I have seen 'Muslim' and 'Islamic' both used as adjectives to describe things relating to Islam. Is there a nuanced difference between the two words?

I know that 'Muslim' can also be used as a noun, as in:

Muslims as the people who practice Islam.

But, are the following sentences both correct? Are they equivalent?

The Quran is the Muslim holy book.

The Quran is the Islamic holy book.

Now that I have written this question, and tried to think of examples, perhaps Islamic is only an adverb?

Would both of these sentences be correct?

Islamic people practice Islam.

Muslim people practice Islam.

  • 1
    Should be "Now that I have written..."
    – kajaco
    Sep 17, 2010 at 15:44

2 Answers 2


Muslim or Moslem is always referring to a man, meaning "one who submits", with a female form Muslima, while Islamic denotes "belonging to Islam".

Therefore, instead of saying

Muslim people practice Islam.

one can also say

Muslims practice Islam.

but not

Islamics practice Islam.

and it would be more correct to say

The Quran is the Muslim's holy book.

In Arabic, Muslim is the participle of the verb with the infinitive Islam.

Muslim - male Muslima - female Islamic person/people - plural non gender

  • 1
    As a Muslim, I don't have a better answer! Thanks to Ralph.
    – Dia
    Sep 17, 2010 at 13:20
  • Note that while you can say for example Islamic architecture, you can't say Muslim architecture. That's because Muslim refers to people as Ralph pointed out.
    – b.roth
    Sep 17, 2010 at 13:27
  • 4
    By the way, the reason why we borrowed two words like this has to do with basic Arabic morphological rules. Every word has (usually 3) root consonants — in the case of Islam/Muslim, they are S-L-M. These carry the root meaning (usually). The vowels in a word usually correspond to what type of noun/verb/etc it is (e.g. active vs. passive). There are also various affixes — the first M in "Muslim" happens to be a prefix, which (often) makes nouns meaning "one who does X". "Islam" means submission so "Muslim" means "one who submits". "Salaam" ("peace") also has the same root consonants.
    – Kosmonaut
    Sep 17, 2010 at 19:20
  • 7
    Actually, I don't think that you can really argue that "Muslima" is in standard use in English to refer to Muslim women. We would just say "Muslim woman". As for part of speech, "Muslim" can be used as an adjective (Ralph Rickenbach's first example) or a noun (second example). "Islamic" should not be used to refer to the people who practice Islam.
    – Kosmonaut
    Sep 18, 2010 at 12:30
  • 1
    Amplifying what others have said here: the word "Muslim" refers to a person, but can sometimes be used (in English) as an adjective to refer to describe things associated with people who are Muslims. "Islamic" means "Relating to Islam". So "Islamic art" is the usual term for the styles of art associated with Islam - though not necessarily produced by Muslims; if one said "Muslim art" (though that would be a strange thing to say!) it would be understood to refer to art (of any style) produced by Muslims.
    – psmears
    Jan 21, 2011 at 14:57

They are roughly equivalent in meaning when used adjectivally, although I find people who respect Muslims calling them "Muslim" and people who don't respect Muslims calling them "Islamic."

  • 3
    I downvoted this answer as I felt it added nothing to the discussion. kindall also brought up the controversial point of which word shows more respect without providing any reason, example, or evidence for his assertion.
    – J D OConal
    Sep 18, 2010 at 4:41

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