Salafi-Jihadism: The history of an idea
Hurst & Co £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50
REGULARLY we hear that IS (the so-called Islamic State), al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and other Salafi-Jihadist groups are carrying out terrorist activities around the world. But what exactly is Salafi-Jihadism? What do Salafi-Jihadists believe? What is their world-view? Surprisingly, little has been written to answer these and other questions. In this book, Shiraz Maher provides an invaluable remedy for that deficiency.
As the author states, the purpose of this book is “to examine and explain the evolution of Salafi-Jihadist soteriology”. That is “to explain the core concepts of a [militant] idea that has motivated groups around the world, from Nigeria and Sudan to the Levant and the mountains of Mindanao in the Philippines”.
Maher, a former member of the radical group Hizb ut Tahrir, now a researcher in radicalisation at King’s College London, firstly defines Salafi-Jihadism, as a millenarian idea (one demanding dramatic social change), which strives for “progression through regression, where the perfect life is realised by reviving the Islam of its first three generations” in seventh-century Arabia.
Besides being medieval in outlook, Salafi-Jihadist belief, Maher emphasises, is varied, including different methods for change “from inert Quietism to revolutionary upheaval”. The author, deeply knowledgeable in Islamic history and literature, concentrates on the latter method as the central theme of the book.
Maher argues there “are five essential and irreducible features of the Salafi-Jihadist movement”: namely, tawhid (monotheism, the oneness of God); hakimiyya (the absolute sovereignty of Allah); al-wala wal-bara (loyalty to what is good, disavowal of what is bad); jihad (“struggling” for God) and takfir (killing those regarded as apostates from the faith). Each of these “features” is explained in a scholarly and yet lucid fashion.
Having discussed the basic ideology of Salafi-Jihadism, Maher introduces us to leading writers in jihadist thinking, such as the 13th- century scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, and Muhammad Ibn Abd’al Wahhab, the founder of puritanical Wahhabism in the 18th century. Particular consideration is given to Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami; the Egyptian radical, Sayyid Qutb; and, of course, Osama bin Laden.
In the last section of the book, Maher focuses on the years after 9/11 when “galvanized by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a muscular and self-assured [Jihadi] doctrine emerged that not only wanted to confront the West but which also sought to mobilise Muslims in support of its cause.”
To defeat jihadists, we need to understand them. We are indebted to Maher, who, in providing an excellent and timely appraisal of Salafi-Jihadism, aids us in that all important task.
Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a specialist in Islamic Studies, presently working in Kurdistan.