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I totally get that Islam and Muslim (and even the antiquated term 'Mohammedism') are basically the same thing - they refer to the religion and culture based on the teachings of the Prophet beginning in 622AD. I also understand that "Islam" means 'submission,' reflective of the fact that Muslims (or is that those of the Islamic faith?) are to be submitted to Allah.

That said, as any good programmer knows, terms have precise meanings, and even words that are 99% synonymous have correct and distinct usages.

So, in what situations is it correct to use "Islam / Islamic" viz a viz "Muslim?" Is one cultural and the other theological? Or, is one term preferred in certain regions over against the other?

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Roughly, you could use the following dividing lines

Islam : the faith/system/theology revealed by God
Muslim : A person who ascribes to this theology
Islamic : An adjective used to indicate conformance of an entity with Islam the faith/theology

Technically, if you use the term "Islamic" as an adjective for people, it should be the same as the term "Muslims." However, in our times and in the English-speaking world, "Muslims" has come to mean the state of Muslim people as they are and "Islamic" has come to mean an adjective for the way things should be if they conformed to the guidelines Islam lays out.

So, for example, you could say that some Muslims people drink/cheat/lie. This may be a statement of fact. But it's awkward to say that "Islamic people" drink/cheat/lie because it's like an oxymoron.

Another example: There is a tremendous amount of corruption in Muslim countries. But in an Islamic country, there wouldn't be.

One term (Muslim) has come to mean "the way things are" and one term roughly means "the way it should be."

This difference in meaning is why a lot of Muslims have a problem with the term "Islamic terrorism" (and also why a lot of other people lobby to increase its usage).

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Islam and Muslim are not 99% synonymous. Islam is the message all the messengers and Prophet's carried. It was what Allah revealed to man. Islam is the religion/way of life set by Allah, our creator the one who knows us best, for us:

This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.

Surat Al Ma'idah Ayah 3

As for Muslim, it is one who submits to Allah, and follows what is ordered. As for the connection between Islam and Muslims, Islam is what the Muslims should be following, and is not what the Muslims do or say. Furthermore there are no sects in Islam, islam is one, the only religion, and there is only one way to follow it. Where the sects come in is among the Muslims not Islam, and those who make sects and divide up the religion are likened by Allah to those polytheists, and we are warned from being like them.

So the proper usage, overall, is Islam refers to the religion/way of life Allah revealed/sent down and set for us. And the word Muslim refer to those who submit to Allah and follow His orders.

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Islam is the word used to describe the religion and system of belief as a whole, while Muslim is the word used to describe a person who practices Islam. An analogy would be: Islam is to Christianty as a Muslim is to a Christian (person).

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  • Ironically, by extending your analogy, both "Islamic" and "Muslim" would correlate to (different meanings of) the same word "Christian."
    – goldPseudo
    Apr 2 '13 at 22:23
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Islam The Religion of Islam and its core principles. Example. Islam requires us to respect elders.

Muslim The follower of Islam. The follower may do something that is not Islamic, for example Many Muslims in United states eat Mcdonalds which is not halal.


Example

In some cases, Muslim practice things that are not Islamic. For example some muslims go to shrines of Holy people to ask for prayers. This is not Islamic practice. Shrines are disallowed in Islam in the first place but some Muslims practice it anyhow.

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