Home Islam Rethinking violent extremism through the Islamic lens (I)

Rethinking violent extremism through the Islamic lens (I)


Although terrorism is not an Islamic phenomenon, it is a fact that the lion’s share of terrorist acts and the most devastating in recent years have been perpetrated in the name of Islam.

This fact has triggered a fundamental debate around the world regarding the link between terrorism and the teachings of Islam. Many analysts are reluctant to identify such acts with the authentic teachings of any of the world’s great religions and prefer to view them as a perversion of an essentially peaceful and tolerant religion.

The question of whether Islam is a religion that supports violent extremism, and more specifically terrorism, or is used and abused by extremist groups for fictitious ends, is important. This question continues to be a recurrent theme at various levels of contemporary world politics. The debate over Islam and extremism has become more powerful in the two decades following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The rise of various ideologically linked violent extremist networks has threatened the stability of many states and tested the international bloodthirsty order. It has polarized world opinion between those who hold Islam responsible for the violent activities of these groups and those who attribute their actions to certain international political situations and the absence of a global strategy on the part of the world community. to counter them by addressing their root causes.

Consequently, policy makers and opinion leaders of different ideological and political persuasions have offered various descriptors to try to make sense of Islam’s position in relation to violent extremism.

They prominently include political Islam, radical Islam, extremist Islam, Salafist Islam, reformist Islam, moderate Islam, or a combination thereof.

But do these descriptors capture the essence of Islam as a communal faith and way of life, or do they indicate that the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) are open to a range of interpretations, including those who can justify violence and terrorism?


The pages of some foreign newspapers have been flooded with articles about Islamists and responses about them. Although these terms are overloaded and imply that Islam itself endorses terrorism, it is important to distinguish between violent and non-violent Islamists.

Many Muslim thinkers and activists believe in Islam as an ideology for political and social transformation of their societies, but reject violence as a means to achieve these goals. Essentially, Islam condemns any act of terror that kills innocent people or harms the peaceful and prosperous existence of society (Quran 2:190). It places great importance on the sanctity of life and specifically prohibits the shedding of blood in any form (Quran 5:32).

In other words, a clear distinction should be made between jihadists or militant Islamists who justify their actions on the basis of a literary and selfish interpretation of Islam, while considering violence as a means to an end, and ijtihādists or reformists Islamists who base their understanding and application of religion on independent human reasoning according to changing times and circumstances. This distinction is often overlooked because many experts have often found it appropriate to label all forms of Islamist as threatening, which is unacceptable.


Until recently, the international community had failed to agree on a unified definition of terrorism. This failure was not due to a lack of jargon or legal terminologies, but to the politicization of the concept with regard to conflicting political interests. What is considered by one state to be terrorism is considered by another to be a legitimate cause pursued in accordance with applicable international law.

The laws of the United Nations have been clear in giving full rights to nations under colonization or under any form of occupation to fight for their independence by all means, including armed struggle, until their objectives are achieved. . These laws draw a very clear distinction between legitimate resistance and acts of terrorism.

The dilemma of defining terrorism therefore confronts both policy makers and academics. Everyone who writes about the phenomenon is aware of the dilemma and therefore finding a precise definition is nearly impossible. As a result, authors have no choice but to highlight the most important definitions that address their areas of interest.

According to the Arab Convention against Terrorism (ACCoT) signed in Cairo on April 22, 1998, terrorism is “any act of violence or threat committed by an individual or a group, whatever the motives, with the aim instilling fear in people or endangering their life, liberty or security”.

However, immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, the Institute of Islamic Research at al-Azhar University redefined terrorism as “the intimidation of security, the destruction of interests, the ‘attack on life, property, honour, liberty and dignity’.

At the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, a subsidiary of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which held its 17th session in Jordan on June 28, 2006, terrorism was declared as “any form of material or psychological threat, , of intimidation emanating from States, groups or individuals against a religious group, a person, honor, intelligence, property wrongfully committed by various types of aggression and constitute a form of corruption on earth ” .

At the gathering of the Muslim World League held in Makkah on May 28, 2018, where the “Makkah Declaration” was adopted, terrorism was defined as “any act of aggression by individuals, groups or countries which frightens, harms and threatens the life, spirit, property and honor of people”.


It is not possible to understand the source of terrorism through the Islamic prism in isolation from conflicts in the name of sectarian identity, around which political and ideological dimensions overlap, and which has become the most important tributary of thought extremism, and the violence associated with it, from which virtually all countries in the Middle East suffer. The conflict over sectarian identity is one of the main reasons for the phenomenon of violent extremism and terrorism.

For years, the Middle East has seen the emergence of many sectarian conflicts, which revolve around religious identity. Prominent sectarian groups are behind these protracted conflicts which they aspire to consolidate for their political interests.

These groups refuse to integrate into their country’s ‘official Islam’, claiming that it does not correspond to their understanding of the Islamic faith.

“Official Islam” is a particular Islamic sect recognized and proclaimed as the official state religion, although other sectarian groups are free to practice their brand.

There is no doubt that the discourse held by these opposing sectarian groups and movements is the main source of the spread of violent extremism, especially since they seek to monopolize the discourse in the name of Islam, including in their speech slogans such as the revival of the Islamic caliphate and the application of the “sharia”.

These groups annually produce thousands of West Africans and other nationals of their unique sectarian mission institutions who, back in their various countries, join the sub-regional network of their sectarian alliance to spread what they regard as the only “true Islam” which must be followed by all who profess Islam at all costs.

In other words, unlike conventional educational institutions in the Middle East where students receive a holistic education that broadens their horizons and expands their faculty of thought, the curricula used in sectarian missionary institutions adapt to the ideals of the sect in question, thus producing graduates. with very little (or only negative knowledge) about other sects.

While acknowledging the right of individuals to decide where they pursue their Islamic studies, the challenge is when many of these individuals constantly and continuously assert, freely and openly, that Muslim societies will never know peace until all Muslims follow their style of Islam.

To be continued next Friday.

The writer is the founding president of the Center for Islamic Thought and Civilization. This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.