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A Delightful Compendium of Consolation:
A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure & Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean

by Burton L. Visotzky


Abu/Abi – “father of”
Abu Sina – the Muslim philosopher Avicenna
Afrikiya – also Ifrikiya, refers to Africa, specifically what is modern Tunisia
Al-Ahlil – lit., “liberator,” a sword thrust
Al-Andalus – Southern Spain, Muslim territory
Al-Aqsa – Ancient mosque in Jerusalem
Al-Azhar – great mosque in Cairo and seat of Shiite (now Sunni) learning
Al-Deukkak – lit., “striker,” a sword thrust
Al-Jar – small port of Hijaz
Al-Kahira – Cairo, lit., “the victorious,” built by Shiite Fatimids to celebrate their conquest of Egypt
Al-Mahdia – fortress town on Tunisian coast
Al-Manakha – market outside al-Medinah
Al-Medinah – city of Muhammad, a Holy City of Islam
Al-Quds – lit., “the Holy,” Jerusalem
Alexandria – great port-city west of Cairo
Alif Ba Jimm Dal – first letters of Alphabet in Arabic pronunciation
Amalfi – western coastal town of Southern Italy
Antalya – coastal town of Turkey
Antoninus – Roman emperor
Aristo – Arabic name of Aristotle
Ashkenaz – Christian Europe, Franco-Germany
Av – summer month of Hebrew calendar, the first nine days of which are devoted to mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem
Aya Sufia – Hagia Sofia, the immense domed Church of Constantinople
Ayla – now called Eilat, on Israel’s southern tip
Bab – Aramaic/Arabic: gateway
Bab Al-Shami – northern gate of city
Bab-Al-Ambari – gate of al-Medinah
Badawi – bedouins
Baghdad – capital of Eastern Sunni Empire
Baksheesh – petty bribe
Banu Hilal – Bedouin warrior tribe
Banu Sulaim – Bedouin warrior tribe
Banu Ziri – the Zirid tribe
Barouta – name of a holy well in Kairawan
Bat – daughter of
Ben – son of
Ben Sirah – an apocryphal book of the Bible
Berav – son of rabbi
Berber – western tribes of North Africa, distinct from Arabs
Bint – daughter of
Bir Abbas – well on west coast of Saudi Arabia
Bir Barouta – the well of Barouta in Kairawan, which according to Muslim legend, connects to the well of Zamzam in Mecca
Bir Said – well on west coast of Saudi Arabia
Bosphorus – neck of the Sea that separates Europe from Asia, outside Constantinople
Bugio – Latin for “sword,” or “dagger,” in Arabic pronunciation
Bukhara – Asian city in modern Uzbekistan
Buqalamun – a shimmering cloth


Caesarea – coastal port town in Holy Land
Caliph – head of Islamic nation
Ceuta – North African port city closest to Spain
City of the Dead – Cairo’s Muslim cemetery
Cohen – a member of the priestly clan of Jews, tracing lineage back to biblical times
Constantinople – Istanbul, a Byzantine capital
Coptic – Egyptian Christian
Cyrenaica – North African city
Damascus – capital of Syria
Damietta – Egyptian port town
Daphne of Antioch – a suburb of Antioch, major city in Eastern Turkey, north of Holy Land
Dhimmi – protected People of the Book who have rights, but second-class status under Islam
Diaspora – lit., “dispersion,” refers to Jewish settlements outside the Holy Land
Dinar – standard monetary unit of trade
Di-Zahav – biblical city of Sinai listed in Deuteronomy as a place of Israelite wanderings
Dirhem – a monetary unit, smaller than dinar
Diwan – a couch, divan
Dome of the Rock – ancient mosque in Jerusalem, built over Rock from which Muslims say the Prophet ascended to heaven and where Jews say Isaac was offered in sacrifice
Duomo – a cathedral, so named for its “dome”
Ed-Dommar – lit., “strong headed,” a sword thrust
El Jem – Tunisian town with immense Coliseum remaining from Roman times
El-Kahina – lit., “the priestess,” legendary queen of Berber tribes
Elijah – biblical prophet whom the rabbis believe never died and who visits them
Elul – name of Hebrew month in late summer, traditionally a time of repentance for Jews
Emir – a Muslim ruler
Epitropos – a legal representative, usually a man fronting for a woman in a business or real estate transaction
Exile – refers to Jewish settlements outside the Holy Land
Fayyum – Egypt just south of greater Cairo
Fez – major town of Western North Africa, now Morocco
Franj – lit., “the French,” refers to Europeans
Fustat – old Cairo, now at South end of Cairo’s urban sprawl, home to Jews, Copts, and Sunni Muslims

Gabbes – palm oasis in Tunisia
Gaon/Gaonim – lit., “genius,” title for head of Talmudic academy from Babylonia
Gaza – coastal area on southern Mediterranean coast of Roman Palestine
Geniza – a used book depository containing sacred and even secular texts
Ghadir Khumm – Muslim festival commemorating the appointment of Ali by the Prophet
Ghazzal – an Arabic metric poem
Giza – outside of Cairo, the plain of the pyramids
Gog and Magog – the war of the Apocalypse, preceding advent of Messianic era
Golden Horn – tributary that divides city of Constantinople
Granada – southern town in Spain’s al-Andalus
Ha-cohen – a member of the priestly clan of Jews, tracing lineage back to Biblical times
Hadith – a Muslim oral tradition about the Prophet and his circle
Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca
Hannukah – rabbinic (non-biblical) winter festival of light
Har Nebo – mountain in trans-Jordan where Moses died
Haram Al-Sharif – lit., “the beautiful sanctuary,” refers to Mecca or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem
Haroun – Aaron
Harthema – fortress city on Tunisian coast
Hatzeroth – biblical city of Sinai listed in Deuteronomy as a place of Israelite wanderings
Hellespont – narrows leading through Greek Islands to Turkey and Constantinople
Hijaz – west coast of Saudi Arabia, containing al-Medinah and Mecca
Hind - India
Hoshanna Rabba – final day of Sukkot harvest festival, an auspicious time
Ibn – son of
Ihram – garment worn during the Hajj
Ijaza – certificate of authenticity
Imam – An Islamic preacher/teacher
In-sh-allah – God willing (Arabic)
Isa – Jesus
Isfahan – Asian city in Persia
Isma’ili – a.k.a. Fatimid
Ismael/Hagar – see: Genesis, Chapters 16-17, and 21; the son and concubine of Abraham, whom Arabs see as ancestors of Arab tribes and Islam
Iwan – a palace of the Fatimid Caliph
Jaffa – port city of Holy Land, a.k.a. Yaffo
Jambiyya – small, curved dagger
Jebel Mousa – Mt. Sinai
Jerba – island off Tunisian coast
Jibril – the angel Gabriel, in Muslim sources
Jinn – genie


Kairawan – lit., “caravan,” city in central Tunisia, built away from the coast to avoid pirates; staging ground for caravans heading east to Cairo and west to al-Maghreb (the western portion of North Africa)
Kalilah and Dimnah – collection of animal fables
Karaite – a non-rabbinic Jew, gives allegiance to Bible alone
Khaybar – one of the towns of Wadi al-Qura
Khutba – the Friday public sermon in a mosque
Kiddushin – tractate of Mishnah and Talmud
Kosher – generally means, “okay;” fit to eat according to rabbinic law
Kunya – a nickname
Kutama – a Berber warrior tribe
Laban – biblical city of Sinai listed in Deuteronomy as a place of Israelite wanderings
Lateen – a triangular sail
Mabruk – Arabic blessing of congratulations
Madressa – a Quranic school, the term is also used by Arabic speaking Jews for their own Torah and Talmudic academies
Maghreb – The West (i.e. western North Africa)
Makroud – sweet date cookies made with semolina
Malaga – Spanish port city
Malikite – school of Islamic thought; opposed Fatimid rulers
Mameluke – a slave class who served the caliph
Mamzer – one who cannot marry into rabbinic community due to an unacceptable parental marriage
Maryam – Miriam or Mary
Mazal Tov – Hebrew blessing of congratulations
Mecca – the Holy City of Islam, place where Muslims make Hajj (pilgrimage)
Messina – city in Sicily
Midrash – rabbinic interpretation of Bible
Minyan – a prayer quorum of ten adult males
Mishnah – a six part compendium of rabbinic law; basis of Talmud
Misr – Egypt, often Cairo
Mo’ed Qatan – tractate of Mishnah and Talmud
Moab – Biblical trans-Jordan
Monastir – fortress city on Tunisian coast
Mosque of Omar – see: Dome of the Rock
Nagid – leader of Sefarad’s Jewish community
Neft – naphtha, a fuel
Nil – indigo dye
Nilometer – on the Nile Island of Roda, in Cairo, a measure of the height of the Nile to predict drought, good crops, or flooding
Pbu’h – Peace Be Upon Him (usually refers to The Prophet Muhammad)
Pentecost – Shavout, the rabbinic festival that begins 50 days after Passover, and celebrates the giving of the Torah/Law at Mt. Sinai
Pharos – The great light-house of Alexandria, a wonder of the ancient world
Phaselis – small, ancient coastal town of Turkey
Pumbeditha – city in Iraq, center of great Talmudic academy
Purim – spring holiday celebrating victory of Queen Esther


Qabbes – palm oasis in Tunisia
Qadi – an Islamic judge
Rav – rabbi
Ramle – town in Holy Land to the west of Jerusalem
Raqim – now called Petra in Jordan
Rass Dimass – Tunisian town situated between a large lake and Mediterranean coast
Ribat – a fortress
Rum – Rome, but refers to all lands under Byzantine Christianity
Samaritans – an early breakaway group from Judaism, traces their separation from rabbinic Judaism back to biblical times
Samarkand – Asian city in modern Uzbekistan
Sanhedrin – Greek loan word for Temple and rabbinic era supreme tribunal
Sea Of Mamara – Sea bordering Constantinople
Sefarad – lands of the Muslim west, the Iberian peninsula
Seljuk – Turkish homelands
Sh’aban – name of month in Islamic calendar
Shami Synagogue – the synagogue that followed the rite of the Land of Israel
Shaykh – sheikh, an honorific
Shiur Qoma – a form of rabbinic mystical speculation which measures God’s body
Sidi Uqba – early Muslim general who established Kairawan and its Great Mosque
Sikilia – Sicily
Sin – the Sinai peninsula
Sitt/Sittuna – Miss, or Ma’am
Sivan – Hebrew month in late spring
Souk – bazaar
Sousse – major coastal town in Tunisia
Sukkot – Biblical fall harvest festival
Sultan – the ruler of Muslim lands
Sunna – Islamic law
Sura – city in Iraq, center of great Talmudic academy
Talmud – multivolume compendium of rabbinic law and lore
Taanit – tractate of Mishnah and Talmud
Tammuz – Hebrew month in summer
Taymah – one of the towns of Wadi al-Qura
Tiberius – town in northern Holy Land
Tobruk – North African city
Torah – the Five Books of Moses, but more broadly, all of the Bible and rabbinic teaching
Tripolitana – North African city
Umm – “mother of”
Vive Domine Imperator – Latin for “Long live the Emperor!”
Wadi Tur – a locale in the Sinai
Wadi Al-Qura – Jewish town locale in Hijaz
Wadjaina – Latin for “scabbard,” or “sheath,” in Arabic pronunciation
Waqf – a Muslim pious foundation and/or the buildings or funds it controls
Wazir – advisor to caliph, second-in-command
Wuhshah – lit., “desirable,” a woman’s name
Yaffo – a.k.a. Jaffa
Yavneh – Roman Jamnia, a garrison town west of Jerusalem
Zamzam – well of Mecca
Zil Gmor – Aramaic for, “Go study”
Zirids – anti-Fatimid tribe from Kairawan
Zuz – Aramaic: a small coin of the eastern Roman Empire





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