What Is the Difference Between the Words “Islam”, “Islamic”, “Muslim”, “Arab” and “Muslim believer”?

Knowing themselves as the true Muslims and real Arabs, ISIS wanted to establish an Islamic State in which Islam rules. They attacked thousands of places several times, held many as slaves, mostly women and children, and murdered thousands, whether army forces or ordinary people. Although the focus of their activities was in Iraq and Syria, surely you remember what they committed in France and other countries far from Iraq and Syria. On their opposite side were Iraqi and Syrian forces who were also Muslim and Arab and finally overcame ISIS.                                                                


Two groups of Muslims are in war. Which side was true? We shed light on some terms to clarify the issue.



The last prophet (PBUH) was an Arab and began his mission in an Arab country. The language of the Quran and Islamic rituals is Arabic, too. This has led to the fusion of terms such as Islam, Muslims, and Arabs. But there are about 1.8 billion Muslims and about 400 million Arabs in the world. So, not all Muslims are Arab. Like anyone else in the world, Arabs can choose their religion. There are Arabs with religions other than Islam or even ethnic Arabs. So not all Arabs, but many of them, are Muslim.




Anyone who believes that: 1. there is no true god but Allah, 2. Allah has sent prophets to guide humankind, and 3. the day of judgment is true and will come, and pronounces the testimonies of faith (Shahaadatain) is a Muslim [i].


These are the gates to the world of rationality and peace. The world designed for a perfect version of life; in which no room has been arranged for violence. But ISIS forces, who claimed to be Muslim, oppressed many countries and two of them in particular and killed many innocent people. They had not tasted faith; they only used Islamic coverage to reach their goals.


You can find some pictures of ISIS dead forces with a spoon in their pocket. They believed that after their death, they will meet Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and will eat with him in heaven. Poor fools! I think if they did not die on time, they would not catch that meal and they had to wash the dishes.

Therefore, we should differentiate between a Muslim and a Muslim believer.  


A Muslim Believer


“The Bedouins say: We have faith. Say: You do not have faith yet; rather say: We have embraced Islam; for faith has not yet entered into your hearts.” (49:14)

Any believer is a Muslim, but not all Muslims are believers.


Saying some words turns you into a Muslim and the rules of Islam runs for you. But the faith is saying what you believe by heart and showing this in your deeds. So, having faith is a higher stage after accepting Islam. A Muslim believer tries to be fully acquainted with Islam and the logic behind its rules and adapt every aspect of life with Islamic teachings.




The nature of all divine religions has been the same, i.e., surrendering to God and obeying Him in all aspects. There have only been little differences in some formalities. Like other religions, although Islam emerged in a particular locality, it was not restricted to that. 


Verily, this Qur'an is a reminder for humankind throughout the world. (81:27)


The religions and instructions brought by prophets to people were in accordance with the capacity and level of understanding of different eras. But Islam is the last religion and was brought by the last prophet (PBUH)[ii]. There will be no other religion after that. So, Islam must be an all-inclusive religion, containing all the necessities of human beings until the end. Islam is the continuation of the previous religions and completes them. 


It has been traditional for God to appoint a religious leader for people at all times to guide them and clarify the Devine instructions. 


Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has marked the correct path of Islam forever in one of the most famous and important Islamic narrations (thaqalain): “Verily, I am leaving behind two precious things among you: The Book of God and my kindred, my household. As far as you take hold of these two, you will never go astray. For indeed, the two will never separate until they come to me by the Pond (of al-Kawthar on the Judgement's Day).” [1] Prophet Muhammad and the twelve Imams (AS) after Him are leaders of Islam. But now that the twelfth Imam is absent, how should we determine the correct path?



Pure Islam


Three sources to the pure Islam;

Islam 1: Quran and authentic narrations from Imams. 

Islam 2: Interpretations of Islamic jurisprudents of Islam 1.

Islam 3: The manner of Muslim public.


If we base our opinion towards Islam on Islam 3, it will result in a many-colored or contradictory type of Islam; because we observe different beliefs and customs in Muslim nations.


The best way is following the Islamic jurisprudent who are best familiar with Islam and can take us as near as possible to the truth of Islam.




Anything belonging or referring to Islam which agrees to its basis can be called Islamic. It can be an Islamic government, an Islamic rule, Islamic food, etc.


The actions of nations, groups, and important figures claiming to be Muslim should not form our opinion about Islam. We should be fully familiar with Islam and based on this recognition, decide if something is Islamic or not. 


Imam Ali (AS) says: “Truth is not recognized by figures; Know the truth, you will recognize its followers.” [2]



[i]. See “The Islamic axioms”                                                             
[ii]. See “Is Muhammad (PBUH) the Last Prophet?” 



[1]. Wassail Al-Shi’a, v.27, p.34; Bihar Al-Anvar, v.2, p.100
[2]. Bihar Al-Anvar, v.40, p.126