Terrorism & Jihad

The last part of the book will discuss the issue of Jihad and terrorism in some detail. No sane person will respect a religion, let alone think about adopting it if it promotes senseless terror and taking innocent life in the Name of God. The author hopes that a careful and impartial reading of this section will put the reader’s mind and heart to rest about this matter. The historical and contemporary examples of terrorism from other faiths are not meant to malign them, but presented for the purpose of education.

What Is Terrorism?

Even though terrorism is perhaps the most commonly used word in the media today, evoking intense emotions, definitions of terrorism are complex and controversial. Encyclopedia Britannica defines terrorism as,

“The systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.”[1]

Some definitions treat all acts of terrorism, regardless of their political motivations, as simple criminal activity. For example, in the US the standard definition used by the FBI is “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

 The criminality, however, is problematic, because it does not account for cases in which violent attacks against a government may be legitimate. A frequently mentioned example is the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, which committed violent actions against that country's apartheid government but commanded sympathy throughout the world. Another example is the Resistance movement against the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. This and similar problems have led some social scientists to adopt a definition of terrorism based not on criminality but on the fact that the victims of terrorist violence are most often innocent civilians.[2]

Brief History of Terrorism

The term ‘terrorism’ was first coined in the 1790s to refer to the terror used during the French Revolution by the revolutionaries against their opponents. [3]

Terror has been practiced by states and non-states throughout history and throughout the world. The ancient Greek historian Xenophon (c. 431–c. 350 BC) wrote of the effectiveness of psychological warfare against enemy populations. Roman emperors such as Tiberius (reigned CE 14–37) and Caligula (reigned CE 37–41) used banishment, expropriation of property, and execution as means to discourage opposition to their rule.

The most commonly cited example of early terror, however, is traced to the Jewish Zealots

 known as the Sicarii (Hebrew: “Daggers”), who violently attacked fellow Hebrews suspected of collusion with the Roman authorities.[4]
In modern times terrorism has been practiced by political organizations with both rightist and leftist objectives, by nationalistic and religious groups, by revolutionaries, and even by state institutions such as armies, intelligence services, and police.[5]
Establishment terrorism, often called state-sponsored terrorism, is employed by governments. The Soviet Union and its allies allegedly engaged in widespread support of international terrorism during the Cold War[6]

Religious Terrorism

All terrorists are not Muslims. The term “Muslim terrorist” is used to label Islam as a terrorist religion. It is a misnomer. When IRA bombers struck, they were not labeled as “Catholic terrorists” even though Protestant England supports Protestant Northern Ireland against Catholic Ireland. Likewise, when Timothy McVeigh blew up the FBI headquarters in 1995 killing 168 people, he was not labeled as a “Christian terrorist”, though he was Christian, a terrorist, and visited by a chaplain in prison. The following is a brief list of terrorist organizations within Judaism and Christianity. It is provided to demonstrate that to link terrorism exclusively with Islam is factually incorrect.

From Jewish Tradition

Historical groups:

(1) Irgun, a terrorist Zionist group that operated in the British Mandate of Palestine from 1931 to 1948. Irgun was classified by British authorities as a terrorist organization and eventually became the Likud political alliance in Israel. Irgun launched a series of attacks which lasted until the beginning of World War II, in which more than 250 Arab civilians were killed.[7] In February of 1944, under the new leadership of Menachem Begin, Irgun attacked civilian targets like the British civil headquarters, the King David Hotel, and the British prison in Acre. The participation in war crimes at Deir Yassin has been widely discussed and documented. Their largest single operation was a terrorist attack on Jaffa (an Arab enclave according to the UN partition plan).

(2) The Lehi group, otherwise known as "The Stern Gang", a Zionist terror organization that sought an alliance with the Nazis against the British in Mandated Palestine and participated in many terrorist activities with Irgun.[8]

Present Groups:

The Jewish Defense League (JDL), a militant Jewish movement founded in 1968 by Rabbi Meir Kahane as a militant group to protect Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in New York City. Dr. Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli physician and JDL member massacred twenty-nine Arabs in Hebron in February 1994. On December 12, 2001, Irv Rubin, JDL International Chairman, and Earl Krugel, a member of the organization, were charged with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. The two were accused of planning attacks on Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa's office and on the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, California.

From Christian Tradition

Historical Groups

Teutonic Knights in the 1100s invaded and forcibly converted pagan Lithuanians.

Other examples are the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the Portuguese Inquisition and the Roman Inquisition, an office of the Roman Catholic Church charged with suppressing heresy.

Ku Klux Klan, a racist Protestant Christian organization founded during the Reconstruction in the former Confederate States of America, also committed terrorist activities[9]

Present Groups

In the United States, the most frequent example of Christian terrorism include the murder and bombing of abortion providers by self-professed Christian anti-abortion extremists.

Neo-Nazi, white supremacist terrorist organization, The Order, was active in the 1980 s and led by Robert Mathews, an American who led bank robberies and bombings of theaters and synagogues. He was burned to death in 1984 in a shoot-out with the FBI. Timothy McVeigh considered by the FBI an American domestic terrorist, was executed for his part in the 1995, Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 men, women and children.

Outside of US, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA),[10] formed in 1987, is a terrorist group in Uganda. It is led by Joseph Kony who wishes to establish a state based on Biblical millenarianism. It is estimated that around 20,000 children have been kidnapped by the group since 1987 for use as soldiers and sex slaves. In Atiak massacre (April 22, 1995) between 170 and 220 civilians were killed. In the Helicopter gunship incident (August 31, 1995) 13 civilians with their hands tied behind their backs were killed. In the Achol-pi Refugee Settlement massacre (July 13–14, 1996) three separate attacks made upon a settlement of Sudanese refugees in southern Kitgum administered by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees killed 100 refugees. In the Lokung/Palabek massacre (January 7–January 12, 1997) up to 412 civilians were bludgeoned or hacked to death. In Barlonyo massacre (February 21, 2004) over 200 civilians were murdered.

Jihad or Terrorism?

If a lie is repeated enough, people begin to believe it to be true. And the media performs a big role in it as George Santayana summed it: "Advertising is the modern substitute for argument." Today, Islam is held synonymous by some to terrorism, whereas Islam condemns and denounces it. Islam holds human life, wealth, and dignity to be sacred. An aggression against life, wealth, and honor without any right to do so is a deadly sin that invites divine anger. Combat was ordained in Islam to prevent war and aggression and to spread justice. Weapons are raised in Islam for defending the religion and the weak, not to attack civilians or target non-combatants. Military actions are taken only against combatants and those who assist in aggression.

Acts of sabotage and violence to terrify civilians, shed blood, and inflict harm on people are forbidden. Islam is a religion that does not permit frightening people by the threat of using arms, let alone actually using them! More so, Islam prohibits all forms of violence, terrorism, sabotage, and destruction, and demands the heaviest punishment on those who commit such vicious acts.

Islam is a religion that destined the cruel woman to Hell Fire who imprisoned a cat and prevented it from eating and drinking until it died. Islam is a religion that tells us how God appreciated a man who saved the life of a thirsty dog when he found it licking mud. Omar The Just, the second successor of the Prophet of Islam, held himself fully responsible before God for a mule that stumbled in faraway Iraq and got hurt because the street was not paved!

A religion like Islam would never permit shedding blood, stealing money, and committing vicious acts against the life, honor, and dignity of innocent people, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. God has ordained in the Quran,

If anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder,or to spread mischief in the land It would be as if he killed all mankind,And if anyone saved a life,It would be as if he saved the life of all mankind

Quran 5:32

Jihad or Terrorism?

Translated by the popular Western media as “holy war,” jihad is a misunderstood doctrine of Islam. The Arabic language does not have an equivalent term to “holy war.” The Arabic word jihad means “striving” or “struggle”. In Islam to refer to a variety of different efforts required of the faithful. Struggling to keep God and His Prophet before ones wealth and selfish desires is the most basic form of “jihad” prescribed on every Muslim. Struggling to do good works prescribed by God is “jihad.”

The Prophet Muhammad was reported to have said

The best jihad is the perfect pilgrimage (Hajj)


On another occasion, someone asked the Prophet if he should join an armed expedition. The Prophet asked him whether his parents were still alive and when he replied in the affirmative,

the Prophet said

Make jihad by serving them


Like all scriptures, Islamic texts must be read within the historical and socio-political contexts in which they were revealed. It should not surprising that the Quran, like the Old Testament, addresses conduct of war. The Islamic community emerged in a rough neighborhood. Arabia in which Prophet Muhammad lived and received God's revelation, was beset by tribal raids and cycles of vengeance and vendetta. Arabia was located between two warring superpowers, the Roman and the Persian empires. The Quran provided detailed guidelines and regulations regarding the conduct of war: who is to fight and who is exempted, when hostilities must cease, and how prisoners should be treated.

First, the Quran emphasizes that peace, not violence is the norm. At the same time, Islam permits self-defense. In early Islam, defending faith and the community under violent attack by an enemy was the primary aspect of the physical jihad which involved taking up arms. The reason for fighting an aggressor is not his disbelief, but his aggression.

God states in the Quran

Permission to fight has been given to those who have been attacked Because they are wronged.And indeed, God is Most Powerful

Quran 22:39

Fight in the cause of God against those who fight against you,But do not transgress the limits.Indeed God does not love transgressors

Quran 2:190

Permission to fight the aggression is balanced by encouragement for making peace:

If your enemy inclines toward peace,Then you too should seek peace And put your trust in God

Quran 8:61

Second, the Quran stresses that the response to aggression must be proportional:

Whoever transgresses against you, Respond in kind

Quran 2: 194

Third, from its inception, Islam forbade killing noncombatants, women, children, monks, and rabbis, who were given immunity unless they took part in fighting.

Islamic Stand on Suicide Bombings

High profile suicide bombings have been committed in the West and in many Muslim countries by terrorists professing to be Muslim. What does Islam say about suicide and suicide bombings? Taking one’s life and suicide bombings both are impermissible in Islam.

Then, the question arises, why are terrorists going around committing suicide and spreading terror? The connection between suicide bombings and Islam has been studied by Prof. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and author of the book, ‘Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.’ In ‘Blowing Up an Assumption, a New York Times editorial published on Wednesday, 18 May 2005, he wrote,

‘Since Muslim terrorists professing religious motives have perpetrated many of the attacks, it might seem obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause, and thus the wholesale transformation of Muslim societies into secular democracies, even at the barrel of a gun, is the obvious solution. However, the presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is misleading, and it may spur American policies that are likely to worsen the situation.

The leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents, more than Hamas (54) or Islamic Jihad (27). Even among Muslims, secular groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al Aksa Martyr Brigades account for more than a third of suicide attacks...’

Terrorist Acts Condemned by Islamic Scholars

Many people raise the question that if Muslims are so opposed to what terrorists do in the name of Islam, why Muslims don’t do something about it. In order for a group to have a unified stand on an issue, there needs to be an established body or organization that takes a position, renders a verdict, formulates a statement, and articulates a response that speaks for the group. We see this type of thing in many churches where there is some assembly or individual that has the authority to speak for the community. For example, the Pope and synods of bishops often function in this capacity in the Catholic Church.

First, an exact parallel structure does not exist in Islam since it lacks a clergy and institutionalized hierarchy. To its advantage, this fosters a greater sense of democracy within a community and encourage involvement among all members.

Second, the recognized and well known scholars of Islam are the voice of authority within the Islamic community. Different councils of Islamic scholars exist. Some countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have councils of their leading scholars. To find out the Islamic stand on terrorism, one sees that September 11 (and subsequent terrorist acts) were condemned by virtually all Islamic scholars, leaders, councils, organizations, and countries, yet they received little or no media coverage. Muslims have condemned terrorism and distanced themselves from it, but few chose to listen.

The ‘Kuala Lumpur Declaration On International Terrorism’ by the foreign ministers of Muslim countries held in 2002 unanimously condemned terrorism.[11]

More than 50 professors of Islamic Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the US and Canada, and members of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta, GA also condemned terrorism.[12]

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the highest religious authority of the country, said at the time, ‘that these matters that have taken place in the United States and whatever else is of their nature of plane hijackings and taking people hostage or killing innocent people, without a just cause, this is nothing but a manifestation of injustice, oppression and tyranny, which the Islamic Law does not sanction or accept, rather it is expressly forbidden and it is amongst the greatest of sins.[13]
Also, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a well-known Islamic scholar much respected in the Arab world, condemned attacks against civilians as forbidden in Islam [14]

In conclusion, terrorism is not jihad and terrorists are not holy warriors. Islam does not instruct believers to threaten and attack civilians. Islam does not command Muslims to randomly kill the “infidels” and terrorize civilians. Terrorists go beyond the Islamic criteria for a just war and recognize no limits, employing any weapons or means. They reject Islamic law's regulations regarding the goals and legitimate means for a just war: that violence must be proportional and that only the necessary amount of force should be used to repel the enemy, innocent civilians should not be targeted, and that war must be declared by the ruler or head of state. Today, misguided individuals and groups have seized the right to declare illegitimate and unholy wars of terrorism in the name of Islam.

  1. "Terrorism." Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service.
  2. "Terrorism." Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service.
  3. "Terrorism." Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service.
  4. "Terrorism." Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service.
  5. "Terrorism." Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service.
  6. "Terrorism." Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service.
  7. Stephen E Atkins. 2004. Encyclopedia of Modern Worldwide Extremists and Extremist Groups. Greenwood. 139-140.
  8. Joseph Heller. 1995. The Stern Gang: Ideology, Politics and Terror, 1940-1949. Routledge.
  9. Al-Khattar, Aref M. (2003). Religion and Terrorism: An Interfaith Perspective. Greenwood. 21, 30, 55, 91.
  10. James C. McKinley Jr. March 5, 1997. Christian Rebels Wage a War of Terror in Uganda. New York Times. On-line. Available from Internet, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/05/world/christian-rebels-wage-a-war-of-terror-in-uganda.html, accessed 30 August 2014.
  11. OIC. Kuala Lumpur Declaration On International Terrorism. On-line. Available from Internet, http://www.oic-oci.org/english/conf/fm/11_extraordinary/declaration.htm, accessed 30 August 2014.
  12. On-line. Available from Internet, http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm, accessed 30 August 2014. Professor Charles Kurzman, University of North Carolina. Islamic Statements Against Terrorism. On-line. Available from Internet, http://kurzman.unc.edu/islamic-statements-against-terrorism, accessed 30 August 2014.
  13. Dr. Jan G. Linn. 2004. What's Wrong with the Christian Right. Brown Walker Press. 80-81.
  14. Dr. Jan G. Linn. 2004. What's Wrong with the Christian Right. Brown Walker Press. 82.

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