2. The Quranic Concept of War: Context and relevance

One little step in the direction of understanding the way of thinking of Islamic fundamentalists is a book which is considered to be one of the key writings of modern Global Jihad, according to the opinion of several scholars of the subject (Gorka, 2012): The Quranic Concept of War. Written by a Pakistani general, S. K. Malik, it was first published in Lahore, in 1979—incidentally, the year of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, as well as the siege of Mecca and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—. It became mandatory reading for the officer academies of the Pakistani Army, and was translated into English by the Indian publishing company Himalayan Books, in 1986.

It seems to have quickly spread among the members and the leadership of a wide array of fundamentalist Islamist groups and organizations, particularly the Taliban, yet the exact extent of its diffusion or impact is contested. In his referential review of the book—the first written by a Western military officer—US-Army LTC Joseph Myers states that “The reach and influence of [Malik’s] work is not clear although one might believe that given the idealism af his treatise, his approaches to warfare, and the role and ends of ‘terror’ his text may resonate with extremists and radicals prone to use terroristic violence to accomplish their ends”, and goes on to suggest that “For that reason alone, the book is worth studying” (Myers, 2006, p. 109).

The unclarity of its relevance notwithstanding, Ibn Warraq goes as far as citing it as one of the four core texts of present-day global jihad, affirming that it “has been enormously influential in providing the ideological foundations of the internationalist jihadist movement” (Warraq, 2011). The other key writings for the understanding of modern jihad according to his view, are Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones (Qutb, 1964/1978), Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner (al-Zawahiri, 2001), and Abdullah Azzam’s fatwa, Defence of the Muslim Lands (Azzam, 1979)[1]. Other essential works worth mentioning are those of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949), and of the highly influential Indian Islamic scholar Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979).

The latter author is particularly relevant for the topic at hand since, eventhough Malik makes no explicit mention of him in the body of the book, he does cite Maududi’s Quranic commentary, Towards Understanding the Quran (Taf heemul Quran), and Jihad in Islam (Al Jihad Fil Islam), among the bibliographical references at the end of it. Maududi would seem to constitute his main—though undeclared—ideological source of reference as far as the understanding of Islamic doctrine is concerned. The military regime of Pakistan, headed by the foreword’s author, Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq, was “strongly influenced by Maududi’s ideas” (Berger, 2010, p. 156, own translation).

According to Maududi’s view, who bares a considerable ideological affinity with the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, “Islam is a comprehensive ideological system, which is superior in all aspects to all other worldviews. The core of this system is the idea of the sovereignty of God. All social regulations, all ways of life, that aren’t the expression of this godly sovereignty (i.e. all non-Islamic social orders), don’t have a right to exist. Only the Islamic rule mandated by God is legitimate” (p. 156-157). While, according to Maududi, the State shall be governed by elected officials, they must strictly abide to, and impose, the principles mentioned in the Quran and the Sunna, the normative way of life prescribed for Muslims based on the teachings and practices of Muhammad. Government officials, therefore, are not allowed to issue laws and regulations out of their own volition. Maududi believes that such a perfect social order under divine rule has existed at the time of Mohammed and of his first four successors, the “rightly guided caliphs”, and that once such an Islamic State is re-established through both education and the appropriation of political power, it becomes its duty to contribute to the establishment of God’s sovereignty over the whole world, implying an expressly offensive nature of jihad (íbid.).

The Quranic Concept of War is a relevant book not only because of its arguable impact on the strategic aspects of global Jihad, but also because its author was a high-ranking military official of a recognized nation-state. The foreword to the original edition was written by general Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, whom was the Chief of Army Staff and president of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, and the preface was written by the Pakistani equivalent of an acting Attorney General, the eminent jurist Allah Bukhsh Karim Bukhsh Brohi. The influential authorship of the book and its endorsements give it a particular weight, far from that of the work of a marginalized author without a proper audience. The Quranic Concept of War remains, however, a little-known book in Western circles, due to the relative difficulty to obtain a copy—though online copies have become available[2]—, but also largely due to the fact that the West is far behind in the understanding of the jihadist threat and appreciating the eminently ideological dimension that underlies it.

I will be henceforth reviewing and elaborating on the 2008 Indian re-print published by Adam Publishers and Distributors, approaching it from a mostly psychological and psychodynamic perspective, inquiring in its theo-ideological aspects, while dedicating only peripheral attention to the more concretely tactical implications of its content. For the reader more interested in the latter viewpoint, I would suggest turning to LTC Joseph C. Myers’ review (Myers, 2006).


al-Zawahiri, A. (2001). Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner. London: Ash-Sharq al-‘Awsaṭ . Retrieved January 7, 2015, from https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/ayman-al-zawahiri-knights-under-the-prophets-banner-second-edition.pdf

Azzam, A. (1979). Defence of the Muslim Lands: The First Obligation After Iman. Retrieved April 24, 2014, from http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/jihad/azzam_defence_1_table.htm

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.

Gorka, S. (2012). The Enemy Doctrine of Al Qaeda: Taking the War to the Heart of our Foe. In P. Sookhdeo, & K. Cornell Gorka (Eds.), Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism (pp. 185-204). McLean, Virginia: Isaac Publishing.

Inamdar, S. C. (2001). Muhammad and the rise of Islam: The creation of group identity. International Univerities Press.

Lewis, B. (1995). The Middle East: A brief history of the last 2000 years. New York: Scribner.

Myers, J. C. (2006). Review of the ‘The Quranic Concept of War’. Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly(Winter 2006/2007), 108-127.

Qutb, S. (1964/1978). Milestones. Holy Koran Publishing House.

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.

Warraq, I. (2011). The Westminster Institute (Virginia): Educating the Public and Government About the Ideology of the Terrorists, and Ways to Counter It. Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://www.jihadwatch.org/2011/06/ibn-warraq-the-westminster-institute-virginia-educating-the-public-and-government-about-the-ideology-4

Zelikow, P. D. (2011). he 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

[1] For a brief overview of each of the four mentioned ideologues’ most relevant points, see Warraq, 2011.

[2] For example, at http://onceagreenberet.com/WordPress/publications/malik.pdf .

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