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The Just Jihad: Understanding Christian and Islamic Terrorism as Fundamentalism

In contemporary media, we are constantly bombarded with headlines that are claiming acts of terror as being the sole jihad, and the individual who has utilized an unjust form of violence as being the only ‘jihadis’. Jihad is a term that outlines the rules of violence in Islam, but there are over a dozen schools that apply and interpret this term in distinct ways. Therefore, when the media refers to the doctrine as being the act of terror itself, it is misusing and misrepresenting a term which harms the understanding of Islamic thought and practice. In this paper, I will analyze to what extent is jihad aligned with just-war theory. Secondly, I argue that religious fundamentalism can be witnessed by both Christian rebel groups as well as Islamic—yet are not treated in the same manner by the media.

Just War Theory

The just-war theory is a doctrine that has emerged through the development of Western Christian tradition as modern states were established. Saint Augustine of Hippo was one of the first who claimed individuals should not resort to violence immediately and developed conditions whereby the use of violence would be considered ‘just’ (Silverman 75). Approximately nine hundred years later, in the 13thcentury, Thomas Aquinas laid out specific conditions known as the four-criteria system where wars would be considered just, primarily based on Christian theology and on Aristotelian ethics (Silverman 76).

There are two just-war traditions that have now evolved in the interconnectedness set of criteria jus ad bellum (the justice of going to war), and jus in bello (the justice of the conduct of war) (Widdows 175).

The conditions of jus ad bellum that need to be filled to enter a conflict are:

(1) War must be called for/initiated by a competent authority

(2) Just cause-specifically, either individual or collective self-defence or offensive protection of one’s right

(3) Right intention prior to initiating war.

Jus in bello is used to govern the conduct of the state once a conflict has been joined, which includes:

(1) Utilize military means in prosecuting the war that are proportional to states political and military ends

(2) Discriminate in targeting and tactics and

(3) Prohibition of certain military means- disproportionate types of combat military conduct are prohibited

In contemporary contexts, the use of just-war is now being employed to judge whether violence is permissible through the application of ‘just-war’ theory (Widdows 174). Therefore, one can use jus ad bellum to establish whether the reason for going to Iraq to search for Weapons of Mass Destruction was a just act, or utilize the principles of jus in bello to determine whether using the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just. The openness of the principles allow space for interpretation; thus, both defenders and critics of conflicts can deploy just-war theory to argue why their actions are sanctioned by this doctrine. For instance, the defenders of the Iraqi invasion argue that all three principles of jus ad bellum were met; i.e. the act was sanctioned by the American government, it was for self-defence after the attacks of 9/11, and that the intention was to search for WMD. In contrast, critics of the Iraq war evoke the same principles to argue that it was not carried out in self-defence, rather it was an offensive attack that did not protect the interests of the United States—this was further strengthened when there were no WMD found. In either case, the considerations of just-war conditions are critical to the Western way of war.

Islam: Laws outlining Violence

In Islam, international law is known as ‘as-siyar’ and is an integral part of Sharia (Islamic law) and jurisprudence (Shaheen 3). Furthermore, as-siyar has the same source as the rest of the Sharia whereby it relies primarily on four main sources: the Quran, the Sunna, Ijma, and Qiyas.

The Quran is the primary source of Islamic law, and consists of revelations made by God to the Prophet Muhammad over a 23-year period. There are 114 chapters (suras) containing over 6666 verses (ayaats), of which about 70 are addressed to the conduct of hostilities (Ali and Rehman 325). The second source is the Sunna, which is also known as the teachings of the Prophet and it is passed down in the form of the hadiths (a written collection) —this can be highly contested due to memorization and transmission potentially being comprised. The third source of Islamic law is Ijma, the agreement of jurists among followers of the Prophet on a question of law. The fourth source is Qiyas which is the analogical deduction, implying that if no other available guidance can be found from the first three sources, then analogy can be used. As such, the definition and interpretation of jihad must be evaluated against the four sources. The term jihad is an Arabic word that means ‘to strive’, ‘to exert’ or ‘to fight’. This struggle can be utilized to express a struggle against one’s evil inclination, an exertion to convert unbelievers, or a struggle to better the Islamic community. Furthermore, Jihad is the only legal warfare that can be employed in Islam and is heavily controlled and regulated through Islamic law (Oxford). Thus, the use of the word jihad and its connotation is extremely contextual and must be referred back to the four sources to understand its meaning to ensure its appropriate application.

The verses pertaining to Jihad also outline the right conditions required to enter a conflict. Prophet Muhammed stated that, “self-exertion in peaceful and personal compliance with the dictates of Islam the major or superior jihad”, with the use of violence being the minor Jihad. The oldest verses in the Quran are in Sura al-Haj, which establishes the how, when, and why jihad can be used. These verses 39-40 are the oldest ones that reveal jihad. The criteria established in these verses address defending oneself and to redress an unjust action. Thus, it establishes two criteria of the just-war theory, right intention and proportionality. Furthermore, these verses were revealed in response to the conflict between the Meccans and Medinans. Thus, it outlined the first time when violence was not only used for defense but was unavoidable. Moreover, Sura Al-Baqara clearly states that jihad cannot be used to impose faith (2:256). Furthermore, Surah al-Anfar address the use of violence as last resort and that peace is preferred in international relations (8:61).

It is important to note that in Jihad, there are also substantial limitations placed in the conduct of war; there are rules relating to inter alia, notice of commencement of hostilities (unless it’s a defensive), effects of war, methods of warfare, organization of army and navy, modes of fighting, time of fighting, discipline, and regulation of army. Thus, Jihad in the seventh and eighth century offered limitations to the use of violence and warfare. Furthermore, in jihad there is a distinction made between combatant and non-combatant—non-combatants are protected persons and cannot be attacked killed or otherwise molested (Mahmassani, 301). Although, jurists disagree with all those considered protected persons, there is widespread consensus for women, children, the elderly, the blind, the crippled, the disabled and the sick (Mahmassani, 302).

Furthermore, the Quran also forbids the demolition of religious places—a reference many use to cite religious coexistence and peace as a core to the religion (Ali and Rehman, 19). The Quran is categorical on this: "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256); "Say to the disbelievers, [that is, atheists, or polytheists, namely those who reject God] to you, your beliefs, to me, mine" (109:1–6).

The verse that is most cited and is more often used to reflect a sole narrative of Jihad is the sword verse (Quran 2:191):

“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter... and fight them until fitnah is no more, and religion is for Allah.”

There are scholars who have addressed this as requiring contextual understanding of historical political awareness of the time in which it was used. This passage refers to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, which was broken by a Qurayshi-affiliated tribe that attacked a Muslim-allied tribe. Thus, at the time the Prophet had sent a letter to terminate the alliance or for belligerents to pay a ransom. When the group rejected both options, the use of violence against the group was considered just, it being an act of self-defense, in response to being ‘persecuted’. Moreover, the preceding verse states (Quran 2:190): “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.” Thus, reiterating the fact that the use of jihad must be the last resort, in self-defense and proportional. However, the use of Jihad and Sharia differs among the board, and if the Quran and Hadith outline a jihad that is just, why is it that there are so many different Islamic groups?

Schools of Thought: Distinction through Methodological Jurisprudence

In the first few centuries of the emergence of Islam, three distinct sects evolved: Sunni, Shia, and Kharjites (Schools of Thought in Islam). These sects are primarily differentiated based on methodological interpretation and application of jurisprudence. Thus, the Islamic schools of jurisprudence are largely distinct on the basis of how they derive the rulings from the Quran and Hadith. Islamic law covers both the set of rules concerting resort to war (jus ad bellum) and conduct of war (jus in bello).

Silverman argues that the first normative use and recontextualization of Jihad was done by the Prophet Muhammad’s successor Abu Bakr (80). After the death of the prophet, there were many Arabian tribes that denounced Islam as their religion, citing that their religious beliefs as being a treaty with the prophet that ended with his death. Thus, Abu Bakr used Jihad as an attempt to control apostasy and bring back the followers through the ridda (apostasy) wars (Silverman 80). Silverman argues that the use of jihad served two purposes for Abu Bakr, for he shifted the focus from internal queries to protecting the territory from external actors and simultaneously expanding the Islamic territory.

The expansionist ideals of Abu Bakr were promoted through his immediate successors, and early advocates—one of the first philosophers to advocate for an active jihad as indispensable feature of legitimate rule was Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (1263- 1328). He had declared that any ruler failing to establish and enforce the rules of Sharia rigorously in all aspects of society, including conduct of jihad, forfeits his right to rule (Silverman 80). Furthermore, he also advocated for jihad against the Crusaders and Mongols who, during his time, occupied parts of Dar al-Islam. Moreover, Ibn Taymiyya also claimed that Muslims who do not live by the faith is an apostate (unbeliever); this stance was seen as very different from the mainstream Islam at the time. Thus, Ibn Taymiyya went beyond most jurists at the time and established the groundwork for radical Islamists. He even went so far to call for Jihad against Ismailis, Alawis, and Druze to fulfil revelation about jihad against disbelief and hypocrisy, claiming that the interpretation of these branches were an incorrect view of traditional Islam (Silverman 81). Other scholars that promoted a very strict and conservative form of jihad against disbelievers include Muhammab Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Rashid Rida, Abu al-Ala Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb, Shakri Mustafa, Abd al-Salam Farj and Juhayman al-Utabi—all these scholars call upon the rulings of Ibn Taymiyya (Silverman 82). More broadly, the schools of thought that adhere to the fundamentalist principles includes scholastic, political, and militant divisions that preach the use of religion as both for spiritual guidance and for a political end.

In contrast, Muslim jurists of the eighth and ninth century developed an understanding of Islamic law that had three conceptual states noted as dar al-Islam (House of Islam), dar al-Harb (House of war) and dar al-sulh (House of Peace) (Ali and Rehman 14). The scholars that abide by these principles include Hanafi jurists al-Awza’I, Malik ibn Anas, and other early scholars that argued for tolerance, coexistence, and to use jihad as a form of defensive warfare (Schools of Thought in Islam). The requirement to continue jihad until all of the world is included in the territory of Islam does not imply Muslims must wage nonstop warfare (Knapp 83). Furthermore, the expansion of territory does not mean annihilation of all non-Muslims, or their conversion (as mentioned earlier, Islam does not allow conversion through force). Hence, the use of jihad is more political: the drive to establish a single, unified religious realm to create a just political and social order. Jihad is also not an obligation of all individuals (fard’ayn) but it’s a general requirement of the Muslim community (fard kifaya), i.e. jihad is compulsory only whence and when the Dar al-Islam is under attack, during which all Muslims partake in Jihad (Knapp 83).

In the past 14thcenturies, Islamic jurisprudence has evolved in various schools with distinct interpretation and application of the Sharia, and many of these schools also further splintered differing on interpretive approaches and applications (Middle East Institute). As noted earlier, the primary difference between the different school is its interpretation and application of the primary sources, the Quran and Sunna. Therefore, Islam can essentially be seen as a spectrum whereby, depending on the school of thought you follow, you may practice the religion quite differently.Moreover, the use of Jihad as noted must be employed by a competent authority, which in the Westphalian system would be the leader of the state. However, there are various fundamentalist groups that are promoting their own interpretation of the religion and using violence to meet their own political ends. Therefore, a large amount of Islamic law is comprised by human knowledge and application, and thus, should not be seen as unchangeable. This form of thinking is dangerous to alternative legal reasoning for the purpose of making it compatible with present day requirements of coexistence in a changing world (Ali and Rehman 326).

Fundamentalism: Capitalizing on Religious Cleavages

Although the use of the just-war and jihad principles as established in this paper can lead to differing views, and thus; distinct applications of the principles—there are some universal beliefs that are held. The acts of terror go against the concept of jihad whereby the use of violence is outlined. Similarly, the acts of violence that is used to deploy terror while using Christian dogma is contradictory to the core tenets. Thus, terrorism in these instances are not representative of the religion and are more reflective of fundamentalist beliefs. In this section, I will analyze the use of terrorism and the religious connotations that is deployed.

The use of the term ‘fundamentalism’ has referred more specifically to Christian beliefs and a conservative attitude. However, in recent times this term has been associated with variant forms of religious extremism (Pratt 440). The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel group that aligns with heterodox Christian ideology and operates in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The leader of the group is Joseph Kony who created the group in 1987 in northern Uganda. The political context at the time was that the Acholi suffered dire abuses from the hands of successive Ugandan governments in 1970 and 1980 (Q&A On Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army). The goal of the organization was to establish a multi-party democracy according to the Ten Commandments and Acholi nationalism. The Ten Commandments are a set of biblical principles that relate to ethics and worship that is fundamental to both Judaism and Christianity. The sixth commandment states “Thou shall not kill” and is often cited by critics of this organization when addressing the fact that the LRA has committed crimes against humanity. Furthermore, the group has abducted and killed thousands of civilians in northern Uganda and mutilated many others by cutting their lips, ears, noses, hands, and feet—brutality against children was extremely severe (Q&A On Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army). In short, the use of violence in the name of fundamentalism is hardly exclusive to Islam but also has its incarnations in Christianity among other religions.

In the past 30 years, there has been a surge in the number of radically self-identified Islamic groups that engage in violence for political ends. These groups are simultaneously also reemphasizing individual conformity to the requirements of Islam, by the forceful creation of a society that’s governed by Sharia and a unified Islamic state. The Salafi movement in Islam is a transnational religious-political ideology that is based on ‘physical’ jihadism. It follows the teachings of Ibn Tamiya and Sayed Qutb (Wiktorowicz 77). The organizations that associate with the Salafi movement include the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and Al Qaeda. One of the terror acts deployed by the ISIL is the suicide bombing mission during a concert in Manchester Arena that resulted in 23 people dead, 139 wounded, and several hundred suffering from psychological trauma (Dearden, The Independent). The group released statements in several languages through the media praising the mission, and claimed that they killed 100 ‘crusaders’ at the ‘shameless’ concert. Moreover, the group also stated, "With Allah's grace and support, a soldier of the Khilafah [caliphate] managed to place explosive devices in the midst of the gatherings of the crusaders in the British city of Manchester," (Dearden, The Independent).

In both Christian and Islamic schools of thought there are rules that can be adhered to sanction the use of violence. Both doctrines set norms in regards to political behavior to incorporate concepts of proportionality, redress, moderation, exploration of other options, and defense. Eugene Gallagher states a group ‘that defines its mission as ‘religious’ is claiming a very powerful form of legitimacy’ and states that it becomes problematic and threatening when it attempts to change institutions or systems set i.e. anti-government ideology’ (Pratt 451). When religious fundamentalists move deeper into extremism, they are more likely to engage in terrorism. Similarly, the fundamentalist groups of ISIL and LRA both abide by what is considered an ‘extreme’ version of the religion but fail to uphold various principles that are outlined within the doctrine of both religions. For a fundamentalist extremist group to be willing to engage in violence they must resort to violence and terrorism to achieve aims. Violence both real and symbolic, is the outcome of ideological trajectory of religious extremism. These fundamentalist groups must intentionally impose themselves in order to transform their hardline ‘assertive’ interpretation from the religious frame ideologically and behaviorally (Pratt 440).

The act of religious terrorism is embedded within a larger movement of political identification—in both the cases of the ISIS and the LRA, the religious doctrine was used to promote an Islamic or Christian political structure. When ISIS engages in these attacks primarily targeting innocent civilians it refers to them as ‘crusaders’ and as extensions of ‘The War on Terror’—its referring to the threat of West in the Middle East. The leaders of ISIS interpret Islam as being at war, and that the defenders are involved in an asymmetric war against the ‘crusaders’ to defend dar al-Islam. Despite these actors utilizing religious scripture for the justification of their violence, the terminology, ideologies, symbolism and organization structure is more reflective of the anti-colonial struggle of the developing world. For instance, the group uses expressions that are imported from national liberation struggles against colonialism and imperialism that was not a part of Islamic heritage (Fadl). Similarly, the LRA deploys very similar rhetoric and justification for its claims to religious scripture as the means to the end of attaining a nationalist Achioli state. However, the violence deployed by the LRA has not invited the same level of condemnation from the entire Christian community.

An Analysis: Reclaiming Jihad

The most recently completed surveys by the Pew Research Center indicates that people in countries with significant Muslim populations view ISIS unfavorably; this includes nearly 100% of Lebanese, 94% of Jordanian, 79% of Indonesian respondents, and etc. ("Views of ISIS by Religion, Ethnicity and Region" 2015). Moreover, another research by the center found that Muslims consider suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians rarely or never justified—roughly three quarters of all Muslims respondents denounced these acts. Moreover, the survey also unveiled that there is no consistent link between those individuals supporting sharia as an official law and attitude towards religiously motivated violence (Wormald). Thus, there is empirical evidence that the acts of these individuals are not representative of the general Muslim population.

Since the attacks on 9/11, Islamist groups comprise 23% of the world population and yet, have only conducted about 20% of terrorist attacks worldwide. Thus, terrorist attacks are more likely to be committed by non-Muslims than by a Muslim (Jetter and Stadelmann) —yet research done by the University of Alabama found that US media coverage for terrorism committed by Islamic groups are 357% more likely to obtain media coverage (Chalabi 2018). When the media reported the Manchester bombings, there were various headlines that equated the suicide mission as being an act of jihad, or the actors as being jihadis. This generalization by the media fuels the narrative that Islamic law condones martyrdom, the killing of protected persons, and the harming of non-combatants. As mentioned earlier, these acts are vehemently against the principles of conducting a just act of violence that is outlined in the commonly accepted doctrine of jihad. In comparison, media coverage on the violence deployed by Christian fundamentalists do not question the civility of all followers of the religion nor do it demand a condemnation from Christian scholars across the board. Thus, the media has contributed to fueling the narrative of fundamentalist Islamic groups by disproportionately covering their message through their acts of terror. Furthermore, the media’s reluctance or ignorance in ensuring the deployment of correct terminology has also not only narrowed the various applications of Jihad across the Muslim world, but has conceptualized an entire doctrine to being synonymous to act of terror.


Based on these definitions of just-war theory and jihad, it can be claimed that there are large similarities between the two theories of just-war, primarily in terms of proportionality, redress, limitations on combat, defense and the use of violence as last resort (Silverman 44). Western just-war theory was developed from an amalgamation of Greco-Roman and Christian dogma and ethics as well as the Teutonic cultural tradition. This thinking that has been developed throughout history has given birth to the Western just-war doctrine which includes holy war ideas and justifications. Similarly, Jihad outlines the use of violence to conduct war and use violence within war. Therefore, the just-war theory and jihad both share an ideological nature of justification for resorting to war.

Furthermore, holy war can be seen as an act that is sanctioned by religion but will require legal jurisprudence for its application. The promotion of a single doctrine that is inherently violent, unjust, and radical is a narrative that promotes a distinct version of Islam that benefits fundamentalist terrorist groups. Therefore, the rules that are enshrined within the practice of jihad range widely in meaning and interpretation, thus, it can be utilized as a means for various self-serving political, religious, or ideological ends. Moreover, some groups that deploy a radical version focus on the physical, violent form of the struggle to focus on cultural, economic, military, and political assaults against the Islamic community. Therefore, there must be a greater effort to distinguish between ‘jihad’ and acts of terror—otherwise, the media runs the risk of becoming de facto recruiters by promoting a single fundamentalist narrative as the sole representation of Islamic law.

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