Is it time to scrap the term “jihadist”?

February 21, 2008

Filipino Muslim shouts “jihad” at ant-U.S. protest, 9 Oct. 2001/stringerAt a conference on terrorism in Brussels this week, debate on how to tackle al Qaeda was punctuated by repeated arguments over the terms “jihad” and “jihadist”.

The terms have became synonymous in the West with “holy war” and “holy warrior” against the West, and al Qaeda itself has used it in that sense. But for most Muslims, as our Security Correspondent Mark Trevelyan points out, it originally means a spiritual struggle and they don’t want it hijacked anymore.

Now to call jihadists as terrorists is either reflective of …lack of understanding of Islam, or it is I must say an intended misuse, which again is unfortunate,” General Ehsan Ul Haq, former chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff, told the annual conference of the EastWest Institute think-tank. “It might have been somewhat excusable in the trauma post-9/11 but I don’t think it is any more.”

Raphael Perl, head of the Action against Terrorism Unit at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the failure to agree on a shared terminology in the wake of the September 11 attacks was “a major mistake on our part.”

Read the whole article here. And then let us know if you think that the way these terms are used muddles our understanding of what is going on.


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[…]  Jihadist is “out”, how about “evil scum”? That has a direct meaning and some preschool charm. I wonder, in Kantian fashion, what would happen if that term was universalized. […]

Posted by Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Thursday Highlights | Report as abusive

Interesting article.

But I wonder what you call one who adheres to a body of laws that at its fundamental root calls for the death penalty to be applied to anyone who speaks out against such law?

One does not have to look very hard at the newspaper to find some ‘holy warrior’ with an explosive belt, ready to carry out a death order on any unsuspecting group of people. One might change the name of what is going on, from “Jihadist” to whatever, but rest assured, just as 9/11 happened we need to realize that there is a fundamental root here that is not “warm and fuzzy”, and it will most certainly attack again.

Posted by Derek | Report as abusive

sure, what the heck, why not replace the “homeless” as we don’t know what to do with either.

Posted by KomradAndre | Report as abusive

so, should happy people be allowed o reclaim “gay” too?

Posted by Aaron | Report as abusive

How about jewish-neocons killing american troops and Iraqis for Israel scummies? Sounds quite good!

Posted by saul | Report as abusive

this word jihad means stricly terror
sine everytime a suicide bommer or any muslim blows him self up he screams alla acba jihad jihad and than they killing otehr innusent people

Posted by bill | Report as abusive


Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

Baloney! This is the difference between Islam and more civilized religions of the world. ‘Jihad’ means holy war. If you want to water it down by calling it a spiritual struggle, fine, but Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Hindus don’t fly passenger jets into buildings because of their “spiritual struggles” or issue fatwahs (an edict to have someone murdered) because of a book or cartoon. Please explain what kind of “spiritual struggle” drives muslims to do this.

Posted by Don Widders | Report as abusive

Why change the name? The jihadists have earned their reputation as killers of innocent civilians.

Posted by Chuck | Report as abusive

There’s a reason why Islamic teaching (either Qur’an or Had’ith, I forget which) specifically excludes the elderly and sick and infirm from carrying out jihad. Why? They’re not supposed to do spiritual struggle? No, b/c it’s violence, war against the infidel. I won’t let the delusional “moderate” Muslims change the terminology if I can help it. I use “jihadist” all the time.

Posted by Rhology | Report as abusive

whoa, do you mean to tell me that their feelings are hurt? It didn’t know they had any…b@stards

Posted by frank koppe | Report as abusive

For all practical purposes in the English language JIHAD has come to mean HOLY MUSLIM WAR against all non-muslims. Period.
If muslims are so outraged with use and misuse of certain religious terms they should ask their religious extremists to quit.

Posted by pervez | Report as abusive

Call ’em whatever they want. It’s meaningless semantics, and doesn’t change the consequences for anyone standing within a 75-foot radius of a jihadist, or terrorist, or holy warrior, or whatever label they prefer.

Posted by Al Chinchar | Report as abusive

From this article on a conference on terrorism, I get a sense that most of the participants’ concern, if not all, was reduced to semantics of the issue. IMO it does not matter what Islamic terrorism is called; the definition does not matter. The basic tenet of Islam is at stake, which should have been more deeply explored. Every imam or Muslum leader should denounce an act of violence carried out under the name of Islam when and every time such an act takes place. He should do so in his place of worship addressing his people and let the rest of the world know he thinks this act of violence is wrong and contrary to the tenets of Islam. I have yet to see this happen. Far from it.

Posted by tkas | Report as abusive

Just a minute – here are statistics coincidently from the Center for Political Islam which found that in Islam’s three holy books [Koran, Sira, and Hadith] 97% of references to “jihad” relate to war and only 3% to inner struggle.

I think we can safely say Jihad means jihad or holy war – and the terrorist are calling it in accordance with the teachings of Islam.

“”Research on the Koran, conducted by the Center for Political Islam, which illustrates the Islamic focus on conformist behavior and beliefs. According to the Center’s analysis of the Koran, the Sira, and the Hadith, only 17% of the Islamic trilogy deals with the words of Allah. The remaining 83% refers to the words and deeds of Mohammed. Of all of the references to “hell” in the trilogy, 6% are for moral failings, while 94% are for the transgression of disagreeing with Mohammed. Statistical analysis of the trilogy revealed that 97% of references to “jihad” relate to war and a mere 3% to the concept of “inner struggle.” “”

Source: he_other_jihad_islams_war_on.html

Posted by Bella | Report as abusive

Of course a’Jihad’ means a holy war;just as a’Crusade’ means a holy war.And equally Jihad also can be a moral or a spiritual struggle just as you in the west so often use the term for a moral or spiritual crusader.In fact Mahatama Ghandhi’s concept of peaceful non-cooperation could also be termed a Jihad is Islam ,just as it can be designated a crusade in a Christian context.
Another well understood fact is that stastics can be manipulated to prove any point.I will not point you to them but if you search through any search engine you will discover millions of websites made and supported by seculiar western psudo scholars allegedly proving to their own satisfaction that as per it’s own content the Holy Bible is a pack of lies;the most immoral instruction ever penned;full of pornograpy;laced with scientific errors and contradictions etc ,etc.
So let’s not have a vulgar,mutual hate breeding and ill informed debate on this vital and dangerous issue confronting civilisation.If it has to be countered we need logic and sincere effort in trying to get to the roots of it.
Remember there were no ‘Jihadis’of the terrorist type in Pakistan or Afghanistan till the Russians occupied it.Even then it needed the massive involvement and funding of USA and CIA before they could be created,trained and unleashed.By the way Osama bin Laden is neither an Afghan nor a Pakistani , but a blue blooded Arab recruited by CIA from amongst members of The Saudi Royal family – who have always been Americas best loved allies in the middle east.He was an ally recruited and trained by the CIA to serve their purpose.What went wrong?
Also their was no Al-Qaida in Iraq till Bush attacked it falsely claiming they were making nuclear weapons!Now they have terrorists,which in some ways is the greater danger, because unlike nukes they can be used so easily and created so cheaply.
This is not to say that the US was wrong in what it did to support in the effort to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan.When you have such a ruthless enemy to defeat,as the sayings go’ all is fair in love and war’… ‘they gave their todays for our tomorrows’…etc ;etc.
Yet we also say,’as you sow so shall you reap’.The west must face upto the reality that it along with it’s Islamic allies created the Al Qaida phenomina.In time because of our own short sightedness it became an uncontrolable monster. If it gave you your 9/11 once,the self blowing bombers contine to gives us hundreds of dead loved ones in our cities every month.
Blaming Islam just will not do- and the type of ill informed and inflamatory comments I see here will only accentuate and perpetuate the problem,serving to give the terrorists more recruits then they could ever have hoped to
Certainly what is needed is a more informed analysis of – and determined tackling – of the real causes ; failing which the illness will continue to grow till it consumes us all.

Posted by Hassan Abbas | Report as abusive

Surely a “jihadist” is someone involved in a mental, spiritual or physical struggle. If that person is using violence they then become a “militant jihadist”. Problem solved?

Posted by See | Report as abusive

Thanks for these very interesting comments. One reason I could see for scrapping the term “jihadist” would be to make room for other explanations for what motivates and radicalises these people. The rhetoric of radical Islamism certainly has roots in Islam. But it is also rooted in the ideology of Third World anti-imperialism and national liberation movements. In the Middle East, this movement had two schools, the secular school of Arab nationalists like Nasser and Arafat and the Islamist school of al-Banna and Qutb. With the eclipse of the secular version, the Islamist anti-imperialists are the only ones left to represent this radical movement. Osama bin Laden’s war against the U.S. is couched in both Islamic and anti-imperialist terms. The spark for it — the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia because of the first Gulf war — was just as much anti-imperialist as Islamic. Consciously or unconsciously, these radical Islamists have two holy books — the Koran and The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, a classic text of anti-imperialism. This element gets lost when we explain the motivations of radical Islamists just through religion.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

“Jihadist” is a translation of the Arabic “mujahid” and is a valid English word, meaning more or less: “One who engages in jihad either full- or part-time”. The motives of the jihadist are what is being debated here. Are they “amateurs” or “professionals”? It is certain the first “pioneer” (salafi) generations of Islam had no such concerns! They possessed only the literal concept reflected in the following: “Jihad is holy fighting in Allah’s Cause with full force of numbers and weaponry. It is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars. By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior (which means only Allah has the right to be worshiped), and Islam is propagated. By abandoning Jihad Islam is destroyed and Muslims fall into an inferior position; their honor is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim. He who tries to escape from this duty, or does not fulfill this duty, dies as a hypocrite.” The Pioneers understood jihad literally, not figuratively as a poetic or spiritual thoughtful.

General ul-Haq is no doubt trying to avoid criticizing the core truths of Islam whose three main texts (Koran, Sira and Hadith) all use “jihad” to mean a “military, armed struggle”. The later spiritualizing re-interpretations of these source texts by medieval Islamic writers have more to do with the urbanization of Islam due to the wealth of new empire.

I don’t see how “jihadist” can be reinterpreted to suit the good General, in spite of his noble motive. I have seen the word “jihadizer” (one who makes jihad a main pillar of Islam), but this neologism has not caught on.

Posted by Toomi | Report as abusive

Toomi — jihadizer! Now there’s a term I’ve never come across. It sounds more like a machine than a person!

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive