing to the Creator and truth of Islam and Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

Ashaab al-Hadeeth – Companions of hadeeth; specifically, Sunni Muslims who follow the creed of the early scholars of hadeeth, like Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Also called, ahlal-hadeeth.

Asr – The third fardh prayer of the five daily prayers, offered after the sun has passed the point where the shadow of an object is as tall as the object—afternoon—until sunset.


Bid’ah – Innovation; most commonly used to refer to newly concocted methods of worship, unsanctioned by the Quran or Sunnah, and therefore, forbidden.

Barakah – Blessing; abundant increase in good.


Dars – Lesson.

Da’wah – Calling, and most often, inviting to Islam and propagating the message of Islam.

Daa’iyah – One skilled and devoted to da’wah.


Fajr – The first fardh prayer of the five daily prayers, offered between dawn and sunrise.

Fardh – Strong obligation, not to be neglected.

Fatwaa, pl. fataawaa – Specifically tailored ruling sought from and given by a highly knowledgeable scholar of fiqh to a questioner seeking Islamic ruling of what they must do to properly handle their personal circumstances.

Fiqh – The “how to’s” and “what if’s” of Islamic worship and living Islamically in our every day affairs and stages of life.

Fitrah – Innate disposition, specifically, towards worshipping Allah Alone and recognizing His Aboveness over all things.


Ghaib – Unseen metaphysical world around us, past and future.

Ghareeb – Strange, or a hadeeth revolving around one narrator.


Hadeeth – Any narration of the Prophet Muhammad’s words, actions or description.

Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca which includes certain rituals and can only be performed during a few specific days a year. The rites begin when the worshipper assumes ihraam and then camps in the tent suburb known as Mina. On the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah, twelfth Arabic lunar month, the pilgrims go to area called ‘Arafaat and make invocation all day. After sun sets, they march to Muzdalifah to stay the night. On the 10th, they offer an animal sacrifice, toss pebbles at the large stoned pillar, get their heads shaved or clipped, and then visit the Ka’bah for circling and running between Safaa’ and Marwah hills. On the 11th, 12th and 13th days, they toss pebbles at the three large pillars. Once they leave the grounds of Mina on the 13th, they have completed hajj. The entire process is a huge boost of faith and self-inspection, often life changing.


Iblees – Satan, the chief of the devils who refused to prostrate to Adam out of arrogance and was granted permission by Allah to live until the Day of Judgment and attempt to mislead as many of Adam’s offspring as he could.

Ihraam – State of sacredness assumed by a worshipper intending to perform hajj or umrah once they have neared Mecca. For women, this means not wearing a face veil or gloves. For men, it means wearing only two large unfitted towels—one around the waist and another around the shoulders—without pants, socks, underwear, shirts or hats. For both men and women, they do not use any fragrances, trim any nails, cut any hair, or engage in any potentially arousing activity.

Imam – Prayer leader.

Iman – Faith or belief. Defined by the earliest scholars of Islam as being belief residing in the heart, recognized by a statement of the tongue, and necessitating Islamic action upon the limbs. It may increase with more deeds of the body, tongue and heart, or decrease with sin and stagnation.

‘Ishaa’ – The fifth fardh prayer of the day that can be prayed after the red glow of the sun has disappeared and dusk has settled in.


Jamaa’ah – Group or congregation.

Jihaad – Struggle; most commonly used to refer to “holy war” whether defensive or offensive, if the purpose is solely defending or spreading the religion of Islam. Also used to refer to any kind of religious struggle, such as struggling to propagate the religion by word or even struggling against one’s lowly desires.


Kalaam/Kalam – The study of ‘aqeedah according to interpretationists that believe that affirming Allah’s attributes as they are necessitates equating Allah with humans. Kalaam literally means speech, but the appellation came to them because this group used argumentation and its principles as the means of developing ‘aqeedah rather than the revelation.


Lughah – Language. If definite, “the lughah” then it usually refers to Arabic.


Mahram – Close male relative allowed to escort a Muslim woman when traveling and be alone in a room with her.

Maghrib – The fourth fardh prayer of the day, to be prayed just after sundown.

Masjid – Mosque; place of congregational (jamaa’ah) prayer and worship.

Mujaahadah – See jihaad.


Nafs – Self or soul, but frequently used to refer to the conscious or that part of the conscious which desires sinfulness, i.e. the id.

Nikaah – Marriage; a contract between a Muslim man and a woman allowing them to enjoy each other physically, encourage each other towards righteousness, and contribute to the betterment of society.


Qur’aan – Main source of Islamic guidance; Allah’s Speech given to His prophet to recite, explain and exemplify.


Rak’ah – A unit of salaah prayer. Nearly every prayer Muslims perform will consist of two or more rak’ahs. Each rak’ah begins with standing while reciting the Quran. Through the rest of the rak’ah, the worshipper recites various words of praise, glorification and invocation while bowing, standing again, then prostrating, sitting, and finally prostrating again.


Sadaqah – Charity, whether a charitable act, like lending a hand to someone in need, or more common, monetary donation.

Sahaabah – Companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ whether they knew him for a month or all his life.

Salaah – The Islamic formal prayer which consists of recitation of the Quran, invocations, words of praise and glorification all while the worshipper goes through a series of movements, standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting.

Salaf – The early generations of Muslim scholars.

Sawm – See siyaam.

Shahaadah – Testimony, including the testimony of faith, by which a person enters into Islam.

Siyaam – Fasting; abstinence from food, drink, and sexual activity from just before dawn to sundown as a reminder to achieve taqwaa.

Soorah/Surah – Any of the 114 chapters of the Qur’aan.

Sunnah – Most commonly, the combined traditions and narrations describing the life, words, actions, worship and manners of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, as told by those who met and knew him.


Taqwaa – Often translated as “fear of Allah” or “God consciousness”, it really means to erect a shield between us and Allah’s anger, by performing good deeds and abstaining from prohibitions.

Taraaweeh – A series of prayers performed every night after the ‘ishaa’ prayer during the month of Ramadhaan. Many masjid imams will recite one thirtieth of the Quran every single night during these prayers, finishing the recitation of the Quran by the end of the month.

Tawheed – Acknowledgement of Allah’s exclusive sovereignty over all things with His Beautiful Names and Lofty Attributes, and thus, His exclusive right to worship and devotion.

Thuhr – The second obligatory fardh prayer of the day that is performed just after the sun begins to decline after reaching its highest point in the sky at noontime.


Umrah – The “minor” pilgrimage to Mecca which may be performed at any time of the year in as little as a couple hours. The one intending to perform these rites begins by assuming ihraam from outside of Mecca, usually from Medinah. They then travel to Mecca, and upon reaching the Grand Mosque, walk around the Ka’bah seven times. Afterwards, they pray a 2-rak’ah prayer. Then, they walk between al-Safaa’ and Marwah hills seven times, making invocation and supplication all the while. The pilgrimage ends when the worshiper clips or shaves their hair.

Usool al-Fiqh – The principles of fiqh, or rules detailing how Islamic rules are made, where from, and by whom.



Wali – Can mean friend of Allah, or saint. May also refer to a legal guardian, and more specifically, the male relative of a Muslim woman seeking marriage. The male relative, usually the father, is her wali, and together they see suitors. The wali also plays a part in the Muslim marriage ceremony.



Yameen – An oath made by saying “Wallahi” or “by Allah”.

Yaqeen – Certain faith without any room for doubt.

Yawm al-Qiyaamah – Yawm means day. Qiyaamah means great standing or resurrection from the dead.


Zakaat – One of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims “purify” (zakkaa) their wealth before Allah by giving a small potion, about 2.5 % annually, to struggling Muslims of their community or worldwide.

Zamzam – Water from the well of zamzam which flows from the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Ziyaarah – Visitation of the Prophet’s Masjid in Medinah, Saudi Arabia. It is generally included in any Mecca pilgrimage travel package.