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Jihadism (also known as jihadist movement, jihadi movement, and variants) is a 21st-century neologism found in Western languages to describe militant Islamic movements perceived as "existentially threatening" to the West and "rooted in political Islam". 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; Western journalists adopted it in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks of 2001. It has since been applied to various insurgent and terrorist movements whose ideology is based on the Islamic notion of jihad.
Contemporary jihadism ultimately has its roots in the late 19th- and early 20th-century ideological developments of Islamic revivalism, which developed into Qutbism and related ideologies during the mid-20th century.
The terrorist organisations partaking in the Soviet–Afghan War of 1979 to 1989 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 is also known as global jihadism. Studies show that with the rise of ISIL, many Muslims from Western countries like Albania, Australia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States traveled to join the global jihad in Syria and Iraq.
The term "jihadism" has been in use since the 1990s, more widely in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. It was first used by the Indian and Pakistani mass 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 Hezbollah, which is framed as a regional project against a specific enemy.
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 consumer culture, social media, magazines, rap videos, 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.
Maajid Nawaz, founder and chairman of the anti-extremism think tank Quilliam, defines Jihadism as a violent subset of Islamism: "Islamism [is] the desire to impose any version of Islam over any society. Jihadism is the attempt to do so by force."
Islamic revivalism and Salafism (1990s to present)
According to Rudolph Peters, scholar of Islamic studies and history of Islam, 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 the 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–Afghan War during the 1990s.
Jihadism has been called an "offshoot" of Islamic revivalism of the 1960s and 1970s. The writings of Sayyid Qutb and Mohammed Abdul-Salam Farag provide inspiration. The Soviet–Afghan War (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."
- Kashmir conflict (Lashkar-e-Taiba, 1990–present)
- Somali Civil War (1991–present)
- Algerian Civil War (1991-2002)
- Bosnian war (Bosnian mujahideen, 1992–1995)
- Afghan civil war (Taliban 1994–present)
- East Turkestan irredentism (East Turkestan Islamic Movement, 1997–present)
- Chechen war and Insurgency in the North Caucasus (Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya, 1994–2017)
- Nigerian Sharia conflict (Boko Haram 2001–present)
- Iraqi insurgency (Islamic State of Iraq, 2003–present)
- Al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen (Abyan Governorate, 2010–present)
- Syrian Civil War (Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant 2011–present)
- Syrian Civil War (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant 2013–present)
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 1960s, the private religious endowments (awqaf) that had supported the independence of Islamic scholars and 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 tens of billions of dollars of petroleum-export money from Saudi Arabia. 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 Islamic 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. 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] 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." Other authors see the ideology of "resistance" (Arabic: muqawama) as more dominant even among extremist Shia groups. Therefore, and for the disambiguation, they suggest to use the term "muqawamist" instead.
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 al-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.
Evolution of jihad
Some observers have noted the evolution in the rules of jihad—from the original "classical" doctrine to that of 21st-century Salafi jihadism. According to the legal historian Sadarat Kadri, during the last couple of centuries, incremental changes in Islamic legal doctrine (developed by Islamists who otherwise condemn any bid‘ah (innovation) in religion), have "normalized" what was once "unthinkable". "The very idea that Muslims might blow themselves up for God was unheard of before 1983, and it was not until the early 1990s that anyone anywhere had tried to justify killing innocent Muslims who were not on a battlefield."
The first or the "classical" doctrine of jihad which was developed towards the end of the 8th century, emphasized the "jihad of the sword" (jihad bil-saif) rather than the "jihad of the heart", but it contained many legal restrictions which were developed from interpretations of both the Quran and the Hadith, such as detailed rules involving "the initiation, the conduct, the termination" of jihad, the treatment of prisoners, the distribution of booty, etc. Unless there was a sudden attack on the Muslim community, jihad was not a "personal obligation" (fard ‘ayn); instead it was a "collective one" (fard al-kifaya), which had to be discharged "in the way of God" (fi sabil Allah), and it could only be directed by the caliph, "whose discretion over its conduct was all but absolute." (This was designed in part to avoid incidents like the Kharijia's jihad against and killing of Caliph Ali, since they deemed that he was no longer a Muslim). Martyrdom resulting from an attack on the enemy with no concern for your own safety was praiseworthy, but dying by your own hand (as opposed to the enemy's) merited a special place in Hell. The category of jihad which is considered to be a collective obligation is sometimes simplified as "offensive jihad" in Western texts.
Based on the 20th-century interpretations of Abul Ala Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Ruhollah Khomeini, al-Qaeda and others, many if not all of those self-proclaimed jihad fighters believe that defensive global jihad is a personal obligation, which means that no caliph or Muslim head of state needs to declare it. Killing yourself in the process of killing the enemy is an act of martyrdom and it brings you a special place in Heaven, not a special place in Hell; and the killing of Muslim bystanders (nevermind Non-Muslims), should not impede acts of jihad. Military and intelligent analyst Sebastian Gorka described the new interpretation of jihad as the "willful targeting of civilians by a non-state actor through unconventional means." Al-Qaeda's splinter groups and competitors, Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, are thought to have been heavily influenced by a 2004 work on jihad entitled Management of Savagery (Idarat at-Tawahhush), written by Abu Bakr Naji and intended to provide a strategy to create a new Islamic caliphate by first destroying "vital economic and strategic targets" and terrifying the enemy with cruelty to break its will.
Islamic theologian Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir has been identified as one of the key theorists and ideologues behind modern jihadist violence. His theological and legal justifications influenced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda member and former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, as well as several other jihadi terrorist groups, including ISIL and Boko Haram. Zarqawi used a 579-page manuscript of al-Muhajir's ideas at AQI training camps that were later deployed by ISIL, known in Arabic as Fiqh al-Dima and referred to in English as The Jurisprudence of Jihad or The Jurisprudence of Blood. The book has been described by counter-terrorism scholar Orwa Ajjoub as rationalizing and justifying "suicide operations, the mutilation of corpses, beheading, and the killing of children and non-combatants". The Guardian's journalist Mark Towsend, citing Salah al-Ansari of Quilliam, notes: "There is a startling lack of study and concern regarding this abhorrent and dangerous text [The Jurisprudence of Blood] in almost all Western and Arab scholarship". Charlie Winter of The Atlantic describes it as a "theological playbook used to justify the group's abhorrent acts". He states:
Ranging from ruminations on the merits of beheading, torturing, or burning prisoners to thoughts on assassination, siege warfare, and the use of biological weapons, Muhajir’s intellectual legacy is a crucial component of the literary corpus of ISIS—and, indeed, whatever comes after it—a way to render practically anything permissible, provided, that is, it can be spun as beneficial to the jihad. [...] According to Muhajir, committing suicide to kill people is not only a theologically sound act, but a commendable one, too, something to be cherished and celebrated regardless of its outcome. [...] neither Zarqawi nor his inheritors have looked back, liberally using Muhajir’s work to normalize the use of suicide tactics in the time since, such that they have become the single most important military and terrorist method—defensive or offensive—used by ISIS today. The way that Muhajir theorized it was simple—he offered up a theological fix that allows any who desire it to sidestep the Koranic injunctions against suicide.
Clinical psychologist Chris E. Stout also discusses the al Muhajir-inspired text in his essay, Terrorism, Political Violence, and Extremism (2017). He assesses that jihadists regard their actions as being "for the greater good"; that they are in a "weakened in the earth" situation that renders Islamic terrorism a valid means of solution.
Against Shia Muslims
The Syrian Civil War became a focus for Sunni fighters waging jihad on Shia Muslims. 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, as well as other Arab states with Chechnya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Western countries.
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.
- Jihadist flag
- Caucasus Emirate, a self-declared proto-state in Russia's North Caucasus
- Defensive jihad
- Dominion theology
- International propagation of Salafism and Wahhabism
- Islam and war
- Islamic fundamentalism
- Islamic terrorism
- List of Islamist terrorist attacks
- 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)
- 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."
- 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."
- 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".
- Compare: Firestone, Reuven (2012). ""Jihadism" as a new religious movement". In Hammer, Olav; Rothstein, Mikael (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 263–285. doi:10.1017/CCOL9780521196505.018. ISBN 978-0-521-19650-5. LCCN 2012015440. S2CID 156374198.
'Jihadism' is a term that has been constructed in Western languages to describe militant Islamic movements that are perceived as existentially threatening to the West. Western media have tended to refer to Jihadism as a military movement rooted in political Islam. [...] 'Jihadism,' like the word jihad out of which it is constructed, is a difficult term to define precisely. The meaning of Jihadism is a virtual moving target because it remains a recent neologism and no single, generally accepted meaning has been developed for it.
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Well before the full emergence of Islamism in the 1970s, a growing constituency nicknamed 'petro-Islam' included Wahhabi ulemas and Islamist intellectuals and promoted strict implementation of the sharia in the political, moral and cultural spheres; this proto-movement had few social concerns and even fewer revolutionary ones.
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The guardians of the Islamic tradition were the jurists.
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[Unlike the five pillars of Islam, jihad was to be enforced by the state.] ... 'unless the Muslim community is subjected to a sudden attack and therefore all believers, including women and children are under the obligation to fight—[jihad of the sword] is regarded by all jurists, with almost no exception, as a collective obligation of the whole Muslim community,' meaning that 'if the duty is fulfilled by a part of the community it ceases to be obligatory on others'.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jihad.|
- Zahid, Farhan (8 January 2020). "Jihadism in South Asia: A militant landscape in flux". www.mei.edu. Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute. Retrieved 7 September 2020.