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 '10 at 15:44

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

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    As a Muslim, I don't have a better answer! Thanks to Ralph. – Dia Sep 17 '10 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 '10 at 13:27
  • 3
    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 '10 at 19:20
  • 6
    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 '10 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 '11 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."

| improve this answer | |
  • 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 '10 at 4:41

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.