Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Islam And Terrorism (Part 1)


Holy war (jihad) against unbelievers in order to submit the world to Islamic rule is an established part of Islamic theology and tradition. All major schools of jurisprudence, Sunni and Shi'ite, agree on it. It is as far from a radical doctrine within Islam as can be found.

There is, however, a difference between sacralised warfare against non-Muslim societies, as delineated by the sharia, and the wanton murder of innocent people. And yet, despite the claims of Muslim and non-Muslim apologists, these acts also have justification within Islamic theology and law. This essay will examine the ways in which Muslims use the sacred Islamic texts to justify terror, focusing specifically on three aspects of Islamic terrorism: the killing of civilian non-combatants, the beheading of captives, and suicide bombing.

First, however, we must briefly examine the way terror is defined in an Islamic context. The Qur'an says: “Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies [emphasis added], of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly.” (8:60)

The fourteenth-century Spanish Muslim Ibn Hudayl, who wrote an important treatise on jihad, outlined the permissible tactics of jihad raids, or razzias:

“It is permissible to set fire to the lands of the well as to cut down his trees, to raze his cities, in a word, to do everything that might ruin and discourage him...[being] suited to hastening the Islamisation of that enemy or to weakening him. Indeed, all this contributes to a military triumph over him or to forcing him to capitulate.”

The former Pakistani brigadier S.K. Malik's 1979 book The Qur'anic Concept of War, which carried an endorsement by former Pakistani president Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, emphasises that terror is an important aspect of jihad: “Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end in itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved. It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose upon him.”

This is indistinguishable from the intentions of modern acts of jihad terrorism. There is no doubt that terror attacks such as those of September 11th, 2001 are designed to “strike terror into the hearts of the enemy”. A note in some written instructions left for the 9/11 hijackers read: “Shout Allah is great because this shout strikes terrors in the hearts of the infidels.”

With this background in mind, we will move on to the first major aspect of Islamic terrorism:


Since the devastating attacks of jihad terror on the World Trade Centre in 2001, much controversy has arisen regarding whether the killing of innocent civilians is permitted in Islam. In June 2006, the leaders of 150 British mosques issued a statement declaring that the “killing of innocent civilians is absolutely forbidden in Islam and anyone who contemplates or commits any such act does so against the teachings of Islam.”

At first glance, it would appear that this notion has some support in the Islamic texts, for Muhammad is reported to have “disapproved of the killing of women and children.” (Sahih Muslim b.19, no.4319)

However, to fully answer this question, it is important to bear in mind that the Islamic view of what constitutes an “innocent” person may not be the same as the Western view.

A chief reason for this is the well-developed concept in Islamic law of the division between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. Classical Islamic jurisprudence divides the world into two “Houses”: Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam: the Islamic world) and Dar al-Harb (the House of War: the non-Islamic world). One view of orthodox Islamic jurisprudence – as expounded by the Shafi'i jurist an-Nawawi (d.1278) – is that non-Muslims living in the Dar al-Harb, such as those working in the Twin Towers on 9/11, are muba'a – licit – targets for jihad attacks. A non-Muslim living in this House who is not protected by a treaty is called a harbi, an infidel alien, and his life and property are completely unprotected by law. He can therefore, according to an-Nawawi, “be killed with impunity”.

This view was reiterated in 2003 by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential Muslim clerics in the world:

“It has been determined by Islamic law that the blood and property of people of Dar al-Harb is not protected. Because they fight against and are hostile towards the Muslims, they annulled the protection of his blood and his modern war, all of society, with all its classes and ethnic groups, is mobilized to participate in the war, to aid its continuation, and to provide it with the material and human fuel required for it to assure the victory of the state fighting its enemies. Every citizen in society must take upon himself a role in the effort to provide for the battle. The entire domestic front, including professionals, laborers, and industrialists, stands behind the fighting army, even if it does not bear arms.”

Other Islamic legal authorities – as Qaradawi hints – allow for the killing of non-Muslims only so long as they are aiding the “war effort” against the Muslims, even by indirect means. The Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328) wrote:

“Those, such as women, children, priests, the old, the blind, the infirm, etc. – who cannot be considered 'resisters' or 'combatants' – will not be killed, according to generally acknowledged opinion, unless they have actually fought with either words [e.g. by propaganda] and deeds [e.g. by spying or otherwise assisting in the warfare].”

Osama bin Laden has used this line of reasoning to justify the 9/11 attacks: “The American people are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes that bomb us in Afghanistan, the tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine, the armies which occupy our lands in the Arabian Gulf, and the fleets which ensure the blockade of Iraq. These tax dollars are given to Israel for it to continue to attack us and penetrate our lands. So the American people are the ones who fund the attacks against us, and they are the ones who oversee the expenditure of these monies in the way they wish, through their elected candidates.”

It should not be forgotten also that, according to the earliest Muslim sources, Muhammad himself engaged in attacks against non-combatants. In 628, he attacked the Jews of the Khaybar oasis, a peaceful farming community who had done nothing to threaten him or his followers. The raid seems to have been carried out just to steal the Jews' wealth. On another occasion, he was questioned as to the permissibility of mounting an attack against his enemies at a time which would put their women and children in danger. He replied simply, “They [i.e. the women and children] are of them [i.e. unbelievers]” (Sahih Bukhari v.4, b.56, no. 3012), which seemed to imply that because they were not Muslims, they could legitimately be killed, as long as the intended targets were unbelievers.

Muhammad is viewed by all Muslims as a supreme example of conduct (Qur'an 33:21), and thus it is not surprising that his example has been used time and time again to justify the actions of jihadists. Yusuf al-Qaradawi made this clear in 2001:

“Allah established in the life of the Prophet Muhammad general, eternal, and all inclusive characteristics, and he gave every human being the possibility to imitate him and take his life as a model...Allah has also made the Prophet Muhammad into an epitome for religious warriors, since he ordered Muhammad to fight for religion.”

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon...


  1. Back for some more, eh?

    Can you bring some friends over? I'm suffering from a lack of comments.

  2. "I'm suffering from a lack of comments"

    ...and readers. If you stop writing tripe it might help.

  3. It's funny, how despite all this "tripe" I'm writing, you've never even bothered to actually refute any of it or show me where I'm wrong (except for your calumnies about the Arab-Israeli conflict, where you soundly failed to prove your case - and gave up when it got too much for you).

    So, care to tell me exactly what, in the above article, for example, is "tripe"? Seriously, I want to raise the conversation above toddler level (but I expect you will disappoint me in that regard).