A Shii Iranian/Persian dynasty which fought against the Ottomans from the 16th to the 18th centuries.


A Persian dynasty that ruled from 224 to 651 C.E. The Sassanians sought to obliterate Greek cultural influences and revive Persian traditions. At one point the Empire controlled territory from Indus to the Nile, and from Yemen to the Caucasus.

SAVAK (Sazamane Etelaat Va Amniate Kechvar)

An Iranian intelligence organization for the Shah, founded in 1957 with CIA assistance. Its primary purpose was to eliminate threats to the Shah. SAVAK's tactics included censorship, torture, and execution. When the Shah was ousted in 1979, SAVAK was singled out as a primary target for reprisals, and the organization was dissolved.


Relating to or characteristic of a sect or denomination; adhering to the viewpoint of that sect; partisan.


General term for nonreligious, or the opposite of religious.


The act of transferring control or ownership from religious to civil authorities.


A title used formerly for the hereditary monarch of Iran.


Meaning "path" in Arabic, sharia law tells devout Muslims what to eat, how to pray, and how to behave in public. Muslims believe the sharia are revelations from God (Allah). Under strict sharia law, people may not consume alcohol, borrow money at interest, or allow women in their family to go out in public without a veil.

sheikh (also sheik)

The term may be used for the head of an Arab family or of a clan or tribe. It can also mean the chief of an Arab village or a religious official.

sheikhdoms (also sheikdom)

The region ruled by a sheikh.

Shii Muslims (also Shiite, Shi'ite, Shi'a)

Shii Muslims make up 10-15 percent of the world's Muslim population today. The They believe that true Islamic leaders must be the descendants of Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali. Members of Shii communities vary from each other on important issues, but all often differ radically from Sunna, especially regarding interpretation of the Quran, jurisprudence, and worship.

Silk Route

A widespread network of caravan trails crossing Europe and Asia from the Miditerranean coast to China. By the middle of the second century B.C.E., the Silk Route began to function as a regular diplomatic and commercial artery, carrying silk from China, spices and gemstones from India, silver goods from Iran, Byzantine cloth, and many other goods.


A combination of mud and small rocks deposited by running or standing water.


An economic system in which the government owns and administers the means of production and distribution of goods. In a socialist society or living group, there is no private property.

Suez Canal

A strategic artificial waterway in Egypt. Opened in 1869, the canal connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea. It provides the fastest crossing between the Atlantic and Indian oceans.


The right to vote.


The ruler of a Muslim country. The term was especially used during the former Ottoman Empire.


The office, power, or reign of a sultan; also, a country ruled by a sultan.


Muslims who believe that leaders don't necessarily possess sacred wisdom and that anyone who is a good Muslim can become a leader, a view that differs from that of the Shii. The majority of Muslims are Sunni.

Sykes-Picot Agreement

A secret agreement made in 1916 between Britain and France which divided the Ottoman Empire into areas governed by the British and French.