How should we understand Jihadist terrorism?

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy and Head of Academic Enrichment 

Since the recent terrorist attacks in Britain, many have been again facing the question: ‘We’ve learned that Islam is a religion of peace, so where does this terrorism come from?’

I read a passage from this very moving book on Wednesday in Notices and also wrote about it in 3i, our bulletin for gifted and talented students. It’s by Omar Saif Ghobash, the Ambassador from the UAE to Russia. Called Letters to a Young Muslim, it is addressed to his son, and goes through all sorts of issues in Islam, from knowledge and the Qur’an to men and women and Radicalisation. It’s a great way in to understanding Islam, written from within the tradition, and I’d really recommend it. Jane Kirby is sourcing a copy for the library.

The word ‘Jihad’ is often used as a synonym for Islamic terrorism. Jihad means ‘struggle’, but actually, using it to mean a terrorist attack is a bit misleading. Jihad can mean a war, but in a very similar way to Just War Theory in the Christian tradition. There are all kinds of conditions you have to meet for this kind of Jihad, including no innocents being killed. The terrorists don’t live up to this idea of Jihad. More than this, though, this kind of Jihad is the Lesser Jihad.  The Greater Jihad is another kind of battle, an internal battle, fought in our souls. Unlike the Christian tradition, which (through Augustine) saw our nature as fallen, the Islamic tradition sees us having equal potential for good and evil. Each of us, it is said, has 75 angels of good, and 75 angels of evil. The Greater Jihad is for us to struggle to conquer our demons, and for the good in us to triumph.

This video is really helpful in understanding this idea: