Note: Arabic names usually indicate both whose child you are and who are your children. Abu translates as ‘father of’, ibn or ben as ‘son of’, bint as ‘daughter of’, Umm as ‘mother of’. A clan or tribe can be described as the Beni (or Banu), as they are ‘children of’ their common ancestor – for instance, the Beni Hashim or the Beni Umayya, who are also referred to as the Hashemites or the Umayyads.
Al-Abbas – the wealthy and influential paternal uncle of Prophet Muhammad, half brother to Abu Talib and from whom the Abbasid dynasty claims its descent.
Abdallah ibn al-Abbas – the son of Al-Abbas and so a first cousin of Ali. Abdallah was a key supporter and adviser to Ali during his Caliphate but was ultimately dismissed from the post of governor of Basra.
Abd al Muttalib – beloved grandfather of Prophet Muhammad, successful merchant and sheikh of the Beni Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe.
Abder-Rahman ibn Awf – early convert to Islam and one of the Companions who formed the inner committee of six that elected Uthman, Caliph in 644.
Abdullah ibn Ubbay – one of the principal chieftains of Medina before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad.
Abu Bakr – father of Aisha; acclaimed first Caliph after the Prophet’s death. Arguably the first adult male convert to Islam, and a close colleague and devout disciple of Prophet Muhammad. The only man to accompany Muhammad when he escaped from Mecca. He was chosen to lead the prayers by the Prophet in the last week of his life, which gave him a critical edge to become his acknowledged successor.
Abu Jahl – ‘Father of Ignorance’, important figure in pagan Mecca and key early opponent of Muhammad.
Abu Lahab – ‘Father of Flames’, one of Muhammad’s half-uncles, but the one least well disposed to him.
Abu Musa al-Ashari – revered and pious commander of Arab armies on the Persian front and sometime both governor of both Basra and Kufa. Chosen by the army to be the representative for Ali after the battle of Siffin in 657, when he was outwitted by Amr ibn al-As.
Abu Sufyan – nobleman of Mecca who for ten years commanded the pagan opposition to early Islam after Muhammad’s migration to Medina. After his acceptance of Islam, prepared for by the marriage of his daughter Umm Habiba to Muhammad, he would become a loyal ally of the Prophet. He would serve as a provincial governor in the Yemen for the first two Caliphs and is traditionally considered to have fought at Yarmuk. Legitimate father of Yazid and Muawiya and possibly to others, such as Amr and Zayyad.
Abu Talib – father of Ali and the uncle of Muhammad who cared for and protected his young orphan nephew until his last dying breath, though he never accepted Islam.
Abu Ubaydah – chosen to be supreme commander in Syria by Omar, and would have been trusted with the Caliphate by Omar if he had not died during the plague of 639.
Aisha – beautiful young daughter of Abu Bakr and Umm Ruman who married Muhammad three years after the death of his beloved first wife, Khadijah. The most passionate, jealous and wonderfully animated of the Prophet’s many wives, a vital oral source and a key political figure.
Ali – young cousin of Muhammad (the younger son of Abu Talib) who was brought up in the Prophet’s household. The first man to publicly accept Islam, a hero of the early Muslim community both as a warrior and as an inquiring champion of a living faith. The Prophet’s son-in-law through his marriage to Fatimah, father of Hasan and Husain, fourth Caliph in the Sunni hierarchy, sole Imam and only true Heir of the Prophet according to the Shi’a tradition.
Aminah – daughter of Wahb of the Zuhrah clan of the Quraysh and mother of Muhammad.
Amr ibn al-As – influential Meccan nobleman who fought against the Muslims in Medina but would later embrace Islam and rise quickly through its ranks. He was appointed by Abu Bakr one of the three commanders that led the first Muslim armies out of Medina for the conquest of the Holy Land. In 640 he led a raid that would lead to the conquest of Egypt, which he would conquer and rule over on three separate occasions. Dismissed by Uthman, he would regain his old position by a political alliance with Muawiya.
Barakah (also known as Umm Ayman) – slave girl whom Muhammad inherited from his father. Cherished figure of Muhammad’s childhood to whom he gave freedom on the day of his marriage to Khadijah. Many years later she became one of the wives of Zaidi ibn Haritha and although she must have been around twenty years older than her husband, they would have a child, Usama.
Bilal – Abyssinian slave and early Muslim convert. Much abused by his pagan master until Abu Bakr bought his freedom. Selected as the first muezzin (prayer caller) of Islam.
Cyrus – catastrophically incapable Byzantine official who ruled over the province of Egypt as both civil governor and Greek Orthodox patriarch.
Dhul Qina – ‘the Man of the Veil’, charismatic, Yemeni warlord who led the pagan resistance to Islam in the immediate aftermath of the death of Prophet Muhammad.
Fatimah (often spelled Fatima) – one of the four daughters of Muhammad and Khadijah. Wife of Ali, mother of Hasan and Husain, and a key early believer. Her patience, modesty and devotional practice provide an alternative Muslim female role model to Aisha.
Hafsah – fourth wife of the Prophet and the daughter of Omar. Hafsah’s first husband died at the battle of the wells of Badr, leaving her an eighteen-year old widow. Known to be fiery tempered, literate and independent minded. She possessed the first written prototype of the Koran, the basis for the great compilation later achieved by Uthman.
Halimah – foster mother of Muhammad, of the Hawazin clan of the Beni Saad tribe of Bedouin.
Hamza – Muhammad’s boisterous uncle. A great fighter, hunter and wine drinker, around whom in later centuries the Persians would collect a whole cycle of legends.
Hasan (sometimes spelled Hassan) – first son of Ali and Fatimah, grandson of Muhammad, fifth Caliph of Islam. A heroic practitioner of Islam as the true religion of peace.
Hashim – Muhammad’s great-grandfather, whose numerous descendants would form the Beni Hashim clan – hereditary guardians of the Kaaba in Mecca for centuries and from whom the Hashemite dynasty would emerge.
Husain (sometimes called Hussein) – second son of Ali and Fatimah, grandson of Muhammad. After the death of his elder brother, Hasan, he took on the mantle of the Alid cause and, would respond to the call of the people of Kufa to lead them back into freedom. Abandoned by his own supporters, he chose martyrdom at Kerbala rather than dishonour.
Ibn Hadith, Muthana – chief of the Beni Bekr who had fought against the Persians as a young man and became military ally of Khalid in the first raids on Iraq. Fought at battles of Ullais, Al-Jisr and. Buwayba.
Jabala ibn al-Ayham – last prince of the Ghassanid dynasty who loyally fought for the. Byzantine Empire at the battle of Yarmuk in 636.
Jafar – young cousin of Muhammad, son of Abu Talib and one of the early believers who took refuge in Christian Abyssinia and who would be killed alongside Zayd, at the battle of Mutah in 629.
Juwayriya – wife of the Prophet and daughter of the chief of the Beni Mustaliq Bedouin tribe.
Khadijah – first wife of Muhammad, his senior in wealth and years. Mother of four daughters (Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah) and two boys (both of whom died in their infancy). Chief confidante and colleague in Muhammad’s early search for religion and the first person to recognize him as Prophet of God.
Khalid ibn al-Walid – pagan Meccan nobleman who fought against the Muslims in Medina before converting and taking his place as the most talented general of early Islam, saluted and promoted by even the Prophet himself. A succession of three victories during the Ridda Wars culminated in his inspired manoeuvres during the conquest of the Holy Land which led to his ultimate achievement, the decisive victory at Yarmuk. He would later be reduced to the ranks by Omar and prosecuted into disgrace.
Mariyah or Marya or Meriem – Coptic concubine sent to Medina as a gift to the Prophet from Muqawqis, a ruler of Egypt. She was given her freedom after she gave birth to Muhammad’s son, Ibrahim, though she was never given the honour of being addressed like the Prophet’s other wives as a Mother of the Faithful.
Maymunah – wife of the Prophet and widowed sister-in-law to Muhammad’s clever banking uncle, Abbas.
Muawiya – founder of the Umayyad dynasty, brilliant politician and army commander. The Caesar of the Arabs. The second son of Abu Sufyan and Hind, he may have briefly served Muhammad as a secretary after his submission to Islam in the last two years of the Prophet’s life. He rose to prominence when he assisted his elder brother Yazid in the conquest of the Holy Land, and would take over his command after Yazid’s death from plague. His outstanding military and organizational talents were recognized by Omar and Uthman, who both left him in command of Syria. Ali’s refusal to renew Muawiya’s command was one of the key motivations behind the civil war that would conclude with. Muawiya’s triumph.
Mughira ibn Shuba – renegade from the Thaqif tribe of Taif who greatly benefited from a timely early conversion to Islam. Despite his moral failings, his political insights made him an indispensable adviser who served both the Prophet and Omar and would seek to serve Ali before defecting to Muawiya’s camp during the civil war. He would die in office as Muawiya’s feared governor of Kufa.
Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr – last-born child of Abu Bakr who would grow up in the household of his beloved stepfather Ali. One of the assassins of Caliph Uthman; appointed governor of Egypt by Ali.
Musaylama – prophet of the Beni Hanifa tribe of eastern Arabia who would be killed during the battle of Aqraba during the Ridda Wars.
Omar ibn al-Khattab (often spelled Umar) – second Caliph of Islam is a major figure in the development of Muslim civilization who supervised the installation of Abu Bakr as the first Caliph as well as the victories over both the Byzantine and Persian Empires, He was the father of the Prophet’s wife Hafsah, an implacable puritan and the architect of the whole political shape of the Islamic Empire.
Oqba ibn Nafi – nephew of Amr and an almost legendary figure of conquest and exploration from the annals of the first Muslim conquests. He participated in the conquest of Egypt, commanded the raids that would penetrate the Libyan Sahara, and was repelled from the Sudan before founding the city of Kairouan as an advance base for the conquest of North Africa.
Ruqayyah – daughter of the Prophet Muhammad and Khadijah, and wife of Uthman; died in Medina the day that the battle of Badr was won.
Saad ibn Abu Waqqas – early convert to Islam who was among the first seventy believers to migrate to Medina and the first to draw blood in the subsequent ten-year war against the pagans of Mecca. He commanded the vast Arab army that achieved the decisive victory over the Persian Empire at the battle of al-Qadisiya, and would be among the group of six close Companions chosen by Omar to elect the next Caliph.
Saad ibn Ubadayah – chieftain of Medina’s Saidah clan who was a passionate early supporter of the Prophet and who called the meeting of the men of Medina after the Prophet’s death.
Safiyah – wife of the Prophet. She was the daughter of Sheikh Huayy, leader of the Jewish-Arab Bani Nadir clan of Medina, and the widow of another great Jewish sheikh who was executed during the siege of Khaybar.
Swadah – second wife of the Prophet who came into his household after the death of Khadijah as a thirty-year old widow and a stepmother to his daughters. She had been one of the first Muslims to escape persecution by pagan Mecca and emigrate to Ethiopia.
Shurahbil ibn Hasana – one of the three army commanders appointed at Medina by Abu Bakr for the conquest of the Holy Land, alongside Yazid, son of Abu Sufyan and Amr ibn al-As.
Sophronius – Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem who would organize the surrender of the Holy City to Caliph Omar.
Talha ibn Ubaydallah – cousin of Abu Bakr, one of the early believers who would be chosen by Omar to sit in the committee of six that elected the next Caliph and who would with Zubayr join Aisha in her revolt against Ali.
Umamah – Muhammad’s granddaughter, the child of his daughter Zaynab and Abu al-As, the son of Rabi.
Umm Habiba – wife of the Prophet and daughter of Abu Sufyan, great sheikh of the Quraysh tribe that dominated pre-Islamic Mecca.
Umm Salamah – wife of the Prophet. She was the widow of Muhammad’s first cousin, Abu Salama, who had died of wounds received in the battle of Uhud. She had been in exile in Ethiopia and brought her young children into the protection of the Prophet’s household. It was her sage advice that broke the spell of disobedience at Hudaibiya.
Usama – Muhammad’s grandson through his adopted son Zayd. He won Aisha’s friendship by supporting her in her hour of need and would (somewhat controversially) be placed in command of the Muslim army by the Prophet Muhammad in the last month of his life.
Uthman ibn Affan – third Caliph of Islam and the man who supervised the editing of the first written edition of the Koran. A wealthy, clever, scholarly early convert to Islam who was descended from one of the most important noble clans of Mecca. He would be trusted to marry two of the Prophet’s daughters and would be chosen as third Caliph in 644 owing to his skill as an administrator. His great failing was too great a dependence on his own family and clan, which may have been due to his personal failing as a warrior; he would yet redeem himself in the manner of his death.
Yazdegird – last Sassanian to rule over the Empire of Persia and its Zoroastrian faith.
Zayd ibn Harithah – captured in a Bedouin raid as a boy and brought to Mecca’s annual fair of Ukaz as a slave boy. He was bought at auction and give to Khadijah by one of her wealthy nephews. She in turn, gave Zayd to Muhammad as a wedding gift. Muhammad later offered Zayd his freedom and formally adopted him as a son and would give him Barakah as his first wife, from who he had a son, Usama. Zayd was one of the most devoted followers of Muhammad and latter rose to become one of the key military commanders of early Islam until his death at the battle of Mutah.
Zaynab – daughter of Muhammad, married to one of her mother’s favourite nephews, the handsome Abu al-As, who remained a pagan in Mecca until almost the last. Mother of Umamah.
Zaynab – daughter of Khuzaymah, the fifth wife of the Prophet was the daughter of an influential Bedouin chieftain of the Amir tribe. She was widowed after her first husband died at the battle of the wells of Badr. Famously generous to the poor; died eight months after her marriage to the Prophet.
Zaynab– Jewish sorceress at Khaybar who attempted to avenge her community by trying to poison the Prophet.
Zaynab bint Jaysh – cousin and sixth wife of the Prophet, first married to Muhammad’s adopted son, Zayd. This marriage was ended and she was given (as recorded in a Koranic verse) to the Prophet as an additional wife to bring his household in Medina up to five women.
Zayyad – shrewd political operator who, like Mughira, was from the Thaqif tribe of the city of Taif. As the bastard of a prostitute owned by a foreign merchant, he had no social status or clan allies to help him through life but he would nevertheless rise to become a trusted secretary, then governor, and finally governor of both Basra and Kufa and all Persia for Muawiya. Zayyad was officially adopted into Muawiya’s family and his sons were awarded lesser governorships within the regime which helped bind his family into total loyalty to the Umayyads. It was one of Zayyad’s sons, Ubaydallah ibn Zayyad, governor of Kufa, who masterminded the chain of events that led to the tragedy of Kerbala.
Zubayr ibn al-Awwam – early believer who would be placed in charge of an army of reinforcements sent by Omar to support Amr ibn al-As’s raid into Egypt. He would win renown among his men by leading an assault on the Byzantine fortress of Babylon. One of the committee of six chosen to select a Caliph after the death of Omar, he joined Aisha in her revolt against Ali.