Transnational jihadi movements are defined by their transnational appeal and demands, their reaction against external interventions and call for Muslim autonomy, and their network-like organization. These movements perceive jihad—in terms of an armed struggle—to be a (neglected) duty incumbent upon all Muslims, regardless of their national affiliation. The global jihadi movement has had two organizational manifestations: al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State movement. Al-Qaeda first appeared on the global stage in the 1990s as a local recruitment bureau for the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Cold War. Islamic State appeared in the 2000s, initially as an Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda in the context of the country’s political turmoil in 2001–2003, later developing into a separate expansionist movement that took territorial control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. Though Islamic State lost its territorial control in 2018, it is still active across different regions, much like al-Qaeda. Regional branches of both organizations are at times reliant on a centralized authority, but more often they are local movements that have declared loyalty to the agenda of the al-Qaeda or Islamic State. The worldview of transnational jihadi movements is framed and defined by geopolitical events that took place in the Middle East from the 1960s onward. The movements appear with a defensive anticolonial ethos against foreign intervention and interference, but also with offensive ambitions of establishing a transnational caliphate. Though Islamic State has a sectarian agenda largely defined against Shia Muslims, both contemporary movements are driven by the belief that God’s sovereignty is threatened, that the United States and the West are an enemy of Muslims along with apostate Muslim regimes, and that Islam needs to be purified from disbelief. Tactical and interpretive differences regarding the definition of disbelief, the right timing of establishing the caliphate, and fighting the near enemy (apostate regimes) or the far enemy (the United States and the West) have caused divisions among the transnational jihadi movements.
Mona Sheikh and Saer El-Jaichi
In both popular and scholarly literature, jihad is primarily assumed to be a monovalent concept referring to “military/armed combat,” and martyrdom (shahada) is inevitably understood to be of the military kind. This assumption facilitates the discussion of jihad and martyrdom as terms with fixed, universal meanings divorced from the varying sociopolitical contexts in which they have been deployed through time. Such a monovalent understanding of these two concepts emerges primarily through consultation of the juridical literature and official histories that were produced after the 2nd century ce (8th century ah) and that are unduly privileged in academic discussions of this subject. In contradistinction to this approach, a more holistic and historical approach to the term jihad can be undertaken by focusing on the changing significations of jihad from the earliest formative period of Islam to the contemporary period, against the backdrop of specific social and political circumstances which have mediated the meanings of this critical term. This larger objective entails canvassing a more varied genre of texts to recreate a more multifaceted understanding of jihad and martyrdom as dynamic discursive terms through time. Such sources include Qurʾan exegetical works (tafsir), early and late works of hadith which purport to contain the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, the excellences of jihad (fadaʾil al-jihad) and the excellences of patience (fadaʾil al-sabr) literatures, which are often not consulted on this topic. Furthermore, the comparison of early and late sources and texts from these genres allows one to chart both the constancies and changes in the spectrum of meanings and repertoire of activities included under the terms jihad and shahada. This recovery of a broader semantic landscape undermines exclusively martial conceptualizations of both these terms and has important implications for the contemporary period.
Adrian Chastain Weimer
In American history, venerating a death as martyrdom has been a way of claiming its significance within a narrative of ultimate victory. The words for martyr in both Greek and Arabic literally mean “witness”: martyrs’ willingness to die is a form of witness to the truth of a tradition. Figures claimed as martyrs in American history from the Mormon leader Joseph Smith to Baptist civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. have often prophesied their own deaths, embracing the hope that their sacrifice will inspire zeal in others. Religious communities in North America have commemorated martyrs through stories, paintings, shrines, maps, monuments, poetry, liturgy, and theological reflections. The category of martyrdom tends to become more diffuse over time. Moving beyond a strict definition of death for the faith, Americans have used the language of martyrdom to find spiritual significance in a range of physical and interior sufferings. For example, both French Canadian nuns and New England puritans claimed their daily colonial sufferings as a form of martyrdom. Narratives of martyrdom have also played an important role in political movements such as the anti-lynching crusade of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Martyr language can even push the boundaries of what constitutes religion itself. In the 20th century, the suffering of American jazz musicians, denied civil rights, has been described as martyrdom. Following the September 11, 2001, attacks by radical jihadists seeking martyrdom, the term has often been associated with terrorism. Debates about justifications for violence in the Qur’an and the true meaning of jihad have taken place among politicians, religious leaders, and academic scholars. This intense focus on Islamic theology of martyrdom has led both to widespread suspicion of Muslims (and those of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent generally) as well as to new ecumenical commitments to a shared ethic of loving God and neighbor.
Salafism is a branch of Sunni Islam whose modern-day adherents claim to emulate “the pious predecessors” (al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ; often equated with the first three generations of Muslims) as closely and in as many spheres of life as possible. Different scholars of Islam throughout time have striven to emulate the early Muslim generations in the legal sphere, in theological matters, or in both. The ideas espoused by these scholars have more or less culminated in the Wahhabi movement that started on the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century, which in turn helped spread a Salafi message to the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds and even beyond. As such, the trend now referred to as Salafism came about, expressing itself ideologically in teachings that are meant to present the trend as exclusively and meticulously adhering to the example of the salaf, while rejecting all other sources of influence. Practically, Salafism can be divided into three branches: quietist Salafism, whose adherents shun political activism and concentrate on “cleansing” and teaching Islam in all its “purity”; political Salafism, which does concentrate on political commitment as an integral part of Islam through contentious debates, parliamentary participation, and founding political parties; and Jihadi-Salafism, whose followers seek to overthrow supposedly apostate regimes in the Muslim world through violent jihad. Although the term “Salafism” is heavily contested among Salafis—with adherents of one branch often not allowing the application of the label to be applied to the other branches—its various ideas and manifestations show that Salafism is quite a diverse phenomenon.
Political Islam has generated two ideological strands that use religious ideology to advance their goals, namely, Islamism and jihadism. On the one hand, Islamists have formulated a political paradigm premised on Islamic teachings that are adaptable to the secular framework of the modern state and have, therefore, endured both as domestic and global political actors. On the other hand, jihadis have rejected positive law outright and advanced a global revolutionary paradigm against today’s secular world order. Key to jihadism’s appropriation of Islamic teachings is a quest for a legal code that provides jihadis with both an anti-establishment justification for their violence and a claim to legitimacy in the minds of Muslims whom they wish to enlist as their followers.
A “cosmic war” is an imagined battle between metaphysical forces—good and evil, right and wrong, order and chaos—that lies behind many cases of religion-related violence in the contemporary world. These transcendent spiritual images have been implanted onto the social and political scene, magnifying ordinary worldly conflict into sacred encounter. There is nothing specific to Christianity, Islam, or any other religion about this idea of cosmic war. Every religious tradition contains images of grand battles that have a divine valence to them. Hence every religion has some kind of mythic or legendary scenario of warfare that can be transported into contemporary conflict and elevate a social or political confrontation into cosmic war.
Hans G. Kippenberg
An instruction manual consisting of four sheets in Arabic was found with three of the four teams that performed the terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The writing conceived of the action as a raid (ghazwa), as we know it from early Islamic history. It instructed the teams how to perform the ghazwa correctly. Purifying their intentions by recitals, rituals, and bodily cleaning, they turn their attack into an act of worship. A part called the “second stage” anticipates the issue of assuring divine protection at the airport. Finally “a third stage” urges the teams to act in the plane according the practice of the Prophet and to achieve martyrdom. To understand the manual and its framing of the violence, six dimensions will be analyzed: (1) Arguments for and against the authenticity of the document are discussed. (2) The attack happened in the wake of a declaration of war by the “World Islamic Front for the Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” in 1998, signed by Osama bin Laden and leaders of other jihadist groups. (3) The message spread across the Internet and was accepted by various groups that regarded the situation of Islam as threatened, among them a group of young Muslim men in Hamburg. A network called al-Qaeda emerged. (4) The present world is dominated by the power of ignorance and hubris (jahiliyya). The manual prescribed an attack in terms of the raids (ghazwa) of the Prophet in Medina. (5) The manual presumes a particular communal form of organizing militant Muslims. (6) It celebrated militancy of Muslims and presupposed a fighter’s ethos in the diaspora. An argument is made that the American concept of terrorism as a manifestation of evil and immorality destined to be eradicated militarily by the United States and their allies ignores the secular character of conflict and accelerates the cycle of violence.
Muslim-Jewish relations began with the emergence of Islam in 7th-century Arabia, but contacts between pre-Jewish Israelites and pre-Muslim Arabs had been common for nearly two millennia previously. These interactions inform the earliest relations between Muslims and Jews and serve as precursors to the social, cultural, religious, political, and institutional relations between Muslims and Jews from the 7th century to the present. Areas and periods of particular importance are 7th-century Arabia with first contacts between Jews and the earliest Muslims, 8th–9th-century Middle East with the establishment of legal and social status of Jews in Islam, the 9th to 14th centuries in many parts of the Muslim world with the development of great Jewish intellectual advances under Islamic influence, the subsequent decline of the Muslim world and its negative impact on Jews and other minorities, the period under colonial powers with the rise of national movements and the subsequent transition to independent nation-states that includes the rise of both Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms, and the current status of Muslim-Jewish relations today. Common issues include language production; cultural production including literature, hermeneutics, and systematic thinking; legal developments, political relations, religious commonalities and differences, and economic relations and partnerships.