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: War on Terror
Intended Meaning: The Western/US-led military and intelligence effort to stymie, imprison and/or eliminate all militants and groups, including terrorists, who are attacking or planning to attack Western interests and the West itself
Why a Problem: Because all individuals, groups and countries that the West has engaged with in an adversarial manner since the declaration of this war, whether directly or indirectly, have been Muslim, it has created the impression that it is in fact a war on Islam;

This term raises the critical question of why terrorist groups that are not Muslim have not been a target in this war. In addition, it is not clear who the "enemy" is or what a victory would look like, and as a result it perpetuates a sense of fear in society and empowers militants who do take violent actions against Western or other targets.
Impact: Many Muslims feel suspicious of all Western (especially US) policies toward them; feelings of mistrust are underscored and Muslims are put in the position of defending themselves as non-terrorists.

It contributes to the "if you're not with us, you're against us" paradigm
Alternatives:
  • Effort/initiative against Al Qaeda
  • Anti-Terrorism Measures
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