Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Religion. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 07 October 2022

Transnational Jihadi Movementslocked

Transnational Jihadi Movementslocked

  • Mona SheikhMona SheikhSenior Researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies
  •  and Saer El-JaichiSaer El-JaichiPostdoctorate, Danish Institute for International Studies


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.


  • Global Perspectives on Religion

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription