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The Sassy Lass Sorts Through Muslim Titles, Baseball & Fossil Fuel

The Sassy Lass Sorts Through Muslim Titles, Baseball & Fossil Fuel

Ever wonder what different Muslim and Arabic titles actually mean? Or why more baseball games than football games are called due to weather? Or why fossil fuels contain mercury?


Howdy there, eager beavers! This is The Sassy Lass, your friendly neighborhood brainiac. There are three questions on deck this time out, so let’s give ’em a whirl.

Dear Sassy Lass: What’s the difference between these Muslim titles we hear in the media: sheikh, emir, mullah, imam, ayatollah and grand mufti?

According to data released in 2015 by Pew Research, there were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as of 2010; Islam is also the world’s fastest growing religion. With this in mind, it’s important to distinguish between Islamic sects and associated terminology. In addition, remember these aren’t all “Muslim” titles . . . because “Muslim” and “Arabic” are not synonymous.

A sheikh is a man of vast power. It’s an honorific title for a tribal ruler, inherited from the father. While “sheikh” can be used for a learned Muslim man of faith, as a word, it is independent of religion. It is used by Arab Christians as a term for important elder men.

An emir is a commander, general or prince. It is a noble title of high office. Although it is one of the names of the prophet Muhammad, “emir” is not an exclusively Muslim title and has been held by Christians. In certain Muslim armies, “Amir” was also an officer rank.

A mullah is a vicar, master or guardian. The title is commonly given to local Islamic clerics or mosque leaders, but it has been used among some Sephardic Jews to refer to religious figures. Today, a mullah is considered an educated religious man.

An imam is a prayer leader. Imams are spiritual and community leaders. Imams are defined differently by Sunnis and Shi’as, a fact often ignored by non-Muslims. For Sunnis, an imam can lead prayers, even outside of a mosque. Shi’as believe that an imam is a man of God and is considered to be equal to God.

An ayatollah is a term that means “Sign of Allah.” The title is given to clerics of the Usuli Twelver Shi’a, the largest brand of Shi’a. Practitioners of  Twelver Shi’a Islam believe in the Twelve Imams, the spiritual successors to Muhammad. Ayatollahs are experts in Islamic studies and teach in seminaries. The term was popularized with the creation of Iran’s Qom Seminary in 1922.

The grand mufti is the “general expounder,” or a religious scholar who issues influential, though not necessarily binding, legal opinions (fatwas) interpreting Sharia (Islamic) law. Some grand muftis are state appointed, while others are elected. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka each have systems of collective mufti.

Dear Sassy Lass: Why are baseball games canceled when it rains but football players must slog it out on a muddy field?

It’s the nature of the games, Sports Fan, or rather, how each game depends on nature for maximum playability. When it rains, a baseball field – which has a lot of dirt – quickly becomes a muddy, unplayable mess.

Puddles on the infield mean that the ball won’t roll. Conversely, a football field – which typically is all grass – can get soaked and shredded six ways to Sunday, and the game can still roll on. Also, more baseball games are played during a given season, which means there’s likely to be another game on that same field the next day. Fewer football games means the field has time to heal.

Baseball players aren’t weenies, though, any more than football stars are superheroes. Major League Baseball teams will play in light to moderate rain, while NFL games will be delayed for severe thunderstorms or hurricanes, as would a baseball game.

Dear Sassy Lass: Scientists say one of the health threats of burning coal is mercury contamination. But if coal is a “fossil fuel” derived from decayed prehistoric jungles or dinosaurs, where did the mercury come from?

It’s element-ary, my dear science buff. Literally. Mercury is a naturally occurring element of the Earth and is present in super-low levels in the biosphere. As a result, it gets absorbed by plants, which is why you find mercury in coal, a fossil fuel formed from geologic transformation of organic materials.

Natural sources such as volcanoes are responsible for approximately 50 percent of atmospheric mercury emissions. In addition, the organic compound methylmercury (mercury plus carbon) forms in the environment mostly through microbial metabolism (biotic processes). It can also be formed by chemical (abiotic) processes.

When coal is burned, a fraction of the mercury in it is discharged into the atmosphere. The Clean Air Act of 1990 included mercury on a list of toxic pollutants that should be controlled as much as possible. Mercury control in coal-fired power plants can be achieved by activated carbon injection – which cuts down on mercury, as well as on sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and other nasty stuff.

Got Qs? The Sassy Lass might have some As! Send your questions to thesassylass@freeabq.com. Your question could be next.

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M. Brianna Stallings makes words work.

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