Muslim/Islamic - is there any difference?

Curious about Language

Senior Member
Australia, English
Hello everyone,
All religions have adjective forms to describe followers, buildings, beliefs, etc. But as far as I am aware, only Islam has two - Muslim and Islamic.

As far as I know, these two words are basically synonymous, but I am really curious why there are two words - and if there is some subtle distinction in meaning that I am not aware of.

If anyone has any information/ideas, I would be most appreciative!
  • has a brief account of the etymological roots of each term (Muslim and Islam). It would appear that the distinction is drawn more or less directly from that made in Arabic, which is dictated by that cultural context.

    Personally, I consider Muslim to pertain primarily to people and groups of Islamic faith (and indeed, this is the correct term to refer to someone of Islamic faith - a Muslim), whereas Islamic is a little more generic in its reference to Islam. Indeed, Wiktionary describes Islam as a faith whose followers are Muslim.

    I will certainly be interested to hear others' perspectives.
    Good sources! I don't see how Islamic is more general - one can be Islamic and one can be Moslem. A text can be either as well. As stated above, Moslem is both an adjective and a noun, whereas Islamic is an adjective only (A person is never an Islam - Islam refers to the religion and culture).

    Of course it is also important to be aware of the 'Nation of Islam' as being distinct.
    Yes, someone can be Islamic or Muslim, but Muslim is the only one that can be used as a noun meaning someone who follows Islam.

    Someone can be Islamic, someone can be Muslim, someone can be a Muslim, but you cannot be an Islam.

    Also, "Muslim" only refers to the followers of the religion, not the religion itself. You cannot practice Muslim.
    My personal view is that 'Muslim' is primarily reserved (in adjective form) for those to whom it applies in noun form. I intend this as a rule of thumb, and certainly not a hard-and-fast assertion.

    My feeling is that we are more likely to talk about 'Islamic literature' or 'Islamic art', just as on the other hand we tend to think of 'Muslim populations'.

    It is of course a cursory distinction at best, but it's nevertheless one I think exists.
    I'm skeptical about the claim that "someone can be Islamic." What would that mean? A follower of Islam is a Moslem/Muslim.

    I think Islamic sounds strange as an adjective applied to people. I would use Moslem/Muslim in those contexts, and Islamic for pretty much anything else.
    This comes up in many of my translations, and it is always:

    Islam - the religion
    Islamic - pertaining to the religion
    Muslim/s [Moslem/s] - a person or persons (noun and adjective)

    I would never use Islamic to refer to a person. Where I have doubts is in terms like "The Islamic/Muslim conquest". However, in a document I translated only recently I must have flip-flopped half a dozen times in relation to a site in Jerusalem from which the Christians were evicted when the Muslims took Jerusalem. My text said the ______ occupation and I kept changing it from Islamic to Muslim and back. I eventually copped out and went with "occupation by the Muslims". :eek:
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    Hello everyone,
    Thank you very much for all your posts! I am glad that many people find this an interesting topic. With issues like this, it always helps to have some discussion and to hear from different views. All the posts were interesting, and I found "Nun-translator"'s post to be particularly interesting. Also, thanks for the wiktionary links, kropje_jnr!

    Islamic when used to describe people does sound somewhat unnatural, and as pointed out "ms.creant", it is impossible to be "an Islamic". So, reserving Islamic for things (buildings, religious writings, etc) and Muslim for people (whether in a single or a collective sense) would seem to be logical.
    According to the OED, Islamic relates to Islam, whereas Muslim relates to both Islam and Muslims. This seems to fit with the idea of referring to people as Muslim and language/culture/art/law as Islamic. Although it should be pointed out that a definition of Islam may include the people who believe in the Muslim religion.
    Does the word islamic suggest a kind of embedded measurement? That is something I feel quite odd and uncomfortable because once the islamic adjective is applied to a thing or even a person then a kind of measurement is started: where the person or the thing is looked at from an angle of whether they are 'islamic' enough or not. Islamic man - is the man islamic or not? To what degree? Is the party islamic? to what degree? is the bank islamic? how islamic? Measurement seems to be related to whatever having 'islamic' adjectives. Does this occur to other related english adjectives?
    "Islamic" is an adjective used to describe things pertaining to the religion. For example, Islamic Law is the law of the religion of Islam.

    Comparatively, "Muslim" is a noun (referring to the people who follow Islam) and can be an adjective describing people in terms of religious belief. For example, a doctor could be Muslim but cannot be Islamic.

    There is some overlap; as things followed by Muslims can be described as "Muslim" and are also Islamic.

    Muslim = person, Islam = religion usually.
    Are you trying to say that Islamic is a gradable adjective and Muslim isn't? I think it is possible to say that a piece of art is very or a little Islamic, whereas it is less usual to say that someone is very or a little Muslim/Moslem.