Why Do People Say Muslim Now Instead of Moslem?
by Yii-Ann Christine Chen, Originally published 7-8-02
Ms. Chen was a student at the University of Washington and an intern at HNN when this article was published.
Is it Muslim or Moslem?
When Baby Boomers were children it was Moslem. The American Heritage Dictionary (1992) noted,”Moslem is the form predominantly preferred in journalism and popular usage. Muslim is preferred by scholars and by English-speaking adherents of Islam.” No more. Now, almost everybody uses Muslim.
According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies,”Moslem and Muslim are basically two different spellings for the same word.” But the seemingly arbitrary choice of spellings is a sensitive subject for many followers of Islam. Whereas for most English speakers, the two words are synonymous in meaning, the Arabic roots of the two words are very different.
A Muslim in Arabic means “one who gives himself to God,” and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means”one who is evil and unjust” when the word is pronounced, as it is in English, Mozlem with a z.
For others, this spelling differentiation is merely a linguistic matter, with the two spellings a result of variation in transliteration methods. Both Moslem and Muslim are used as nouns. But some writers use Moslem when the word is employed as an adjective.
Journalists switched to Muslim from Moslem in recent years under pressure from Islamic groups. But the use of the word Moslem has not entirely ceased. Established institutions which used the older form of the name have been reluctant to change. The American Moslem Foundation is still the American Moslem Foundation (much as the NAACP is still the NAACP–the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). The journal The Moslem World–published by the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut–is still The Moslem World.