Some of the terminology regarding Muslim-Western relations has been widely misused or misunderstood, confusing key issues and clouding constructive opportunities. In an attempt to improve ongoing communication, we have developed the following Terminology in Muslim-Western Relations guide. A downloadable PDF version is also available.
Terminology Guide
Term: American Muslim
Intended Meaning: Muslim of American citizenship or residence
Why a Problem: Defines people by their religion rather than nationality, which goes against both the American ethos and the concept of nation-state
Impact: Propagates the idea that allegiance of Muslims in the US is to entities/countries outside the US. This distinction is particularly important to indigenous Muslims in the United States e.g. African Americans.

Note: when comparing Muslims from different places, for example, the above is not always an issue: e.g. British Muslims as compared with American Muslims is a legitimate and innocuous use of the term.
Alternatives:
  • Muslim American (like African American, Chinese American, Arab American, Native American, etc)
Additional Distinctions
Term:Muslim (noun/adj.)Islamic (adj.)
Definition:Denotes an adherent of Islam or a characteristic of its adherents (descriptive, adj. comparable to "Jewish")Denotes the religion or its institutions (prescriptive, comparable to "Judaic")
Example:A Muslim country is one where the majority of citizens follow the religion of Islam An Islamic country is one whose political system is based on Islamic law
Why Important: Avoids negative events, acts or ideas being attributed to the religion of Islam itself (rather than its followers)
Term:HeadscarfVeil
Definition:Worn by many Muslim women to cover their hair in public; usually accompanied by non- revealing clothes Worn by a small minority of Muslim women to cover face; usually accompanied by non-revealing clothes
Referred to as:Hijab Niqab
Why Important: Important "Veil" conjures up "barrier" and has a negative impact on bridge-building efforts
Note: neither garment necessarily says anything about one's political viewpoints