is not, as some Western apologists claim, simply a striving for
individual moral perfection. Nor is it merely a series of unrelated
clashes involving groups of Islamists, each with their own limited
objectives. Rather, jihad is a radical, expansionist, totalitarian
ideology that seeks to establish a global Islamic state ruled by
Sharia law. The adherents of this ideology are willing
and able to commit acts of violence to bring about their objectives.
goals and motives of jihad are detailed in Islamic texts and by
Islamic teachers. Osama bin Laden and other jihad leaders have
repeatedly declared their intention to establish an Islamic social
order globally. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted:
“The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire
fact that this jihad is justified by the Koran’s repeated
exhortations for the faithful to do battle with the infidels renders
negotiations with jihadis utterly useless. As Osama bin Laden’s
lieutenant, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, stated in the summer of 2006: “War
with Israel is not subject to a treaty, cease-fire, ... or disputed borders, but it is jihad
for the cause of God until the entire region is for him only ... from
Spain to Iraq.”
The restoration of a unified
Islamic state -- a caliphate -- governed by a ruler (caliph) who leads the Muslim community as
a successor of Muhammad, is a key imperative for jihadists today
because only the caliph is authorized to wage war against non-Muslim
states to bring them under the rule of Islamic law. This idea is not
an invention of marginalized jihadists, but is part of
traditional, mainstream Islamic law. For example, a manual of Islamic
law that in 1991 was certified by the most influential institution in
Sunni Islam, Cairo’s Al- Azhar University, defines jihad as “war
against non-Muslims.” And it spells out the nature of this warfare
in quite specific terms: “The caliph makes war upon Jews [and]
Christians ... until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll
by the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad, jihad is a constant of Islamic history.
From the earliest days of the faith, Muslims acted on these commands.
First Muhammad unified the Arabian peninsula under his rule and
directed that all religions be forbidden there except Islam. Then the
Muslims turned to the larger non-Muslim world. Predominantly
Christian lands -- particularly the Byzantine imperial holdings of
Syria, Palestine, and Egypt -- surrounded Muslim Arabia. Four of
Christendom’s five principal cities – Constantinople, Alexandria,
Antioch, and Jerusalem – lay within striking distance of Arabia.
The Byzantine Empire’s great rival, Persia, also lay in the path of
the holy warriors.
himself made the first Islamic overtures to these neighbors. He sent
letters to the leaders of Persia, Byzantium, and Abyssinia, exhorting
them to “embrace Islam and you will be safe.” None did. Thus, in 635
(just three years after Muhammad's death), Damascus fell
to the invading Muslims. The next year, Antioch also fell. It was
Jerusalem’s turn two years later, in 638. Many native Christians
were killed; others were enslaved. The same pattern prevailed when
the Muslims reached Cilicia and Caesarea of Cappadocia in 650.
jihadists rapidly swept through North Africa and by 711 were in a
position to invade Spain, so that Europe was beset from both the East
and the West. By 715 the Muslims were well on their way to conquering
all of Spain (which they would control for over 700 years),
and were pressing into France. Charles Martel stopped
them in 732 at the city of Tours.
The Jihad's Objective Today Is "Death to America":
chant of “Death to America!” has resounded in the Islamic world
since the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iranian revolution of 1979. Because
of its efforts to establish viable democracies in the Islamic world,
and because it represents the most formidable global alternative to
the jihadists’ vision of a world ruled by Sharia, the United States
is regarded by those jihadists as the most formidable obstacle in their
The jihadists are very clear about their intentions.
“America,” declared Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith, “is
the head of heresy in our modern world, and [as a result] ... we have
the right to kill 4 million Americans -- 2 million of them children
-- and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple hundreds of
thousands. Furthermore, it is our right to fight them with chemical and
biological weapons.” The Saudi Sheikh Nasser ibn Hamed says it would be "permissible" to "annihilate 10 million" Americans "and burn their lands
to the same extent that they burned the Muslim lands." Osama
bin Laden wrote in his “Declaration of Jihad against the Jews and
Crusaders” in 1998 that “killing the Americans and their allies –
both civilians and military personnel – is a commandment for every
individual Muslim who can do this, in any country in which he can do
words do not represent a deviation from Islamic tradition; they
are a new manifestation of an ancient impulse.
Jihad Demands the Killing of Infidels, or Their Conversion or Subjugation under Islamic Law:
goal of jihad warfare is not so much to force the unbelievers to
convert to Islam, as to extend the hegemony of Islamic law and to
make unbelievers submit as inferiors. Islamic history and
jurisprudence -- since the time of the Prophet Muhammad himself --
have established three choices for non-Muslims facing jihad:
conversion to Islam, submission under Islamic rule, or death. Muslim
jurists have constructed an elaborate legal edifice that is without
parallel in any other major religion: a codified, detailed mass of
laws for the subjugation of non-Muslims in the name of Allah.
manual of Islamic law insists that people must be called to embrace
Islam before being fought. But “if the infidels, upon receiving the
call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax [jizya],
it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance,
and to make war upon them.”
The Jihad Is Not about American Policy Towards Israel or about Israel's Policy Towards the Palestinians:
Many, particularly on the American Left, believe that
if the U.S. were to decrease its support for Israel, and if Israel were to surrender additional territory, jihad violence would cease. But this
view is ahistorical; the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, the first
modern Islamic terrorist organization and the direct ancestor of
Hamas and Al-Qaeda, was founded in 1928 -- twenty years before the
founding of the State of Israel. Its objectives have not changed markedly since then.
founding of the Muslim Brotherhood was not a response to Zionism, but
to the abolition of the caliphate by the secular Turkish government
in 1924. Indeed, the jihad group Hizb-ut-Tahrir ascribes all the ills
of the Islamic world today not to Israel or to American depredations
in Iraq or elsewhere, but to the abolition of the caliphate: “Since
that day the Islamic ummah [nation, community] has lived a life full
of calamities; she was broken up into small mini states controlled by
the enemies of Islam in every aspect.”
American and European officials continue to press forward with
initiatives to grant the Palestinians various land concessions in
exchange for peace, there has never been any indication from the
other side that such concessions will bring out the coveted cessation
of hostilities. In fact, jihadists have frequently rejected the path of
negotiation and compromise in no uncertain terms.
the fact that the jihad proceeds from theological imperatives within
Islam, not from political grievances, is the fact that jihadists are
active today in virtually every corner of the globe. The
international media focus on conflict in Israel, Iraq and
Afghanistan, but the jihad continues on a daily basis in places such as Indonesia, the
Philippines, Thailand, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir,
Chechnya, the Balkans, and Nigeria, to say nothing of the “soft
” being waged in Europe and America.
jihad likewise targets all religious groups. Historically it has been
even more virulent against Hindu India than against Christian Europe;
Hindus, since they were not “People of the Book” as the Qur’an
calls Christians and Jews, were treated even worse by their Islamic
Muslims are found, which is in almost every country on the planet,
there are adherents of the ideology of jihad and Sharia supremacism.
Peaceful Muslims have made no large-scale, organized attempt to
delineate a countervailing vision of Islam that calls for indefinite
peaceful coexistence as equals with non-Muslims, freedom of
conscience, or the rejection of elements of Sharia that are at
variance with otherwise universally accepted human-rights norms.
This Summary is adapted from "What Americans Need to Know about Jihad," by Robert Spencer (2007).