Who put the “ism” in “Islamism?”

The term “Islamism,” which we hear much of nowadays, is not new. Dr. Kedar and I will spare the readers the history of the term except to mention that it first appeared in English as in 1712 and originally denoted the religion of Islam (Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 December 2012). After virtually disappearing from the English language, it regained prevalence in the 1970s. Nowadays, the term is widely used. Its contemporary connotations infer “Radical” or “Fundamental” Islam.

As Dr. Kedar rightfully argues, the above distinction is wrong. “There are not two Islams,” he claims, “no moderate one and no radical one. There is just one Qu’ran that includes everything: verses on Jihad and all-out war against unbelievers along with verses that speak of recognizing the “other” and living beside him.”  In other words, everything can be found in the Qu’ran, the good and the bad. Those that choose the tolerant, the benevolent aspects of Islam claim that theirs is the right kind of Islam yet those who adhere to the more violent preaching of Qu’ran assert that theirs is the true Islam.

The claim by many moderate Muslim that their Islam has been hijacked by the “fundamentalists” or “Islamists,” amounts to no more than a struggle born of their wish to enter the mainstream of western societies. This claim, however, moves on a two way street. “Radical” Muslims will, likewise, maintain that the “moderate” ones have hijacked theirs version, interpretation and practice of Islam.

Herein lies the dilemma that many, mostly in the Western world, face. It is a well-known fact that some of Islam’s teachings and practices are not compatible with Western civilization. With followers numbering more than a billion people, the world needs to reckon with this demographic issue in a manner that will ensure its survival. It knows that most followers of Islam (“radicals” and “moderates” alike) are loyal to their faith. Very few leave Islam to become members of another faith. The Western world is also aware that their numbers are not only growing, but that they are also moving in their direction, into their societies, into their universe and their, thus far, protected environment.

This is where language as a tool, a means to achieve the goal of facilitating the compatibility between Islam and the West has become dexterous. Why not just resort to the easy simple solution, add “ism” to Islam in order to distinguish, to separate between “radical “ Muslims and “moderate” ones? The “ism,” many believe, is the panacea that will make Islam “kosher” and harmonious with the West and consequently ready to join its families.

The suffix “ism,” according to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, “is a set of beliefs, especially ones that you disapprove of.”  The key word here is “disapprove.” Of course we disapprove of the manner in which “radical” Muslims act. Who, in Western civilization, would not? Disapproval, however, can be demonstrated in more than one way. It could be passive, it could be voiced more vigorously and when taken to the extreme it can become violent.

The latter is what the West and most Muslims in the West wish to avoid and rightfully so. It is probably what those whom we label as “Islamists” would wish to draw us into. That, of course, leaves us with the former two. Passive resistance through the use of Love as a weapon to overthrow the “ism” in Islam is of course a noble concept. It does not, however, always work.

“Moderate” Muslims need to take a more active role to defend the reputation of the Islam that they choose to practice. They need to publicly speak out, demonstrate, and express outrage and disagreement with the evil among them. Though initially the addition of “ism” to Islam may have somewhat been useful in defending “moderate” Muslims, ultimately it will prove to be falsely reassuring if it fails to push them to act against their “radical” brethren. Hiding behind suffixes, expecting them to save the good name and the positive image of one’s set of beliefs merely boil down to a futile effort initiated and promoted by a world obsessed with PC.

Not until Islam gives rise to its own Martin Luther, its own reformist, will there be redemption for its reputation. Only Muslims can save the reputation of Islam.

This article was written jointly with Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University

About the Author
Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks is an English teacher and a pro Israel advocate. She lives in Israel and has recently published her first novel, "On A Wing From The Holy Land." www.bat-zion.name