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A lot has been said regarding Islamism and Islam, with some unsure of the distinction between the two, while others stress the importance of understanding the difference between the religion and the ideology. Many individuals have taken it upon themselves to educate the masses regarding the difference, including Fiyaz Mughal (OBE), the founder and director of Faith Matters and writer of the book Leaving Faith Behind. Through Faith Matters, Mr. Mughal has created a platform for people of different faiths in the UK to interact.

The history of Islam, much like any faith, has been shaped by the world around it. Islam adapted to audiences in the Arabian Peninsula to fit local cultures and customs, ensuring it spread across the Middle East and to other continents. Like other religions, Islam has come to be moulded by its environment.

Understanding the difference between Islamism and Islam is something that many struggle with. Conventional Muslim scholars don’t like the term Islamism, arguing that Islam should not be blamed for the ills of what people do and that it is not political. Critics, on the other hand, consider Muslims as Islamists and Islam as Islamism and hence political. Scholars who have studied the issue point out that Islam should be seen as a religion like any other. However, when some Muslim groups want to impose various (and often controversial) aspects of their interpretation of religion over others, the religion and its implementation takes a turn towards becoming an ideology known as Islamism.


How Islamism differs from the religion of Islam is that it demands individuals to promote the politicisation of the faith into vestages and structures of the State. It moves the religion from the person and spiritual, into the public and with the full implementation of Sharia Law. This means embedding religious law directly into the structures of the State and thereby fusing religious and state structures. To ensure the ‘purity’ of Islam, much of this narrative also means trying to delineate Muslims from non-Muslims and creating barriers so that mixing is reduced. In many countries, Islamism, when fused with State structures, has become autocratic and supremacist. Islamism also often attaches a deep antagonism towards those who are not Muslims and is hostile towards Western trends.

Islamism therefore takes various parts of Islam that deal with economics, politics and the military and turns them into an ideology that attempts to control the human being, society and ultimately the state. In doing so, Islamism differs hugely from conventional Islam. Whereas the religion is personal and is something an individual can abide by wherever they are, Islamism therefore tries to apply the faith in a territorial way, so that everyone in a certain region abides by Islamic law regardless of their personal faith or belief system.

In the modern world, Islamism has grown to become powerful. Governments in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran abide by it, and it is an aspect of opposition in others such as Egypt and Lebanon. Islamists are also present in the Western world, and while they may be the minority, their impact is felt by many more.

Practising Faith

In his book Leaving Faith Behind, Fiyaz Mughal (OBE) points out that Muslims in the UK have a conducive society that accommodates the religion. The ability to accommodate different belief systems is a unique aspect of the country’s culture, one that allows people to worship if they follow the law and don’t break it. However, this personal freedom is something that does not include the right to enforce one’s religious beliefs on another, something that drives the Islamism movement.

Mr. Mughal’s interaction with those who have left Islam shows that some people have been unable to reconcile the values and views they’ve seen in domestic settings with those in the modern world. Issues such as women’s rights, how to deal with minorities, the use of force and how to deal with people who reject faith are all things touched upon within Islam. However, the perceived lack of Islamic religious leaders to tackle these discussions within the context of Western society in a way that appeals to every generation has meant the emergence of a gulf in understanding these issues.