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Jihadism (also jihadist movement, jihadi movement and variants) is a 21st-century neologism found in the Western languages to describe Islamist militant movements perceived as a military movement "rooted in Islam" and "existentially threatening" to the West. It has been described as a "difficult term to define precisely", because it remains a recent neologism with no single, generally accepted meaning. The term "jihadism" first appeared in South Asian media and was adopted by Western journalists in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. It has since been applied to various insurgent and terrorist movements whose ideology is based on the notion of jihad.


Contemporary jihadism ultimately has its roots in the late 19th- and early 20th-century ideological developments of Islamic revivalism, developed into Qutbism and related ideologies during the mid 20th century.

The terrorist organizations partaking in the Soviet–Afghan War of 1979 reinforced the rise of jihadism, which has been propagated in various armed conflicts throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Gilles Kepel has diagnosed a specifically Salafi jihadism within the Salafi movement of the 1990s.

Jihadism with an international, Pan-Islamist scope in this sense is also known as global jihadism. "Jihadism" is usually defined as Sunni Islamist armed struggle, and fighters often target Shia Islam, as well as Sufism and Ahmadiyya.


The term "jihadism" has been in use since the 1990s more widely after 9/11 attacks. It was first used in the Indian and Pakistani media, and by French academics who used the more exact term "jihadist-Salafist".

According to Martin Kramer as of 2003, "jihadism is used to refer to the most violent persons and movements in contemporary Islam, including al-Qaeda." David Romano has defined his use of the term as referring to "an individual or political movement that primarily focuses its attention, discourse, and activities on the conduct of a violent, uncompromising campaign that they term a jihad". Following Daniel Kimmage, he distinguishes the jihadist discourse of jihad as a global project to remake the world from the resistance discourse of groups like Hizbullah, which is framed as a regional project against a specific enemy.

Most Muslims do not use the term disliking the association of illegitimate violence with a noble religious concept and preferring the use delegitimising terms like "deviants".

The term "Jihadist Globalism" is also often used in relation to Jihadism. Academic Manfred Steger proposes an extension of the term "Jihadist Globalism" to apply to all extremely violent strains of religiously influenced ideologies that articulate the global imaginary into concrete political agendas and terrorist strategies (these include Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, Hamas and Hezbollah, which he finds "today's most spectacular manifestation of religious globalism").

"Jihad Cool" is a term used by Western security experts concerning the re-branding of militant Jihadism into something fashionable, or "cool", to younger people through social media, magazines, rap videos, clothing, toys, propaganda videos, and other means. It is a sub-culture mainly applied to individuals in developed nations who are recruited to travel to conflict zones on Jihad. For example, Jihadi rap videos make participants look "more MTV than Mosque", according to NPR, which was the first to report on the phenomenon in 2010.

Islamic revivalism and Salafism (1990s to present)

According to scholar of Islam and Islamic history Rudoph Peters, contemporary Traditionalist Muslims "copy phrases of the classical works on fiqh" in their writings on jihad; Islamic Modernists "emphasize the defensive aspect of jihad, regarding it as tantamount to bellum justum in modern international law; and the contemporary fundamentalists (Abul Ala Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, etc.) view it as a struggle for the expansion of Islam and the realization of Islamic ideals."

Jihad has been propagated in modern fundamentalism beginning in the late 19th century, an ideology that arose in context of struggles against colonial powers in North Africa in the late 19th century, as in the Mahdist War in Sudan, and notably in the mid-20th century by Islamic revivalist authors such as Sayyid Qutb and Abul Ala Maududi.

The term jihadism (earlier Salafi jihadism) has arisen in the 2000s to refer to the contemporary jihadi movements, the development of which was in retrospect traced to developments of Salafism paired with the origins of Al-Qaeda in the Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1990s.

Jihadism has been called an "offshoot" of Islamic revivalism of the 1960s and 1970s. The writings of Sayyid Qutb and Muhammad abd-al-Salam Faraj provide inspiration. The Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989) is said to have "amplified the jihadist tendency from a fringe phenomenon to a major force in the Muslim world." It served to produce foot soldiers, leadership and organization. Abdullah Yusuf Azzam provided propaganda for the Afghan cause. After the war veteran jihadists returned to their home countries and dispersed to other sites of conflicts involving Muslim populations such as Algeria, Bosnia and Chechnya creating a "transnational jihadist stream."

  • Kashmir conflict (Lashkar-e-Taiba, 1990–present)
  • Somali Civil War (1991–present)
  • Algerian Civil War (1991-2002)
  • Bosnian war (Bosnian mujahideen, 1992–1995)
  • Afghan civil war (Taliban 1994–present)
  • East Turkestan irredentism (East Turkestan Islamic Movement, 1997–present)
  • Chechen war and Insurgency in the North Caucasus (Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya, 1994–present)
  • Nigerian Sharia conflict (Boko Haram 2001–present)
  • Iraqi insurgency (Islamic State of Iraq, 2003–present)
  • Al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen (Abyan Governorate, 2010–present)
  • Syrian civil war (Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant 2011–present)
  • Syrian civil war (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant 2013–present)
  • An explanation for jihadist willingness to kill civilians and self-professed Muslims on the grounds that they were actually apostates (takfir) is the vastly reduced influence of the traditional diverse class of ulama, often highly educated Islamic jurists. In "the vast majority" of Muslim countries during the post-colonial world of the 1950s and 60s the private religious endowments (awqaf) that had supported the independence of the Islamic scholars/jurists for centuries were taken over by the state. The jurists were made salaried employees and the nationalist rulers naturally encouraged their employees (and their employees interpretations of Islam) to serve the rulers' interests. Inevitably the jurists came to be seen by the Muslim public as doing so.

    Into this vacuum of religious authority came aggressive proselytizing funded by $10s of billions of petroleum-export money. The version of Islam being propagated (Saudi doctrine of Wahhabism) billed itself as a return to pristine, simple, straightforward Islam, not one school among many, and not interpreting divine law historically or contextually, but the one, orthodox "straight path" of Islam. Unlike the traditional teachings of the jurists who tolerated and even celebrated divergent opinions and schools of thought and kept extremism marginalized, Wahhabism had "extreme hostility" to "any sectarian divisions within Islam".


    The term jihadist is almost exclusively used to describe Sunni extremists, (One who does use the term "Shia jihad" is Danny Postel, who complains that "this Shia jihad is largely left out of the dominant narrative.") In Syria, where there are thousands of foreign Muslim fighters engaged in the civil war, for example, non-Syrian Shia are often referred to as "militia", and Sunni foreigners as "jihadists" (or "would-be jihadists").


    According to Shadi Hamid and Rashid Dar, Jihadism is driven by the idea that jihad is an "individual obligation" (fard ‘ayn) incumbent upon all Muslims. This is in contrast with the belief of Muslims up until now (and by contemporary non-Jihadists) that jihad is a "collective obligation" (fard kifaya) carried out according to orders of legitimate representatives of the Muslim community. Jihadist insist all Muslims should participate because (they believe) today's Muslim leaders are illegitimate and do not command the authority to ordain justified violence.

    Against Jews

    Ayman al-Zawahiri declared a fatwa of jihad against Jews in 1998.

    Against atheists

    During the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, many Muslims received calls for a jihad against atheists. Mujahideen were recruited from various countries including Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The conflict gradually turned from one against occupation to one seen as a jihad.

    Against Shia

    The Syrian Civil War became a focus for Sunni fighters waging jihad on Shia. The al-Nusra Front is the largest jihadist group in Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has called for jihad against the Syrian government and against that government's Shi'ite allies. Saudi Arabia backs the jihad against the Shia in Syria using proxies. Sunni jihadi converge in Syria from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Bosnia, other Arab states, Chechnya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Western countries.


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  • Sageman, Marc (2008). Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-first Century. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-4065-8. 
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  • de Pommereau, Isabelle (2015). To fight homegrown jihadis, Germany takes lesson from battle with neo-Nazis. The Christian Science Monitor. 
  • References

    Jihadism Wikipedia