I'm beginning to notice there is a fair amount of Muslim terminology that is quite foreign to non-Muslims. Take for example this recent question, and the comment that immediately followed:

Al-wal and bara? What are they?

This is only one example. One needn't look far at all to see many other examples of words and phrases that seem completely foreign to someone not already familiar with Islam.

To what extent is it possible, and appropriate, to make this site more accessible to non-Muslims, and perhaps new Muslims?

  • 5
    Even I, as a Muslim, don't know what those means :)
    – user44
    Jun 21, 2012 at 18:14
  • @yasar11732: That's slightly comforting :)
    – Flimzy
    Jun 21, 2012 at 18:14
  • 1
    True. There are many Shi'a terms that most Sunnis are unaware of, and vice versa. Jun 21, 2012 at 18:56
  • That's my comment and I am Muslim! I find Arabic words written in English really hard to understand. It'd be good to add the Arabic version in parentheses as well as the English.
    – Gigili
    Jun 22, 2012 at 6:03
  • I thing we should avoid introducing word like Jibril for words like Gabriel, that are well-known Jun 22, 2012 at 6:52
  • @Flimzy. Have you seen Mi Yodeya? If it's jargon you're looking for ....
    – TRiG
    Jun 27, 2012 at 0:49
  • @Reza, As to 'Jibril' and 'Gabriel' - if we assimilate one word in another, then the distinction of the two words in two different religions is also lost. More thought necessary for a new spelling of 'Gabriel' to be universally used in Islam? Jul 14, 2012 at 18:44
  • The question heading sought for the way to make a site about Islam more friendly to non-Muslims but the content of the question deals with the obscurity of unfamiliar Islamic words to non-Muslims. The heading made me to think that the statement of site's goal could be changed to 'site for experts in Islam, and those interested in learning more about Islam.'from 'site for muslims, experts in Islam, and those interested in learning more about Islam.' so that Muslims and as well as others could be benefited from it. A few words about the heading - nothing else. Jul 14, 2012 at 18:55

5 Answers 5


Please do not do this.

Using the proper vernacular is an important part of setting the right tone for the site. Certainly, questions involving simpler concepts are welcome, but you should not be targeting and reaching out to "curious onlookers" specifically.

Teaching the world's citizens about Islam is a laudable goal, but if you continue to reach out to the merely-curious crowd so early in your beta, you will not achieve the expertise you need to make this site work. Don't turn this into an "Islam for Beginners" site. You'll drive away your core expertise in droves.

Make your questions as clear as you can, but don't specifically dumb down the language of your questions to cater to those outside your core audience.

Remember — In the earliest days, you are designing a site for experts. An expert site WILL attract the curious and the learners, but if you cater to those groups specifically, it will not work the other way around… A beginners' site will not attract the experts.

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    What's more, a serious learner will also appreciate seeing Muslim terminology correctly used. I've asked questions over at Mi Yodeya (Judaism.SE) and spent the next few hours Googling the terms used in answers. I probably learned more from that than I did from the answer itself. Sep 11, 2012 at 23:47
  • Also note Mi Yodeya's site policy on jargon use and glossary. Perhaps similar tools will be useful here.
    – Double AA
    Jul 10, 2014 at 17:04

As anyone who translates knows, some words and phrases just plain don't have a "proper" meaning in other languages. There can be ambiguity as to the exact term to use, and information is very often lost in translation. I think attempting to use common English terms in an attempt to cater to the English-speaking audience does a disservice to communication, and thus to effective Q&A.

I shall present a related anecdote, which happened to me in real life:

One day I got into an argument with a friend of mine after he told me that he intended to go to the grave of a recently-deceased relative and pray. The debate was rather heated, and we were throwing (vaguely remembered) hadiths at each other to support our respective positions. The situation was no closer to resolution until he clarified that he had meant pray in the sense of "say a du'a", rather than pray in the sense of "perform salat", upon which the rulings are very very different.

I believe that the use of common "jargon" is fine, even with no attempts to simplify it for the layman. It effectively acts as it's own filter; if the reader doesn't know what the question is even asking, they are probably not qualified to answer the question. So long as the jargon is common knowledge to the expert-tier of answerer that the questioner is targeting, then it's fine.

Answers should cater to the level of the question; don't throw around terms like al-walaa' wal-baraa' (at least not without explanation) unless it's reasonable to assume the questioner would understand it. So if a question is obviously asked from an outside or beginner perspective, a good answer would take more time to explain complex terms, and translate everything into simpler English.

That said, if there is a complex term that a newcomer doesn't understand, just posting a separate question along the lines of "What is al-walaa' wal-baraa' and why is it important?" should be on-topic (assuming it's not too "general reference").


The way I try to do it is to write the English transliteration first, and translation within brackets, and make the whole thing a link to an article that explains what it is.


I totally agree with you, I think a way to go would be to write the original arabic terms then put the meanings in brackets so that it's easier for beginners/non-arab users to understand. But I think it's essential to have the arab words as some cannot be literally interpreted.


This is not particular problem for this site. We have similar issues on other sites. No everyone knows all the terminology. For example, on SO an expert in C++ might not be familiar with a standard terminology in say OCaml. This is normal.

One way to make the questions more understandable for the other users is to provide links where those terms are defined, e.g. Wikipedia: in this case just make it a link to the Wikipedia article about it: l_Wala'_Wal_Bara'.

In cases where we cannot find a good link the user can ask for the meaning and explanation as a new question and that would be a very good thing.

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