Islamism (also often called political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism)[1] is a religio-political ideology which posits that modern states and regions should be reconstituted in constitutional, economic and judicial terms, in accordance with what is conceived as a revival or a return to authentic Islamic practice in its totality.[2][3]

Ideologies dubbed Islamist may advocate a "revolutionary" strategy of Islamizing society through exercise of state power, or alternately a "reformist" strategy to re-Islamizing society through grassroots social and political activism.[4] The term may be applied to non-state reform movements, political parties, militias and revolutionary groups.[5] Islamists emphasize the implementation of sharia,[6] pan-Islamic political unity,[6] the creation of Islamic states[7] and outright removal of non-Muslim influences; particularly of Western or universal economic, military, political, social, or cultural nature in the Muslim world; that they believe to be incompatible with Islam and a form of Western neocolonialism. CIA analysts like Graham E. Fuller describe it as a form of identity politics, involving "support for [Muslim] identity, authenticity, broader regionalism, revivalism, [and] revitalization of the community."[8]

The meaning of the term has been debated in public and academic contexts.[9] It has been criticized by at least many Islamists and academics who believe the Western mass media have given the term connotations of violence, extremism, and violations of human rights, leading to Islamophobia and stereotyping.[1] Some authors prefer the term "Islamic activism".[10]

Central and prominent figures in 20th-century Islamism include Sayyid Rashid Rida,[11] Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Abul A'la Maududi,[12] Hasan al-Turabi,[13] and others. Many Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have been willing to pursue their ends by peaceful political processes, rather than revolutionary means.[14] Others, notably Qutb, called for violence, and his followers are generally considered by Western scholars as "Islamic extremists"; although Qutb openly denounced the killing of innocents.[15] According to Robin Wright, Islamist movements have "arguably altered the Middle East more than any trend since the modern states gained independence", redefining "politics and even borders".[16] Following the Arab Spring, many post-Islamist currents became heavily involved in democratic politics,[16][17] while others spawned "the most aggressive and ambitious Islamist militia" to date, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).[16]


The term Islamism, which originally denoted the religion of Islam, first appeared in the English language as Islamismus in 1696, and as Islamism in 1712.[18] The term appears in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in In Re Ross (1891). By the turn of the twentieth century the shorter and purely Arabic term "Islam" had begun to displace it, and by 1938, when Orientalist scholars completed The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Islamism seems to have virtually disappeared from English usage. The term remained "practically absent from the vocabulary" of scholars, writers or journalists until the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, which brought Ayatollah Khomeini's concept of "Islamic government" to Iran.[19]


Islamism has been defined as:

  • "the belief that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life" (Sheri Berman);[20]
  • the belief that Islam should influence political systems;[21]
  • a form of "religionized politics" and an instance of religious fundamentalism (Bassam Tibi);[22]
  • "political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam" (from Associated Press's definition of "Islamist")[23]
  • also called "political Islam", a broad set of political ideologies that utilize and draw inspiration from Islamic symbols and traditions in pursuit of a sociopolitical objective; (Britannica)[24]
  • "[the term 'Islamist' has become shorthand for] 'Muslims we don't like.'" (from Council on American–Islamic Relations's complaint about AP's earlier definition of Islamist)[23]
  • "the [Islamic] ideology that guides society as a whole and that [teaches] law must be in conformity with the Islamic sharia", (W E. Shepard);[25]
  • a movement so broad and flexible it reaches out to "everything to everyone" in Islam, making it "unsustainable" (Tarek Osman);[26]
    • an alternative social provider to the poor masses;
    • an angry platform for the disillusioned young;
    • a loud trumpet-call announcing "a return to the pure religion" to those seeking an identity;
    • a "progressive, moderate religious platform" for the affluent and liberal;
    • ... and at the extremes, a violent vehicle for rejectionists and radicals.[26]
  • an Islamic "movement that seeks cultural differentiation from the West and reconnection with the pre-colonial symbolic universe", (F. Burgat);[27]
  • "the active assertion and promotion of beliefs, prescriptions, laws or policies that are held to be Islamic in character," (International Crisis Group);[10]
  • a movement of "Muslims who draw upon the belief, symbols, and language of Islam to inspire, shape, and animate political activity;" which may contain moderate, tolerant, peaceful activists or those who "preach intolerance and espouse violence", (Robert H. Pelletreau);[28]
  • "All who seek to Islamize their environment, whether in relation to their lives in society, their family circumstances, or the workplace, may be described as Islamists", (Roy Olivier).[29]


Relation to Islam

The relationship between the notions of Islam and Islamism has been subject to disagreement, with Islamists seeing the two as synonymous and others denouncing or dismissing Islamism as a modern deviation.

A writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that "the conception of 'political Islam'" is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution, ignoring the fact that (according to them) Islam is by definition political; and "apolitical Islam" was a historical fluke of the "short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970". In fact it is quietist/non-political Islam, not Islamism, that requires explanation.[30]

Hayri Abaza argues that the failure to distinguish between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to equate the two and support illiberal Islamic (Islamist) regimes, to the detriment of those who seek to separate religion from politics.[31]

Another source distinguishes Islamist from Islamic by the fact that Islam "refers to a religion and culture in existence over a millennium", whereas Islamism "is a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century". Islamists have, at least at times, defined themselves as "Islamiyyoun/Islamists" to differentiate themselves from "Muslimun/Muslims".[32] Daniel Pipes describes Islamism as a modern ideology that owes more to European utopian political ideologies and "isms" than to the traditional Islamic religion.[33]


Few observers contest the immense influence of Islamism within the Muslim world.[34][35][36] Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, political movements based on the liberal ideology of free expression and democratic rule have led the opposition in other parts of the world such as Latin America, Eastern Europe and many parts of Asia; however "the simple fact is that political Islam currently reigns [circa 2002-3] as the most powerful ideological force across the Muslim world today".[37][38]

Some Western political scientists see the unchanging socio-economic condition in the Muslim world as a major factor. Olivier Roy believes "the socioeconomic realities that sustained the Islamist wave are still here and are not going to change: poverty, uprootedness, crises in values and identities, the decay of the educational systems, the North-South opposition, and the problem of immigrant integration into the host societies".[39]

The strength of Islamism also draws from the strength of religiosity in general in the Muslim world. Compared to other societies around the globe, "[w]hat is striking about the Islamic world is that ... it seems to have been the least penetrated by irreligion".[40] Where other peoples may look to the physical or social sciences for answers in areas which their ancestors regarded as best left to scripture, in the Muslim world, religion has become more encompassing, not less, as "in the last few decades, it has been the fundamentalists who have increasingly represented the cutting edge" of Muslim culture.[40]

Writing in 2009, German journalist Sonja Zekri described Islamists in Egypt and other Muslim countries as "extremely influential. ... They determine how one dresses, what one eats. In these areas, they are incredibly successful. ... Even if the Islamists never come to power, they have transformed their countries."[41] Political Islamists were described as "competing in the democratic public square in places like Turkey, Tunisia, Malaysia and Indonesia".[42]


Islamism takes different forms and spans a wide range of strategies and tactics towards the powers in place—"destruction, opposition, collaboration, indifference"[43] that have varied as "circumstances have changed"[44]—and thus is not a united movement.

Moderate and reformist Islamists who accept and work within the democratic process include parties like the Tunisian Ennahda Movement. Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan is basically a socio-political and Vanguard party working with in Pakistan's Democratic political process, but has also gained political influence through military coup d'états in the past.[43] Other Islamist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine participate in the democratic and political process as well as armed attacks. Jihadist organizations like al-Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and groups such as the Taliban, entirely reject democracy, seeing it as a form of kufr, calling for offensive jihad on a religious basis.

Another major division within Islamism is between what Graham E. Fuller has described as the conservative "guardians of the tradition" (Salafis, such as those in the Wahhabi movement) and the revolutionary "vanguard of change and Islamic reform" centered around the Muslim Brotherhood.[45] Olivier Roy argues that "Sunni pan-Islamism underwent a remarkable shift in the second half of the 20th century" when the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its focus on Islamisation of pan-Arabism was eclipsed by the Salafi movement with its emphasis on "sharia rather than the building of Islamic institutions".[46] Following the Arab Spring, Roy has described Islamism as "increasingly interdependent" with democracy in much of the Arab Muslim world, such that "neither can now survive without the other." While Islamist political culture itself may not be democratic, Islamists need democratic elections to maintain their legitimacy. At the same time, their popularity is such that no government can call itself democratic that excludes mainstream Islamist groups.[17]

Circa 2017, arguing distinctions between “radical/moderate” or “violent/peaceful” Islamism were "simplistic", scholar Morten Valbjørn put forth these "much more sophisticated typologies" of Islamism:[47]

resistance/revolu­tio­na­ry/re­­for­­mist Islamism,[48] Islahi-Ikhwani/Jihadi-Ikhwani/Islah-salafi/Jihadi-salafi Islamism;[49] refor­mist/re­volu­tio­na­ry/so­cie­tal/spiritual Islamism;[50] Third Worldist/Neo-Third Worldist Islamism;[51] Statist/Non-Statist Islamism,[52] Salafist Jihadi/Ikhwani Islamism,[53] or mainstream/irredentist jihadi/doctrinaire jihadi Islamism.[54]

Moderate Islamism

"Moderate Islamism" is the emerging Islamist discourses and movements which considered deviated from the traditional Islamist discourses of the mid-20th century.[55] Moderate Islamism is characterized by pragmatic participation within the existing constitutional and political framework, in the most cases democratic institution.[56] Moderate Islamists make up the majority of the contemporary Islamist movements.[14] From the philosophical perspective, their discourses are represented by reformation or reinterpretation of modern socio-political institutions and values imported from the West including democracy.[45][57] This had led to the conception of Islamic form of such institutions, and Islamic interpretations are often attempted within this conception. In the example of democracy, Islamic democracy as an Islamized form of the system has been intellectually developed. In Islamic democracy, the concept of shura, the tradition of consultation which considered as Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad, is invoked to Islamically reinterpret and legitimatize the institution of democracy.[57][58][59]

Performance, goal, strategy, and outcome of "moderate Islamist movements" vary considerably depending on the country and its socio-political and historical context. In terms of performance, most of the Islamist political parties are oppositions. However, there are few examples they govern or obtain the substantial number of the popular votes. This includes National Congress of Sudan, National Iraqi Alliance of Iraq and Justice and Development Party (PJD) of Morocco. Their goal also ranges widely. The Ennahda Movement of Tunisia[60] and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) of Indonesia[61] formally resigned their vision of implementing sharia. In Morocco, PJD supported King Muhammad VI's Mudawana, a "startlingly progressive family law" which grants women the right to a divorce, raises the minimum age for marriage to 18, and, in the event of separation, stipulates equal distribution of property.[41] To the contrary, National Congress of Sudan has implemented the sharia with the foreign support from the conservative states.[62][63] Movements of the former category are also termed as Post-Islamism (see below). Their political outcome is interdependent with their goal and strategy, in which what analysts call "inclusion-moderation theory" is in effect. Inclusion-moderation theory assumes that the more lenient the Islamists become, the less likely their survival will be threatened. Similarly, the more accommodating the government be, the less "extreme" Islamists become.[64]

Moderate Islamism within the democratic institution is a relatively recent phenomenon.[56] Throughout the 80s and 90s, major moderate Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Ennahda were excluded from democratic political participation. Islamist movements operated within the state framework were markedly scrutinized during the Algerian Civil War (1991–2002) and after the increase of terrorism in Egypt in the 90s. Reflecting on these failures, Islamists turned increasingly into revisionist and receptive to democratic procedures in the 21st century.[56] The possibility of accommodating this new wave of modernist Islamism has been explored among the Western intellectuals, with the concept such as Turkish model was proposed. The concept was inspired by the perceived success of Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in harmonizing the Islamist principles within the modern state framework.[65] The Turkish model, however, has been considered came "unstuck" after recent purge and violations of democratic principles by the Erdoğan regime.[66][67] Critics of the concept, who include other democracy-rejecting Islamists, hold that Islamist aspirations are fundamentally incompatible with the democratic principles.

Salafi movement

The contemporary Salafi movement encompasses a broad range of conservative Islamist doctrines which share the reformist mission and revolutionary ideals of the medieval Hanbali theologian Ibn Taymiyyah. From the perspective of its political attitudes, the Salafi movement is broadly categorized by Western scholars into three groups; the quietist (or the purist), the activist (or haraki) and the jihadist (Salafi jihadism, see below). The quietist school advocates for societal reform through religious education and proselytizing rather than political activism. The activist school, to the contrary, encourages political participation within the constitutional and political framework. The jihadist school is inspired by the ideology of Sayyid Qutb (Qutbism, see below), and rejects the legitimacy of secular institutions and promotes the revolution in order to pave the way for the establishment of a new Caliphate.[68]

The quietist Salafi school is stemming from the teaching of Nasiruddin Albani, who challenged the notion of taqlid (imitation, conformity to the legal precedent) as a blind adherence. As such, they alarm the political participation as potentially leading to the division of the Muslim community.[68] An extreme manifestation of this school is exemplified by Madkhalism, a pro-government religious trend which is based on the writings of Rabee al-Madkhali.[69] Madkhalism originated in the 90s Saudi Arabia, as a reaction against the rise of the Salafi activism and the threat of Salafi Jihadism. It rejects any kind of opposition against the secular governance.[70] Thus the movement was highly financed and supported by the authoritarian governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia during the 90s.[71] The influence of the quietist school has waned significantly in the Middle East recently,[72] as the governments began incorporating Islamist factions emanating from the popular demand.[73][74]

The politically active Salafi school, Salafi activism or harakis, is based on the religious belief that endorses non-violent political activism in order to protect God's Divine governance. This means that politics is a field which requires Salafi principles to be applied as well, in the same manner with other aspects of society and life.[68] Salafi activism originated in the 50s to 60s Saudi Arabia, where many Muslim Brothers had taken refuge from the prosecution by the Nasser regime.[75] There, Muslim Brothers' Islamism had synthesized with Salafism, and led to the creation of the Salafi activist trend exemplified by the Sahwa movement in the 80s,[68] promulgated by Safar Al-Hawali and Salman al-Ouda. Today, this school makes up the majority of Salafism.[76] There are many active Salafist political parties throughout the Muslim world, including the Al Islah Party of Yemen and Al Asalah of Bahrain.


One of the antecedents of the contemporary Salafi movement is Wahhabism, which traces back to the 18th-century reform movement in Arabia by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Although having different roots, Wahhabism and Salafism are considered more or less merged by the 1960s in Saudi Arabia.[77][78] In the process, Salafis and Wahhabis have greatly influenced each other, and today they share mostly similar religious outlooks.[78] In effect, Wahhabism has transformed into the Saudi brand of the Salafi movement.[79][80] From the political perspective, Wahhabism is marked in its teaching of bay'ah, which requires Muslims to present an allegiance to the ruler of the society.[81] Wahhabis have traditionally given their allegiance to the House of Saud, and this has made them apolitical in Saudi Arabia.[82] However, there are small numbers of other strains including Salafi Jihadist offshoot which decline to present an allegiance to the House of Saud.[82][83] Due to their traditional monarchist stance of loyalty to the Saudi King, Wahhabi clerics discourage revolutionary themes and activities related to social justice, anticolonialism, or economic equality, expounded upon by most Islamists.[84] Historically, Wahhabism was state-sponsored and internationally propagated by Saudi Arabia with the help of funding from mainly Saudi petroleum exports,[85] leading to the "explosive growth" of its influence (and subsequently, the influence of Salafism) from the 70s (a phenomenon often dubbed as Petro-Islam).[86] Today, both Wahhabism and Salafism exert their influence worldwide, and they have been indirectly contributing to the upsurge of Salafi Jihadism as well.[86]

Militant Islamism/Jihadism


Qutbism is a term used by Western political scientists to refer to the Jihadist ideology formulated by Sayyid Qutb, an influential figure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the 50s and 60s, which justifies the use of violence in order to push the Islamist goals.[87] Based on the two concepts, Qutbism promotes engagement against the state apparatus in order to topple down its regime. Fusion of Qutbism and Salafi Movement had resulted in the development of Salafi jihadism (see below).[88]

Qutbism is considered a product of the extreme repression experienced by Qutb and his fellow Muslim Brothers under the Nasser regime, which was resulted from an alleged 1954 Muslim Brothers plot to assassinate Nasser. During the repression, thousands of Muslim Brothers were imprisoned, many of them, including Qutb, tortured and held in concentration camps.[75] Under this condition, Qutb had cultivated his Islamist ideology in his seminal work Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones), in which he equated the Muslims within the Nasser regime with secularism and the West, and described the contemporary situation as beiing a state of jahiliyyah (period of time before the advent of Islam).[89] Although Qutb was executed before the completion of his ideology,[89] his ideas was disseminated and continuously expanded by the later generations, among them Abdullah Yusuf Azzam and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who was a student of Qutb's brother Muhammad Qutb and later became a mentor of Osama bin Laden.[90][91] Al-Zawahiri was considered "the purity of Qutb's character and the torment he had endured in prison," and had played an extensive role in the normalization of offensive Jihad within the Qutbist discourse.[92]

Salafi Jihadism

Salafi jihadism is a term coined by Gilles Kepel in 2002, referring to the ideology which actively promotes and conducts violence and terrorism in order to pursue the establishment of an Islamic state or a new Caliphate.[93][94] Today, the term is often simplified to Jihadism or Jihadist movement. It is a hybrid ideology between Qutbism, Salafism, Wahhabism and other minor Islamist strains.[88][95] Qutbism taught by scholars like Abdullah Azzam provided the political intellectual underpinnings with concepts like Salafism and Wahhabism providing the religious intellectual input.[88][note 1] Salafi Jihadism makes up a minority of the contemporary Islamist movements.[97]

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Raqqa, Syria, 2014

Distinct characteristics of Salafi Jihadism noted by Robin Wright include the formal process of taking bay'ah (oath of allegiance) to the leader, which is inspired by Hadiths and early Muslim practice and included in Wahhabi teaching.[98] Another characteristic is its flexibility to cut ties with the less-popular movements when its strategically or financially convenient, exemplified by the relations between al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front.[98] Other marked developments of Salafi Jihadism include the concepts of "near enemy" and "far enemy". "Near enemy" connotes the despotic regime(s) occupying the Muslim society, and the term was coined by Mohammed Abdul-Salam Farag in order to justify the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat by the Salafi Jihadi organization Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) in 1981.[99] Later, the concept of "far enemy" which connotes the West was introduced and formally declared by al-Qaeda in 1996.[99][100]

Salafi Jihadism emerged during the 80s when the Soviet invaded Afghanistan.[101] Local mujahideen had extracted financial, logistical and military support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States. Later, Osama bin Laden established al-Qaeda as a transnational Salafi Jihadi organization in 1988 to capitalize on this financial, logistical and military network and to expand their operation.[101] The ideology had seen its rise during the 90s when the Muslim world experienced numerous geopolitical crisis,[101] notably the Algerian Civil War (1991–2002), Bosnian War (1992–1995), and the First Chechen War (1994–1996). Within these conflicts, political Islam often acted as a mobilizing factor for the local belligerents, who demanded financial, logistical and military support from al-Qaeda, in the exchange for active proliferation of the ideology.[101] After the 1998 bombings of US embassies, September 11 attacks (2001), the US-led invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), Salafi Jihadism had seen its momentum. However, it got devastated by the US counterterrorism operations, culminating in bin Laden's death in 2011.[101] After the Arab Spring (2011) and subsequent Syrian Civil War (2011–present), the remnants of al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq had restored their capacity, which rapidly developed into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, spreading its influence throughout the conflict zones of MENA region and the globe.


Predecessor movements

Some Islamic revivalist movements and leaders pre-dating Islamism but share some characteristics include:

  • Ahmad Sirhindi (~1564–1624) was part of a reassertion of orthodoxy within Islamic Mysticism (Taṣawwuf) and was known to his followers as the 'renovator of the second millennium'. It has been said of Sirhindi that he 'gave to Indian Islam the rigid and conservative stamp it bears today.'[102][103][104]
  • Ibn Taymiyyah, a Syrian Islamic jurist during the 13th and 14th centuries who is often quoted by contemporary Islamists. Ibn Taymiyya argued against the shirking of Sharia law, was against practices such as the celebration of Muhammad's birthday, and "he believed that those who ask assistance from the grave of the Prophet or awlia, are mushrikin (polytheists), someone who is engaged in shirk."[105]
  • Shah Waliullah of India and Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab of Arabia were contemporaries who met each other while studying in Mecca. Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab advocated doing away with the later accretions like grave worship and getting back to the letter and the spirit of Islam as preached and practiced by Muhammad. He went on to found Wahhabism. Shah Waliullah was a forerunner of reformist Islamists like Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Asad in his belief that there was "a constant need for new ijtihad as the Muslim community progressed and expanded and new generations had to cope with new problems" and his interest in the social and economic problems of the poor.[106]
  • Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi was a disciple and successor of Shah Waliullah's son who emphasized the 'purification' of Islam from un-Islamic beliefs and practices. He anticipated modern militant Islamists by leading an extremist, jihadist movement and attempted to create an Islamic state based on the enforcement of Islamic law. While he engaged in several wars against the Sikh Empire in the Muslim-majority North-Western India, his followers participated in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 after his death.[107][108]
  • After the defeat of the Indian Rebellion, some of Shah Waliullah's followers ceased their involvement in military affairs and founded the Dar al-Ulum seminary in 1867 in the town of Deoband. From the school developed the Deobandi movement which became the largest philosophical movement of traditional Islamic thought on the subcontinent and led to the establishment of thousands of madrasahs throughout modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.[109]

Early history

The end of the 19th century saw the dismemberment of most of the Muslim Ottoman Empire by non-Muslim European colonial powers.[110] The empire spent massive sums on Western civilian and military technology to try to modernize and compete with the encroaching European powers, and in the process went deep into debt to these powers.

In this context, the publications of Jamal ad-din al-Afghani (1837–97), Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) and Rashid Rida (1865–1935) preached Islamic alternatives to the political, economic, and cultural decline of the empire.[111] Muhammad Abduh and Al-Afghani formed the beginning of the early Islamist movement.[112][113][114][115] Abduh's student, Rashid Rida, is widely regarded as one of "the ideological forefathers" of contemporary Islamist movements.[116]

The ideas of Rashid Rida, Hassan al-Banna,and Mustafa al-Siba’i included the creation of a truly Islamic society under sharia law, and the rejection of taqlid, the blind imitation of earlier authorities, which they believed deviated from the true messages of Islam.[117] Unlike some later Islamists, Early Salafiyya strongly emphasized the restoration of the Caliphate.[118]

Sayyid Rashid Rida

The modern concept of an Islamic state was first articulated by the Syrian-Egyptian Islamic scholar Muhammad Rashid Rida, who played a significant role in forming the revolutionary ideology of the early years of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as influencing other Sunni Islamist movements across the world. Rida's Islamic state emphasized the principle of shura, which would be dominated by the Ulama.[119]

In his influential book al-Khilafa aw al-Imama al-'Uzma ("The Caliphate or the Grand Imamate"); Rashid Rida elaborated on the establishment of his proposed Islamic state. This doctrine would become the blueprint of future Islamist movements.[120] Rida believed that societies that properly obeyed Sharia would be able to successfully emerge as alternatives to both capitalism as well as the disorder of class-based socialism; since such a society would be unsusceptible to its temptations.[121]

In Rida's Caliphate, the Khalifa was to be the supreme head whose role was to govern by supervising the application of Islamic laws. This was to happen through a partnership between the Mujtahid ulema and the ‘‘true caliph’'; who engage in Ijtihad by evaluating the Scriptures and govern through shura (consultation). With the Khilafa providing true Islamic governance, Islamic civilization would be revitalised, the political and legal independence of the Muslim umma (community of Muslim believers) would be restored, and the heretical influences of Sufism would be cleanse from Islam. Rashid Rida's Islamic political theory would greatly influence many subsequent Islamic revivalist movements across the Arab world.[122] Rida was certain that an Islamic society which implemented Sharia in the proper manner would be able to successfully resist both capitalism as well as the disorder of class-based socialism; since such a society would be unsusceptible to its temptations.[121]

Islamist intellectuals that succeeded Rida, such as Hasan al-Banna, would not measure up to the former's scholarly credentials. The subsequent generations ushered in the advent of the radical thinker Sayyid Qutb, who in contrast to Rida, did not have detailed knowledge of religious sciences to address Muslims authoritatively on Sharia. Qutb rejected Western beliefs while simultaneously employing Western terminology to substantiate his beliefs and used the classical sources to bolster his subjective methodology to Scriptures.[123]

Muhammad Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal was a philosopher, poet and politician[124] in British India who is widely regarded as having inspired the Islamic Nationalism and Pakistan Movement in British India.[124][125][126] Iqbal is admired as a prominent classical poet by Pakistani, Iranian, Indian and other international scholars of literature.[127][128] Though Iqbal is best known as an eminent poet, he is also a highly acclaimed "Islamic philosophical thinker of modern times".[124][128]

While studying law and philosophy in England and Germany, Iqbal became a member of the London branch of the All India Muslim League.[128] He came back to Lahore in 1908. While dividing his time between law practice and philosophical poetry, Iqbal had remained active in the Muslim League. He did not support Indian involvement in World War I and remained in close touch with Muslim political leaders such as Muhammad Ali Johar and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was a critic of the mainstream Indian nationalist and secularist Indian National Congress. Iqbal's seven English lectures were published by Oxford University press in 1934 in a book titled The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.[129] These lectures dwell on the role of Islam as a religion as well as a political and legal philosophy in the modern age.[129]

Iqbal expressed fears that not only would secularism and secular nationalism weaken the spiritual foundations of Islam and Muslim society, but that India's Hindu-majority population would crowd out Muslim heritage, culture and political influence. In his travels to Egypt, Afghanistan, Palestine and Syria, he promoted ideas of greater Islamic political co-operation and unity, calling for the shedding of nationalist differences. Sir Muhmmad Iqbal was elected as president of the Muslim League in 1930 at its session in Allahabad as well as for the session in Lahore in 1932. In his Allahabad Address on 29 December 1930, Iqbal outlined a vision of an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India. This address later inspired the Pakistan movement.

The thoughts and vision of Iqbal later influenced many reformist Islamists, e.g., Muhammad Asad, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi and Ali Shariati.

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi[130][131] was an important early twentieth-century figure in the Islamic revival in India, and then after independence from Britain, in Pakistan. Trained as a lawyer he chose the profession of journalism, and wrote about contemporary issues and most importantly about Islam and Islamic law. Maududi founded the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and remained its leader until 1972. However, Maududi had much more impact through his writing than through his political organising. His extremely influential books (translated into many languages) placed Islam in a modern context, and influenced not only conservative ulema but liberal modernizer Islamists such as al-Faruqi, whose "Islamization of Knowledge" carried forward some of Maududi's key principles.

Maududi believed that Muslim society could not be Islamic without Sharia, and Islam required the establishment of an Islamic state. This state should be a "theo-democracy,"[132] based on the principles of: tawhid (unity of God), risala (prophethood) and khilafa (caliphate).[133][134][135] Although Maududi talked about Islamic revolution,[136] by "revolution" he meant not the violence or populist policies of the Iranian Revolution, but the gradual changing the hearts and minds of individuals from the top of society downward through an educational process or da'wah.[137][138] Maududi believed that Islam was all-encompassing: "Everything in the universe is 'Muslim' for it obeys God by submission to His laws."[139] "The man who denies God is called Kafir (concealer) because he conceals by his disbelief what is inherent in his nature and embalmed in his own soul."[140][141]

Muslim Brotherhood

Roughly contemporaneous with Maududi was the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Ismailiyah, Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al Banna. His was arguably the first, largest and most influential modern Islamic political/religious organization. Under the motto "the Qur'an is our constitution,"[142] it sought Islamic revival through preaching and also by providing basic community services including schools, mosques, and workshops. Like Maududi, Al Banna believed in the necessity of government rule based on Shariah law implemented gradually and by persuasion, and of eliminating all Western imperialist influence in the Muslim world.[143]

Some elements of the Brotherhood, though perhaps against orders, did engage in violence against the government, and its founder Al-Banna was assassinated in 1949 in retaliation for the assassination of Egypt's premier Mahmud Fami Naqrashi three months earlier.[144] The Brotherhood has suffered periodic repression in Egypt and has been banned several times, in 1948 and several years later following confrontations with Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser, who jailed thousands of members for several years.

Despite periodic repression, the Brotherhood has become one of the most influential movements in the Islamic world, particularly in the Arab world, where for many years it was described as "semi-legal",[145] and was the only opposition group in Egypt able to field candidates during elections.[146] In the 2011–12 Egyptian parliamentary election, the political parties identified as "Islamist" (the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Salafi Al-Nour Party and liberal Islamist Al-Wasat Party) won 75% of the total seats.[147] Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist of Muslim Brotherhood, was the first democratically elected president of Egypt. He was deposed during the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood is designated as a terrorist organization by Bahrain, Russia, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb

Maududi's political ideas influenced Sayyid Qutb a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and one of the key philosophers of Islamism and highly influential thinkers of Islamic universalism.[148] Qutb believed things had reached such a state that the Muslim community had ceased to exist and "been extinct for a few centuries".[149] Qutb preached that Muslims must engage in a two-pronged attack of converting individuals through preaching Islam peacefully but also using "physical power and jihad".[150] Qutb was both a member of the brotherhood and enormously influential in the Muslim world at large. Qutb is considered by some (Fawaz A. Gerges) to be "the founding father and leading theoretician" of modern jihadists, such as Osama bin Laden.[151][152]

Ascendance on international politics

In the 1950s, 1960s, and most of the 1970s, Islamic fervor was understood as a weapon that the United States could use as a weapon in its Cold War against the Soviet Union and its communist allies because communism professes atheism. In a September 1957 White House meeting between U.S. President Eisenhower and senior U.S. foreign policy officials, it was agreed to use the communists' lack of religion against them by setting up a secret task force to deliver weapons to Middle East despots, including the Saudi Arabian rulers. "We should do everything possible to stress the 'holy war' aspect" that has currency in the Middle East, President Eisenhower stated in agreement.[153]

Six-Day War (1967)

The quick and decisive defeat of the Arab troops during the Six-Day War by Israeli troops constituted a pivotal event in the Arab Muslim world. The defeat along with economic stagnation in the defeated countries, was blamed on the secular Arab nationalism of the ruling regimes. A steep and steady decline in the popularity and credibility of secular, socialist and nationalist politics ensued. Ba'athism, Arab socialism, and Arab nationalism suffered, and different democratic and anti-democratic Islamist movements inspired by Maududi and Sayyid Qutb gained ground.[154]

Iranian Revolution (1978–1979)

The first modern "Islamist state" (with the possible exception of Zia's Pakistan)[155] was established among the Shia of Iran. In a major shock to the rest of the world, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led the Iranian Revolution of 1979 in order to overthrow the oil-rich, well-armed, Westernized and pro-American secular monarchy ruled by Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi.

The views of Ali Shariati, the ideologue of the Iranian Revolution, resembled those of Mohammad Iqbal, the ideological father of the State of Pakistan, but Khomeini's beliefs are perceived to be placed somewhere between the beliefs of Shia Islam and the beliefs of Sunni Islamic thinkers like Mawdudi and Qutb. He believed that complete imitation of the Prophet Mohammad and his successors such as Ali for the restoration of Sharia law was essential to Islam, that many secular, Westernizing Muslims were actually agents of the West and therefore serving Western interests, and that acts such as the "plundering" of Muslim lands was part of a long-term conspiracy against Islam by Western governments.[156]

His views differed from those of Sunni scholars in:

  • As a Shia, Khomeini looked to Ali ibn Abī Tālib and Husayn ibn Ali Imam, but not caliphs Abu Bakr, Omar or Uthman.
  • Khomeini talked not about restoring the Caliphate or Sunni Islamic democracy, but about establishing a state where the guardianship of the democratic or the dictatorial political system was performed by Shia jurists (ulama) as the successors of Shia Imams until the Mahdi returns from occultation. His concept of velayat-e-faqih ("guardianship of the [Islamic] jurist"), held that the leading Shia Muslim cleric in society—which Khomeini's mass of followers believed and chose to be himself—should serve as the supervisor of the state in order to protect or "guard" Islam and Sharia law from "innovation" and "anti-Islamic laws" passed by dictators or democratic parliaments.[156]

The revolution was influenced by Marxism through Islamist thought and also by writings that sought either to counter Marxism (Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr's work) or to integrate socialism and Islamism (Ali Shariati's work). A strong wing of the revolutionary leadership was made up of leftists or "radical populists", such as Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur.[157]

While initial enthusiasm for the Iranian revolution in the Muslim world was intense, it has waned as critics hold and campaign that "purges, executions, and atrocities tarnished its image".[158]

The Islamic Republic has also maintained its hold on power in Iran in spite of US economic sanctions, and has created or assisted like-minded Shia terrorist groups in Iraq,(SCIRI)[159][160] and Lebanon (Hezbollah)[161] (two Muslim countries that also have large Shiite populations). During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, the Iranian government enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity among the predominantly Sunni "Arab street,"[162] due to its support for Hezbollah and to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vehement opposition to the United States and his call that Israel shall vanish.[163]

Grand Mosque seizure (1979)

The strength of the Islamist movement was manifest in an event which might have seemed sure to turn Muslim public opinion against fundamentalism, but did just the opposite. In 1979 the Grand Mosque in Mecca Saudi Arabia was seized by an armed fundamentalist group and held for over a week. Scores were killed, including many pilgrim bystanders[164] in a gross violation of one of the most holy sites in Islam (and one where arms and violence are strictly forbidden).[165][166]

Instead of prompting a backlash against the movement from which the attackers originated, however, Saudi Arabia, already very conservative, responded by shoring up its fundamentalist credentials with even more Islamic restrictions. Crackdowns followed on everything from shopkeepers who did not close for prayer and newspapers that published pictures of women, to the selling of dolls, teddy bears (images of animate objects are considered haraam), and dog food (dogs are considered unclean).[167]

In other Muslim countries, blame for and wrath against the seizure was directed not against fundamentalists, but against Islamic fundamentalism's foremost geopolitical enemy—the United States. Ayatollah Khomeini sparked attacks on American embassies when he announced: "It is not beyond guessing that this is the work of criminal American imperialism and international Zionism", despite the fact that the object of the fundamentalists' revolt was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, America's major ally in the region. Anti-American demonstrations followed in the Philippines, Turkey, Bangladesh, India, the UAE, Pakistan, and Kuwait. The US Embassy in Libya was burned by protesters chanting pro-Khomeini slogans and the embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan was burned to the ground.[168]

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979–1989)

In 1979, the Soviet Union deployed its 40th Army into Afghanistan, attempting to suppress an Islamic rebellion against an allied Marxist regime in the Afghan Civil War. The conflict, pitting indigenous impoverished Muslims (mujahideen) against an anti-religious superpower, galvanized thousands of Muslims around the world to send aid and sometimes to go themselves to fight for their faith. Leading this pan-Islamic effort was Palestinian sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. While the military effectiveness of these "Afghan Arabs" was marginal, an estimated 16,000[169] to 35,000 Muslim volunteers[170] came from around the world to fight in Afghanistan.[170][171]

When the Soviet Union abandoned the Marxist Najibullah regime and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 (the regime finally fell in 1992), the victory was seen by many Muslims as the triumph of Islamic faith over superior military power and technology that could be duplicated elsewhere.

The jihadists gained legitimacy and prestige from their triumph both within the militant community and among ordinary Muslims, as well as the confidence to carry their jihad to other countries where they believed Muslims required assistance.[172]

The collapse of the Soviet Union itself, in 1991, was seen by many Islamists, including Bin Laden, as the defeat of a superpower at the hands of Islam. Concerning the $6 billion in aid given by the US and Pakistan's military training and intelligence support to the mujahideen,[173] bin Laden wrote: "[T]he US has no mentionable role" in "the collapse of the Soviet Union... rather the credit goes to God and the mujahidin" of Afghanistan.[174]

Persian Gulf War (1990–1991)

Another factor in the early 1990s that worked to radicalize the Islamist movement was the Gulf War, which brought several hundred thousand US and allied non-Muslim military personnel to Saudi Arabian soil to put an end to Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait. Prior to 1990 Saudi Arabia played an important role in restraining the many Islamist groups that received its aid. But when Saddam, secularist and Ba'athist dictator of neighboring Iraq, attacked Kuwait (his enemy in the war), western troops came to protect the Saudi monarchy. Islamists accused the Saudi regime of being a puppet of the west.

These attacks resonated with conservative Muslims and the problem did not go away with Saddam's defeat either, since American troops remained stationed in the kingdom, and a de facto cooperation with the Palestinian-Israeli peace process developed. Saudi Arabia attempted to compensate for its loss of prestige among these groups by repressing those domestic Islamists who attacked it (bin Laden being a prime example), and increasing aid to Islamic groups (Islamist madrassas around the world and even aiding some violent Islamist groups) that did not, but its pre-war influence on behalf of moderation was greatly reduced.[175] One result of this was a campaign of attacks on government officials and tourists in Egypt, a bloody civil war in Algeria and Osama bin Laden's terror attacks climaxing in the 9/11 attack.[176]


By the beginning of the twenty first century, "the word secular, a label proudly worn" in the 1960s and 70s was "shunned" and "used to besmirch" political foes in Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world.[36] Islamists surpassed the small secular opposition parties in terms of "doggedness, courage," "risk-taking" or "organizational skills".[34]

In the Middle East and Pakistan, religious discourse dominates societies, the airwaves, and thinking about the world. Radical mosques have proliferated throughout Egypt. Book stores are dominated by works with religious themes ... The demand for sharia, the belief that their governments are unfaithful to Islam and that Islam is the answer to all problems, and the certainty that the West has declared war on Islam; these are the themes that dominate public discussion. Islamists may not control parliaments or government palaces, but they have occupied the popular imagination.[177]

Opinion polls in a variety of Islamic countries showed that significant majorities opposed groups like ISIS, but also wanted religion to play a greater role in public life.[178]


By 2020, approximately 40 years after the Islamic overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the seizure of the Grand Mosque by extremists, a number of observers (Olivier Roy, Mustafa Akyol, Nader Hashemi) detected a decline in the vigor and popularity of Islamism. Islamism had been an idealized/utopian concept to compare with the grim reality of the status quo, but in more than four decades it had failed to establish a "concrete and viable blueprint for society" despite repeated efforts (Olivier Roy);[179] and instead had left a less than inspiring track record of its impact on the world (Nader Hashemi).[180] Consequently, in addition to the trend towards moderation by Islamist or formerly Islamist parties (such as PKS of Indonesia, AKP of Turkey, and PAS of Malaysia) mentioned above, there has been a social/religious and sometimes political backlash against Islamist rule in countries like Turkey, Iran, and Sudan (Mustafa Akyol).[181]

Writing in 2020, Mustafa Akyol argues there has been a strong reaction by many Muslims against political Islam, including a weakening of religious faith—the very thing Islamism was intended to strengthen. He suggests this backlash against Islamism among Muslim youth has come from all the "terrible things" that have happened in the Arab world in the twenty first century "in the name of Islam"—such as the "sectarian civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen".[181]

Polls taken by Arab Barometer in six Arab countries — Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Iraq and Libya — found "Arabs are losing faith in religious parties and leaders." In 2018–19, in all six countries, fewer than 20% of those asked whether they trusted Islamist parties answered in the affirmative. That percentage had fallen (in all six countries) from when the same question was asked in 2012–14. Mosque attendance also declined more than 10 points on average, and the share of those Arabs describing themselves as "not religious" went from 8% in 2013 to 13% in 2018–19.[182][181] In Syria, Sham al-Ali reports "Rising apostasy among Syrian youths".[183][181]

Writing in 2021, Nader Hashemi notes that in Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia, Egypt, Gaza, Jordan and other places were Islamist parties have come to power or campaigned to, "one general theme stands. The popular prestige of political Islam has been tarnished by its experience with state power."[184][180] Even Islamist terrorism was in decline and tended "to be local" rather than pan-Islamic. As of 2021, Al-Qaeda consisted of "a bunch of militias" with no effective central command (Fareed Zakaria).[184]

Afghanistan (Taliban)

Flag of the Taliban

In Afghanistan, the mujahideen's victory against the Soviet Union in the 1980s did not lead to justice and prosperity, due to a vicious and destructive civil war between political and tribal warlords, making Afghanistan one of the poorest countries on earth. In 1992, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan ruled by communist forces collapsed, and democratic Islamist elements of mujahideen founded the Islamic State of Afghanistan. In 1996, a more conservative and anti-democratic Islamist movement known as the Taliban rose to power, defeated most of the warlords and took over roughly 80% of Afghanistan.

The Taliban were spawned by the thousands of madrasahs the Deobandi movement established for impoverished Afghan refugees and supported by governmental and religious groups in neighboring Pakistan.[185] The Taliban differed from other Islamist movements to the point where they might be more properly described as Islamic fundamentalist or neofundamentalist, interested in spreading "an idealized and systematized version of conservative tribal village customs" under the label of Sharia to an entire country. Their ideology was also described as being influenced by Wahhabism, and the extremist jihadism of their guest Osama bin Laden.[186][187]

The Taliban considered "politics" to be against Sharia and thus did not hold elections. They were led by Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mohammed Omar who was given the title "Amir al-Mu'minin" or Commander of the Faithful, and a pledge of loyalty by several hundred Taliban-selected Pashtun clergy in April 1996. Taliban were overwhelmingly Pashtun and were accused of not sharing power with the approximately 60% of Afghans who belonged to other ethnic groups. (see: Taliban#Ideology and aims)[188]

The Taliban's hosting of Osama bin Laden led to an American-organized attack which drove them from power following the 9/11 attacks.[189] The Taliban continued to fight a vigorous insurgency with suicide bombings and armed attacks being launched against NATO and Afghan government targets. The Taliban re-established control of the country in 2021 following a 2020 peace agreement with the United States and the overthrow of the US-backed government.


The FIS emblem

In 1989, a broad Islamist coalition movement was founded in Algeria known as the FIS or Front Islamique de Salut (the Islamic Salvation Front). Led by Abbassi Madani, and a charismatic Islamist young preacher, Ali Belhadj, it was influenced by Salafism and the jihad in Afghanistan, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. Taking advantage of economic failure and unpopular social liberalization and secularization of the ruling leftist-nationalist FLN government, it used its preaching to advocate the establishment of a legal system following Sharia law, economic liberalization and development program, education in Arabic rather than French, and gender segregation, with women staying home to alleviate the high rate of unemployment among young Algerian men. The FIS won sweeping victories in local elections and was set to win national elections in 1991, when voting was canceled by a military coup d'état.

As Islamists took up arms to overthrow the government, the FIS's leaders were arrested and it became overshadowed by Islamist guerrilla groups, particularly the Islamic Salvation Army, MIA and Armed Islamic Group (or GIA). A bloody and devastating civil war ensued in which between 150,000 and 200,000 people were killed over the next decade.

The civil war was not a victory for Islamists. By 2002 the main guerrilla groups had either been destroyed or had surrendered. The popularity of Islamist parties has declined to the point that "the Islamist candidate, Abdallah Jaballah, came a distant third with 5% of the vote" in the 2004 presidential election.[190]


Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh is the largest Islamist party in the country and supports the implementation of Sharia law and promotes the country's main right-wing politics. Since 2000, the main political opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been allied with it and another Islamic party, Islami Oikya Jote. Some of their leaders and supporters, including former ministers and MPs, have been hanged for alleged war crimes during Bangladesh's struggle for independence and speaking against the ruling Bangladesh Awami League.[191]


In the 2012, the party named Islam had four candidates and they were elected in Molenbeek and Anderlecht.[192] In 2018, they ran candidates in 28 municipalities. Its policies include schools must offer halal food and women must be able to wear a headscarf anywhere.[193] Another of the Islam Party's goals is to separate men and women on public transportation. The party's president argues this policy will help protect women from sexual harassment.[194]


The Islamist movements gradually grew since the 1990s. The first Islamist groups and networks were predominantly influenced by the countries they immigrated from. Those involved had close contact with militant Islamists in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. Their operations had supporting militant groups financially as their first priority. Since the 1990s, people from the Islamist movements joined several conflicts to train with or participate in fighting with Islamist militants.[195]

In the 2000s the Islamist movements grew and by 2014 there were militants among the Islamist movements in Copenhagen, Aarhus and Odense. Several people from crime gangs join Islamist movements that sympathise with militant Islamism. The militant Islamist movement were estimated to encompass some hundreds in 2014.[195]

The Danish National Centre for Social Research released a report commissioned by the Ministry of Children, Integration and Social Affairs documenting 15 extremist groups operating in Denmark. The majority of these organizations were non-Muslim far-right or far-left groups, but five were Sunni Islamist groups. These Sunni Islamist groups include Hizb ut-Tahrir Denmark, Dawah-bærere (Dawah Carriers), Kaldet til Islam (The Call to Islam), Dawah-centret (The Dawah Centre), and the Muslimsk Ungdomscenter (The Muslim Youth Centre). All of these Sunni Islamist groups operate in Greater Copenhagen with the exception of Muslimsk Ungdomscenter, which operates in Aarhus. Altogether, roughly 195 to 415 Muslims belong to one of these organizations and most are young men.[196]

Egypt (Jihadism)

While Qutb's ideas became increasingly radical during his imprisonment prior to his execution in 1966, the leadership of the Brotherhood, led by Hasan al-Hudaybi, remained moderate and interested in political negotiation and activism. Fringe or splinter movements inspired by the final writings of Qutb in the mid-1960s (particularly the manifesto Milestones, a.k.a. Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq) did, however, develop and they pursued a more radical direction.[197] By the 1970s, the Brotherhood had renounced violence as a means of achieving its goals.

The path of violence and military struggle was then taken up by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Unlike earlier anti-colonial movements the extremist group directed its attacks against what it believed were "apostate" leaders of Muslim states, leaders who held secular leanings or who had introduced or promoted Western/foreign ideas and practices into Islamic societies. Its views were outlined in a pamphlet written by Muhammad Abd al-Salaam Farag, in which he states:

...there is no doubt that the first battlefield for jihad is the extermination of these infidel leaders and to replace them by a complete Islamic Order...

Another of the Egyptian groups which employed violence in their struggle for Islamic order was al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group). Victims of their campaign against the Egyptian state in the 1990s included the head of the counter-terrorism police (Major General Raouf Khayrat), a parliamentary speaker (Rifaat al-Mahgoub), dozens of European tourists and Egyptian bystanders, and over 100 Egyptian police.[198] Ultimately the campaign to overthrow the government was unsuccessful, and the major jihadi group, Jamaa Islamiya (or al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya), renounced violence in 2003.[199] Other lesser known groups include the Islamic Liberation Party, Salvation from Hell and Takfir wal-Hijra, and these groups have variously been involved in activities such as attempted assassinations of political figures, arson of video shops and attempted takeovers of government buildings.[200]


The Democratic Union of Muslims (French: Union des démocrates musulmans français, UDMF), a party founded in 2012, planned to take part in 2019 municipal elections. They presented candidate lists for 50 different cities.[201] The UDMF also fielded candidates for European Parliament elections. The rise of the party can be attributed to French Muslim dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties.[202]

Gérald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior of France, said in his book, Le séparatisme Islamiste, ‘Islamism, the most powerful ideology in the world, has deprived Islam of its voice.’[203]

Law against Islamist extremism

After the murder of Paty, a bill was put forward to fight Islamist extremism and separatism to fight the roots of jihadist violence. It was approved by the National Assembly in February 2021.[204]

A new bill was introduced, which makes it unlawful to threaten a public servant in order to gain an exception or special treatment which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. The legislation expands the powers of authorities to close places of worship and religious organisations when they promote "hate or violence". The law requires religious funds from abroad exceeding €10,000 to be declared and the relevant accounts to be certified, so as to regulate the donations from countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Millions of euros in funding had previously reached France from countries such as Turkey, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.[204][205]

It provides stricter rules for allowing home-schooling in order to prevent parents taking children out of school in order to let them pursue their education in underground Islamist institutions. Doctors performing virginity tests would be subject to fines or prison sentences. These changes were prompted by a number of cases of Muslim men trying to have their marriages annulled by accusing their spouse of having had sex before marriage.[205] Authorities will have to refuse residency documents to applicants who practise polygamy.[204][205] Forced marriages, thought to affect around 200,000 women in France, were likewise to be combated with greater scrutiny from registrars.[205]

Muslim Brotherhood in France

The brotherhood's build-up in France started with Union des organisations islamiques en France (UOIF) which later changed its name to Musulmans de France. The organization primarily consisted of foreign students who entered France from Tunisia and Morocco. By 2020, there were 147 mosques and 18 Islamic schools associated with the brotherhood. UOIF has about 50 000 members distributed among 200 member organizations.[206]

The Brotherhood pursues a communitarianist philiosophy and works against Muslims adopting liberal lifestyles and becoming assimilated into French society. In the long term, they aim towards entering politics by increasing the number of Muslims until they can form a political party of their own.[206]

Gaza (Hamas)

The Hamas flag

Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist organization that governs the Gaza Strip where it has moved to establish sharia law in matters such as separation of the genders, using the lash for punishment, and Islamic dress code.[207] Hamas also has a military resistance wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.[208]

For some decades prior to the First Palestine Intifada in 1987,[209] the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine took a "quiescent" stance towards Israel,[210] focusing on preaching, education and social services, and benefiting from Israel's "indulgence" to build up a network of mosques and charitable organizations.[211] As the First Intifada gathered momentum and Palestinian shopkeepers closed their shops in support of the uprising, the Brotherhood announced the formation of HAMAS ("zeal"), devoted to Jihad against Israel. Rather than being more moderate than the PLO, the 1988 Hamas charter took a more uncompromising stand, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state in Palestine.[212] It was soon competing with and then overtaking the PLO for control of the intifada. The Brotherhood's base of devout middle class found common cause with the impoverished youth of the intifada in their cultural conservatism and antipathy for activities of the secular middle class such as drinking alcohol and going about without hijab.[213]

Hamas has continued to play a significant role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From 2000 to 2007 it killed 542 people in 140 suicide bombing or "martyrdom operations".[212] In the January 2006 legislative election—its first foray into the political process—it won the majority of the seats,[212] and in 2007 it drove the PLO out of Gaza. Hamas has been praised by Muslims for driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip,[212] but criticized for failure to achieve its demands in the 2008–09 and 2014 Gaza Wars despite heavy destruction and significant loss of life.[214]

Iraq and Syria (Islamic State)


Early in the history of the state of Pakistan (12 March 1949), a parliamentary resolution (the Objectives Resolution) was adopted in accordance with the vision of founding fathers of Pakistan (Muhammad Iqbal, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan), proclaiming:

Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust.

  • The State shall exercise its powers and authority through the elected representatives of the people.
  • The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed.
  • Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Quran and Sunnah.
  • Provision shall be made for the religious minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.

This resolution later became a key source of inspiration for writers of the Constitution of Pakistan, and is included in the constitution as preamble.

In July 1977, General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's regime in Pakistan. Ali Bhutto, a leftist in democratic competition with Islamists, had announced banning alcohol and nightclubs within six months, shortly before he was overthrown.[215] Zia-ul-Haq was much more committed to Islamism, and "Islamization" or implementation of Islamic law, became a cornerstone of his eleven-year military dictatorship and Islamism became his "official state ideology". Zia ul Haq was an admirer of Mawdudi and Mawdudi's party Jamaat-e-Islami became the "regime's ideological and political arm".[216] In Pakistan this Islamization from above was "probably" more complete "than under any other regime except those in Iran and Sudan," but Zia-ul-Haq was also criticized by many Islamists for imposing "symbols" rather than substance, and using Islamization to legitimize his means of seizing power.[217] Unlike neighboring Iran, Zia-ul-Haq's policies were intended to "avoid revolutionary excess", and not to strain relations with his American and Persian Gulf state allies.[218] Zia-ul-Haq was killed in 1988 but Islamization remains an important element in Pakistani society.


For many years, Sudan had an Islamist regime under the leadership of Hassan al-Turabi. His National Islamic Front first gained influence when strongman General Gaafar al-Nimeiry invited members to serve in his government in 1979. Turabi built a powerful economic base with money from foreign Islamist banking systems, especially those linked with Saudi Arabia. He also recruited and built a cadre of influential loyalists by placing sympathetic students in the university and military academy while serving as minister of education.[63]

After al-Nimeiry was overthrown in 1985 the party did poorly in national elections, but in 1989 it was able to overthrow the elected post-al-Nimeiry government with the help of the military. Turabi was noted for proclaiming his support for the democratic process and a liberal government before coming to power, but strict application of sharia law, torture and mass imprisonment of the opposition,[62] and an intensification of the long-running war in southern Sudan,[219] once in power. The NIF regime also harbored Osama bin Laden for a time (before 9/11), and worked to unify Islamist opposition to the American attack on Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.

After Sudanese intelligence services were implicated in an assassination attempt on the President of Egypt, UN economic sanctions were imposed on Sudan, a poor country, and Turabi fell from favor.[220] He was imprisoned for a time in 2004–05. Some of the NIF policies, such as the war with the non-Muslim south, have been reversed, though the National Islamic Front still holds considerable power in the government of Omar al-Bashir and National Congress Party, another Islamist party in country.


Switzerland is not normally seen as a center of Islamism, especially when compared to countries such as Belgium or France. However, from 2012 to 2018, the majority of the country's jihadist and would-be jihadist population were radicalized in Switzerland.[221]


Necmettin Erbakan, elected in 1996, was the second Islamist Prime Minister of Turkey after Şemsettin Günaltay, but was removed from power by a "postmodern coup d'état" in 1997.

Turkey had a number of Islamist parties, often changing names as they were banned by the constitutional court for anti-secular activities. Necmettin Erbakan (1926–2011) was the leader of several of the parties, the National Order Party (Milli Nizam Partisi, 1970–1971), the National Salvation Party (Milli Selamet Partisi, 1972–1981), and the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, 1983–1998); he also became a member of the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi, 2003–2011). Current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long been considered a champion of political Islam.[222] The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, is sometimes described as Islamist, but rejects such classification.[223]

By country

  • Various Islamist political groups are dominant forces in the political systems of Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.[224]
  • The Green Algeria Alliance is an Islamist coalition of political parties, created for the legislative election of 2012 in Algeria. It includes the Movement of Society for Peace (Hamas), Islamic Renaissance Movement (Ennahda) and the Movement for National Reform (Islah).[225] The alliance is led by Bouguerra Soltani of Hamas.[226] However, the incumbent coalition, comprising the FLN of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the RND of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, held on to power after winning a majority of seats, and the Islamist parties of the Green Algeria Alliance lost seats in the legislative election of 2012.[227][228]
  • Shia Islamist Al Wefaq, Salafi Islamist Al Asalah and Ikhwani(brotherhood) Islamist Al-Menbar Islamic Society are dominant democratic forces in Bahrain.[229]
  • In Indonesia, Prosperous Justice Party is the major Islamist political party in the country's democratic process.[230][231][232]
  • Islamic Action Front is Jordan's Islamist political party and largest democratic political force in the country. The IAF's survival in Jordan is primarily due to its flexibility and less radical approach to politics.[233]
  • Hadas or "Islamic Constitutional Movement" is Kuwait's Sunni Islamist party.
  • Islamic Group (Lebanon) is a Sunni Islamist political party in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a Shia Islamist political party in Lebanon.
  • The Justice and Construction Party is the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm in Libya and the second largest political force in the country.[234][235][236] The National Forces Alliance, the largest political group in country, does not believe the country should be run entirely by Sharia law or secular law, but does hold that Sharia should be "the main inspiration for legislation." Party leader Jibril has said the NFA is a moderate Islamic movement that recognises the importance of Islam in political life and favours Sharia as the basis of the law.[237]
  • The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party is a major opposition party in Malaysia which espouses Islamism.
  • The Justice and Development Party (Morocco) is the ruling party in Morocco since 29 November 2011, advocating Islamism and Islamic democracy.[238][239]
  • The Muslim Brotherhood of Syria is a Sunni Islamist force in Syria and very loosely affiliated to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It has also been called the "dominant group" or "dominant force" in the Arab Spring uprising in Syria.[240] The group's stated political positions are moderate and in its most recent April 2012 manifesto it "pledges to respect individual rights", to promote pluralism and democracy.[241]
  • The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan is Tajikistan's Islamist party and main opposition and democratic force in the country.[242]
  • The Ennahda Movement, also known as Renaissance Party or simply Ennahda, is a moderate Islamist political party in Tunisia.[243][244][245][246] On 1 March 2011, after the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali collapsed in the wake of the 2011 Tunisian revolution, Tunisia's interim government granted the group permission to form a political party. Since then it has become the biggest and most well-organized party in Tunisia, so far outdistancing its more secular competitors. In the Tunisian Constituent Assembly election of 2011, the first honest election in the country's history with a turnout of 51% of all eligible voters, the party won 37% of the popular vote and 89 (41%) of the 217 assembly seats, far more than any other party.[247][248][249][250]
  • Eastern Africa has become a hotbed of violent Islamic extremism since the late 1990s, one of the relevant movements being al-Shabaab, active in Somalia and Kenya, which emerged in response to the 2006–09 Ethiopian intervention in Somalia.[251]
  • West Africa has seen the rise of influential Islamic extremist organizations, notably Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali.[252]

Hizb ut-Tahrir

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an influential international Islamist movement, founded in 1953 by an Islamic Qadi (judge) Taqiuddin al-Nabhani. HT is unique from most other Islamist movements in that the party focuses not on implementation of Sharia on local level or on providing social services, but on unifying the Muslim world under its vision of a new Islamic caliphate spanning from North Africa and the Middle East to much of central and South Asia.

To this end it has drawn up and published a 186-article constitution for its proposed caliphate-state specifying specific policies such as sharia law, a "unitary ruling system" headed by a caliph elected by Muslims, an economy based on the gold standard, public ownership of utilities, public transport, and energy resources, death for apostates and Arabic as the "sole language of the State."[253][254]

In its focus on the Caliphate, the party takes a different view of Muslim history than some other Islamists such as Muhammad Qutb. HT sees Islam's pivotal turning point as occurring not with the death of Ali, or one of the other four "rightly guided" caliphs in the 7th century, but with the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. This is believed to have ended the true Islamic system, something for which it blames "the disbelieving (Kafir) colonial powers" working through Turkish modernist Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.[255]

HT does not engage in armed jihad or work for a democratic system, but works to take power through "ideological struggle" to change Muslim public opinion, and in particular through elites who will "facilitate" a "change of the government," i.e., launch a "bloodless" coup. It allegedly attempted and failed such coups in 1968 and 1969 in Jordan, and in 1974 in Egypt, and is now banned in both countries.[256]

The party is sometimes described as "Leninist" and "rigidly controlled by its central leadership,"[257] with its estimated one million members required to spend "at least two years studying party literature under the guidance of mentors (Murshid)" before taking "the party oath."[257] HT is particularly active in the ex-soviet republics of Central Asia and in Europe.

Post-Arab Spring (2011–present)

One observer (Quinn Mecham) notes four trends in Islamism rising from the Arab Spring of 2010–11:

  • The repression of the Muslim Brotherhood. Primarily by the Egyptian military and courts following the forcible removal of Morsi from office in 2013; but also by Saudi Arabia and a number of Gulf countries (not Qatar).[258][259]
  • Rise of Islamist "state-building" where "state failure" has taken place—most prominently in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Islamists have found it easier than competing non-Islamists trying to fill the void of state failure, by securing external funding, weaponry and fighters—"many of which have come from abroad and have rallied around a pan-Islamic identity". The norms of governance in these Islamist areas are militia-based, and the population submit to their authority out of fear, loyalty, other reasons, or some combination.[258] The "most expansive" of these new "models" is the Islamic State.[258]
  • Increasing sectarianism at least in part from Proxy Wars. Fighters are proxies primarily for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and for Iran. Islamists are fighting Islamists across sectarian lines in Lebanon (Sunni militants targeting Hezbollah positions), Yemen (between mainstream Sunni Islamists of Islah and the Shiite Zaydi Houthi movement), in Iraq (Islamic State and Iraqi Shiite militias)[258]
  • Increased caution and political learning in countries such as Algeria and Jordan where Islamist have chosen not to lead a major challenge against their governments. In Yemen Islah "has sought to frame its ideology in a way that will avoid charges of militancy".[258]

Another observer (Tarek Osman) notes with concern that

  • the failure to take power during the Arab Spring has led not to "soul-searching" in major Islamist groups about what went wrong, but instead to "antagonism and fiery anger" and a thirst for revenge. Partisans of political Islam (although this does not include some prominent leaders such as Rached Ghannouchi but is particularly true in Egypt) see themselves as victims of an injustice whose perpetrators are not just "individual conspirators but entire social groups".[260]

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

ISIL's territory, in grey, at the time of its greatest territorial extent in May 2015

"The Islamic State", formerly known as the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" and before that as the "Islamic State of Iraq", (also called by the Arabic acronym Daesh), is a Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist extremist militant group which is led by and mainly composed of Sunni Arabs from Syria and Iraq.[261] In 2014, the group proclaimed itself a caliphate, with religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide.[262] As of March 2015, it had control over territory occupied by ten million people[263] in Syria and Iraq, and has nominal control over small areas of Libya, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.[264][265] (While a self-described state, it lacks international recognition.[266]) ISIL also operates or has affiliates in other parts of the world, including North Africa and South Asia[267][268]

Originating as the Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, ISIL pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, participated in the Iraqi insurgency that followed the invasion of Iraq by Western coalition forces in 2003, joined the fight in the Syrian Civil War beginning in 2011, and was expelled from al-Qaeda in early 2014, (which complained of its failure to consult and "notorious intransigence"[269][270]). ISIL gained prominence after it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in western Iraq in an offensive in June that same year.[271] The group is adept at social media, posting Internet videos of beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers, and is known for its destruction of cultural heritage sites.[272] The United Nations (UN) has held ISIL responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and Amnesty International has reported ethnic cleansing by the group on a "historic scale". The group has been designated a terrorist organisation by the UN, the European Union (EU) and member states, the United States, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other countries.


Charitable work

Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, "are well known for providing shelters, educational assistance, free or low cost medical clinics, housing assistance to students from out of town, student advisory groups, facilitation of inexpensive mass marriage ceremonies to avoid prohibitively costly dowry demands, legal assistance, sports facilities, and women's groups." All this compares very favourably against incompetent, inefficient, or neglectful governments whose commitment to social justice is limited to rhetoric.[273]

Dissatisfaction with the status quo

The Arab world—the original heart of the Muslim world—has been afflicted with economic stagnation. For example, it has been estimated that in the mid 1990s the exports of Finland, a country of five million, exceeded those of the entire Arab world of 260 million, excluding oil revenue.[274] Strong population growth combined with economic stagnation has created urban agglomerations in Cairo, Istanbul, Tehran, Karachi, Dhaka, and Jakarta each with well over 12 million citizens, millions of them young and unemployed or underemployed.[275] Such a demographic, alienated from the westernized ways of the urban elite, but uprooted from the comforts and more passive traditions of the villages they came from, is understandably favourably disposed to an Islamic system promising a better world[276]—an ideology providing an "emotionally familiar basis for group identity, solidarity, and exclusion; an acceptable basis for legitimacy and authority; an immediately intelligible formulation of principles for both a critique of the present and a program for the future."[277]

Silencing of leftist opposition

In the post-colonial era, many Muslim-majority states such as Indonesia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, were ruled by authoritarian regimes which were often continuously dominated by the same individuals or their cadres for decades. Simultaneously, the military played a significant part in the government decisions in many of these states (the outsized role played by the military could be seen also in democratic Turkey).[278]

The authoritarian regimes, backed by military support, took extra measures to silence leftist opposition forces, often with the help of foreign powers. Silencing of leftist opposition deprived the masses a channel to express their economic grievances and frustration toward the lack of democratic processes.[278]

As a result, in the post-Cold War era, civil society-based Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood were the only organizations capable to provide avenues of protest.[278]

The dynamic is repeated after the states had gone through a democratic transition. In Indonesia, some secular political parties have contributed to the enactment of religious bylaws in order to counter the popularity of Islamist oppositions.[279] In Egypt, during the short period of the democratic experiment, Muslim Brotherhood seized the momentum by being the most cohesive political movement among the opposition.[280]

Identity politics

Protests against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Christian governor of Jakarta, 2 December 2016

Islamism can also be described as part of identity politics, specifically the religiously-oriented nationalism that emerged in the Third World in the 1970s: "resurgent Hinduism in India, Religious Zionism in Israel, militant Buddhism in Sri Lanka, resurgent Sikh nationalism in the Punjab, 'Liberation Theology' of Catholicism in Latin America, and Islamism in the Muslim world."[281]

Islamic revival

The modern revival of Islamic devotion and the attraction to things Islamic can be traced to several events.

By the end of World War I, most Muslim states were seen to be dominated by the Christian-leaning Western states. It is argued that either the claims of Islam were false and the Christian or post-Christian West had finally come up with another system that was superior, or Islam had failed through not being true to itself. Thus, a redoubling of faith and devotion by Muslims was called for to reverse this tide.[282]

The connection between the lack of an Islamic spirit and the lack of victory was underscored by the disastrous defeat of Arab nationalist-led armies fighting under the slogan "Land, Sea and Air" in the 1967 Six-Day War, compared to the (perceived) near-victory of the Yom Kippur War six years later. In that war the military's slogan was "God is Great".[283]

Along with the Yom Kippur War came the Arab oil embargo where the (Muslim) Persian Gulf oil-producing states' dramatic decision to cut back on production and quadruple the price of oil, made the terms oil, Arabs and Islam synonymous—with power—in the world, and especially in the Muslim world's public imagination.[284] Many Muslims believe as Saudi Prince Saud al Faisal did that the hundreds of billions of dollars in wealth obtained from the Persian Gulf's huge oil deposits were nothing less than a gift from God to the Islamic faithful.[285]

As the Islamic revival gained momentum, governments such as Egypt's, which had previously repressed (and was still continuing to repress) Islamists, joined the bandwagon. They banned alcohol and flooded the airwaves with religious programming,[74] giving the movement even more exposure.

Western alienation

Salafi-Islamist protest against anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims in Sydney, 15 September 2012

Muslim alienation from Western ways, including its political ways.[286]

  • The memory in Muslim societies of the many centuries of "cultural and institutional success" of Islamic civilization that have created an "intense resistance to an alternative 'civilizational order'", such as Western civilization,[287]
  • The proximity of the core of the Muslim world to Europe and Christendom where it first conquered and then was conquered. Iberia in the eighth century, the Crusades which began in the eleventh century, then for centuries the Ottoman Empire, were all fields of war between Europe and Islam.[288]
In the words of Bernard Lewis:

For almost a thousand years, from the first Moorish landing in Spain to the second Turkish siege of Vienna, Europe was under constant threat from Islam. In the early centuries it was a double threat—not only of invasion and conquest, but also of conversion and assimilation. All but the easternmost provinces of the Islamic realm had been taken from Christian rulers, and the vast majority of the first Muslims west of Iran and Arabia were converts from Christianity ... Their loss was sorely felt and it heightened the fear that a similar fate was in store for Europe.[289]

The Islamic world felt its own anger and resentment at the much more recent technological superiority of westerners who,

are the perpetual teachers; we, the perpetual students. Generation after generation, this asymmetry has generated an inferiority complex, forever exacerbated by the fact that their innovations progress at a faster pace than we can absorb them. ... The best tool to reverse the inferiority complex to a superiority complex ... Islam would give the whole culture a sense of dignity.[290]

For Islamists, the primary threat of the West is cultural rather than political or economic. Cultural dependency robs one of faith and identity and thus destroys Islam and the Islamic community (ummah) far more effectively than political rule.[291]
  • The end of the Cold War and Soviet occupation of Afghanistan has eliminated the common atheist Communist enemy uniting some religious Muslims and the capitalist west.[292]
Saudi Arabia

Starting in the mid-1970s the Islamic resurgence was funded by an abundance of money from Saudi Arabian oil exports.[293] The tens of billions of dollars in "petro-Islam" largesse obtained from the recently heightened price of oil funded an estimated "90% of the expenses of the entire faith."[294]

Throughout the Muslim world, religious institutions for people both young and old, from children's maddrassas to high-level scholarships received Saudi funding,[295] "books, scholarships, fellowships, and mosques" (for example, "more than 1500 mosques were built and paid for with money obtained from public Saudi funds over the last 50 years"),[296] along with training in the Kingdom for the preachers and teachers who went on to teach and work at these universities, schools, mosques, etc.[297]

The funding was also used to reward journalists and academics who followed the Saudis' strict interpretation of Islam; and satellite campuses were built around Egypt for Al-Azhar University, the world's oldest and most influential Islamic university.[298]

The interpretation of Islam promoted by this funding was the strict, conservative Saudi-based Wahhabism or Salafism. In its harshest form it preached that Muslims should not only "always oppose" infidels "in every way," but "hate them for their religion ... for Allah's sake," that democracy "is responsible for all the horrible wars of the 20th century," that Shia and other non-Wahhabi Muslims were infidels, etc.[299] While this effort has by no means converted all, or even most Muslims to the Wahhabist interpretation of Islam, it has done much to overwhelm more moderate local interpretations, and has set the Saudi-interpretation of Islam as the "gold standard" of religion in minds of some or many Muslims.[300]


Qatar stands out among state sponsors of Islamism along with Saudi Arabia. Qatar continues to back the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani denounced the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état that had taken place in Egypt.[301] In June 2016, Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to a life sentence for passing state secrets to Qatar.[302][303] The continuous support for the Muslim Brotherhood by Qatar is considered one of the stepping stones that started the Qatar diplomatic crisis.[304]

Qatar's political and financial support for Islamist movements and factions was not limited to the Egyptian case. Qatar is known to have backed Islamist factions in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

In Libya in particular, Qatar has supported the Islamist government established in Tripoli.[305] During the 2011 revolution that ousted President Muammar Gaddafi, Qatar provided "tens of millions of dollars in aid, military training and more than 20,000 tons of weapons" to anti-Gaddafi rebels and Islamist militias in particular. The flow of weapons was not suspended after Gaddafi's government was removed.[306][307] Qatar maintained its influence through key facilitators on the field, including cleric Ali al-Sallabi, the leader of the Islamist militia "February 17 Katiba" Ismail al-Sallabi, and the Tripoli Military Council leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj.[306][307]

Hamas, as well, has been among the primary beneficiaries of Qatar's financial support.[308] Not only does the Gulf emirate host Hamas' politburo continuously since 2012; Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has often met with international delegations on Qatari territory.[307] More recently, Qatar has channeled material support to Hamas' terrorist operations by exploiting its official commitment to finance Gaza reconstruction. Mostly through "truckloads of construction material being shipped into Gaza", Qatar has funneled dual-use substances that could be employed to produce explosives into Gaza.[309]

In a 2003 interview with Al-Hayat Hamas politburo declared that most of Qatar's support was collected through charities and popular committees.[310]

Western support during Cold War
Afghan mujahideen representatives with President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1983.

During the 1970s and sometimes later, Western and pro-Western governments often supported sometimes fledgling Islamists and Islamist groups that later came to be seen as dangerous enemies.[311] Islamists were considered by Western governments bulwarks against—what were thought to be at the time—more dangerous leftist/communist/nationalist insurgents/opposition, which Islamists were correctly seen as opposing. The US spent billions of dollars to aid the mujahideen Muslim Afghanistan enemies of the Soviet Union, and non-Afghan veterans of the war returned home with their prestige, "experience, ideology, and weapons", and had considerable impact.[312]

Although it is a strong opponent of Israel's existence, Hamas, officially created in 1987, traces back its origins to institutions and clerics supported by Israel in the 1970s and 1980s. Israel tolerated and supported Islamist movements in Gaza, with figures like Ahmed Yassin, as Israel perceived them preferable to the secular and then more powerful al-Fatah with the PLO.[313][314]

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat  whose policies included opening Egypt to Western investment (infitah); transferring Egypt's allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States; and making peace with Israel—released Islamists from prison and welcomed home exiles in tacit exchange for political support in his struggle against leftists. His "encouraging of the emergence of the Islamist movement" was said to have been "imitated by many other Muslim leaders in the years that followed."[315][316] This "gentlemen's agreement" between Sadat and Islamists broke down in 1975 but not before Islamists came to completely dominate university student unions. Sadat was later assassinated and a formidable insurgency was formed in Egypt in the 1990s. The French government has also been reported to have promoted Islamist preachers "in the hope of channeling Muslim energies into zones of piety and charity."[311]

Islamism in Shia World

Shīʿa Islam is the second largest branch of Islam, followed by 10–15% of all Muslims.[317] Twelver Shīʿīsm is the largest branch of Shīʿa Islam,[318] comprising about 85% of all Shīʿa Muslims.[319]

Islamist Shi'ism (Persian: تشیع اخوانی) is a minority denomination of Twelver Shi'ism influenced by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood ideologies and politicized version of Ibn Arabi's mysticism.[320][321] It sees Islam as a political system and differs from the other mainstream Usuli and Akhbari groups in favoring the idea of formation of Islamist state in occultation of the twelfth Imam.[322][323] Islamist Shi'ism took its shape during the Cold War and appeared on international stage after Iranian Revolution of 1979. It has been crucial in worldwide Islamism, since the Iranian regime decided to export its revolution.[324] Although, the islamist ideology was originally imported from Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian relations with Muslim Brotherhood has also deteriorated due to its involvement in the Syrian civil war.[325] However, the majority Usuli Shi'ism rejects the idea of an Islamist State in the period of Occultation of the Hidden Imam.[326]

The Inherent Secularity

Muhammad Kazim Khurasani (Persian: محمد کاظم خراسانی; 1839 – 12 December 1911), commonly known as Akhund Khurasani (Persian: آخوند خراسانی)[327][328] is one of the greatest theorists of Usuli Shi'ism in modern times.

Occultation of Imam in Shia Islam refers to a belief that Mahdi, a cultivated male descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, has already been born and subsequently went into occultation, from which he will one day emerge with Jesus and establish global justice. During the first democratic revolution of Asia, the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, Shia Marja' Akhund Khurasani and his colleagues theorized a model of religious secularity in the absence of Imam, that still prevails in Shia seminaries.[326] In absence of the ideal ruler, that is Imam al-Mahdi, democracy was the best available option.[329] He considers opposition to constitutional democracy as hostility towards the twelfth Imam because an Islamic system of governance can not be established without the infallible Imam leading it.[330] Thus a democratic legislation can help reduce the state tyranny and maintain peace and security. He said:[331]

As “sanctioned by sacred law and religion”, Akhund believes, a theocratic government can only be formed by the infallible Imam.[332] Aqa Buzurg Tehrani also quoted Akhund Khurasani saying that if there was a possibility of establishment of a truly legitimate Islamic rule in any age, God must end occultation of the Imam of Age. Hence, he refuted the idea of absolute guardianship of jurist.[333] Therefore, according to Akhund, Shia jurists must support the democratic reform. He prefers collective wisdom (Persian: عقل جمعی) over individual opinions, and limits the role of jurist to provide religious guidance in personal affairs of a believer.[334] He defines democracy as a system of governance that enforces a set of “limitations and conditions” on the head of state and government employees so that they work within “boundaries that the laws and religion of every nation determines”. Akhund believes that modern secular laws complement traditional religion. He asserts that both religious rulings and the laws outside the scope of religion confront “state despotism”.[335] Constitutionalism is based on the idea of defending the “nation's inherent and natural liberties”, and as absolute power corrupts, a democratic distribution of power would make it possible for the nation to live up to its full potential.[335]

The First Democratic Revolution of Asia

The city of Najaf has played the role of nerve center in Shia world through centuries. In the 1900's, at the dawn of constitutional revolution, it was here that the political ideas were discussed and the religious secularity of Shia jurisprudence took shape. Many periodicals of the time, especially ‘al-Ghura’,Durat al-Najaf’ and ‘Najaf’, published from the city, reflect the nature of the intellectual exchange during the movement.[336]} Other publications, such as Calcutta based ‘Habl al-Matin’ also reached the residents of Najaf.[336]} Najaf had developed its own taste of modernity, distinct from west. These publications advocated the concepts of personal liberty, nation-state, modern sciences, constitutional monarchy and democracy. But they also viewed western colonial advance as intimidating and understood that the only way to fight back was creating a strong and progressive nation.[336]}

The trio: (left to right) Akhund Khurasani, Mirza Husayn Tehrani and Abdullah Mazandarani

The fourth Qajar King, Naser al-Din Shah was assassinated by Mirza Reza Kermani, a follower of Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī, when he was visiting and praying in the Shah Abdul-Azim Shrine on 1 May 1896. At Mozaffar al-Din Shah's accession Persia faced a financial crisis, with annual governmental expenditures far in excess of revenues as a result of the policies of his father. During his reign, Mozzafar ad-Din attempted some reforms of the central treasury; however, the previous debt incurred by the Qajar court, owed to both England and Russia, significantly undermined this effort. He awarded William Knox D'Arcy, a British subject, the rights to oil in most of the country in 1901.[337] Widespread fears amongst the aristocracy, educated elites, and religious leaders about the concessions and foreign control resulted in some protests in 1906. The three main groups of the coalition seeking a constitution were the merchants, the ulama, and a small group of radical reformers. They shared the goal of ending royal corruption and ending dominance by foreign powers. These resulted in the Shah accepting a suggestion to create a Majles (National Consultative Assembly) in October 1906, by which the monarch's power was curtailed as he granted a constitution and parliament to the people. King Mozaffar ad-Din Shah signed the 1906 constitution shortly before his death. The members of newly formed parliament stayed constantly in touch with Akhund Khurasani and whenever legislative bills were discussed, he was telegraphed the details for a juristic opinion.[338] In a letter dated June 3, 1907, the parliament told Akhund about a group of anti-constitutionalists who were trying to undermine legitimacy of democracy in the name of religious law. The trio replied:[338][339]

Cold War and the Usuli-Islamist Clash in Shi'i World

Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim (Arabic: سيد محسن الطباطبائي الحكيم; 31 May 1889 – 2 June 1970) was a student of Akhund Khurasani.
Sayyid Qutb (Arabic: سيد إبراهيم حسين قطب; 1906 – 1966) was an Egyptian Sunni islamist author and a leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s.
Ayatullah Sayyid Mohammad Hadi al-Milani (Persian: سيد محمد هادى حسينى ميلانی; July 1, 1895 – August 7, 1975) was a student of Ayatullah Na'ini.
Ali Shariati (Persian: علی شریعتی مزینانی; 1933 – 1977).

During the cold war, a massive translation of Muslim Brotherhood thinkers started in Iran. The books of Sayyid Qutb and Abul A'la Al-Maududi were promoted through Muslim World League by Saudi patronage to confront communist propaganda in the Muslim world.[340] The Shah regime in Iran tolerated the Muslim Brotherhood literature because not only it weakened the democratic Usulis but also, being in western camp, Shah understood that this was the main ideological response of West to penetrating Soviet communism in Muslim world.[341] Soviet reports of the time indicate that Persian translations of this literature were smuggled to Afghanistan too, where western block intended to use Islamists against the communists.[342] Khaled Abou el-Fadl thinks that Sayyid Qutb was inspired by the German fascist Carl Schmidt.[343] He embodied a mixture of Wahhabism and Fascism and alongside Maududi, theorized the ideology of Islamism. The writings of Maududi and other Pakistani and Indian Islamists were translated into Persian and alongside the literature of Muslim Brotherhood, shaped the ideology of Shi'i Islamists.[344] [345] Maududi appreciated the power of modern state and its coercive potential that could be used for moral policing. He saw Islam as a nation-state that sought to mould its citizens and control every private and public expression of their lives, like fascists and communist states.[346] Iranian Shi'i Islamists had close links with Maududi's Jamaat-e-Islami, and after the 1963 riots in Qom, the Jamaat's periodical Tarjuman ul-Quran published a piece criticizing the Shah and supporting the Islamist currents in Iran.[347] Sayyid Qutb's works were translated by Iranian Islamists into Persian and enjoyed remarkable popularity both before and after the revolution. Prominent figures such as current Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his brother Muhammad Khamenei, Aḥmad Aram, Hadi Khosroshahi, etc. translated Qutb's works into Persian.[348][349] Hadi Khosroshahi was the first person to identify himself as Akhwani Shia.[350] According to the National Library and Archives of Iran, 19 works of Sayyid Qutb and 17 works of his brother Muhammad Qutb were translated to Persian and widely circulated in 1960's.[351] Reflecting on this import of ideas, Ali Khamenei said:

The newly emerged Islamic movement . . . had a pressing need for codified ideological foundations . . . Most writings on Islam at the time lacked any direct discussions of the ongoing struggles of the Muslim people . . . Few individuals who fought in the fiercest skirmishes of that battlefield made up their minds to compensate for this deficiency . . . This text was translated with this goal in mind. [352]

In 1984 the Iranian authorities honoured Sayyid Qutb by issuing a postage stamp showing him behind the bars during trial.[353]

But Ayatullah Hadi Milani, the influential Usuli Marja in Mashhad during the 1970's, had issued a fatwa prohibiting his followers from reading Ali Shariati's books and islamist literature produced by young clerics. This fatwa was followed by similar fatwas from Ayatullah Mar'ashi Najafi, Ayatullah Muhammad Rouhani, Ayatullah Hasan Qomi and others. The islamist Ayatullah Khomeini refused to comment.[354] Ali Shariati, a bitter critic of traditional Usuli clergy, was also greatly influenced by anti-democratic Islamist ideas of Muslim Brotherhood thinkers in Egypt and he tried to meet Muhammad Qutb while visiting Saudi Arabia in 1969.[355] Shariati criticized Ayatullah Hadi al-Milani and other Usuli Marja's for not being revolutionary.[356] A chain smoker, Shariati died of a heart attack while in self-imposed exile in Southampton, on June 18, 1977.[357]

However, in one of his first books, Kashf al-Asrar, the islamist jurist, Ruhollah Khomeini had argued that:

Government can only be legitimate when it accepts the rule of God and the rule of God means the implementation of the Sharia. All laws that are contrary to the Sharia must be dropped because only the law of God will stay valid and immutable in the face of changing times. [358]

Meanwhile in Iraq, the Sunni dynasty of Hashemites founded by the British colonialism in 1921 fell after a successful military coup in 1958, led by the pro-soviet General Abd al-Karim Qasim. The religious learning centers came under immense pressure from the communist propaganda and government's attempts to curb religion as an obstacle to modernity and progress. Usuli Marja' Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim issued fatwa against communism.[359] A young islamist cleric, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr started to produce islamist literature and wrote books like Our Philosophy and Our Economy, and with some colleagues established the Islamic Dawa Party, with similar goals to that of Muslim Brotherhood, but left it after two years to focus on writing. Ayatullah Mohsin al-Hakim disapproved of his activities and ideas.[360]

The Islamist Revolution

Sayyid Abul Qasim al-Khoei (Persian: سید ابوالقاسم خویی), 1992-1899 was a student of Ayatullah Na'ini.
Ruhollah Khomeini(Persian: سید روح الله خمینی), anti-secularist leader of Islamic Revolution of Iran was a student of a mystic Sheikh, Muhammad Ali Shah-Abadi.

After his arrest in Iran following the 1963 riots, leading Ayatullahs had issued a statement that Ayatullah Khomeini was a legitimate Marja' too, which saved his life and he was exiled.[361] While in exile in Iraq in the holy city of Najaf, Khomeini took advantage of the Iraq-Iran conflict and launched a campaign against the Pahlavi regime in Iran. Saddam Hussein gave him access to the Persian broadcast of Radio Baghdad to address Iranians and made it easier for him to receive visitors.[362] He gave a series of 19 lectures to a group of his students from January 21 to February 8, 1970, on Islamic Government, and elevated Naraqi's idea of Jurist's absolute authority over imitator's personal life to all aspects of social life. Notes of the lectures were soon made into a book that appeared under three different titles: The Islamic Government, Authority of the Jurist, and A Letter from Imam Musavi Kashef al-Gita[363] (to deceive Iranian censors). Khomeini The small book (fewer than 150 pages) was smuggled into Iran and "widely distributed" to Khomeini supporters before the revolution.[364] The response from high-level Shi'a clerics to his idea of absolute guardianship of jurist was negative. Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qassim Khoei, the leading Shia ayatollah at the time the book was published rejected Khomeini's argument on the grounds that the authority of jurist is limited to the guardianship of orphans and social welfare and could not be extended to the political sphere.[365] Al-Khoei elaborates on the role of a well-qualified Shia Jurist in the age of occultation of the Infallible Imam, which has been traditionally endorsed by the Usuli Shia scholars, as follows:

Syed Abulhassan Shamsabadi was killed by Islamists in 1976.
Murtaza Mutahhari (Persian: مرتضی مطهری; 31 January 1919 – 1 May 1979) was a moderate islamist. He believed that a jurist only had a supervisory role and was not supposed to govern.[366]

Ayatullah Khoei showed great flexibility and tolerance, for example he considered non-Muslims as equal citizens of the nation-state, stopped the harsh punishments like stoning and favored the use of holy books other than Quran for oaths taken from non-Muslims.[367] In Isfahan, Ayatullah Khoei's representative Syed Abul Hasan Shamsabadi gave sermons criticizing the Islamist interpretation of Shi'i theology, he was abducted and killed by the islamist underground group called Target Killers (Persian: هدفی ها) headed by Mehdi Hashmi.[368]:162–166[369] At Qom, the major Marja' Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari was at odds with Khomeini's interpretation of the concept of the "Leadership of Jurists" (Wilayat al-faqih). Shariatmadari strongly believed that no system of government can be coerced upon a people, no matter how morally correct it may be. Instead, people need to be able to freely elect a government.[370] Before the islamist revolution of 1979, Shariatmadari wanted a return to the system of constitutional monarchy that was enacted in the Iranian Constitution of 1906.[371] He encouraged peaceful demonstrations to avoid bloodshed.[372]

Sayyid Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari (Persian: سید محمد کاظم شریعتمداری), 5 January 1906 – 3 April 1986, died under house arrest.
Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran with Ahmad Khomeini and Mohammad-Ali Rajai.

On 6 January 1978, an article appeared in the daily Ettela'at newspaper, insulting Ayatullah Khomeini. Frustrated youth in Qom took to the streets, six were killed. On 40th day of deaths in Qom, Tabriz saw uprising and death. The chain-reaction started and led to uprisings in all cities. Seizing the moment, Khomeini gave an interview to the French newspaper Le Monde and demanded that the regime should be overthrown. He started giving interviews to western media in which he appeared as a changed man, spoke of a ‘progressive islam’ and did not mention the idea of ‘guardianship of the jurist’. On 10th and 11 December 1978, the days of Tasu'a and Ashura, millions marched on the streets of Tehran, chanting ‘Death to Shah’. On 16 January 1979, Shah fled the country.[373] After the success of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the major Iranian Usuli Marja' Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari criticized Khomeini's system of government as not being compatible with Islam or representing the will of the Iranian people. He severely criticized the way in which a referendum was conducted to establish Khomeini's system of government. In response, Khomeini put him under house arrest and imprison his family members. This resulted in mass protests in Tabriz which were quashed toward the end of January 1980, when under the orders of Khomeini tanks and the army moved into the city.[374]



Islamism, or elements of Islamism, have been criticized on numerous grounds, including repression of free expression and individual rights, rigidity, hypocrisy, anti-semitism,[375] misinterpreting the Quran and Sunnah, lack of true understanding of and innovations to Islam (bid'ah) -- notwithstanding proclaimed opposition to any such innovation by Islamists.


The U.S. government has engaged in efforts to counter militant Islamism (Jihadism), since 2001. These efforts were centred in the U.S. around public diplomacy programmes conducted by the State Department. There have been calls to create an independent agency in the U.S. with a specific mission of undermining Jihadism. Christian Whiton, an official in the George W. Bush administration, called for a new agency focused on the nonviolent practice of "political warfare" aimed at undermining the ideology.[376] U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for establishing something similar to the defunct U.S. Information Agency, which was charged with undermining the communist ideology during the Cold War.[377]

Parties and organizations

See also



  1. As such, Salafi Jihadism envisions the Islamist goals akin to that of Salafism instead of the traditional Islamism exemplified by the mid-20th century Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered by Salafi Jihadis as excessively moderate and lacking in literal interpretations of the scriptures.[96]


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Further reading

  • The dictionary definition of Islamism at Wiktionary
  • Quotations related to Islamism at Wikiquote
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