"Radical Islam?"

By Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi

The condemnable terrorist act in Orlando by a radical Muslim, Omar Mateen, has again caused a debate among politicians and others on whether the term “radical” should be used to identify the religion (Islam) of the terrorist or the Muslim person who has committed the murderous act.

President Barack Obama refuses to use the terms “radical Islam” or even “radical Muslim”. Mr. Donald Trump insists that they are the right terms to use. Secretary Hillary Clinton, who until recently refused to use the terms, now says we may use “radical” or “Jihadist Islam and Muslim” interchangeably. They are partly wrong.

What all these and other political leaders as well as journalists and pundits miss is a clear distinction between Islam, Muslims, and Muslim geographies. Erroneously, these terms are often conflated and used interchangeably, causing confusion about a deeper understanding of these very different phenomena.

Islam is a religion with one Prophet, Muhammad, and one Holy Book, the Qur’an. In its present form, the religion is also the product of its history: subsequent narratives and scholarship as well as the manner of its practice by the rulers and the ruled. This experience has led to diverse Islamic orientations among Muslims in different geographies.

However, the fact should not escape our attention that there is only one original Islam and not many. Thus, it is inaccurate to speak of radical, reformist, Jihadist, or fundamentalist forms of Islam to make reference to the religion. Indeed, these variations do exist except that they are only indirectly rooted in the religion itself.

This brings me to the terms “Muslims” and “Muslim geographies”. While there is one Islam, there are 1.4 billion Muslims, with perhaps millions of perspectives, living in hundreds of diverse Muslim geographies throughout the world. It is this diversity of Muslims and their geographies that has led to those Islamic diversities.

Therefore, while it is inaccurate to speak of radical Islam, it is correct to identify certain Muslims as radical or jihadist. I say “certain,” because, most Muslims or their geographies are non-radical and anti-jihadist. Indeed, a majority of Muslims and Muslim geographies are secular in today’s so-called Islamic World. 

Hooshang Amirahmadi
Professor, Rutgers University


Kayvon Afshari

Kayvon Afshari managed the campaign to elect Hooshang Amirahmadi as President of Iran. In this role, he directed the campaign’s event planning, publicity, online social media, web analytics, and delivered speeches. Mr. Afshari has also been working at the CBS News foreign desk for over five years. He has coordinated coverage of Iran’s 2009 post-election demonstrations, the Arab Spring, the earthquake in Haiti, and many other stories of international significance. He holds a Master in International Relations from New York University’s Department of Politics, and graduated with distinction from McGill University in 2007 with a double major in political science and Middle Eastern studies. At NYU, his research focused on quantitative analysis and the Middle East with an emphasis on US-Iran relations. In his 2012 Master’s thesis, he devised a formula to predict whether Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, concluding that an overt strike would not materialize.