Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

ISIS and the Scourge of Global Jihad: Regional Implications and Challenges for India *

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

ISIS and the Scourge of Global Jihad: Regional Implications and Challenges for India *

Article excerpt

The ideology and motive-force of the Islamic State (IS) originates in what contemporary scholars refer to as "Salafi-jihadism". Its roots lie in Islam's first texts, the Quran and the Hadith (the "traditions" of the Prophet Muhammad, referring to his words and actions), and the commentaries of early scholars. Jihadi ideologues have reinterpreted these ideas to analyse the Muslims' present-day predicament and provide justification for contemporary confrontations between "Islam" and its enemies. Thus, the ideology of jihad and its modern-day protagonist, the IS, is within the mainstream tradition of Salafi-Jihadi thought, but whose beliefs and practices have been greatly influenced by political experiences of Muslims over the last 200 years.

"Salafism" refers to the thought and conduct of the first three generations of Muslims, a period that roughly covers the first 200 years of Islam. Based on a hadith of Prophet Muhammad, these first Muslims are said to reflect the characteristics of the best Muslims in terms of the authenticity and purity of their faith and hence are worthy of emulation by later generations to realise the perfect Islamic life. All through the 19th and 20th centuries, as Muslims experienced defeat and despair in the face of the colonial onslaught, it is to these "righteous ancestors" that their intellectuals turned, seeking to derive from their words and deeds the ability to cope with the present-day dilemmas of their community through a fresh interpretation of their early conduct and precepts.

In terms of their political orientation, these Salafi intellectuals have traditionally been divided into three groups: quietists, those who decry political activism by the citizenry and leave decision-making to the ruler, who is then expected to rule on the basis of Islamic precepts; activists, those who advocate an active role for citizens in shaping their political order on Islamic lines; and jihadis, those who are willing to use violence to realise a society that is based on God's law.2 The latter approach is clearly explained in a statement by Al Qaeda, the world's first transnational jihadi movement: "We believe that the ruler who does not rule in accordance with God's revelation as well as his supporters are infidel apostates. Armed and violent rebellion against them is an individual duty on every Muslim."3 This category of Salafism is referred to as "Salafi-jihadism".

Attributes of Salafi-Jihadism

Salafi-jihadism has had numerous ideologues over the past 70 years who have described its various characteristics based on their interpretation of Islam's texts and the later commentaries on these texts. In this effort, they frequently stretch the limits of old texts and imbue them with meanings that support their present-day interests, even as they compete vigorously with each other to uphold the value of their own offering.

From this copious body of diverse literature, five attributes can be said to define Salafi-jihadism: jihad; takfir, excommunication of those guilty of apostasy; al-walaa al-bara, the concept of "avowal and rejection" for Allah; tawhid, the idea of oneness or unity of God, and hakimiyya, the establishment of Allah's sovereignty in a political order.4 Most of these concepts are rooted in Islam and have been discussed by scholars for centuries; what makes them relevant in the context of Salafi-jihadism is the unique meaning that jihadi ideologues have imparted to them. Such meanings have usually been derived in periods of conflict and reflect the sense of being at war with dangerous enemies.

Jihad has been a central part of Islamic faith; rooted in the Arabic term that means labour or struggle or effort, it has traditionally meant the individual's personal struggle against temptation and sin. But, it has also referred to a struggle against the enemies of Islam to defend the faith from external threat. It is the latter meaning that has motivated jihadis, so much so that their ideologues such as IbnTaymiyya (1263-1328) and Abdullah Azzam (194189) have placed it as the foremost obligation for a Muslim after belief in Islam. …

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