Archive for the ‘Doctrine – Jihad’ Category

Terrorists: Just the Tip of the Jihadi Iceberg

Posted By Brian Fairchild On December 15, 2010

Pajamas Media

Counter terrorism officials in the United States, and the West in general, have not yet understood that there is a political, non-combatant wing of the global Salafi-jihad movement. It acts as an international production line, routinely manufacturing thousands of Muslims with a Salafi religious orientation, a Salafi worldview, and the belief that they are part of an international movement designed to reform the world community of Muslims, bringing them back to what they consider “true” Islam, and bringing Islam back to global leadership.

While the majority of the members of this movement do not commit acts of violence, they totally support the combatant wing of the movement. They make their own contributions to its success by proselytizing, preaching, and fundraising; forming new front organizations; and creating centers of jihad support in schools, mosques, and Islamic centers.

It is out of this movement that the activists, committed long-term jihadis, and lone wolf attackers emerge. Unless we alter our approach to include aggressive investigations of the movement’s political organizations and elements, homegrown terrorists will continue to be radicalized and inspired to violence, and come to the attention of the authorities only after they have committed their crimes. Consider the cases of individuals such as Adam Gadahn (al-Qaeda spokesman Azzam al Amriki), Anwar al Awlaki (the 9/11 imam), John Walker Lindh (the American Taliban), Major Nidal Hassan (Ft. Hood massacre), and Faisal Shahzad (the Times Square bomber).

Our self-imposed limitations are all the more surprising because bin Laden’s deputy himself has told the world on numerous occasions, over at least five years, that much of al-Qaeda’s activity has nothing to do with carrying out specific jihad attacks.

  • In his book Knights under the Prophet’s Banner, published in December 2001, Ayman al Zawahiri plainly stated:

    The jihad movement must dedicate one of its wings to work with the masses, preach, provide services for the Muslim people and share their concerns through all available avenues for charity and educational work. We must not leave a single area unoccupied. We must win the people’s confidence, respect, and affection. The people will not love us unless they felt that we love them, care about them and are ready to defend them.

  • Three years later, in an al-Qaeda communiqué entitled The Freeing of Humanity and the Homelands, which appeared on March 10, 2005, Zawahiri specified exactly the kind of non-combatant help it needed. He stated that in order to educate the Ummah, showing the world’s Muslims the dangers facing them, and inciting them to resist, al-Qaeda needs the active assistance of honest propagators, intellectuals, teachers, journalists, trade union men, and tribal elders.
  • Again, a year and a half later, in an al-Qaeda communiqué entitled Between Islam and Disbelief, published on December 21, 2006, Zawhiri directed students, missionaries, and professionals to conduct specific non-jihad tasks, such as making mosques, universities, colleges and high schools centers for jihad support; converting for the jihad; facilitating recruitment and fundraising; spreading the ideology; identifying jihad targets, providing intelligence, and disseminating propaganda; carrying out acts of civil disobedience such as strikes, demonstrations, and sit-ins; refusing to pay taxes; preventing cooperation with security forces; and boycotting U.S. and Israeli products.

It is not surprising that al-Qaeda expends so much energy on non-jihad activity. The concept has been part of Islamist ideology since the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. Islamism’s three most revered ideologues have espoused it — Hassan al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; Sayyid Abd ala Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat i Islami (the equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Southwest Asia); and Sayyid Qutb himself.

As Maududi wrote in the 1940s:

In the jihad in the way of Allah, active combat is not always the role on the battlefield, nor can everyone fight in the front line. Just for one single battle preparations have often to be made for decades on end and the plans deeply laid, and while only some thousands fight in the front line there are behind them millions engaged in various tasks which, though small themselves, contribute directly to the supreme effort.

In the United States, the non-combatants that Zawahiri and Maududi describe as being so important to the movement will not be found by investigating small, violent jihad cells. In fact, many of these individuals will most likely never commit a violent act, but they will vigorously and enthusiastically convert, train, and support those who do.

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Douglas E. Streusand is the author of The Formation of the Mughal Empire (Oxford University Press, 1989) and The Islamic Gunpowder Empires in World History (Westview Press, forthcoming).

Jihad, routinely translated as “holy war,” often makes headlines. For example, Yasir Arafat’s May 1994 call in Johannesburg for a “jihad to liberate Jerusalem”1 was a turning point in the peace process; Israelis heard him speak about using violence to gain political ends and questioned his peaceable intentions. Both Arafat himself2 and his aides3 then clarified that he was speaking about a “peaceful jihad” for Jerusalem.

This incident points to the problem with the word jihad: what exactly does it mean? Two examples from leading American Muslim organizations, both fundamentalist, show the extent of disagreement this issue inspires. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group, flatly states that jihad “does not mean ‘holy war.’” Rather, it refers to “a central and broad Islamic concept that includes the struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense . . . or fighting against tyranny or oppression.” CAIR even asserts that Islam knows no such concept as “holy war.”4 In abrupt contrast, the Muslim Students Association recently distributed an item with a Kashmir dateline, “Diary of a Mujahid.” The editor of this document understands jihad very much to mean armed conflict:

While we dream of jihad and some deny it, while others explain it away, and yet others frown on it to hide their own weakness and reluctance towards it, here is a snapshot from the diary of a mujahid who had fulfilled his dream to be on the battlefield.5

Does jihad mean a form of moral self-improvement or war in accord with Islamic precepts? There is no simple answer to this question, for Muslims for at least a millennium have disagreed about the meaning of jihad. But there is an answer.


Jihad is a verbal noun with the literal meaning of “striving” or “determined effort.” The active participle mujahid means “someone who strives” or “a participant in jihad.”

The term jihad in many contexts means “fighting” (though there are other words in Arabic that more unambiguously refer to the act of making war, such as qital or harb). In the Qur’an and in later Muslim usage, jihad is commonly followed by the expression fi sabil Illah, “in the path of God.”6 The description of warfare against the enemies of the Muslim community as jihad fi sabil Illah sacralized an activity that otherwise might have appeared as no more than the tribal warfare endemic in pre-Islamic Arabia.

After the Qur’an, the hadith (reports on the sayings and acts of the prophet) is the second most important source of Islamic law (Shari’a). In hadith collections, jihad means armed action; for example, the 199 references to jihad in the most standard collection of hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, all assume that jihad means warfare.7 More broadly, Bernard Lewis finds that “the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists [i.e., specialists in the hadith] . . . understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense.”8

These figures formed one distinct interpretation of jihad as war and Ibn Taymiya and his followers formed another. For the jurists, jihad fits a context of the world divided into Muslim and non-Muslim zones, Dar al-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (Abode of War) respectively. This model implies perpetual warfare between Muslims and non-Muslims until the territory under Muslim control absorbs what is not, an attitude that perhaps reflects the optimism that resulted from the quick and far-reaching Arab conquests. Extending Dar al-Islam does not mean the annihilation of all non-Muslims, however, nor even their necessary conversion. Indeed, jihad cannot imply conversion by force, for the Qur’an (2:256) specifically states “there is no compulsion in religion.” Jihad has an explicitly political aim: the establishment of Muslim rule, which in turn has two benefits: it articulates Islam’s supersession of other faiths and creates the opportunity for Muslims to create a just political and social order.

Islamic jurisprudence divides the inhabitants of Dar al-Harb (known as harbis) into two: People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab) and polytheists. People of the Book, defined in the Qur’an as Christians, Jews, and Sabeans, have a distinct status in Muslim eyes because they follow a genuine-if incomplete-revelation from a genuine prophet. They may live undisturbed under Muslim rule so long as they accept a subordinate status (that of the dhimmi) which entails paying a tribute (jizya) and suffering a wide range of disabilities. As for polytheists, the law requires Muslims to offer them the choice of Islam or death, though this was rarely followed after the initial Muslim conquest of Arabia. Instead, Muslims generally treated all harbis as People of the Book. The jurists first sanctioned the inclusion of Zoroastrians in this category; Muslim conquerors of the Indian subcontinent extended it to Hindus as well, thereby effectively eliminating the category of polytheists.

The belief that jihad should continue until Dar al-Islam covers the entire world does not imply that the jurists expect Muslims to wage non-stop war. The Prophet Muhammad made a peace agreement with the Meccans in 630, the Treaty of Hudaybiya, and several of the early caliphs made peace treaties with the Byzantine empire (some of which even required them to pay tribute to the Byzantines). Although there is no mechanism for recognizing a non-Muslim government as legitimate, the jurists built on these precedents to allow the negotiation of truces and peace treaties of limited duration. The jurists provide for military prudence, permitting the withdrawal of badly outnumbered or overpowered forces. And some jurists added an intermediate category, Dar al-’Ahd (Abode of Covenant) or Dar al-Sulh (Abode of Peace), for those countries where non-Muslim rulers govern non-Muslim subjects.

The jurists understand jihad not as an obligation of each individual Muslim but as a general obligation of the Muslim community. Only in emergencies, when Dar al-Islam comes under unexpected attack, do they expect all Muslims to participate in jihad warfare. Under normal circumstances, the failure of the community to fulfill the obligation of jihad is sinful; but an individual Muslim need not participate so long as other Muslims carry the burden. Shi’i writers make a further qualification, that offensive jihad is permissible only in the presence of the expected Imam-and thus not under current circumstances.

In contrast to this consensus view on a restricted doctrine of jihad, the prominent legal philosopher Ibn Taymiya (1268-1328) took a more activist position. He declared that a ruler who fails to enforce the Shari’a rigorously in all its aspects, including the performance of jihad, forfeits his right to rule. A vigorous critic of the status quo, Ibn Taymiya strongly advocated, and personally participated in, jihad as warfare against the Crusaders and Mongols who occupied parts of Dar al-Islam. Ibn Taymiya developed his outlook by building on a long tradition of dissidents in Islamic history who directed jihad against rulers they deemed insuffiently Muslim, including the Kharijis of the seventh century and the Assassins of the eleventh century.9 Perhaps most important, he broke with the mainstream of Islam by asserting that a professing Muslim who does not live by the faith is an unbeliever. Most jurists tolerated Muslim rulers who violated the Shari’a for the sake of the community, finding tyranny less bad than division or disorder, but Ibn Taymiya insisted on more.10 Ibn Taymiya and his associates are the most important intellectual precursors of contemporary Islamism.11


Islamic law condemns all warfare that does not qualify as jihad, specifically all warfare among Muslims. Military action against Muslims is justified only by denying them the status of Muslims, classifying them as apostates or rebels against legitimate authority.12 For example, when Caliph al-Ma’mun and his brother al-Amin struggled for control of the caliphate in 809-13, Ma’mun called Amin an apostate.13 Muslim writers use the term fitna, meaning trial or temptation, to describe divisions within the Muslim community. Though premodern Muslim writers do not say so, fitna became a permanent condition after 750, when the political unity of the Muslim community (umma) came to an end.

The earliest Muslim writer to codify the laws of war and peace, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan Shaybani,14 wrote only after the unity had broken down, meaning that Islamic laws on these subjects was formulated only retrospectively, by deriving general principles from a situation that no longer existed and would never again exist. In effect, the law of jihad was formulated after the conditions it fit had passed. The jurists then sought to reconcile the division and disorder of later centuries with the theory, but they averted their gaze from the ugly reality of intra-Muslim warfare all around them. Instead, they primarily sought to establish the legitimacy of authority in the absence of an effective caliph ruling a unified Muslim community. Islamic law, in short, never addressed the reality of political division within the Islamic world.

The division of the Islamic world did not end its expansion. Jihad in the sense of warfare continued, though the jihad ideal rarely determined the policies of Muslim regimes and almost never permitted them to join together against a common non-Muslim foe. Often the term ghazi, literally raiding, was used as a synonym. The Ottoman empire is often called the empire of the ghazis because success in jihad was a vital component of Ottoman legitimacy. But jihad was not the sole motivation, or even the sole ideology, for Ottoman expansion. Other factors included population pressure, competition with other Muslim states, and the lure of border warfare. In addition to the doctrine of jihad, Ottoman political ideology incorporated Turko-Mongol, Iranian, and Byzantine elements. A similar combination of ideological and other factors drove Muslim expansion in the Indian subcontinent.15 In other contexts too, Muslim rulers such as Uzun Hasan Aqquyunlu, the ruler of western Iran and eastern Anatolia in 1453-78, and the Safavid Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524-76) participated in jihad not just for abstract reasons of faith but to enhance their legitimacy and acquire booty. Though frequently invoked, jihad had little effect on political behavior in the pre-modern Islamic world.


Warfare is only one interpretation of the concept of jihad. The root meaning of “effort” never disappeared. Jihad may be an inward struggle (directed against evil in oneself) or an outward one (against injustice). A hadith defines this understanding of the term. It recounts how Muhammad, after a battle, said, “We have returned from the lesser jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar).” When asked, “What is the greater jihad?,” he replied, “It is the struggle against oneself.”16 Although this hadith does not appear in any of the authoritative collections, it has had enormous influence in Islamic mysticism (Sufism).

Sufis understand the greater jihad as an inner war, primarily a struggle against the base instincts of the body but also resistance to the temptation of polytheism. Some Sufi writers assert that Satan organizes the temptation of the body and the world to corrupt the soul. Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1059-1111), probably the most important figure in Islam’s development after the prophet, describes the body as a city, governed by the soul, and besieged by the lower self. Withdrawal from the world to mystical pursuits constitutes an advance in the greater jihad. Conversely, the greater jihad is a necessary part of the process of gaining spiritual insight.17 By the eleventh century Sufism had become an extremely influential, and perhaps even the dominant, form of Islamic spirituality. To this day, many Muslims conceive of jihad as a personal rather than a political struggle. But Sufism provoked opposition, most importantly from Ibn Taymiya, who condemned many aspects of Sufism which he believed contradicted the Shari’a. His disciple Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziya (1292-1350) explicitly condemned the doctrine of greater jihad, discarding as a deliberate fabrication the hadith that originates this concept.18

Thus did three main views of jihad co-exist in premodern times: the classical legal view of jihad as a compulsory, communal effort to defend and expand Dar al-Islam; Ibn Taymiya’s notion of active jihad as an indispensable feature of legitimate rule; and the Sufi doctrine of greater jihad. It is no surprise that the disagreement over jihad continues in the modern era.


Perhaps the earliest perspective on jihad from a modern sensibility (i.e., responding to the West) developed among Indian Muslims in the aftermath of the 1857 uprising (the so-called Indian Mutiny). Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and others, writing as much for a Western audience as for their co-religionists, argued that jihad meant only defensive war and could not justify further resistance to British rule as long as the British did not actively interfere with the practice of Islam. Sir Sayyid Ahmad treated Islam as a private religion rather than a public force and presented it as virtually a pacifist creed.19 Though clearly a reaction to British suspicions of Muslims after 1857, this view affected Indian Muslim attitudes.

Modernist writers, seeking to reconcile Islam with Western ways, looked to the Qur’an to find a Islamic model to guide Muslim states. They sought a fundamentally defensive vision of jihad, and toward this end argued that all the wars waged by the prophet and the first four caliphs were defensive. Contending that the Qur’an requires Muslims to make peace if their adversaries wish to do so, they include a Dar al-Sulh in their model of the world. Peace treaties may be permanent and Muslims may be neutral in international conflicts.20 The modernists also work to reconcile Islamic law with international law. Thus, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an umbrella organization that includes as members most Muslim states, expressed an interest in establishing an international court to reconcile the Shari’a with international public law. Similarly, Muhammad Shaltut, a former rector of Al-Azhar, contends that the Shari’a’s emphasis on international peace and the legitimate right of self-defense prefigures the principles of the United Nations.21

Abu al-A’la Mawdudi (1903-79), the Indian and later Pakistani thinker, was the first Islamist writer to approach jihad systematically. He presents it not merely as warfare to expand Islamic political dominance, but also to establish a just rule, one that includes freedom of religion. Mawdudi’s political life began with participation in the Khilafat movement, a post-World War I agitation among Indian Muslims that, among other causes, supported Indian independence from Great Britain. In keeping with this outlook, jihad for Mawdudi was akin to war of liberation; Islamic rule means freedom and justice, even for non-Muslims.

Islam wants to employ all the forces and means that can be employed for bringing about a universal, all-embracing revolution. It will spare no efforts for the achievement of this supreme objective. This far-reaching struggle that continuously exhausts all forces and this employment of all possible means are called jihad.22

Mawdudi’s outlook significantly changes jihad, beginning its association with anticolonialism and “national liberation movements” that seek not to expand Islamic rule but to establish independent states-not to force non-Muslims to accept dhimmi status but to make them politically independent. Mawdudi’s approach paved the way for Arab resistance to Zionism and Israel to be called jihad. In this spirit, the rector of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University contended in 1973 that all Egyptians, Christians included, must participate in jihad against Israel.23 And thus did the secular PLO make itself the leader of an essentially secularized jihad-as in Arafat’s statement about a “jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”

Although Mawdudi’s conception opens the door to a secular and nationalist interpretation of jihad, neither he nor his acolytes went through that door. Such Islamist thinkers as Hasan al-Banna (1906-49) and Sayyid Qutb (1906-56) followed Mawdudi’s emphasis on its role in establishing a truly Islamic government. For them, as for Ibn Taymiya, jihad includes the overthrow of governments that fail to enforce the Shari’a. Jihad here again subsumes the idea of revolution, though this time a purely Islamic one. Before directing jihad against external enemies, Muslims must first deal with their own rulers. If leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar as-Sadat are not true Muslims, they cannot lead jihad, not even against a legitimate target of jihad (such as Israel). Significantly, Islamists consider jihad mandatory for all Muslims, making it an individual rather than a communal duty.24

The Neglected Duty, a pamphlet produced by Sadat’s assassins to explain and justify this use of violence, is perhaps the purest expression of this Islamist perspective on jihad. (Its author, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam Faraj was executed along with the actual killers.) It argues that jihad as armed action is the cornerstone and heart of Islam; the neglect of jihad has caused the current depressed position of Islam in the world. Force must be used, for it alone can destroy idols. Abraham and Muhammad both began their careers by smashing idols; the Islamists propose to follow their example. The Neglected Duty defines the current rulers of the Muslim world (such as Sadat) as apostates, despite their profession of Islam and obedience to some of its laws, and advocates their execution. The Neglected Duty is explicitly messianic, asserting that Muslims must “exert every conceivable effort” to bring about the establishment of truly Islamic government, a restoration of the caliphate, and the expansion of Dar al-Islam; and their success is inevitable.25

Shi’i revolutionaries have a similar perspective. Ayatollah Khomeini (1903-89) contends that jurists, “by means of jihad and enjoining the good and forbidding the evil,26 must expose and overthrow tyrannical rulers and rouse the people so the universal movement of all alert Muslims can establish Islamic government in the place of tyrannical regimes.” The proper teaching of Islam will cause “the entire population to become mujahids.”27 Ayatollah Muhammad Mutahhari, a top ideologue of the Iranian Revolution, considers jihad a necessary consequence of Islam’s content; having political aims, Islam must sanction armed force and provide laws for its use. Mutahhari deems jihad defensive; but his definition includes the defense against oppression and this may require what international law would consider a war of aggression. For example, he endorses an attack on a country of polytheists, not to impose Islam but to eliminate the evils of polytheism. Mutahhari finds that the doctrine of jihad marks Islam’s superiority over Christianity, for Christianity lacks the political and social agenda necessary for a doctrine of jihad.28

This survey indicates that while the concept of jihad retains a special place among the Islamists, the spiritual descendants of Ibn Taymiya, other Islamic thinkers of the modern age have developed distinctive approaches to this issue.


Two groups of contemporary Muslims have articulated doctrines of peaceful jihad. Modernists may see the concept as central to the religion but see it as encompassing all forms of political and social action to establish justice. Fazlur Rahman, a Pakistani scholar and long-time professor at the University of Chicago, argued that it had to exist to accomplish Islam’s social and political agenda. “There is no doubt that the Qur’an wanted Muslims to establish a political order on earth for the sake of creating an egalitarian and just moral-social order. Jihad is the instrument for doing so.”29 In this spirit, President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, used jihad to describe the struggle for economic development in Tunisia, much as Lyndon Johnson spoke of a “War on Poverty.” In this context, jihad implies no more violence than does crusade in today’s English.30

The Sufi doctrine of greater jihad remains alive. Though less influential than Islamism in the political realm, it may have more impact on the spiritual life of Muslims, at least in Egypt where one writer contends that the number of Egyptians active in Sufism may well exceed the number of Islamists.31 Sadat wrote articles for the first issues of Sufi journals in 1958 and 1979, both entitled “The Greater Jihad,” in which he welcomed the diffusion of Sufi ideas.32 On the basis of field work in Egypt, the Sudan, and Tunisia, an anthropologist mentions jihad only in the context of the Ramadan fast: “Fasting for the whole month is a . . . personal trial for Muslims . . . a form of personal jihad . . . part of the more difficult inner struggles with the flesh and worldy appetites.”33

The Sufi outlook remains important enough so that Islamists like Hasan al-Banna and The Neglected Duty author Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam Farajfeel compelled to repeat medieval criticisms of greater jihad.34 This criticism, plus the prevalent definition of jihad as warfare, causes Sufis often to employ mujahada, a related word for al-jihad al-akbar.


The concept of jihad as a moral struggle touches the daily lives of many Muslims, and not only Sufis. Jihad as warfare, though far better known, has had a narrower impact. In some cases, like the assassination of Sadat, jihad as warfare has had enormous consequences. But it has never mobilized Muslims en masse or transcended the ethnic and political divisions within the Muslim world. Few Muslim governments, and few individual Muslims, have acted in accord with doctrine. The conception of jihad as warfare in defense of the Dar al-Islam did not produce a Pan-Islamic resistance to colonialism. The many movements that arose to resist European expansion or occupation were regional or local, tied to a specific leader, regime, or other specific circumstances; at no time did a jihad movement arise which united Muslims with geographic, sectarian, or political differences. In most cases, jihad against colonialism formed part of a program of religious reform and renewal.

The most systematic attempt to mobilize Muslims against the West, the Ottoman declaration of jihad against the Allies in 1914, failed entirely. With its declaration of war, the Ottoman regime simultaneously published a fatwa (ruling according to the Shari’a) calling the war a jihad that every Muslim had to participate in-including the Muslim subjects of Russia, France, and Great Britain. To secure the widest possible circulation, the fatwa was published in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish. But the fatwa did not cause significant Muslim defections from the Allied cause, nor did it prevent the Arab Revolt against Muslim rule.35

More recent invocations of jihad have been equally ineffective. Frequent calls for jihad against Israel have not overcome division among Israel’s opponents or produced an effective mobilization of their capability against Israel. Saddam Husayn’s call for a jihad against the United States, part of an overall effort to Islamize the image of his secular regime, may have resonated among Islamists, but it did not affect the outcome of the crisis. The same applies to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatullah ‘Ali Khamanei’s similar designation of war against U.S. forces as jihad. Neither pronouncement had significant political or military results.

Even in Afghanistan, where resistance fighters went by the title mujahidin, the idea of jihad had surprisingly little power. The Afghan cause did attract considerable support from the rest of the Islamic world, but only three Islamic states (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran) actually allocated significant resources to the mujahidin. Pakistan and Iran sheltered significant, burdensome refugee populations and had enormous political stakes in the future of Afghanistan. The Saudis had no such direct interest, but have a consistent agenda. They no doubt sincerely wanted to drive the godless Soviet invaders from the Dar al-Islam, but also to establish their variety of Islamism in Afghanistan. The other outside participants in the Afghan resistance were individuals who represented a marginal element within the Islamic world. (Marginal but not insignificant: they later formed an Islamist cadre blamed for Islamist extremism in other parts of the Islamic world, especially North Africa.) Moreover, the concept of jihad did not unite the Afghan resistance, which remained divided by social, political, ethnic, and ideological differences. Although the resistance groups all considered themselves mujahidin, they perceived different paths of God and sought to produce different results in human terms. Some groups fought for the restoration of traditional Afghan society, which they considered Islamic; Islamists fought for a restructuring of society in accord with their understanding of the Shari’a. These groups did not cooperate effectively and often fought each other rather than the Soviets. The concept of jihad had little direct influence on the course of the Afghan war.36 After the Soviet withdrawal and the establishment of a new government, they continue to fight each other.37

Most Muslims do not see jihad as warfare as an active obligation, upon either themselves or the Muslim community as a whole. Reinhold Loeffler, working in a tribal village in southern Iran, encountered cogent criticisms of the Islamic Republic’s conception of jihad. One informant asserted : “young men with no proper training go to the front and are senselessly killed. I don’t believe they ae martyrs going to paradise.” Another one contrasted Khomeini’s preaching with the conduct of the Imam Husayn: “before his final battle the Imam Husayn exempted his followers from the obligation of jihad so that they might save their lives. Khomeini, however, pitilessly incites people to go to their deaths.” A father spoke of his son: “My son now is telling me about the true Islam; they have to fight a holy war (he says) and of necessity get killed. I tell him there is no holy war in the absence of the Last Imam.”38 This anecdotal evidence suggests that the Islamic Republic’s invocation of jihad met with mixed emotions, not universal enthusiasm.


Muslims today can mean many things by jihad-the jurists’ warfare bounded by specific conditions, Ibn Taymiya’s revolt against an impious ruler, the Sufi’s moral self-improvement, or the modernist’s notion of political and social reform. The disagreement among Muslims over the interpretation of jihad is genuine and deeply rooted in the diversity of Islamic thought. The unmistakable predominance of jihad as warfare in Shari’a writing does not mean that Muslims today must view jihad as the jurists did a millenium ago. Classical texts speak only to, not for, contemporary Muslims. A non-Muslim cannot assert that jihad always means violence or that all Muslims believe in jihad as warfare.

Conversely, the discord over the meaning of jihad permits deliberate deception, such as the CAIR statement cited above. A Muslim can honestly dismiss jihad as warfare, but he cannot deny the existence of this concept. As the editor of the “Diary of a Mujahid” writes, “some deny it, while others explain it away, yet others frown on it to hide their own weakness.”

The term jihad should cause little confusion, for context almost always indicates what a speaker intends. The variant interpretations are so deeply embedded in Islamic intellectual traditions that the usage of jihad is unlikely to be ambiguous. An advocate of jihad as warfare indicates so through his goals. A Sufi uses the term mujahada or specifies the greater jihad. Bourguiba clearly did not advocate violence to improve education and development in Tunisia. When ambiguity does exist, it may well be deliberate. In the case of Arafat’s statement about a “jihad for Jerusalem,” he intended his Muslim audience to hear a call to arms while falling back on the peaceful definition to allay concerns in Israel and the West. Only his later actions reveal whether he was co-opting Islamists by adopting their rhetoric or duping Israelis by hiding his violent intentions.

1 Text in Middle East Quarterly, June 1994, p. 50.
2 Reuters, May 18, 1994; Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1994.
3 The Boston Globe, May 24, 1994.
4 At .
5 At .
6 For a listing of all appearances in the Qur’an of jihad and related words, see Muhammad Fu’ad ‘Abd al-Baqi, Al-Mu’jam al-Mufahras li-Alfaz al-Qur’an al-Karim (Cairo: Matabi’ ash-Sha’b, 1278), pp. 182-83; and Hanna E. Kassis, A Concordance of the Qur’an (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), pp. 587-88.
7 Muhammad ibn Isma’il Bukhari, The Translation of the Meaning of Sahih al-Bukhari, trans. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, 8 vols. (Medina: Dar al-Fikr: 1981), 4:34-204.
8 Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 72.
9 Tamarra Sonn, “Irregular Warfare and Jihad: Asking the Right Questions,” in Cross, Crescent and Sword: The Justification and Limitation of War in Western and Islamic Tradition, ed. John Kelsay and James Turner Johnson (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1990), pp. 132-38.
10 Henri Laoust, Essai sur les doctrines sociales et politique de Taki-D-Din Ahmad b. Taymiya (Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institute Francais D’Archeologie Oriental, 1939), pp. 360-370.
11 Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, enlarged ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), p. 101.
12 Fred M. Donner, “The Sources of Islamic Conceptions of War,” in John Kelsay and James Turner Johnson, eds., Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), pp. 51-52.
13 Albert Arazi and ‘Amikam El’ad, “L’Epitre à l’Armée,” Studia Islamica 66 (1987): 59-60.
14 His work is translated into English: Muhammad ibn al-Hasan Shaybani, The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybani’s Siyar, trans. Majid Khadduri (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966).
15 Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 71-77.
16 ‘Ali ibn ‘Uthman al-Hujwiri, The “Kashf al-Mahjub,the Oldest Persian Treatise on Sufism by al-Hujwiri, trans. Reynold A. Nicholson (London: Luzac, 1911), pp. 200-201.
17 John Renard, “Al-Jihad al-Akbar: Notes on a Theme in Islamic Spirituality,” Muslim World 78 (1988): 225-242; Valerie J. Hoffman, Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1995), pp. 196-200.
18 Johannes J. G. Jansen, The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East (New York: Macmillan, 1986), pp. 22, 102.
19 Maulavi Cheragh Ali, A Critical Exposition of the Popular “Jihad” (Delhi: Idareh-i Adabiyyat-i Delli, 1984; original publication 1885) is the best example. Its subtitle reads “Showing that all the wars of Mohammad were Defensive, and that Aggressive War and Compelled Conversion is not allowed in the Koran, with appendices proving that the word jihad does not exegetically mean warfare.”
20 Mustansir Mir, “Jihad in Islam” in Hadia Dajami-Shakeel and Ronald A. Messier, eds., The Jihad and Its Times (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Center for Near Eastern and North African Studies, 1991), pp. 119-122; Ann Elizabeth Mayer, “War and Peace in the Islamic Tradition and International Law” in Just War and Jihad, pp. 195-226.
21 Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Medieval and Modern Islam: The Chapter on Jihad from Averroes Legal Handbook “Bidayat al-Mujtahid” and the Treatise “Koran and Fighting” by the Late Shaykh of Azhar Mahmud Shaltut (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977), p. 66. 22 Abu’l A’la Mawdudi, Al-Jihad fi Sabil Illah (Gujranwala, Pakistan: Dar al-’Arubat li’d-Da’wa al-Islamiya, nd.), pp. 9-10, trans. Tamarra Sonn, “Irregular Warfare and Jihad”, p. 141.
23 Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism: the Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History (The Hague: Mouton, 1979), p. 134.
24 Sivan, Radical Islam, pp. 16-21, 114-16.
25 Jansen, Neglected Duty, p. 162.
26 Qur’an 3:104, 110 commands Muslims to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil.” This phrase covers the entire moral content of Islam.
27 Ruhullah Khomeini, Islamic Government, text in Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini, trans. and annotated Hamid Algar (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1981), p. 108, 132.
28 “Jihad in the Qur’an: First Lecture,” in Mehdi Abedi and Gary Legenhausen, eds., Jihad and Shahadat: Struggle and Martyrdom in Islam: Essays and Addresses by Ayatollah Mahmud Taleqani, Ayatullah Murtada Muttahari and Dr. Ali Shari’ati, (Houston: Institute for Research and Islamic Studies, 1986), p. 89.
29 Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an (Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980), pp. 63-64.
30 Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton, N.J.: Markus Weiner, 1996), pp. 116-17.
31 Hoffman, Sufism, Mystics and Saints, pp. 357-58.
32 “Al-Jihad al-Akbar.” Cited in Jansen, Neglected Duty, pp. 65-66, 74, 82.
33 Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Islamic Society in Practice (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994), p. 28.
34 Ibid., p. 22, 200; Tamara Sonn, Between Qu’ran and Crown: The Challenge of Political Legitimacy in the Islamic World (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990), p. 203.
35 Peters, Islam and Colonialism, pp. 90-94.
36 Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan, 2nd. ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
37 Olivier Roy, Afghanistan: from Holy War to Civil War (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1995).
38 Reinhold Loeffler, Islam in Practice: Religious Beliefs in a Persian Village (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), pp. 229, 235, 237.

The Real Roots of Muslim Hatred By: Andrew G. Bostom | Thursday, June 03, 2004

“Are you Muslim or Christian? We don’t want to kill Muslims.” That’s what the Islamic terrorists reportedly told their innocent prey during a murderous shooting spree last Saturday in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that left at least 17 civilians dead in the initial assault. 1 How are we to interpret such repeated acts of terrorism, targeting non-Muslims? Perhaps the most influential contemporary doyen lecturing to us about “Islamic fundamentalism” has asserted, in multiple writings since 1990 2, the following: fundamentalism and its accompanying “Muslim rage” derive exclusively from a steady decline in the geopolitical power of Muslim states, evidenced, most dramatically, by the official dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate after World War I, and the creation of the State of Israel after World War II. Despite his erudition, this doyen appears unwilling to examine an obvious alternative explanation for the etiology and persistence of Muslim animus toward non-Muslims- what Muslim children, for generations, have been taught to think about the infidel “other,” regardless of the geopolitical circumstances.

E.W. Lane wrote an informative firsthand account of life in Egypt, particularly Cairo and Luxor, composed after several years of residence there (first in 1825-1828, then in 1833-1835). James Aldridge in his study Cairo (1969) called Lane’s account “the most truthful and detailed account in English of how Egyptians lived and behaved.” 3 Egyptian Muslims, Lane explains, regarded “persons of every other faith as the children of perdition; and such, the Muslim is early taught to despise…I am credibly informed that children in Egypt are often taught at school, a regular set of curses to denounce upon the persons and property of Christians, Jews, and all other unbelievers in the religion of Mohammad.” 4 Lane, who had perfect command of Arabic and went on to write a colossal Arabic-English lexicon, translated the prayer below from a contemporary 19th century text Arabic text. It contains curses on non-Muslims, “which the Muslim youths in many of the schools in Cairo recite, before they return to their homes, every day of their attendance.5 One typical curse is:

“I seek refuge with God from Satan the accursed. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O God, aid El-Islam, and exalt the word of truth, and the faith, by the preservation of thy servant and the son of thy servant, the Sultan of the two continents (Europe and Asia), and the Khakan (Emperor or monarch) of the two seas [the Mediterranean and Black Seas], the Sultan, son of the Sultan (Mahmood) Khan (the reigning Sultan when this prayer was composed). O God, assist him, and assist his armies, and all the forces of the Muslims: O Lord of the beings of the whole world. O God, destroy the infidels and polytheists, thine enemies, the enemies of the religion. O God, make their children orphans, and defile their abodes, and cause their feet to slip, and give them and their families, and their households and their women and their children and their relations by marriage and their brothers and their friends and their possessions and their race and their wealth and their lands as booty to the Muslims: O Lord of the beings of the whole world.”6 (Emphasis added.)

Not surprisingly then, Lane describes how the Jews, for example, were “often…jostled in the streets of Cairo, and sometimes beaten merely for passing on the right hand of a Muslim…(The Jews) scarcely dare ever to utter a word of abuse when reviled or beaten unjustly by the meanest Arab or Turk; for many a Jew has been put to death upon a false and malicious accusation of uttering disrespectful words against the Qur’an or the Prophet. It is common to hear an Arab abuse his jaded ass, and, after applying to him various opprobrious epithets, end by calling the beast a Jew.” 7

Over five decades later, in Tunis, 1888, the following personal account reveals further evidence of the visceral abhorrence and hostility inculcated in Muslim children, specifically, toward non-Muslims: “(The Jew) can be seen to bow down with his whole body to a Muslim child and permit him the traditional privilege of striking him in the face, a gesture that can prove of the gravest consequence. Indeed, the present writer has received such blows. In such matters the offenders act with complete impunity, for this has been the custom from time immemorial.” 8 (Emphasis added.)

Mary Boyce, Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies and a pre-eminent scholar of Zoroastrianism, spent a 12-month sabbatical in 1963-64 living in the Zoroastrian community of Iran (mostly in Sharifabad, on the northern Yazdi plain). During a lecture series given at Oxford in 1975, 9 she noted how the Iranian ancestors of the Zoroastrians had a devoted working relationship (i.e., herding livestock) with dogs when they lived a nomadic existence on the Asian steppes. This sustained contact evolved over generations such that dogs became “a part in (Zoroastrian) religious beliefs and practices…which in due course became a part of the heritage of Zoroastrianism.” 10 Boyce then provided an historical overview of the deliberate, wanton cruelty of Muslims and their children towards dogs in Iran, including a personal eyewitness account:

In Sharifabad the dogs distinguished clearly between Moslem and Zoroastrian, and were prepared to go…full of hope, into a crowded Zoroastrian assembly, or to fall asleep trustfully in a Zoroastrian lane, but would flee as before Satan from a group of Moslem boys…The evidence points…to Moslem hostility to these animals having been deliberately fostered in the first place in Iran, as a point of opposition to the old (pre-Islamic jihad conquest) faith (i.e., Zoroastrianism) there. Certainly in the Yazdi area…Moslems found a double satisfaction in tormenting dogs, since they were thereby both afflicting an unclean creature and causing distress to the infidel who cherished him. There are grim…stories from the time (i.e., into the latter half of the 19th century) when the annual poll-tax (jizya) was exacted, of the tax gatherer tying a Zoroastrian and a dog together, and flogging both alternately until the money was somehow forthcoming, or death released them. I myself was spared any worse sight than that of a young Moslem girl…standing over a litter of two-week old puppies, and suddenly kicking one as hard as she could with her shod foot. The puppy screamed with pain, but at my angry intervention she merely said blankly, ‘But it’s unclean.’ In Sharifabad I was told by distressed Zoroastrian children of worse things: a litter of puppies cut to pieces with a spade-edge, and a dog’s head laid open with the same implement; and occasionally the air was made hideous with the cries of some tormented animal. Such wanton cruelties on the Moslems’ part added not a little to the tension between the communities. 11

Sorour Soroudi, an Iranian Jewish woman and academic, whose family left Iran in 1970, published this recollection:

“I still remember the rhyme Muslim children used to chant when they saw an Armenian in the streets, ‘Armeni, Armeni-dog, sweeper of hell are you!’ ” 12.

A decade later, anti-infidel discrimination intensified and became state sanctioned policy with the ascent of the Khomeini-lead Shi’ite theocracy in Iran.13 Professor Eliz Sanasarian provides one particularly disturbing example of these policies, reflecting the hateful indoctrination of young adult candidates for national teacher training programs. Affirming as objective, factual history the hadith14 account of Muhammad’s supposed poisoning by a Jewish woman from ancient Khaibar, Sanasarian notes, “Even worse, the subject became one of the questions in the ideological test for the Teachers’ Training College where students were given a multiple-choice question in order to identify the instigator of the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad, the ‘correct’ answer being ‘a Jewess.’” 15

The ongoing proliferation of Saudi Arabian-sponsored educational programs rife with bigotry against non-Muslims has been well documented. A recent comprehensive report provided unambiguous examples of these hatemongering teaching materials, accompanied by this triumphal pronouncement from a Saudi royal family publication: “The cost of King Fahd’s efforts in this field has been astronomical, amounting to many billions of Saudi riyals. In terms of Islamic institutions, the result is some 210 Islamic centers wholly or partly financed by Saudi Arabia, more than 1,500 mosques and 2,002 colleges and almost 2,000 schools for educating Muslim children in non-Islamic countries in Europe, North and South America, Australia, and Asia.” 16

Vilification of non-Muslims has been intrinsic to the religious education of Muslim children and young adults for centuries, an ignoble (and continuing) tradition that long antedates the modern or even pre-modern Muslim “fundamentalist” revival movements. We must acknowledge this reality and begin to think and act beyond the well-intentioned but limited constructs of even our most respected doyens. Perhaps it would be wise to heed the sober advice of this courageous madrassa dropout and secular Muslim “apostate” Ibn Warraq:

First, we who live in the free West and enjoy freedom of expression and scientific inquiry should encourage a rational look at Islam, should encourage Koranic criticism. Only Koranic criticism can help Muslims to look at their Holy Scripture in a more rational and objective way, and prevent young Muslims from being fanaticized by the Koran’s less tolerant verses…We can encourage rationality by secular education. This will mean the closing of religious madrassas where young children from poor families learn only the Koran by heart, learn the doctrine of Jihad – learn , in short, to be fanatics…My priority would be the wholesale rewriting of school texts, which at present preach intolerance of non-Muslims, particularly Jews. One hopes that education will encourage critical thinking and rationality. Again to encourage pluralism, I should like to see the glories of pre-Islamic history taught to all children. The banning of all religious education in state schools as is the case in France where there is a clear constitutional separation of state and religion is not realistic for the moment in Islamic countries. The best we can hope for is the teaching of Comparative Religion, which we hope will eventually lead to a lessening of fanatical fevers, as Islam is seen as but another set of beliefs amongst a host of faiths. 17

Until Warraq’s recommendations are heeded, we can look forward to an endless jihad.


1. Reuters, “Gunmen hunted “infidel” Westerners”

Sun May 30, 2004 06:30 AM ET,

2. i.e., Bernard Lewis, for example, in 1990; November/December 1998 “License to Kill: Usama bin Ladin’s Declaration of Jihad”, Foreign Affairs;



3. Quoted by J.M. White, in his introduction to, Lane, E.W. An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, New York, 1973, p. v.

4. Lane, E.W. Modern Egyptians, p. 276.

5. Lane, E.W. Modern Egyptians, p. 575.

6 Lane, E.W. Modern Egyptians, p. 575.

7. Lane, E.W. Modern Egyptians, pp. 554-555.

8. Fellah. “The Situation of the Jews in Tunis, September 1888.”, Ha-Asif (The Harvest) [Hebrew] 6 (Warsaw, 1889), English translation in, Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi- Jews and Christians Under Islam, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985, p. 376.

9. Boyce, Mary. A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism (based on the Ratanbai Katrak lectures, 1975), 1977, Oxford.

10. Boyce, M. A Persian Stronghold, p. 139.

11 Boyce, M. A Persian Stronghold, pp. 141-142.

12 Soroudi, Sorour. “The Concept of Jewish Impurity and its Reflection in Persian and Judeo-Persian Traditions” Irano-Judaica 1994, Vol. III, p. 155 (footnote 33):

13 See Tabandeh, Sultanhussein. A Muslim Commentary on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, translated by F.J. Goulding, London, 1970, pp. 17-19. Tabandeh was a Sufi Shi’ite ideologue whose writings had a profound influence on Ayatollah Khomeini’s discriminatory policies towards non-Muslims in Iran, as discussed in Sanasarian, Eliz. Religious Minorities in Iran, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 24-27.

14 Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 47, Number 786: Narrated Anas bin Malik: “A Jewess brought a poisoned (cooked) sheep for the Prophet who ate from it. She was brought to the Prophet and he was asked, ‘Shall we kill her?’ He said, ‘No.’ I continued to see the effect of the poison on the palate of the mouth of Allah’s Apostle.”

15 Sanasarian, E. Religious Minorities in Iran, p. 111.

16 Stalinsky, Steven. “Preliminary Overview. – Saudi Arabia’s Education System: Curriculum, Spreading Saudi Education to the World and the Official Saudi Position on Education Policy,” Middle East Media Research Institute, December 20, 2002.

17 Warraq, Ibn. “A True Islamic Reformation,”, May 19, 2003


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According to a recent ABC report, “As many as three dozen criminals who converted to Islam in American prisons have moved to Yemen where they could pose a ‘significant threat’ to attack the U.S., according to a report on al-Qaeda from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. … Also of concern to U.S. officials, the Senate staff found, is a group of ‘nearly 10 non-Yemeni Americans who traveled to Yemen, converted to Islam, became fundamentalists, and married Yemeni women so they could remain in the country.’ … An American official described them as ‘blond-haired, blue-eyed types’ who fit the profile of Americans who al-Qaeda has sought to recruit for terror missions.”

These, of course, are not the first Americans — “blond-haired, blue-eyed types” or otherwise — to convert to Islam and join the jihad: John Walker Lindh wound up fighting fellow Americans alongside Taliban forces in Afghanistan; Adam Gadahn became a major character in al-Qaeda’s propaganda machine; Gregory Patterson, Levar Washington, and Kevin James plotted terror strikes against the U.S.; Christopher Paul and Jose Padilla conspired to use weapons of mass destruction.

Then there are the countless European converts, such as the British “shoe-bomber,” Richard Reid, who attempted to achieve “martyrdom” by detonating explosives in his shoes while aboard a passenger aircraft; the late Germaine Lindsay, who did achieve “martyrdom” by killing himself and 56 of his fellow citizens and injuring over 700, in the London bombings of 2005; and Abu Abdullah, the native Briton-turned-fiery-Islamist-preacher who makes no secret of his vitriolic hatred of the West (all, of course, while enjoying that unique Western liberty, freedom of speech).

What causes such men, born and raised in the West, often from Christian backgrounds, to abandon their heritage, embrace Islam, and become radicalized to the point that they conspire to kill their fellow countrymen?

As for Islam’s intrinsic appeal, it has long been argued that, unlike Christianity, which can be “heavy” on theology, Islam is relatively simple and straightforward. Thus while Christianity may revolve around the metaphysical — the Trinity, Christology, even the notion of grace — Islam, in black-and-white terms, commands its adherents to do this and not do that. In fact, the Arabic word “Sharia,” that comprehensive body of laws Muslims are to obey, is etymologically related to the word for “pathway” — as in, “the pathway to paradise.”

Yet there is another, more subtle, factor that may entice men to Islam: traditional male roles are highlighted in the religion. This may appeal to non-Muslim men who want to assert their “masculinity” in what they perceive to be gender-free Western societies. Harvey Mansfield’s book, Manliness, defines that term as “a quality both bad and good, mostly male, often intolerant, irrational, and ambitious. Our gender-neutral society does not like it but cannot get rid of it.”

Indeed, with an ethical code that coalesced in the seventh century — when the Muslim prophet and “perfect example” walked the earth, enforced his will, and conquered his “infidel” neighbors — Islamic culture can hardly be deemed gender-neutral.” Even philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who despised Christianity as “effeminate” and preached the need for man to be transformed into an amoral “hyper-man,” professed admiration for Islam, describing it as “noble and manly” (The Antichrist).

Of course, traditional masculine roles are not the sole domain of Islam; most civilizations have lived in accordance to such norms; so-called “gender-neutral societies” are, from a historical perspective, aberrant. James Bowman, author of Honor: A History, points out that, when it comes to the West’s disregard for notions of honor and masculinity, “we are, in global terms, the odd ones out”; he further asserts that, up until the Victorian era, in the West, “honor was rather closer to the Arab and Muslim idea of it today.”

It is in this context, then, that disaffected young men — who, like Nietzsche, despise what they perceive to be a “gender-neutral” society — may find a religion which emphasizes “masculinity” appealing.

John Walker Lindh especially seems to fit this paradigm. Precipitating his conversion to Islam was his teenage discovery that his father was homosexual — an event that appears to have traumatized and alienated Lindh. Islam’s masculine ideals and unequivocal condemnation of homosexuality may have lured young Lindh, who, soon after his father left his mother and moved in with another man, converted to Islam at age 16. Shortly thereafter, he went a-jihading.

This is all further exasperated by Muslims mocking Western masculinity — such as Osama bin Laden, who has ridiculed Western acceptance of homosexuality and characterized the American soldier as “a paper tiger” who is “too cowardly and too fearful to meet the young people of Islam face-to-face” (The Al Qaeda Reader).

Whatever position one may hold regarding these issues, one thing is clear: If traditional masculine virtues are upheld in Islamic culture, so too do traditional masculine vices abound — for it is often a very fine line that separates hyper-virtue from hyper-vice. Honor, courage, and patriarchic ethics can — and, in Islamic culture, regularly do — morph into destructive pride (e.g., “honor killings“), disdain for life (e.g., suicide bombings), and brutal misogyny.

Nonetheless, for those more “adventurous” young men looking to add a bit of “excitement” to their lives, Islam offers avenues. Based on the Koran and Muhammad’s biography, raiding, killing, and plundering infidels (i.e., the “other”), abducting their women, and enslaving their children are all permissible, so long as they are done in a jihadist context, that is, in the “service” of Islam. In fact, that is how the Islamic prophet and first Muslims spread Islam — a historical fact, not a slander — as attested to by Islam’s sacred texts and histories, written and compiled by pious, authoritative Muslims.

Of course, such behavior was “normal” in the seventh century. Then, wherever one looked, men of all races, creeds, and religions were raiding, pillaging, plundering, and enslaving their neighbors. For Islamists, however, the actions of seventh-century Muhammad, no matter how at odds with modernity, must be emulated today no less than yesterday. Moreover, any moral scruples a potential jihadist may experience over such “antiquated” practices — that is, should his conscience momentarily get the best of him — immediately dissipate in light of Allah’s explicit approval. For instance: “Married women are prohibited to you [Muslims] — except for those taken captive in war” (Koran 4:24; see also 23:6 and 33:50-52).

Little wonder, then, that Islam appeals to certain Western men over Christianity: Aspects of it better comport with man’s baser proclivities — for war, possessions, and women — than, say, the passive and inhibiting teachings of Jesus: “turn the other cheek,” “pray for those who persecute you,” and “he who lusts after a woman in his heart has already committed adultery.” Even Islam’s version of paradise is far more alluring. There, a river of wine and dozens of “voluptuous women” await the jihadist who dies battling infidels (see Koran 78:33).

And so, like mischievous little boys who find the pirate lifestyle fascinating — raiding, killing, plundering, abducting, hiding in caves — so do some Western men find the lifestyle of the jihadist captivating. So they convert. Nor is it any small irony that the physical appearance of today’s Islamist heroes is reminiscent of those wily pirates of old — from the furtive Taliban leader, “One-Eyed” Mullah Muhammad Omar, to London’s radical ideologue Abu Hamza, who not only boasts one eye, but has a metal hook for a hand which he used to shake menacingly when referring to infidels. (Like Walt Disney’s Captain Hook, he was affectionately referred to by his followers simply as “The Hook.”)

It goes without saying, of course, that none of this is to imply that Muslims are piratical by nature. It is to say, however, that persons naturally inclined to such activities — including would-be converts — can and do find exoneration under the rubric of “sunna” and jihad legal theory: if it was okay for Muhammad and the first Muslims to wage war on, plunder, and enslave infidels — so the logic goes — surely it is okay today.

This phenomenon is further highlighted by the obvious intersection between prison incarceration and conversion to radical Islam. Indeed, most of the aforementioned proselytes had criminal records previous to their Islamic conversion, evincing a proclivity for violence and lawlessness: Reid and Abdullah had convictions for muggings; Padilla for gangster activity; and Lindsay for drug dealing. Patterson, Washington, and James began their terrorist cell while incarcerated in a very real cell for committing over a dozen armed robberies. And, most recently, the three dozen converts-turned-potential-terrorists who just fled to Yemen were all, as the ABC report puts it, “criminals.”

Traditionally, one of the reasons ex-cons turn to religion is to change their evil ways. Not so these Western men-turned-Islamic-terrorists. Consciously or unconsciously, it would seem they embraced Islamism — and subsequently jihadism — merely to receive divine sanctioning for their otherwise violent and rapacious behavior, being transformed in the process from petty criminals to major criminals — terrorists and traitors.

Originally published at:

Raymond Ibrahim is the associate director of the Middle East Forum, the author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and a visiting lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College

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