Islam, Islamic, Muslim, Islamist – Confused?

25 Nov

I am and I’m a Muslim.  Not a very good one admittedly, but a Muslim nonetheless.

Islam is the religion, Muslim is the person, Islamic relates to Islam but what is an Islamist?

I first heard the word several months ago on the news and since then it seems to be everywhere.  I asked my mum and husband if they knew what it meant and they weren’t sure, but agreed they’d been hearing it a lot more.

For an exact definition, it depends on who you ask.  It means Islamic militancy or Islamic fundamentalism (Oxford Dictionary), Political Islam (Wikipedia), an orthodox Muslim or a scholar knowledgeable about Islam (Wordnet), supporting or advocating Islamic fundamentalism (Collins English Dictionary) and the list goes on.

Mecca - the holiest city for Muslims

Mecca – the holiest city for Muslims

A few years ago, I spent some time travelling around teaching English.  One of these years was spent working in Indonesia (which incidentally has the largest Muslim population).  While getting a wax before leaving London, I told the beauty therapist of my plans and she earnestly advised me to “be careful of all the Muslims out there”.  I hesitated for a couple of seconds before telling her I was a Muslim, partly as a matter of principle but partly because it was fun to see her reaction.

It’s experiences like this which make me realise that Muslims are very misunderstood by a lot of people.  Given this, is the use of such an ambiguous word wise, or is it exacerbating animosity towards Muslims?

We don’t call Christian extremists Christianists.  When Andres Behring Breivik killed over 70 people in two attacks in Norway, he argued it was to further his cause for a Christian Europe.  He’s called a right-wing extremist.

Most people consider Buddhists to be the good guys of the world’s religions. Yet in Burma/Myanmar, Buddhist monks have been accused of killing Muslims and inciting hatred.  Human Rights Watch have described the killings as ethnic cleansing.  Wirathu, a Buddhist monk who leads the 969 nationalist Buddhist movement, has bizarrely described himself as the Buddhist Bin Laden.

When Tony Blair lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to invade Iraq, many called him a war criminal but the fact he was a Catholic was never mentioned.

Food for thought?

Food for thought?

Yes, there have been some heinous acts carried out in the name of Islam, but ordinary, everyday Muslims like me, my family and the Muslims we know are completely and totally against them.  Because in case you’d heard differently, Islam doesn’t condone any sort of violence against civilians.  And “jihad” does not mean wreak havoc and destruction on non-Muslims or holy war.  It means struggle or effort and most often refers to a person’s inner struggle to be a good Muslim.

When 9/11 happened, innocent Muslims died alongside innocent people from all religions.  More than that, many Muslims were persecuted following the attacks.  One mother and father told of how they were not allowed to attend their daughter’s memorial service because she was a Muslim and suspected of having links to the terrorists behind the attack.  Among those who died were a woman who was 7 months pregnant, an NYPD cadet, a retired nurse and a newspaper vendor.  In other words, ordinary people going about their everyday lives.

And it is these ordinary people whose voices are never heard.  You hear about all the terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam, but how often do you hear about the vast majority of Muslims who are disgusted by the killing of Lee Rigby, or are shocked by the actions of the Taliban?

When I told my mum I wanted to write something about Islam, she was worried it would get me into trouble.  Given that there aren’t masses of people reading this blog, I don’t think she has too much to worry about.  Besides that, I think it’s about time Muslims speak out against Islamic extremists, so that the world understands we are not all the same.

The sad thing is, even when Muslims do speak out against terrorism their voices are not always heard.  I bet you could name more than one Islamic terrorist group, but how many Muslims could you name who have bravely taken a stand against Islamic extremism?     

Maajid Nawaz

Maajid Nawaz – Co-founder of anti-terrorist think tank Quillam

When I first started researching and writing this topic, I wanted to know what an Islamist was.  Once I started, I realised it was a much more complicated topic than I had imagined, so this has turned into a bit of a stream of consciousness.

My husband loves to joke that he’s going to buy our daughter a hijab for her first birthday (at least he better be joking…).  She’s now almost four months old and won’t have a very religious upbringing, but Islam has been a part of her life already.

When she was born, her granddad whispered a prayer in her ear.  She had her head shaved when she was a few weeks old and she will grow up with a dad who fasts every day of Ramadan.  Her middle name Laila comes from the fact she was born on a religious night called Lailatul Qadr.  Our families all greet her with a salaam, the traditional Islamic greeting.

I may be a fallen Muslim, but it is a part of my identity and it will be a part of my daughter’s too.  I very much doubt she’ll be covering her head or praying five times a day, but if that’s what she wants to do then that’s ok by me.

Either way, I hope she grows up in a world of tolerance and understanding.  I hope that she gets to choose how Muslim she wants to be and that she is never ashamed of or afraid to admit to her Islamic roots.  Every religion has its extremists and the actions of a few should not be what everyone is judged by.


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