ISPU Style Guide

Name: Institute for Social Policy and Understanding 

  • Whenever possible, italicize the "for" and "and" in the full name. 
  • If referenced in the middle of a sentence do not capitalize "The Institute"
  • Please use the acronym ISPU, not "The ISPU."
  • Pronunciation: Speak all four letters in a row, I–S–P–U (e.g. eye-ess-pee-you). It is incorrect to say "iz-poo"

Scope of Research: ISPU’s research interests are in issues impacting Americans who happen to be Muslim, not the study of Islam itself.

American Muslims: ISPU uses "American Muslims" not "Muslim American."

Pronunciation of Muslims and Islam. Pay particular care to the pronunciation of words like Muslim (Muhs-lehm), Islam (Ih-slam), and Islamophobia Islam (Ihs-lam-oh-foh-beah). All three words should be pronounced with a soft “s” (like Sam), not a “z” sound.

  1. Example 1 of the correct pronunciation of Muslim (Watch video at 0:42) 
  2. Example 2 of the correct pronunciation of Muslim (Watch video at 0:46
  3. Example 1 of the correct pronunciation of Islam (Watch video at 0:37)


  • When representing groups visually, use what ISPU knows about the demographics and diversity of Muslims in America to accurately depict them as the incredibly ethnically and racially diverse faith group that they are. 
  • American Muslims should not be depicted in “traditional” or “religious” garb (unless it makes sense for the topic matter, like depicting religious leaders). Rather, they should be shown in everyday clothing that fits the context and the requirements for hijab. 
  • ISPU's data shows 50% of Muslim women wear hijab, so images should represent Muslim women both in and not in hijab. Hijab should be depicted as a headscarf, long pants or long skirts/dresses, and full sleeves.

Problematic vs. Preferred Language

The problematic words we highlight have been politicized and misrepresented, and are often used as slurs. Our preferred language suggestions are neutral, clear, informative alternatives to commonly misused words.

Islamist (ism). According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this term refers specifically to “a popular reform movement advocating the reordering of government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.” The majority of these movements are nonviolent and shouldn’t be lumped together with those claiming Islam sanctions their violence.

There is no causal relationship between religious adherence and violence. Media never lumps the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ku Klux Klan together as “Christianist terrorists,” even though both claim to act in the name of Biblical teachings. Instead, media simply uses the group name. Do the same for all groups.
Jihad. Literally, the word “jihad” means “struggle” and most often refers to the inner struggle against one’s own evil impulses, such as greed, anger, and malice. According to Muslim theologians, armed jihad is a heavily regulated military engagement where non-combatants, livestock, and even trees cannot be harmed. Individuals who commit ideologically motivated violence and claim their actions are sanctioned by Islam should not be referred to as engaging in “jihad,” nor should they be called “jihadis” or “jihadists.” Use fact-based language to describe groups and events. Use the same standards in all coverage of ideologically motivated violence in your newsroom.
Islamic State. The group that refers to itself as “The Islamic State,” known also as ISIS/ISIL, has been denounced by nearly every major cleric of Islam as un-Islamic. ISPU's recommends using Daesh, which is the acronym of ISIL in Arabic, just as we say Hamas, which is the acronym for a longer Arabic name for the group. Current AP style guidance doesn’t use “The Base” for Al-Qaeda. Similarly, we shouldn’t translate other words. In all instances possible, use accurate, unloaded terms. The alternatives are ISIS/ISIL.

Commonly Used Terms 

The diversity of Muslim communities results in a diverse array of terminology. Here are some commonly used terms:

  • Alhamdulillah: Thank God 
  • Aqeedah: Religious creed 
  • Eid: A Muslim holiday 
  • Eid Al-Fitr: Holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting 
  • Fard: An Islamic term that denotes a religious duty commanded by God 
  • Fiqh: Islamic jurisprudence 
  • Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca 
  • Hadith: Traditions containing sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Quran 
  • Iftar: A meal eaten by Muslims breaking their fast after sunset during the month of Ramadan 
  • Imam: A Muslim prayer leader; can also mean congregation leaders that fulfill organizational and pastoral needs of a mosque 
  • Inshallah: God willing 
  • Juma’ah: Friday noon prayer 
  • Khutbah: Sermon given during the Friday noon prayer 
  • Masjid: A Muslim place of worship 
  • Mosque: A Muslim place of worship 
  • PBUH: Peace Be Upon Him: a prayer said by Muslims after the Prophet’s name out of reverence 
  • Quran: Central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God 
  • Ramadan: Month of fasting, when the Quran was first revealed 
  • Salaam: Greeting of peace 
  • Salah: A prayer; usually referring to the five daily prayers required of all Muslims as one of the pillars of Islam 
  • Shahadah: The testimony of faith (There is no deity but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God) 
  • Sheikh: A religious leader 
  • Sunnah: The “path” or “example” of the Prophet Muhammad 
  • Tafseer: The Arabic word for Quranic exegesis or interpretation