History Glossary

The plan here is to collect terminology that you might see when reading about history, especially the history of the Middle East/Islamic world, and offer some extremely simplified definitions. If you see any terms you’d like me to include, just drop me a line.



Azzam, Abdullah

Palestinian preacher (1941-1989), jihadi leader in Afghanistan, and one of al-Qaeda’s founders. Also co-founded the Kashmiri jihadi group Lashkar-e-Taiba and likely played a role in the creation of Hamas.



Historical region consisting of much of the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula–usually conceived to stretch from Basra, in southern Iraq, all the way south to the edge of the peninsula. The word bahrayn is Arabic for “the two seas” (the Arabic language has a dual case in addition to singular and plural cases), and though this term is used several times in the Quran, of all things, it’s never really been clear which two seas are being referenced. Not to be confused with the modern nation of “Bahrain” (see above), which historically was called Awal, although they are the same Arabic word; general practice around here is to transliterate the word with an “i” when referring to the modern country and a “y” when referring to the historical region.





Sunni fundamentalist movement founded in 1867 by several Indian Islamic scholars who were reacting against what they perceived to be the British Empire’s corrupting influence on the faith. Named after the Indian town of Deoband and the Darul Uloom Deoband Islamic university there, where the movement had its origins. Mainly known today as the theology underpinning both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Strongest today in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Has melded to some degree with Wahhabism, particularly as far as the Taliban is concerned, because the two movements share an ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. However, where Wahhabism comes out of the Hanbali school of Sunni jurisprudence, Deobandis are predominantly Hanafi.