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Iran: Important Terms
From Elton L. Daniel's "The History of Iran," pp 269-273

ahura: one of two types of divinities in ancient Iranian religion (see also daeva); in Zoroastrianism, these divinities were consolidated in the form of the supreme god, Ahura Mazda.

anjoman: an informal club or group as well as a professional society or association; numerous political organizations of this type were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were deeply involved in the events of the Constitutional Era.

Avesta: the name given to the collected scriptures of the Zoroastrian religion, originally said to include twenty-one "books." The extant Avesta consists of six texts and a group of fragments, which include hymns, liturgical material, laws, etc.

Ayatollah (sign of God): a term which since the 1930s has supplanted mojtahed as the honorary title of a high-ranking Shi'ite religious authority in Iran.

b.: a conventional abbreviation for the Arabic word ebn (son [of]) used in traditional name patterns which included the genealogy of an individual.

chador: the large, formless cloth, usually black, customarily worn by women when they go out in public, draped over and around them to cover all but part of the face. It is regarded by some as a patent symbol of the segregation and oppression of women, by others as a benign or desirable feature of authentic Islamic and Iranian culture.

daeva: a category of deities, mostly personifications of heavenly bodies and natural forces, in the ancient Indo-Iranian religion; veneration of the daevas was emphatically rejected by Zoroaster, who regarded them as demons.

dehqan: a social class in Sasanian and early Islamic times that held small landed estates and provided military service; the dehqans also came to perform important administrative duties and helped preserve the cultural traditions of pre-Islamic Iran. In later periods, the term usually means simply peasant.

faqih, Faqih: one who has mastered the sources and methods of jurisprudence (feqh) needed to determine the sharia (Islamic religious law). Ayatollah Khomeini developed the idea that one supremely qualified jurist could exercise legitimate authority in an Islamic state; the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran established the office of Faqih in accordance with this theory and invested it with the greatest power of any governmental institution. See also velayat-e faqih.

favta: the written opinion of an Islamic religious scholar given in response to a formal request by a Muslim layman for an answer to a question concerning a religious matter or practice about which the petitioner is uncertain.

foqaha: plural of faqih.

gholam (plural: ghelman or gholaman): literally, young man or page; usually applied in Iran to slaves or men of slave origin used for military purposes or as a royal bodyguard (the idea being that the lack of other tribal or ethnic ties in the society would make them more loyal to the ruler).

gholat: an "extremist" form of Shi'ite Islam characterized by one or more beliefs regarded by most Muslims as heretical and beyond acceptability (eg, reincarnation or transmigration of souls, attribution of divine qualities to human leaders, etc).

Hojjat-ol-Eslam: honorary title for a rank in the Shi'ite clerical hierarchy below that of ayatollah but higher than a simple molla or akhound.

Imam (Emam): an Arabic word with several technical meanings; used in Twelver Shi'ism to denote the twelve individuals regarded as the successive legitimate, sinless, and infallible leaders of the religious community.

Ismaili Shi'ism: one of the three major divisions of Shi'ism, along with the Zaydi and Twelver forms, differing on the individuals recognized as Imams and in many doctrinal matters as well. Ismailis established the Fatimid caliphate in North Africa and Egypt and were particularly active in Iran from the 9th to 13th centuries. The Nezaris, an offshoot of the Fatimid Ismailis, had several strongholds in mountain castles in medieval Iran (the so-called Assassins) and followed various leaders down to Agha Khan Mahallati, who transferred the Ismaili imamate to India in 1843.

madhhab (Arabic word, pronounced mazhab in Persian): one of the formal "schools" of law in Islam; the rite or system followed by an individual believer.

Majles: a consultative assembly or legislative body; recognized in the constitutions of 20th century Iran as the national parliament but generally constrained in the exercise of true legislative autonomy by either royal power or review by outside bodies to assure conformity with Islamic laws and values.

marzban: title of the military governor of a province during the Sasanian period.

Mazdayasnian: Mazda worshippers; another name for Zoroastrians.

mojtahed: an Islamic religious scholar who has competence to practice ejtehad, or independent judgement on religious matters. The mojtaheds were particularly important for providing religious leadership to Twelver Shi'ites during the occultation of the Hidden Imam and played an influential role in Iranian affairs from the Safavid period onward.

molla: a Persianized form of the Arabic word mawla (master), used as a term of respect (or sometimes scorn) for someone who has completed the minimal amount of formal study to be considered a religious scholar. In Iran, the differentiation of such individuals from lay believers is indicated by a distinctive dress and other indications of social status which make the mollas the equivalent of a clergy or spiritual class (rouhaniyyat). The term is more or less equivalent to akhound, although the latter is even more likely to be used in a pejorative sense.

qanat: a type of irrigation system widely used in traditional Iran; it consists of a subterranean canal joinin vertical shafts and carrying water by gravity feed from a remote source at a higher elevation to the point of use.

qizilbash: Turkoman tribesmen who professed an extreme (gholat) form of Shi'ism, particularly those who became fanatical supporters of the sheikhs of the Safavid religious order; they formed one of the main components of the Safavid military institution. It was originally a perjorative term used by their opponents, meaning "red-heads," to refer to the distinctive twelve-pleated red hat they wore in commemoration of the twelve Imams and their allegiance to the Safavids.

shah, shahanshah: king, king of kings; the typical title of pre-Islamic Iranian rulers. It was revived by some medieval Perso-Islamic dynasties and was routinely used from the Safavid period onward. The Shahnameh, or "Book of Kings," is the collection of semi-legendary stories about the pre-Islamic shahs which make up the Iranian national epic.

Shi'ism: a general term used to denote several sectarian divisions in the Islamic religion, the most common feature of which is that their adherents attribute special political and/or religious authority to descendants of the Prophet Mohammad. See also gholat; Imam; Ismaili Shi'ism; Twelver Shi'ism.

taarof: politeness, deference, civility, savoir faire; usually used to denote an elaborate and formalized system of discourse in social interaction which depends heavily on the relative social status of those involved in the exchange.

taqiyya: prudence or caution; an Islamic legal concept which allows normal religious obligations to be suspended or even violated in cases of danger or duress. Both it and its opposite (a zeal for martyrdom) have been deeply ingrained among Shi'ites, who suffered frequent persecution as a religious minority; many routinely practice such dissimulation even in the absence of any obvious threat.

Twelver (or Imami) Shi'ism: the variety of Shi'ism prevalent in Iran since the 16th century. It recognizes a sequence of twelve legitimate Imams, beginning with the Prophet Mohammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali b. Abi Taleb, and ending with the hmessianic figure of the Twelfth or Hidden Imam, who went into a complete concealment (ghaybat, occultation) in 941, but who is still alive and will someday reappear to complete the triumph of Shi'ism in the world.

velayat-e faqih: a concept developed in the writings of Ayatollah Khomeini, holding that legitimate political authority may be held by a meritorious Shi'ite religious scholar. The doctrine has been incorporated into the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and constitutes the foundation of its political theory.