Event summary: ‘A Guide to Refuting Jihadism: Critiquing Radical Islamist Claims to Theological Authenticity’


This is a summary of an event with Rashad Ali, Counter-Terrorism Practitioner and Trainer, Hannah Stuart, HJS Research Fellow and Dr. Usama Hasan, Senior Researcher at Quilliam, on 4 February 2014.


 To view a full transcript of this event, click here

A Guide to Refuting Jihadism, a new report from the Henry Jackson Society, counters jihadist theological claims by demonstrating that their arguments are not based on Islamic consensus nor traditionally recognised interpretations of classical Sunni Islamic sources. The report was launched in Parliament on 4 February 2014. By demonstrating that the Islamist understanding of ‘Dar al- Islam’ is much narrower than that of the classical scholars, the speakers then showed both the jihadists’ worldview and aims as well as their rendering of the rules of Islamic warfare and the subsequent methods by which they fight, actually diverges from both classical and contemporary sources of Islamic law.


Hannah Stuart – The key theological arguments offered by jihadist groups are fundamental to the resultant acts of terrorism:

  • Central to the jihadists’ worldview is the binary division of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, or ‘lands of Islam’ and ‘lands of war’. Jihadists state that they are following the view of the jurists when they say that Dar al-Islam is any land under Muslim control which implements sharia as divine state law. In opposition is Dar al-Harb, seen as any state which does not implement sharia and is therefore hostile to Muslims;
  • Of the groups studied, al-Qaeda is the most prepared to widen the idea of Dar al-Harb to include the home countries of armies stationed or fighting in Muslim-majority countries. This belief has directly inspired some of the worst attacks on UK soil in recent years: the 7/7 bombers and Fusilier Lee Rigby’s murderers, for example, described themselves as engaged in a war in defence of Islam– Dar al-Harb, their ‘lands of war’, was London;
  • Another fundamental belief is the perceived requirement to fight perpetually to reclaim Muslim land, defined by jihadists as any land previously conquered by Muslims and therefore Muslim by religious law forever. As such, it is forbidden to relinquish any part of that land, and from this stems the key tenet that peace treaties with perceived illegitimate states are an act of religious betrayal.
  • Jihadist groups justify suicide bombings and the targeting of civilians (and, in the case of Hamas, the use of human shields) by employing the ‘doctrine of necessity’, that necessity makes prohibited actions permissible. They also argue reciprocity, i.e. ‘like- for- like’ violence, and collective guilt on behalf of a perceived enemy of Islam in what they see as an asymmetric war.
  • Jihadist ideologues advocate loyalty to global Muslims to the exclusion of any other national or communal loyalty as a means to incite Muslims living in Western countries to perform acts of terrorism against their fellow citizens.

Rashad Ali – Key refutation of jihadist beliefs

  • By starting by showing how the Islamist understanding of ‘Dar al- Islam’ is much narrower than that of the classical scholars, it is possible to demonstrate that factually both the jihadists’ worldview and aims as well as their rendering of the rules of Islamic warfare and the subsequent methods by which they fight, actually diverges from both classical and contemporary sources of Islamic law;
  • Dar al-Islam was defined by famous medieval scholars, for example by al-Marwardi, a famous judges from the Abbasid Caliphate, or al-Nawawi, as any land in which Muslims are able to practice their religion and profess their faith, and consequently, according to Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, surrounding Muslim countries are obliged to defend it if attacked;
  • Regarding who can and can’t be targeted when it comes to the jihadist notion of belonging— according to al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, for example, ‘if you’re living in the West, you voted for war and therefore you’re all legitimate targets’— classical Islamic law differentiated between soldiers when they were and weren’t wearing armour (the latter making them civilians);
  • The prohibition on the killing of women and children is one of the few areas upon which there is consensus. While very few matters in Islamic law are subject to consensus – not even the times of the five daily prayers, for example – this is one issue which was introduced as subject to consensual opinion by classical jurisprudents;
  • Regarding the permissibility of suicide operations, there is very little in medieval Islamic law about suicidal attacks because it was not a tactic that was used. Fifteenth-century Maliki scholar al-Wanshirisi, however, discussed the legitimacy of those undertaking jihad attacking women in exceptional circumstances. Part of his explanation is used by modern scholars to forbid suicide operations: that is that being the passive cause of your own death is forbidden by Islamic law; and so it follows that being the active cause of your own death, for example in a suicide bombing in a modern context, was widely condemned by scholars.

Dr Usama Hasan – overview

  • In the past two decades, jihadists have widened and twisted the idea of ‘lands of war’ to justify horrific acts of terrorism. Consequently, critiquing contemporary extremist misappropriation of the ancient and medieval discourse of Islam is a much needed contribution to the global debate;
  • The basic ethics of Islamic warfare—why do people go to war, when is war allowed (as a last resort), who can you fight, who can you kill in war, the damage can you do to the enemy—were outlined by medieval Islamic scholars, including the Muslim philosopher and jurist Ibn Rushd Averroes. There is a strong ethical imperative running through this legal discourse which is reflects the ethical dimensions of international law and relations, for example the Geneva Conventions;
  • Muslim discourse worldwide is not engaging enough with development in the last few centuries—what goes in medieval warfare is unacceptable today, yet jihadists and some religious clerics continue to quote medieval texts out of context to justify actions, such as beheading prisoners, that are no longer acceptable in modern warfare;
  • We have lost sight of the importance of armed forces in any country, the right to defend yourself and the fact that the armed forces have to behave ethically. We’re left with the situation where some of our younger generation are completely confused about the role of war, about the ethics and about the armed forces to the extent that people think that it is okay to attack our own soldiers.


The European Foundation for Democracy is a partner for the printing and distribution of the report.



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