Female Islamic Saints



’ahl al-bayt, A term used in tradition to refer to the family of Muḥammad. Generally, Sunnis include Muḥammad, his wives, biological children, his cousin ‘Alī and his grandsons Ḥasan and Ḥusayn and Shi’is include Muḥammad, ‘Alī , his daughter Fāṭimah, Ḥusayn and Ḥasan and the successive Imams. Some Muslims have included descendants of his uncles al-‘Abbas and Abū Ṭālib, or even his entire clan, Banū Hāshim. (< Arabic أهل البيت “family of the house”).

‘alam, A flag or banner, especially religious hung up by Shi‘is during Muḥarram. This practice has spread to Sufi shrines in some places. (< Arabic علم “flag”).


baba, A title of respect suffixed to the names of male Hindu and Sikh ascetics and Islamic saints where the term is used. (< Translingual in South Asia and the Middle-East “father”). ➢ bībī.

barakah, Spiritual blessing given from God to saints. Some believe it passes from shaykh to skaykh when one succeeds another. (< Arabic بركة “blessing”). ➢ karāmah.

Begum, A title variously suffixed and prefixed to the names of Central and South Asian noblewomen. (< Persian بیگم beygom “lady”).

bībī, A title of respect variously suffixed and prefixed to women’s names, including female saints in South Asia.


Caliph, The political-religious ruler of an Islamic state, especially in the context of the successor of Muhammad as political-religious leader of the Muslim world, directly or otherwise. (< Arabic خليفة khalīfah “successor”).


dā‘ī, A proselytizer or missionary. In Isma‘ilism, it refers to clerics, including those acting as representatives of the Imam. (< Arabic داعي‎ “caller,” “inviter”). ➢ da‘wah, pīr.

dargāh, A regional term for a shrine of a saint used in the Persian sphere of influence, Anatolia, and South Asia. (< Persian درگاه “threshold”).

ḍarīḥ, An ornate enclosure around the tomb of a prominent saint, especially those of the Shi’ah. (< Arabic ضريح “grave”).

da‘wah, A call or invitation to faith. It refers also to proselytism, missionary work, and in Isma‘ilism, the organization of clerics beneath the Imam. (< Arabic دعوة “call,” “invitation”). ➢ dā‘ī.

dervish, A term used in the Persian sphere of influence for faqîr. It also has come to refer to any follower of the Sufi path, especially the follower of shaykh. (<Persian درویش darvish, “poor one”).

dhikr, An utterance, Qur’an recitation meant to invoke remembrance of God. Some Sufi orders recited dhikr silently or aloud in ceremonies. (< Arabic ذكر “remembrance”).

du‘ā’, A supplication or personal prayer. (< Arabic دعاء “supplication,” “invocation”).


faqīr, A mystic who lives volitionally as a poor ascetic. Non-ascetic and Hindu mystics, especially in South Asia, have also been called this. (< Arabic فقير “poor one”). ➢ dervish.

fātiḥah, The first chapter of the Qur’an, composed of seven verses and recited in daily prayers. It is often recited for the blessings and benefit of others, especially saints at their tombs. (< Arabic فاتحة “opener,” “opening”).


ginān, A devotional poem written to express Isma‘ili theological beliefs and interpretation of the Qur’an to Isma‘ilis and Hindus in South Asia, which are recited in jamā’at khānās. Like some Sikh poetry, gināns were influenced by and included Hindu, especially Vaishnavi, motifs. (< Gujurati ગિનાન ginān < Sanskrit ज्ञान jñana “knowledge”).


ḥadīth, An Islamic oral tradition or narrative, composed of matn (content) and sanad (citation or chain of transmission). (< Arabic حديث “saying”). ➢ muḥaddith.

ḥaḍrat, A title of respect used especially to refer to prophets, saints, or other revered figures. (< Arabic حضرة “presence”).

Ḥajj, The pre-Islamic pilgrimage to the Ka‘bah, the holiest Islamic shrine, in Mecca. The majority of Muslims considered it obligatory, occurring from the 8th to the 12th or 13th of the month of Dhū al-Ḥijjah. In Islam it commemorates the tradition in Muḥammad’s life as well as the traditional narrative of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. (< Arabic حج “pilgrimage ”). ➢ ziyārah.

ḥarīm, the harem or private area of an estate where the women of a household dwell. Men, excluding immediate relatives, are generally forbidden therefrom. (< Arabic حريم “harem”).

hijṛā, A member of a third gender in South Asia, often considered analogous to transgender women or eunuchs, who often organize in families or religious organizations of other hijṛās. Different languages and regions use different names, like hijṛā and kinnar (a mythical half-bird half-human) in northern India, khawājah sarā (“sir of the house”) by Urdu speakers in Pakistan, aravāṇī (“devotee of Aravāṇ”) by Tamil speakers in southern India, etc.

ḥujjah, A “proof” or representative; prophets are the ḥujaj of God, and in Imami Shi‘ism Imams are ḥujaj of God as well. In Ismailism, a representative of the Imam, especially the witness of his last will in his death or absence, is his ḥujjah. (< Arabic حجة “proof”).


Imam, A religious leader, used to indicate the person leading a prayer, a great or influential scholar, or the hereditary succession of leaders descended from the ’ahl al-bayt that lead the Shi’is. Different Shi’i groups follow different lineages of Imams. (< Arabic إمام ’imām “leader”).


jamā‘at khānā, An Isma‘ili gathering place for prayer and worship. ➢ (< Persian جماعت خانہ “gathering lodge”). khānaqāh.

jihād, A “struggle” in the way of God, whether in the form of armed resistance against oppression or mistreatment, striving to better one’s conduct and the world around them, or internal struggle against temptation or the ego. (< Arabic جهاد “struggle”).


kandūrī, a ceremonious feast held in the honor or memory of a saint or other revered figure. These feasts, and the tradition of cooking them in large vats, are now somewhat synonymous with memorial celebrations in the Tamil language, both often called kantūri. (< Persian کندوری “tablecloth”). ➢ ‘urs, mawlid.

karāmah, A charism or miracle given by God to a saint. (< Arabic كرامة “generosity ”). ➢ barakah.

Karbala, battle of, The battle between the Caliph Yazīd and Muḥammad’s grandson Ḥusayn fought in 680 in Karbala, Iraq. The battle was incited by Ḥusayn’s rebellion against Yazīd in reaction to his succession. It is a foundational event in Shi‘ism, as it resulted in Ḥusayn’s death, and many trials for his family and supporters. As he died on ‘Āshurā’, Shi‘is especially mourn him on ‘Āshurā’ and the month of Muḥarram

khānaqāh, A building used as a lodge or meeting space for a Sufi order. They may function also as a mosque, religious school, or even as a shrine of a saint. ➢ zāwiyah.

kyai, A Javanese term of respect for a teacher of Islam, often with the status of a Sufi shaykh. ➢ nyai.


lalla, An Amazigh term of respect for a noble woman. This includes descendants of Muḥammad, and so is sometimes used in lieu of sayyidah, and it is the female equivalent of sīdī.


madhhab, A school of Islamic legal thought. (< Arabic مذهب “way”, “manner”).

majlis, A Shi‘i gathering place to mourning ’ahl al-bayt or the mourning gatherings themselves. They are prominent in the month of Muḥarram, especially on ‘Āshurā’, during which Ḥusayn’s death at Karbala is mourned i. (< Arabic مجلس “sitting place,” “meeting place”).

maqām, A term for a shrine usually built over a saint’s tomb, especially when referring to the tombs of ’ahl al-bayt. They often include, or are connected to, a religious school, a Sufi lodge, mosques, community centers, etc. (< Arabic مقام “standing-place”, “station”).

mawlid, The holiday commemorating Muḥammad’s birth. Among Sufis, it is generically used for the celebration of a saint’s birth. (< Arabic مولد “birth,” مولد النبي mawlid an-nabī “birth of the Prophet ”). ➢ urs.

mazār, A shrine usually built around the tomb of a saint that serves as a place of pilgrimage. (< Arabic مزار “place of visitation”). ➢ ziyārah, maqām.

muḥaddith, A narrator or expert of ḥadīths, or oral traditions. (< Arabic حديث “saying,”). ➢ ḥadīth.

murīd, A seeker on the Sufi path who has pledged allegiance to their murshid. (< Arabic مريد “seeker”).

murshid, The spiritual master and teacher of a murīd on the Sufi path. (< Arabic مرشد “guide”). ➢ pīr, shaykh.


nyai, A Javanese honorific term and the feminine equivalent of kyai in the Sufi sense.


pīr, A regional term for a Sufi master used in the Persian sphere of influence, Anatolia, and South Asia. In Nizari Isma‘ilism, it also refers variously toa missionary or cleric, especially one representing the Imam, as well as referring to the Imam himself. (< Persian پیر “elder”).➢ dā‘ī, shaykh.


qawwālī, A genre of devotional song common in the Indian subcontinent. They are recited especially at the shrines of Sufi saints. (< Arabic قوّالي “song of a qawwāl (an eloquent or verbacious person or a singer)”).


sayyid, fem. sayyidah, A title of respect given particularly to descendants of Muḥammad through his grandsons Ḥasan and Ḥusayn for Shi‘is, and through Husayn alone for Sunnis. Saints of both genders are sometimes given this title. (< Arabic سيد “lord, master”). ➢ sayyīdī, lalla, sharīf.

sayyidī, A title or respect. It is shortened to sīdī or in North Africa. (< Arabic سيدي “my master”). ➢ lalla.

sharīf, fem. sharīfah, A title of respect given to descendants of Muḥammad through his grandson Ḥasan by Sunnis, although descendants of both Ḥasan and Ḥusayn have used both sharīf and sayyid interchangeably. It is also used as a title of high religious status or nobility (< Arabic شريف “noble one”).

shaykh, fem. shaykhah, A Sufi master or teacher, especially the founder or head of a tarīqah, or Sufi order. (< Arabic شيخ “elder”). ➢ murshid, pīr.

silsilah, The spiritual lineage of a shaykh or murshid’s teachers leading back to Muḥammad. (< Arabic سلسلة “chain”).

Sufism, A current of mysticism in Islam that developed very early in Islamic history Iraq. It was initially a Sunni movement but later influenced and enveloped other mystic movements. Its goals included living a sanctified life, purifying the self, attaining gnosis or heightened awareness of God, or achieving unity with God.

sunnah, The way or practice of someone, especially that of Muḥammad. (< Arabic سنة “custom”).


ṭarīqah, A Sufi order, usually composed of masters and students and lead by a shaykh. Different ṭarīqahs have varying theologies, sects, and spiritual practices. (< Arabic طريقة “road,” “path”).


‘urs, A celebration commemorating the death of a saint in South Asia. (< Arabic عرس “wedding,” in the sense of reuniting with God).


walī, An Islamic saint, especially a posthumously respected mystic. (< Arabic ولي “friend,” ولي الله walī Allāh “friend of God”).


zāwiyah, A term for a Sufi lodge or monastery used in North Africa. They tended to also function as religious schools. (< Arabic زاويه “corner,” “cell”).

ziyārah, A pilgrimage to religious sites besides the Ka‘bah, especially to a tomb or shrine. (< Arabic زيارة “pilgrimage,” “visit”).