“Our Prophet, the Messenger of our Lord, has ordered us to fight you till you worship Allah Alone or give Jizya (i.e. tribute); and our Prophet has informed us that our Lord says: ‘Whoever amongst us is killed (i.e. martyred), shall go to Paradise to lead such a luxurious life as he has never seen, and whoever amongst us remain alive, shall become your master’”.
“The universality of Islam, in all its embracing creed, is imposed on all believers as a continuous process of warfare, psychological and political if not strictly military”.
“Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by the unbelievers? Islam says: Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter their armies…. Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other (Qur’anic) psalms and Hadiths urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim”.
—Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
September 11, 2001 was an abrupt wakeup call for the United States and for the world in general. Although the 9/11 Commission Report rightly concluded that, in order to defeat Al-Qaeda, it would be essential to prevail “in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamic terrorism” (Zelikow, 2011, p. 363), there has been a puzzling disregard for Islamic ideology and war doctrine on part of Western scholarship. Western military academies may teach the thoughts on war by authors stretching from ancient Rome, to Sun-Tsu, all the way to the Napoleonic Wars, or Clausewitz, yet
“As late as early 2006, the senior Service colleges of the Department of Defense had not incorporated into their curriculum a systematic study of Mohammad as a military or political leader. As a consequence, we still do not have an in-depth understanding of the war fighting doctrine laid down by Mohammad, how it might be applied today by an increasing number of Islamic groups, or how it might be countered” (Gawthrop, 2006, p. 10).
While seemingly unfamiliar with Malik’s book, Inamdar (2001) dedicates various sections of his study on Muhammad’s role as a leader and creator of Islamic large-group identity to the belligerent aspects of Islam and the role of Muhammad as a “warrior prophet”, recognizing that “Significant contributions to battle planning and war strategy are part of Muhammad’s legacy” (p.219), as well as making out that Muhammad “employed deception and guile to maintain the element of surprise in an attack and employed elements of psychological warfare” (p.220). Early Islamic history, the Quran, as well as the traditional Islamic collections of Muhammad’s sayings (the hadith), and his corpus of early biographies (the sira), all give evidence for the inseparability of Islam and war.
The Western reticence when it comes to engaging an “exotic” religion in a critical, upfront way might be caused by a certain deference and respect for what has come to be considered a strictly private matter in our secularized society, based on the speculative assumption that Islam isn’t essentially constructed in a way much different than Christianity or Judaism. This attitude directed at the ideology per se is, however, misguided, and the consequences of this blindness become ever more evident, as religiously motivated conflicts set ever greater parts of the world ablaze.
The intelligence policies adopted by the White House since 2001 have further contributed to the impediment of a frank ideological analysis of jihad, prohibiting any explicit association of Islam with terrorism in its training programs or policies. In the latest National Security Strategy document issued by the White House, the word “jihad” does not appear once, and “Islam” is only mentioned in the document’s claim that “We reject the lie that America and its allies are at war with Islam” (p. 9). While making an important and necessary statement, the a priori obfuscation of the deep implications of Islamic ideology in today’s worldwide violence is a grave error. A reason for this difficulty in approach could be found, aside from the obvious matters of one’s ethnocentric worldview and to cultural barriers such as language, also in the fact that Islam is commonly viewed in the West as “just another religion”, fairly similar to the more familiar monotheistic religions of Christianity and Judaism. But the claim that Islam makes for itself goes way beyond the individual’s preoccupation with afterlife or merely spiritual issues: it extends over humanity as a whole, and it is inherently political in nature.
Since the year 622 AD—year that marks the hijra and, concomitantly, the “year zero” of the Islamic calendar, when Muhammad and his followers emigrated from Mecca to Yathrib (later to be called Medina)—religion and State are one and the same: Islam is the state. Unlike the prophets of Christianity and Judaism, Mohammed was a successful one: he “conquered his promised land, and during his lifetime achieved victory and power in this world, exercising political as well as prophetic authority… he promulgated laws, dispensed justice, collected taxes, conducted diplomacy, made war, and made peace” (Lewis, 1995, p. 53).
Downplaying or dismissing these facts, forcefully relegating them to the metaphysical realm where we, as secularist Westerners, believe they belong, leads to the invisibilization of crucial aspects of the ideology’s structure, and of how deeply it is implicated in the fundamentalists’ motivation leading to violent action, as well as in the shaping of devout Muslims’ overall construction of meaning. As Sookhdeo points out, “While it is important to clarify that this is not a war on Islam, of which Islamists are quick to accuse in the West, it is imperative to acknowledge that the war against Islamic terrorism is a war of ideas, ideologies and worldviews” (Sookhdeo, 2012, pp. 18-19). It is crucial to approach the issue of Islamic fundamentalism trying to understand how jihadis think, rather than adopting the patronizing and sterile attitude of discussing how their way of thinking is “wrong” or, even more condescendingly, “unislamic”—a defensive attitude possibly reflecting a resistance in the face of the anxieties awoken by the task of “having to think the mind of someone who desires and has sworn to annihilate us. … Achieving significant identification with annihilatory intent toward the self may feel dangerous, deeply aversive, even perverse” (Stein, 2010, p. 4). It is almost impossible to rid oneself and go beyond the fundamental incompatibility of our discourse, our theory of the world and ourselves, with that of a hardly translatable discourse of someone who is at home in a universe rooted in absolutes, transcendence, and the Divine—which in our secular, rationalist mindset have come to acquire an uncanny nature, rather than an aesthetic one.
At the center of religious thinking there lies, per definition, a nucleus of irrational faith, a paradox that derives its sacred nature from the very fact that it lies beyond logic and rationality. “Credibile est, quia ineptum est … certum est, quia impossibile”, Tertullian wrote about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ: it is to be believed because it is absurd, and it is certain because impossible. Since theological claims are not falsifiable, the approach of theology with a scientific mindset aimed at making out whose religious view is “right” and whose is “wrong”, is bound to move in circles without getting anywhere. The possibility of understanding ideology becomes often thwarted by vain discussions about contradicting claims of being in possession of a Truth which is, in its very nature, ineffable. Mixing secular rationalist logic with theological epistemology is a tricky enterprise which gives rise to countless misunderstandings and a general confusion of tongues which, at the light of worldwide developments, cannot be afforded. In sum, the profoundly theological dimension of Islamic ideology is its most fundamental aspect and should be kept in mind at all times.
Coughlin, S. C. (2007). To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad. Washington DC: National Defence Intelligence College. Retrieved May 26, 2015, from http://www.aina.org/reports/iwesaj.pdf
Gawthrop, W. (2006). The Sources and Patterns of Terrorism in Islamic Law. The Vanguard: Journal of the Military Intelligence Corps Association, 11(4 ), 9-14.
Inamdar, S. C. (2001). Muhammad and the rise of Islam: The creation of group identity. International Univerities Press.
Khadduri, M. (2007 ). War and Peace in the Law of Islam. Clark: Lawbook Exchange.
Lewis, B. (1995). The Middle East: A brief history of the last 2000 years. New York: Scribner.
Sookhdeo, P. (2012). The West, Islam, and the Counter-Ideological War. In P. Sookhdeo, & K. Cornell Gorka (Eds.), Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism (pp. 15-44). McLean, Virginia: Isaac Publishing.
Stein, R. (2010). For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Zelikow, P. D. (2011). The 9/11 commission report: Final report of the national commission on terrorist attacks upon the United States. Government Printing Office. Retrieved March 21, 2014, from http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf
 Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 53, Number 386.
 (Khadduri, 2007 , pp. 63-64)
 (quoted in Coughlin, 2007, p. 223)