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: Liberal Democracy
Intended Meaning: Generally refers to a democratic system of governance whereby rights are protected by a constitution and include the right to vote; often characterized by tolerance and pluralism
Why a Problem: It is often unclear whether the term, "liberal" refers to political values or Western social values or, in fact, whether the two can be separated as such; often understood outside of the West as synonymous with "Western values"
Impact: Many Muslims view this as an attempt to impose Western social values on their societies; promotes an adversarial attitude as it leads to many Muslims fearing the imposition of a Western model of democracy in lieu of allowing a home-grown one to develop
Alternatives:
  • Democracy
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