The Grammarphobia Blog

“Islamic” or “Islamist”?

Q: Was there a memo sent out that I missed having to do with the suffix “ist” when used with Islam? The adjective used to be “Islamic,” but it now seems to have changed to “Islamist.”

A: “Islamic” is an adjective referring to Islam (the religion, the Muslim world in general, or Muslim civilization), according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).

“Islamist,” which can be either an adjective or a noun (meaning a person), refers to “Islamism” (an Islamic revivalist movement or the religious principals of Islam), according to American Heritage. The dictionary says the Islamist movement is “often characterized by moral conservatism, literalism, and the attempt to implement Islamic values in all spheres of life.”

The Oxford English Dictionary, which defines an “Islamist” as an orthodox Muslim, includes published references dating back to this 1855 citation: “Caliphs who were, at least no longer, rigid Islamists.”

I mostly see or hear the term “Islamist” used these days in reference to orthodox or fundamentalist Muslims. But it seems to me (a language type, not a theologian) that the words “Islamic” and “Islamist” may overlap somewhat.

Crystal clear? Yeah, I thought so!

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