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: Islamic Terrorism
Intended Meaning: Acts of terrorism by individuals who claim to conduct them in the name of Islam
Why a Problem: Implies that terrorism can be Islamic in character, i.e., that the ethos of Islam is compatible with that of terrorism
Impact: Most Muslims feel insulted, wronged, and even angry on hearing expressions which seem to blame terrorism on, or attribute it to, Islam; the term helps terrorists as it reinforces the idea that the West views Islam as a source of evil and openly says so
Alternatives:
  • Terrorism, Terrorists
  • Terrorism in the name of Islam, Terrorists claiming to be Muslims, Terrorists in/from country X
  • Takfiri terrorism (Takfir in Arabic is the act of pronouncing/passing judgment on who is a real Muslim and who is not, a concept that is antithetical to mainstream Islam. Advantage: it clearly denotes a distinction from mainstream Islam. Disadvantage: it introduces a non-English word into popular language, which could be used incorrectly and/or misunderstood.
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