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: Jihad / Jihadist
Intended Meaning: In Western media, this term is almost always linked to acts of violence and is often used to mean terrorism/terrorists
Why a Problem: To Muslims, jihad means the struggle to move closer to God, to live in the way of God thus it is a positive, predominantly non-violent and personal act by a devoted individual, or jihadi (also mujahed)
Impact: Angers Muslims as it equates a noble religious concept with violence/terrorism; extends the respectability of being true travelers in the way of God to terrorists, who welcome the title; the use of an Islamic term to describe violent acts gives the non-Muslim Westerner the impression that Islam sanctions such violent acts
Alternatives:
  • Terrorism/ Vigilantism/Violence in the name of Islam
  • Terrorists/Vigilantes/Violent Extremists claiming to be Muslims
  • Terrorists/Vigilantes/Violent Extremists from/in country X
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