Some of the terminology regarding Muslim-Western relations has been widely misused or misunderstood, confusing key issues and clouding constructive opportunities. In an attempt to improve ongoing communication, we have developed the following Terminology in Muslim-Western Relations guide. A downloadable PDF version is also available.
A political system in which religion does not dictate to, or interfere with, matters of
state; one where religion and politics are formally separated, yet where religious
freedom is guaranteed and protected
Why a Problem:
This is a tricky term because one of its dictionary definitions is the outright rejection
of religion and so is translated in Arabic and other "Muslim" languages as
areligiosity/irreligiosity; this can cause conflict because, according to extensive
studies of Muslim public opinion, a majority of Muslims want religious principles to
be a source of legislation.
The term secularization is generally perceived as an attempt to recreate Muslim
societies in the West’s image.
Note: In practice, Western secular states preclude the abolition of religion and religious
values and endorse pluralism and religious freedom, even protecting them. In fact,
many Western constitutions are based on religious (Christian) values, and many
political leaders speak openly about their faith. The French concept of laicism, or
laicite, denotes the strict separation of public and private, or non-interference of
religion in politics and vice versa (often associated with France and Turkey). This is
usually considered a more severe or strict form of secularism. In Turkey and France,
laicism actively confines religion to the private sphere.
Knee-jerk rejection by most Muslims, who are religious and want some role for
religion in public life, exacerbating already-prevalent feelings among Muslims that
the West has disrespect for their religious values