Follies of Denial: Jihad and the Islamic State

Western leaders who deny the religious foundation of the jihadist group Islamic State are blind to its raison d’être, which is firmly grounded in Islamic texts and the concept of offensive jihad. Furthermore, models for militias such as Islamic State can be found in historic and contemporary jihads.

Foot soldiers of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) may not be schooled in theology but their leaders have been rigorous in their observance of sharia law based on religious texts. Shared by all Sunni Muslims, these texts have provided IS and other jihadist groups with much of the inspiration to wage imperialist war. Their campaign of territorial expansion aims to restore transnational hegemony and sharia law structured on the ancient Muslim caliphate, and led by a ruler who claims ancestry from the Prophet.

Another major influence is attributed to Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, the foremost modern theorist of jihad. Qutb did not view jihad primarily as a defensive or spiritual struggle, but as an offensive assault that would spread Islam and unseat Muslim governments not committed to implementing sharia. He also advocated divine, rather than secular laws, and Islamic supremacism. Qutb’s views were shaped by medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah, who advocated a return to early Islam, and jihad waged against Muslims deemed unworthy or dissident.