Appendix 1: Common Phrases and Key Terms in Christian-Muslim Dialogue

Interacting well with our interfaith neighbours is a bit like working at communicating across a language barrier. This can be true in bot literal linguistic and in wider metaphorical senses. What follows here are some definitions and explanations of certain common expressions and important terms and ideas for both Muslims and Christians.[1]

Common Islamic Expressions and Phrases

  • Alhamdulillah (Praise/Thanks be to God) – Used to expressed satisfaction and gratitude.
  • Allahu Akbar (God is great) – Often used to express delight.
  • Asalamu Alaikum (Peace be upon you) – The standard Islamic way of greeting or sending someone on their way.
  • Bismillah (In the name of God) – Said at the beginning of any action: eating, drinking, starting a task, etc.
  • Eid Mubarak (Happy Eid) – An expression wishing the blessings of a particular holiday or observance.
  • Insha Allah (If God wills) – Used when referring to future plans for which one asks God’s blessing.
  • Masha Allah (God has willed) – Also used to express appreciation for good news, or to acknowledge something as God’s doing.
  • Peace be upon him – Following the verbal or written mention of the names of recognized prophets, Islamic custom calls for the speaker to utter this blessing. It is a sign submission and honour of their message and its origins with God.
  • Ramadan Kareem (Blessed Ramadan) – Used at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.
  • Subhana Allah (Glory be to God) – Used to express amazement and delight.
  • Ya Allah! (Oh God) – This is shorthand expression used when asking God for something, expressing sincerity, sadness, surprise, etc.

Key Islamic Terms and Ideas

Islamic Key Terms

  • Allah: Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. God is understood according to a strictly defined monotheism, and as a being who is eternal, all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, all hearing, merciful and beneficent. Islam holds that there are 99 special names for Allah, each which express an aspect of the God’s beautiful and majestic character.
  • Shirk: This is to posit any other being or aspect of creation as equal to or in partnership with God. This is, in fact, he most serious sin from an Islamic perspective. This includes any form of polytheism, as well as making any created thing an idol by giving it the honour which is only due to God.
  • Prophet: The Qur’an teaches that every group of people that has ever been has been sent a messenger from God. Twenty-five of these are referred to by name in the Qur’an itself, with special emphasis upon Moses, Jesus, and others. There are believed to have been many more whose names are no longer known. Each prophet was sent by God to teach the same overall message of faith in God and concern for others, though some of their specific practices differed. The authentic messages of all of these prophets are understood as anticipations of what would be fully revealed in the Qur’an, and Muslims are expected to honor them and their revelations. Muhammed is the final prophet, and his message completes humanity’s knowledge of God.
  • Qur’an: The Qur’an is the revelation of God as dictated to the Prophet Muhammed through the angel Jibril over the course of 23 years. It is divided into 114 chapters, or surahs, each with numerous verses varying in length. Recitation of the Qur’an is a very delicate and precise art.
  • Hadith: The Hadith’s are collections of teachings, sayings, stories either directly from the Prophet Muhammed himself or from those who knew him. Although they are not equivalent to the Qur’an, which is God’s own revelation, they carry an important weight as a secondary foundation after the Qur’an for Islamic theology and practice.
  • Mecca: Mecca is a city in present day Saudi Arabia where Muhammed first began to preach. It is a place of spiritual significance for it has been the location of the Ka’bah, which Muslims believe was the first house of worship devoted to God. Muslims believe it was built by the Prophets Abraham and Ishmael, though later it was filled by idols as their message became forgotten. The Prophet Muhammed called for a return to the monotheism of Abraham (from whom he is a descendent) and the removal of the idols in the temple. Mecca is also the direction towards which Muslim face when they pray and visiting Mecca on a pilgrimage known as the “hajj” is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
  • Imam: An Imam is the leader of a local community of Muslims. Islam does not have a formal process for the ordination of clergy as is found in certain Christian denominations. Rather, individuals become recognized as Imams by the community on the basis of their knowledge and devotion. The term “imam” is traditionally limited to men. However, there are other terms of respect for Islamic spiritual leaders and scholars that are inclusive of men and women, such as Shaykh (elder), Mufti (consultant in religious law), and Ustadh (religious teacher). In the Shia tradition Imam has an added connotation, referring to the first 12 successors of Muhammed.
  • Shahada: Shahada refers to bearing witness to the unity and uniqueness of the nature of God, and to the pre-eminence of Muhammed as the definitive Prophet of God. All Muslims are required to recite this formula in order to be considered a follower of Islam: “I testify that there is no god but God, and Muhammed is the Messenger of God.”
  • Salah: Salah (sometimes written “salat”) means prayer, but prayer of a specific kind. Islam requires daily prayer at five intervals throughout the day according to a particular form. Other forms of prayer in both personal and communal forms are also possible and encouraged but are not requirements in the same way.
  • Hajj: Making pilgrimage to the city of Mecca during the twelfth month on the Muslim calendar is another requirement which all Muslims with the health and means to do so must perform.
  • Zakat: Zakat refers to the obligation each Muslim has to return 2.5% of their annual wealth to support the poor and those in other kinds of need. Further acts of generosity and charity are also encouraged, but paying zakat is understood to be a duty that one owes to God directly.
  • Mosque/Masjid: The word mosque literally translates to “a place of prostration”, referring to the action of bowing down for prayer. Masjid is simply the Arabic word for the anglicized mosque.
  • Ummah: The Ummah is the collective community of all those who follow the way of Islam. While it literally means “nation”, its religious connotations are transnational and multicultural, and carries with it a sense of interconnected relationship and common purpose in the cause of Islam.
  • Sharia: Sharia is commonly translated as law however it refers more comprehensively to all of the teachings of Islam (belief, ethics, and manners). In its original Arabic usage, it meant the “path to water” which – given the arid desert origins of the faith – gives a sense of it being the path to life and salvation. As Islam is a religion rooted in scripture, the interpretation of God’s word falls upon the responsibility of scholars who sometimes differ in their approach and interpretation of Islam’s scriptural tradition. Different scholarly approaches to scriptural interpretation have developed within Sunni and Shi’a Islam.

Common Christian Expressions and Phrases

  • Peace be with you – Based on the greeting Jesus was believed to have given to his first followers in his appearances after being raised from death. It is used as both a greeting and farewell in general conversation, and as an expression in the context of Christian worship.
  • Merry Christmas – This is standard salutation on the day of and through the whole of the twelve-day season which commemorates the birth of Jesus.
  • Happy Easter – Used to wish on another the blessings of the resurrection of Jesus from death to new life.
  • Christ is risen: Both a greeting and a term of celebration which used during the forty-day season of Easter. The traditional reply is “He is risen indeed!”.
  • Lord have mercy – A phrase which is used to indicate an intention of prayer being expressed to God.
  • Maranatha (Come Lord) – An expression of hope for the second coming of Jesus at the end of history.
  • Amen (So be it) – An exclamation indicating a sense of agreement and consistency between the will of God and something that has just been said or done.

Key Christian Terms and Ideas

  • Trinity: Christians believe that God is one and that God’s Divine nature is a unified whole. Christians have also come to believe that the nature of God is complex, expressing as an interrelated and community of “persons” in inseparable relationship. These persons are commonly referred to by the relational descriptors of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, it is important to recognize that these names do not refer to separate beings, but one and the same God.
  • Incarnation: Literally meaning ‘the taking of flesh,’ Christians believe that God’s eternal Word, which has been revealed in part in creation and the Holy Scriptures, was also revealed in person in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Christ: A Greek word meaning ‘anointed one’, Christians apply this title to Jesus as a way of expressing their belief that he is the promised Messiah of the ancient Hebrews. As the Christ Jesus is understood to have opened a path for non-Jewish peoples (Gentiles) to become grafted into to People of Israel and the lineage of Abraham, and thereby to receive the salvation God has promised.
  • Crucifixion: Jesus lived a life of prophetic holiness which consequently brought him into conflict with the powers that be in his time. Knowing the likely costs, he did not back away from his mission in obedience to the will of God. He willingly gave himself over to his fate, which was a cruel execution in the form of a Roman torture device known as a cross. This death is understood by Christians as having various layers of meaning, including an example of faithfulness, an expression of God’s love, and an atoning sacrifice for sin and redemption.
  • Resurrection: Although he was truly descended to the dead and placed in the tomb following his death on the Cross, death was not able to fully hold Jesus for long. The third day after his crucifixion, Jesus was raised to new life. He possessed a body, but not a body entirely alike to the one he had in his earthly life. The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation for the promise of resurrection and eternal life for all who place their trust in him and are joined to him.
  • Church: The New Testament scriptures speak of those who would be gathered together as disciples of Jesus as the ‘ecclesia’ of God – i.e. ‘the gathered ones’. The English word Church carries the meaning of this scriptural term, and therefore refers to the those who have been gathered together by their common desire to follow Jesus. The Church also participates in carrying on the teaching and work of Jesus, and for this reason is sometimes called ‘the Body of Christ’.
  • Bible: The bible is a collection of writings from various authors over many centuries in a variety of genres. A portion of these writings are the Hebrew Scriptures of the people of Israel, including the Torah, the Wisdom Writings, and the Prophets. The New Testament is a record of the earliest Christians remembrances of their experience of the life and teachings of Jesus, his disciples, and the earliest churches. Christians believe that the Spirit of God inspired the authors of these writings such that what they wrote can be trusted as an authentic vehicle for revealing the nature of God and God’s will for humanity and the world. Because of this, the bible represents the most foundational source for directing Christian doctrine and discernment in every generation.
  • Baptism: Baptism is a ceremony that is meant to convey the washing away of evil, sin, and fallen human nature, and is also symbolic of a death to the old way of life and rebirth into a new way. It involves the pouring, sprinkling, or submersion of children or adults in a font of water, and marks the beginning of a person’s commitment to be disciple of Jesus. Although the manner and timing of baptism is a point of difference for Christians, it is a key ritual in virtually every form of the Christian community.
  • Communion/Eucharist/Mass/Lord’s Supper: Jesus summed up the giving of his life as a sacrifice for others through the act of giving bread and wine to his first disciples in the context of the Jewish Passover meal. According to the Scriptures and Tradition, Jesus said that whenever his followers repeated this meal, they would receive his presence and all the benefits his sacrifice by eating and drinking these elements of bread (the Body of Christ) and wine (the Blood of Christ). Though it has different names in different Christian expressions, the celebration of this meal is central across the Christian tradition.
  • Minister/Clergy: Although Christians believe that all disciples of Jesus are equally meant to lead the Church in living out its mission, there are also specific roles which some are called to instead of others. Certain kinds of spiritual authority and leadership in the Christian community are given to individuals who the community affirms as uniquely called and gifted by God. Those who are set aside for these specific roles are called ‘ordained’ ministers. Within the orders of Christian ministry there are further specific roles and areas of responsibility, and different names exist for these in different Christian communities. Some of the most common titles are pastor, elder, priest, deacon, and bishop.
  • Saint: All Christians see value in remembering heroic faithfulness in the followers of Jesus in earlier generations. Many Christian traditions formally recognize these figures and refer to them as saints. Varying degrees of devotion are expressed towards the lives and virtues of the saints across the denominational spectrum of the churches.
  • Second Coming/Parousia: Jesus promised that, in the fulness of time he would return to bring conclusion to God’s promises, to usher in the reign of God, and to establish the re-creation of all things. No one knows the day or the hour, and it will come as a surprise to all.


[1] Of course, both Christians and Muslims speak a myriad of different languages and come from many diverse cultural backgrounds. In both traditions, cultural and denominational distinctives lead to slightly different interpretations or points of emphasis on certain ideas or practices. Therefore, this list should not be taken as anywhere near comprehensive.

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