WHEN WE SPEAK about Muslims, I think most of us try to make the distinction between those Muslims who follow core Islamic teachings on the one hand, and those who call themselves Muslims but who ignore a great deal of the basic principles of Islam.
I've often had to clarify myself when someone takes offense at something I say by making this distinction: "I'm criticising Islamic doctrine. If someone doesn't follow the doctrine, then I am not criticising them."
I have tried various words and phrases to make this distinction in my speech, so instead of saying "Muslims believe X," for example, I will say, "Islamic supremacists believe X." It bypasses one of my listener's most obvious objection to what I'm saying.
Others are doing this too, and I see "true believers" being called Jihadis, Jihadists, Islamists, militant Muslims, Mujahedeen, Islamofascists, fundamentalists, extremists, insurgents, and the ridiculously meaningless term, "radical Muslims" (which is almost as bad as the phrase "war on terror"). I just read an article by Mohamed Akram and he used the phrase "observant Muslim." I thought that was pretty good. But I think two of the best are Brigitte Gabriel's phrase, "practicing Muslims" and Vijay Kumar's "literal Muslims." Actually, Kumar uses the term "literal Islam," but I like that word "literal." Bill Warner's use of the phrase "political Islam" is good too.
This topic is newsworthy these days as Obama's administration has tried to avoid using any language in their national security organizations that might imply a religious motivation to Muslims who kill non-Muslims in the name of Islam. Their newly-released National Security Strategy came up with a term we can add to our list. The report referred to practicing Muslims by using the clumsy and misleading term, "al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates."
The nomenclature for Muslims who don't really follow the teachings is sparse. "Moderate Muslims?" That's pretty much worthless. How about "mainstream Muslims?" That's a meaningless phrase unless you don't know anything about Islam, at which time it becomes mistakenly meaningful. Some have used the oxymoronic term, "secular Muslims." Of course, Muslims themselves use the term "apostates."
I've experimented with a couple of names for this category of Muslims. For instance, JRMs (Jihad Rejecting Muslims) isn't bad. But my favorite is MINOs (Muslim in Name Only). The MINOs themselves might not like it, but it's clear enough for our purposes.
My vote is "practicing Muslims" for the devout ones and MINOs for the non-devout. What do you think? Leave your vote (or additional nomenclature) in the comments or email them to me and I'll post them for you (anonymously if you like): firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us which phrases you like to use and why you think they are better than the others.