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Jihad is most commonly understood to mean an Islamic holy war. Literally "struggle" in Arabic, "jihad" also has a range of definitions, starting with one not well known in the west. Its original basis was the struggle, within oneself, to follow the doctrine of submission to Allah; a translation of Muslim is "one who submits to God".

The concept broadened in the 12th century work of Ibn Tamiyya, who formulated an additional concept of "external" jihad, or struggle, usually but not necessarily armed, against enemies of Islam. Some theologians considered external jihad, when Islam faces enemies, to be an addition to the five basic Pillars of Islam.

Armed jihad

Today, "armed" or "violent" jihad is a basic concept of jihadist terror groups such as al-Qaeda. A jihadist or jihadi refers to one involved in armed jihad. It may be limited in scope to reestablishing Muslim rule (e.g., the Caliphate of Sunni Islam), or go beyond, into the interpretation of takfir, which calls for the killing of non-Muslims. The term jihadist usually refers to one engaged in armed jihad.

Jihadists often regard their own constituency as "collateral damage".

The "argument" that "Allah decides who is innocent" must be relentlessly exposed as cruel, inhumane, anti-Muslim and against Sunni traditions of argument about what constitutes a just war justly waged....Surgical counterterrorism (which need not be militarist) should instead focus on opportunities to generate revulsion and change minds when Al-Qaeda attacks "its" people. The jihadists, like other utopian revolutionists throughout history, eat their own. This central fact should be constantly highlighted by Western democracies and the new Iraq democracy.[1]

External jihad, for purposes of establishing the caliphate, or, if the jihadists are not Sunni, at least establishing a state under shari'a, do not think of such acts as creating a just state, or providing social benefits. The classical extreme jihadist follows a charismatic leader, such as Osama bin Laden or Muhammad Omar, chosen for character, piety and religious fervor, than for governing abilities or even Islamic scholarship.[2] Jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Taliban, therefore, differ from Islamist groups that do intend to provide social services within a perhaps more liberal context of shari'a. Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, while having strong Islamist principles, also recognizably provide social services.

Yet other movements for forced Islamization, such as the Sudanese movements under Hassan al-Turabi, used ethnic cleansing and other violent means to leave only Muslims, but, once that pure state is established, have a relatively liberal social system in mind. Turabi is from a Sufist tradition[3]

Another movement, Hizb ut-Tahir al-Islami (HT or Party of Islamic Liberation) states its methods are nonviolent, but still call for a restoration of the Caliphate. Both the HT and IMU, however, have no social programs, but charismatic leaders.[4] Juma Namangami, the original IMU co-leader, was killed by an air strike as he fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but his successors share his approach.


Different jihadist groups became radicalized in different ways. Al-Qaeda and its antecedents developed from intellectual models from Sayyid Qutb and Abdullah Azzam, in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Taliban, however, trace more to certain Deoband Islamic schools in India, which are derived from Wahhabism. Qutb and Azzam, on the other hand, were considered heretics by Saudi Wahhabite jurists.

Near and far enemy

Violent jihadists differ in their priorities. Those concerned with the near enemy first want to reform, by overthrow if necessary, Islamist governments that they consider to be compromising the tenets of shari'a. Others, however, are concerned with the far enemy, essentially the West; Israel is often considered ideologically part of this group. Ibn Tamiyya did not use the term, and his situation was complex: his nation was being invaded (i.e., far) by invaders who claimed to be Muslim.

Suspension of jihad

While a jihad declared by a competent fatwa ends only with the completion of the goal or revocation by the issuer or a successor, it may be permissible to have a hudna truce if it is to the benefit of Islam.


  1. Brendan O'Leary & Karin von Hippel (2 December 2005), "Winning the War of Ideas", Washington Times
  2. Ahmed Rashid (2002), Jihad: the Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300094454, p. 3
  3. Milton Viorst (2001), In the Shadow of the Prophet: the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, Westview, ISBN 08133390222, pp. 134-140
  4. Rashid, Jihad, p. 9