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In Terminology of the Imperium, the glossary of the 1965 novel Dune, Herbert provides the following definition:
MUAD'DIB: the adapted kangaroo mouse of Arrakis, a creature associated in the Fremen earth-spirit mythology with a design visible on the planet's second moon. This creature is admired by Fremen for its ability to survive in the open desert.
Herbert derived the Fremen messianic religion vocabulary from real-world Arabic. In Arabic, مؤدّب mu’addib means "educator", "he who disciplines/teaches manners" or "chastiser". Ad'dab or A'adaab أدب are "manners" or "literature". In Dune, Herbert writes that the Fremen call the Muad'Dib mouse "instructor-of-boys."
In Dune, when Paul is accepted into the Fremen, he is given the secret "sietch name" (known only to his tribe) Usul, the Fremen word meaning "the base of the pillar." Paul takes "Paul Muad'Dib" as his chosen name of manhood, to be used openly:
Paul: How do you call among you the little mouse, the mouse that jumps?
Stilgar: We call that one muad'dib
Paul: I am Atreides. It is not right that I give up entirely the name my father gave me. Could I be known among you as Paul-Muad'Dib?
Stilgar: You are Paul-Muad'Dib
Stilgar explains why the choice of "Muad'Dib" pleases the Fremen:
Muad'Dib is wise in the ways of the desert. Muad'Dib creates his own water. Muad'Dib hides from the sun and travels in the cool night. Muad'Dib is fruitful and multiplies over the land. Muad'Dib we call 'instructor-of-boys.' That is a powerful base on which to build your life, Paul Muad'Dib, who is Usul among us.
The choice of a small animal for this name is ostensibly modest but conveys a sense of hidden power, which is a recurring theme in the story.
Paul is agonized by visions of terrible Jihad which will destroy the Imperium. Yet he becomes Paul Muad'Dib, Mahdi of the Fremen, accepting the role imposed by Bene Gesserit. A new religion sweeps Paul to power. Herbert suggests a process of wish-fulfilling recognition of "sacred" texts created by the Bene Gesserit's master plan in a particular person, and transforming events into common belief. In David Lynch's 1984 film Dune, Paul's line from the novel "My own name is a killing word" is literalized as the Fremen discover that saying "Muad'Dib" is a powerful trigger for the Weirding Module.
Between the events of Dune and Dune Messiah (1969), the name Muad'Dib becomes a battle cry on the lips of the Fremen army that sweeps across the universe in a jihad in the name of Muad'Dib's religion. The population of the universe sees Muad'Dib as their god, whether they like it or not, and they can not deny his power religiously. The Fremen culture is irreparably damaged by jihad; the new religion takes shape of rituals that are dependent on Muad'Dib's omnipresence. As Muad'Dib, Paul is the messiah and the Emperor (King of Kings) who gives himself to fate and becomes a martyr to his followers, wanders blinded into the desert to die, later finding emancipation as a heretic of his own church as the Preacher. The regency of Paul's sister Alia and the Qizarate priests continue to promote Muad'Dib's religion to help keep control of the universe, ensuring that others do not oppose them. In his The Golden Path, Herbert presents an argument of how to create a healthy society, avoiding despotism and hero worship, a trap in which social groups can be caught:
To make a world where human kind can make its own future from moment to moment, free from one man's vision. Free from the perversion of the prophets words. And free of future pre-determined...