Islam-“ism”, Islam-“ist”, and Islam: A Note on Their Historical Usage, Absent Stultifying Political Correctness


John Quincy Adams, an Islam-“ist” who knew Islam-“ism”

In 19th century parlance, Islamism and Islam were synonymous, and meant to be equivalent to “Catholicism,” “Protestantism,” and “Judaism,” NOT “radical,” or “fundamentalist” sects of ANY of these religions. 

For example, John Quincy Adams in “Unsigned essays dealing with the Russo-Turkish War, and on Greece, written while JQA was in retirement, before his election to Congress in 1830” [Chapters X-XIV (pp. 267-402) in The American Annual Register for 1827-28-29. New York, 1830.], wrote: 

 “[More from the Ottoman Sultan’s pronouncement to his subjects]…‘all infidels are but one nation…This war must be considered purely a religious and national war.  Let all the faithful, rich or poor, great or little, know, that to fight is a duty with us; let them then refrain from thinking of arrears, or of pay of any kind; far from such considerations, let us sacrifice our property and our persons; let us execute zealously the duties which the honor of Islamism imposes on us – let us unite our efforts, and labor, body and soul, for the support of religion, until the day of judgment.  Mussulmen have no other means of working out salvation in this world and the next.’”   

Sir Henry Layard, the British archeologist, writer, and diplomat (including postings in Turkey), described this abhorrent spectacle which he witnessed in the heart of Istanbul, during the autumn of 1843, four years after the first failed iteration of the Tanzimat reforms: 

An Armenian who had embraced Islamism [i.e., again, common 19th century usage for Islam] had returned to his former faith. For his apostasy he was condemned to death according to the Mohammedan law. His execution took place, accompanied by details of studied insult and indignity directed against Christianity and Europeans in general. The corpse was exposed in one of the most public and frequented places in Stamboul, and the head, which had been severed from the body, was placed upon it, covered by a European hat. [from, Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia, London, 1887, pp. 454-55.]  

And as recently as 1955, in the esteemed scholarly collection edited by Gustave E. von Grunebaum, Unity and Variety in Muslim Civilization, Chicago, 1955, Dr. Duchesne-Guillemin, (p.5) referred to experts in the study of Islam—not experts in the study of “radical Islam,” let alone practitioners of so-called “radical Islam,” as “Islamists.” 

Thus both “Islam-ism,” and “Islam-ist,” have both previously been used—with complete, unfettered intellectual honesty not beholden to political correctness—in the former case, as synonymous with “Islam,” (not “radical Islam”), or in the case of the latter, to describe one who studies Islam (again, not “radical Islam.”)

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