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(I t is important to distinguish between 'Jihad' and 'Jihadism'
which relates to modern extremist movements such as ISIS.  

The derivation, use and alternative definitions are discussed below)

fromThe Long Search by Ninian Smart’, BBC Books 1991


Islam is nothing without Allah, and its glories mean nothing without him. No religion has so emphasised the majesty and otherness of God. The luminosity of Allah, the amplification of the worship of God as found in the Jewish heritage upon which Islam partly drew, the stunning sense of man's destiny under God - all this symbolises God's creative control over the world and over human history (though Iblis, the Devil, creeps into a few cracks and fissures in the fabric of life). Allah is frighteningly unique, but full of mercy and compassion. It should be a deed of love to follow his will.


As we have noted, the Koran cannot strictly speaking be translated. It stands to Islam like Christ to Christianity, for it is the concrete manifestation of God's word. This doctrine of the untranslatability of the Koran has had a pervasive affect upon Islamic art. Since the Prophet forbade the use of images, particularly of the one true God, and even of men (though not all Islamic art follows this latter rule), the visual genius of Islam has predominantly been channelled into architecture and the arabesque. The latter is the decorative art of the Arabic script, drawing above all on verses from the sacred Koran. The holy book's impact is reinforced by the poetry of the eye. Throughout the Islamic world the delights of the curving and dotted convolutions of the script have been used to decorate mosque and painting. And so even if the Koran contains much law and much doctrine, it does so in a sense of total integration with the delights of language, both spoken and written. God's word must be seen and heard to be beautiful as well as commanding. Those who listen only to the commands of Islam may forget its delights.


But prescribed duties go beyond daily and weekly observances. The faithful Muslim will wish, as we have noted, to go on the haj - the pilgrimage to the geographical centre of the Islamic world, to Mecca. A man who makes the journey gains pious reputation and earthly reputation. In the old days the expense could be great and the journey dangerous. Nowadays things are easier, for cheap charter jumbo jets fly the faithful in to Arabia from Nigeria and Indonesia and even from Chicago. But this very fact means a strengthening of the solidarity of Islam in a world where other forces may be acting against traditional religion. If the trip to Mecca is a sacred journey in space, there is also an annual journey in sacred time, dur­ing the lunar month of Ramadan, when the faithful are forbidden, unless sick or journeying, to eat or drink between dawn and dusk. Perhaps this scarcely counts as part of the delights of Islam? Well, fasting can in a perverse way be enjoyable, and once again the faith lays upon its devotees a strong bond of certainty in com­munal practice.  

At any rate, in these various matters - the creed, daily prayer, fasting, giving alms - Islam is clear about duties. The delight is that you know what to do and how to please Allah. Do such things with sincere intention, and you are acceptable to God. Muslims rather dislike the too easy-going confusions of contemporary Christianity. But what arc we to say about the 'sixth' pillar of Islam, the duty to take part in holy war?


Being faithful to God's law brings the Muslim to Paradise, while faithlessness leads to hell. The Koran paints Paradise in vivid colours. Its language is frank and luscious, and its meaning can easily be mistaken. It is to be taken literally, and yet not so. For there are ways in which the Paradise is an allegory, but there are other ways in which the Muslim must take it as totally real. Some of the flavour of heaven reaches upwards from the Arabian milieu:

The pious will be in a safe place
Amid gardens and fountains.
Clothed in silk and rich robes ...
On inlaid couches.
Reclining on them face to face.
Ever-blooming youths go in among them
Bearing goblets and bowls and cups of flowing wine
From which they get no headaches or loss of sense.
And bearing such fruits as they find most delicious
And the flesh of such birds as they long for.
They shall have the houris, with large dark eyes like pearls enclosed in their shells.
In recompense for past labours,
Ever-virgins.. .

It is notable that though the Koran bans alcohol on earth, on the ground that its disadvantages outweigh its advantages, in heaven its use is a delight, and from it flows no hangover. The frankness of this Paradise is attractive; and so our dreams after a life of toil will be fulfilled by the kindly will of Allah. Muslims were indeed inspired by the picture of heaven to create its mirror image upon earth. The formal gardens of Islamic Spain, the fountains tinkling amid sun-bathed courtyards, the intricacies of Arab gastronomy, the sherbet and the rich fruits, the concubines, the rich couches and cool flowing robes - many an Islamic potentate has striven to create such a scene. Some thus hope to have their rewards in advance of heaven. The dream, though sensuous, is also beautiful, and has its own nobility. Do we take it literally? Indeed, what is strange and moving about the Koran is that it shatters us with the words of an anthropomorphic God, yet tells us he is unknowable in himself: the Koran has a surface grammar and a depth of meaning. So we can take Paradise as we think; but surely it is beautiful and fulfilling.  


Islam is practical and the believer need not be in doubt as to what is needed of him. Of course, external observances are not enough: each duty must be pursued with right intention. Still, the duties are plain. They are the so-called five pillars of Islam - to confess the faith, to pray daily in the prescribed way, to give alms in accordance with a formula, to observe the annual fast and, circumstances permitting, to go on pilgrimage. Consider what the obligation to pray means, if faithfully observed. It involves praying five times daily, at dawn, at noon, in mid-afternoon, at sunset and at the fall of darkness. Thus is Allah kept in daily consciousness. Though men are proud and upright in the brotherhood of Islam, before God they must prostrate themselves. Moreover, they pray in the direction of Mecca, and thus constantly are reminded of the scenes of Muhammad's life and the place where God's action so dynamically entered into human history. The call to prayer in Muslim countries issues most dramatically from the tall minaret, from whose height the haunting call of the muezzin floats. The sound is a noble start to the day. even if now the human muezzin is often replaced by the tawdry electronics of a recorded message. Prayer also has not only its sound but its tapestry, in the weave of the prayer rug. which separates the pious person from the dusty earth or the grubby surrounding floor: it defines a sacred space in the midst of life, and in the divine moments of prayer th els in the windows of dealers in London or New York reflect that the crooked fingers of the Persian rug-makers worked originally for the certainties of the faith, not for the casual footprint of the well-heeled Westerner.  

If prayer is a practical expression of certitude, the first pillar, the recitation of the brief creed, is a reminder of intellectual assent. In its simple resonant form the confession is summed up as La ilaha illah Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah. 'There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger.' It is almost hypnotic in its Arabic form, in the alliteration and interplay of syllables. The simplicity of the faith means that there is no need for an intervening priesthood between the believer and his God. Thus Islam has no body corresponding to the Christian church, beyond the body of those who believe and worship together. In so far as there is communal worship, as distinct from individual devotions, this most typically occurs on a Friday when the adult males gather in the mosque. After their ablutions, meant to purify the body in sacred preparation for prayer, they follow the leader or imam in communal de­votions, again facing towards Mecca. The imam will also preach, expounding points of the faith. In the hinterland of his mind will stand the whole tradition of Islamic scholarship based on the Koran and on the ancillary writings through which doctrine and sacred law are interpreted.  


The outer observances, so clearly laid down, must be accompanied by the right inner intention. There is much in the religion which might at first seem ritualistic and legalistic, but the sacred law is but the outer skin of an inward fruit. The discipline of the Islamic life must be developed in an inward direction. One major way this happened was through the growth of Islamic mysticism - the so-called Sufi move­ment - through which men reached God in the depth of the soul. Shortly we shall trace the history of the Sufis. Thus, though the faith teaches that there should be a divine order upon earth, a new society under God, there is within each individual a possible depth of spiritual knowledge which complements the outer, communal life. It is a paradox of much religion that often the firmness of external rules is a condition for inner freedom.



The literal meaning of Jihad is struggle or effort, and it means much more than holy war.

Muslims use the word Jihad to describe three different kinds of struggle:

Many modern writers claim that the main meaning of Jihad is the internal spiritual struggle, and this is accepted by many Muslims.

However there are so many references to Jihad as a military struggle in Islamic writings that it is incorrect to claim that the interpretation of Jihad as holy war is wrong.


The internal Jihad is the one that Prophet Muhammad is said to have called the greater Jihad.

But the quotation in which the Prophet says this is regarded as coming from an unreliable source by some scholars. They regard the use of Jihad to mean holy war as the more important.


An open Qur'an. Learning the Qur'an by heart is considered engaging in Greater Jihad ©

The phrase internal Jihad or greater Jihad refers to the efforts of a believer to live their Muslim faith as well as possible.

All religious people want to live their lives in the way that will please their God.

So Muslims make a great effort to live as Allah has instructed them; following the rules of the faith, being devoted to Allah, doing everything they can to help other people.

For most people, living God's way is quite a struggle. God sets high standards, and believers have to fight with their own selfish desires to live up to them, no matter how much they love God.


The five Pillars of Islam form an exercise of Jihad in this sense, since a Muslim gets closer to Allah by performing them.

Other ways in which a Muslim engages in the 'greater Jihad' could include:


The Prophet is said to have called the internal Jihad the "greater Jihad".

On his return from a battle, the Prophet said: "We are finished with the lesser jihad; now we are starting the greater jihad." He explained to his followers that fighting against an outer enemy is the lesser jihad and fighting against one's self is the greater jihad (holy war).

This quotation is regarded as unreliable by some scholars. They regard the use of jihad as meaning 'holy war' as the more important.

However the quotation has been very influential among some Muslims, particularly Sufis.


When Muslims, or their faith or territory are under attack, Islam permits (some say directs) the believer to wage military war to protect them.

However Islamic (shariah) law sets very strict rules for the conduct of such a war.

In recent years the most common meaning of Jihad has been Holy War.

And there is a long tradition of Jihad being used to mean a military STRUGGLE to benefit Islam.

What can justify Jihad?

There are a number of reasons, but the Qur'an is clear that self-defence is always the underlying cause.

Permissable reasons for military Jihad:

What a Jihad is not

Although the Prophet engaged in military action on a number of occasions, these were battles to survive, rather than conquest, and took place at a time when fighting between tribes was common.


A military Jihad has to obey very strict rules in order to be legitimate.


The Qur'an has many passages about fighting. Some of them advocate peace, while some are very warlike. The Bible, the Jewish and Christian scripture, shows a similar variety of attitudes to war.

Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities.
Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.      (Qur'an 2:190)

To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and veily, Allah is most powerful for their aid.     (Qur'an 22:39)

Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah Hath opened no way for you (to war against them). (Qur'an 4:90)

But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things).     (Qur'an 8:61)


Islam sets down clear guidelines as to when war is ethically right, and clear guidelines as to how such a war should be conducted.

In brief, war is permitted:

War should be conducted:

Muslims must only wage war according to the principles of Allah's justice.

Those who believe fight in the way of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the way of the Shaitan.    (Qur'an 4:76)

Islam allows war in self-defence (Qur'an 22:39), to defend Islam (rather than to spread it), to protect those who have been removed from their homes by force because they are Muslims (Qur'an 22:40), and to protect the innocent who are being oppressed (Qur'an 4:75).

But some Muslim thinkers in the past, and some more radical Muslim thinkers today, take a different view. They say that other verses in the Qur'an, the so-called 'sword verses', have "abrogated" (revoked or anulled) the verses that permit warfare only in defence. They used these 'sword verses' to justify war against unbelievers as a tool of spreading Islam (Qur'an 9:5, 9:29).

Others take this further and regard non-Muslims, and Muslims who don't conform rigorously to the Islamic code, as non-believers and thus as "enemies of God" against whom it is legitimate to use violence.

But the idea of a total and unrestricted conflict is completely unIslamic.

Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.   (Qur'an 2:190)

Islam is in favour of peace and against violence. Murdering the innocent leads to punishment in Hell:

If anyone killed a person - unless it was for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed the whole people   Qur'an 5:32


The Qur'an emphasises that war should be fought only for noble motives without seeking any earthly reward:

Those who readily fight in the cause of God are those who forsake this world in favor of the Hereafter. Whoever fights in the cause of God, then gets killed, or attains victory, we will surely grant him a great recompense.   Qur'an 4:74


Islam bans the killing of non-combatants (Qur'an 2:190, above), or of a combatant who has been captured.

Muslims are forbidden from attacking wounded soldiers (unless the wounded person is still fighting).

The Prophet's view of non-combatants is shown by a hadith in which Muhammad sees a woman killed in the battlefield and condemns the action.

When an enemy is defeated he should be made prisoner rather than be killed:

So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates. (Qur'an 47:4

Abu Bakr (the First Caliph) gave these rules to an army he was sending to battle:

Abu Bakr

A noble example of ideal Muslim conduct of war is the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187. Although a number of holy Muslim places had been violated by Christians, Saladin prohibited acts of vengeance, and his army was so disciplined that there were no deaths or violence after the city surrendered. The residents were taken prisoner, but their ransom was set at a token amount.


Jihadism (also jihadist movement, jihadi movement and variants) is a 21st-century neologism found in the Western languages to describe Islamist militant movements perceived as a military movement "rooted in Islam" and "existentially threatening" to the West. It has been described as a "difficult term to define precisely", because it remains a recent neologism with no single, generally accepted meaning. The term "jihadism" first appeared in South Asian media and was adopted by Western journalists in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.It has since been applied to various insurgent and terrorist movements whose ideology is based on the notion of jihad. Contemporary jihadism ultimately has its roots in the late 19th- and early 20th-century ideological developments of Islamic revivalism, developed into Qutbism and related ideologies during the mid 20th century.

The terrorist organizations partaking in the Soviet–Afghan War of 1979 reinforced the rise of jihadism, which has been propagated in various armed conflicts throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Gilles Kepel has diagnosed a specifically Salafi jihadism within the Salafi movement of the 1990s.

Jihadism with an international, Pan-Islamist scope in this sense is also known as global jihadism. "Jihadism" is usually defined as Sunni Islamist armed struggle, and fighters often target Shia Islam, as well as Sufism and Ahmadiyya.

The term "jihadism" has been in use since the 1990s more widely after 9/11 attacks.It was first used in the Indian and Pakistani media, and by French academics who used the more exact term "jihadist-Salafist".[Note 1]

According to Martin Kramer as of 2003, "jihadism is used to refer to the most violent persons and movements in contemporary Islam, including al-Qaeda." David Romano has defined his use of the term as referring to "an individual or political movement that primarily focuses its attention, discourse, and activities on the conduct of a violent, uncompromising campaign that they term a jihad". Following Daniel Kimmage, he distinguishes the jihadist discourse of jihad as a global project to remake the world from the resistance discourse of groups like Hizbullah, which is framed as a regional project against a specific enemy

Most Muslims do not use the term disliking the association of illegitimate violence with a noble religious concept and preferring the use delegitimising terms like "deviants".[Note 2]

The term "Jihadist Globalism" is also often used in relation to Jihadism. Academic Manfred Steger proposes an extension of the term "Jihadist Globalism" to apply to all extremely violent strains of religiously influenced ideologies that articulate the global imaginary into concrete political agendas and terrorist strategies (these include Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, Hamas and Hezbollah, which he finds "today's most spectacular manifestation of religious globalism").

"Jihad Cool" is a term used by Western security experts[ concerning the re-branding of militant Jihadism into something fashionable, or "cool", to younger people through social media, magazines, rap videos, clothing, toys, propaganda videos, and other means. It is a sub-culture mainly applied to individuals in developed nations who are recruited to travel to conflict zones on Jihad. For example, Jihadi rap videos make participants look "more MTV than Mosque", according to NPR, which was the first to report on the phenomenon in 2010.


Praying Muhjahideen in Kunar Province, Afghanistan (1987).

Islamic revivalism and Salafism (1990s to present)

Main article: Salafi jihadism

A black flag reportedly used by Caucasian jihadists in 2002 displays the phrase al-jihad fi sabilillah above the takbir and two crossed swords.

Flag of ISIL/ISIS/IS/Daesh

According to scholar of Islam and Islamic history Rudoph Peters, contemporary Traditionalist Muslims "copy phrases of the classical works on fiqh" in their writings on jihad; Islamic Modernists "emphasize the defensive aspect of jihad, regarding it as tantamount to bellum justum in modern international law; and the contemporary fundamentalists (Abul Ala Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, etc.) view it as a struggle for the expansion of Islam and the realization of Islamic ideals."

Jihad has been propagated in modern fundamentalism beginning in the late 19th century, an ideology that arose in context of struggles against colonial powers in North Africa in the late 19th century, as in the Mahdist War in Sudan, and notably in the mid-20th century by Islamic revivalist authors such as Sayyid Qutb and Abul Ala Maududi.

The term jihadism (earlier Salafi jihadism) has arisen in the 2000s to refer to the contemporary jihadi movements, the development of which was in retrospect traced to developments of Salafism paired with the origins of Al-Qaeda in the Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1990s.

Jihadism has been called an "offshoot" of Islamic revivalism of the 1960s and 1970s. The writings of Sayyid Qutb and Muhammad abd-al-Salam Faraj provide inspiration. The Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989) is said to have "amplified the jihadist tendency from a fringe phenomenon to a major force in the Muslim world." It served to produce foot soldiers, leadership and organization. Abdullah Yusuf Azzam provided propaganda for the Afghan cause. After the war veteran jihadists returned to their home countries and dispersed to other sites of conflicts involving Muslim populations such as Algeria, Bosnia and Chechnya creating a "transnational jihadist stream."

An explanation for jihadist willingness to kill civilians and self-professed Muslims on the grounds that they were actually apostates (takfir) is the vastly reduced influence of the traditional diverse class of ulama, often highly educated Islamic jurists. In "the vast majority" of Muslim countries during the post-colonial world of the 1950s and 60s the private religious endowments (awqaf) that had supported the independence of the Islamic scholars/jurists for centuries were taken over by the state. The jurists were made salaried employees and the nationalist rulers naturally encouraged their employees (and their employees interpretations of Islam) to serve the rulers' interests. Inevitably the jurists came to be seen by the Muslim public as doing so.

Into this vacuum of religious authority came aggressive proselytizing funded by $10s of billions of petroleum-export money.The version of Islam being propagated (Saudi doctrine of Wahhabism) billed itself as a return to pristine, simple, straightforward Islam, not one school among many, and not interpreting divine law historically or contextually, but the one, orthodox "straight path" of Islam. Unlike the traditional teachings of the jurists who tolerated and even celebrated divergent opinions and schools of thought and kept extremism marginalized, Wahhabism had "extreme hostility" to "any sectarian divisions within Islam".


The term jihadist is almost exclusively used to describe Sunni extremists, (One who does use the term "Shia jihad" is Danny Postel, who complains that "this Shia jihad is largely left out of the dominant narrative." In Syria, where there are thousands of foreign Muslim fighters engaged in the civil war, for example, non-Syrian Shia are often referred to as "militia", and Sunni foreigners as "jihadists" (or "would-be jihadists").[Note 3][Note 4]


According to Shadi Hamid and Rashid Dar, Jihadism is driven by the idea that jihad is an "individual obligation" (fard ‘ayn) incumbent upon all Muslims. This is in contrast with the belief of Muslims up until now (and by contemporary non-Jihadists) that jihad is a "collective obligation" (fard kifaya) carried out according to orders of legitimate representatives of the Muslim community. Jihadist insist all Muslims should participate because (they believe) today's Muslim leaders are illegitimate and do not command the authority to ordain justified violence.


President Reagan meeting with Afghan Mujahideen leaders in the Oval Office in 1983


Further information: Anti-Judaism

Ayman al-Zawahiri declared a fatwa of jihad against Jews in 1998.[citation needed]


Further information: Discrimination against atheists

During the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, many Muslims received calls for a jihad against atheists. Mujahideen were recruited from various countries including Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.[ The conflict gradually turned from one against occupation to one seen as a jihad.


The Syrian Civil War became a focus for Sunni fighters waging jihad on Shia. The al-Nusra Front is the largest jihadist group in Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has called for jihad against the Syrian government and against that government's Shi'ite allies. Saudi Arabia backs the jihad against the Shia in Syria using proxies. Sunni jihadi converge in Syria from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Bosnia, other Arab states, Chechnya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Western countries.


  1. Gilles Kepel used the variants jihadist-salafist (p. 220), jihadism-salafism (p. 276), salafist-jihadism (p. 403) in his book Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2002)
  2. Use of "Jihadism" has been criticized by at least one academic (Brachman): "'Jihadism' is a clumsy and controversial term. It refers to the peripheral current of extremist Islamic thought whose adherents demand the use of violence in order to oust non-Islamic influence from traditionally Muslim lands en route to establishing true Islamic governance in accordance with Sharia, or God's law. The expression's most significant limitation is that it contains the word Jihad, which is an important religious concept in Islam. For much of the Islamic world, Jihad simply refers to the internal spiritual campaign that one wages with oneself."
  3. For example: "The battle has drawn Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan on the side of Assad, even as Sunni would-be jihadists from around the world have filled the ranks of the many Islamist groups fighting his rule, including the Islamic State extremist group."
  4. The Iranian government has drawn from Afghan refugees living in Iran and the number of Afghans fighting in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime has been estimated at "between 10,000 and 12,000".






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