The concept of jihad has a long and complicated history in the Islamic world. The term “jihad” refers to the struggle to uphold one’s faith and defend it against oppressors. Throughout history, jihad has taken many forms, including regional and global jihads. In the twentieth century, the concept of regional jihad gradually transformed into global jihad, with devastating consequences. In this article, we will explore how this transformation occurred.
The decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1924 marked a significant inflexion point in the history of Islamic Jihad. For centuries, the Ottoman caliphate had served as the preeminent spiritual and political centre of the Islamic world. However, following the conclusion of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled by the British, French, and Soviet Union (Russia) according to the provisions of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. As a result, these powers occupied vast swaths of the Middle East, Africa, and Balkan regions respectively. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire created a power vacuum that left many Muslims feeling powerless and unable to take effective action. While there were a few local resistance movements against the occupying forces, these were met with swift and severe reactions. In the wake of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Western ideology, which placed a premium on individualism, secularism, and nationalism, began to infiltrate Muslim societies and reshape the political landscape of the Muslim world.
Beginning in 1933, Germany and Italy rose to power on the global geopolitical stage, with leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini seeking to expand their territorial and ideological influence across Europe and North Africa. Despite the overwhelming military might of the Axis powers, local Muslim populations in these regions refused to submit to their aggression without a fight. In Libya, for example, the Mujahideen engaged in defensive battles against Italian occupation, with figures like Omar al-Mukhtar leading the resistance.
In the wider Islamic world, various organizations arose to defend and establish Islamic emirates. These included Ikhwanul Muslimin (Egypt,1928), and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (British India,1919). Jamaat-e-Islami (1941), aimed to promote Islamic values and establish Islamic rule. However, despite their lofty goals, these organizations ultimately lost sight of their original objectives and veered off course.
After WW-2, Britain and France faced tremendous economic and political setbacks. Both of the colonies faced violent revolutions to be independent, and finally, they had to cede the power to their local allied successors. Their descendants started to rule the nations with Western ideology. Over a period of time, this rule created a response to the perceived threat of Western encroachment and the erosion of Islamic values by the form of religious extremism and militancy. Western ideology created a barrier for the pan-islamic Emirates or Caliphate.
The adaptation of Western values and ideologies was seen by Muslims as a betrayal of Islamic principles, and this created a fertile ground for the rise of regional Jihad. This regional Jihad was the struggle waged within a particular region or country, often against a specific government or group. They were generally focused on local issues and were carried out by unconventional fighters. The Palestinians’ struggle against Israeli occupation, the Afghan resistance against Soviet invasion, Marwan Hadith’s struggle in Somalia, Moravit (border guard) Movement in the Sahel region and the separatist movements in Kashmir or Chechnya, are all examples of regional Jihad.
Global jihad, on the other hand, is a more recent phenomenon that emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century. It is characterized by a network of loosely affiliated groups that are united by a common ideology and a shared goal of waging war against the non-Islamic ideology to establish the Islamic Emirates. The origins of global jihad can be traced back to the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Abdullah Azzam was the Mastermind of global jihad, who drew fighters from all over the Muslim world and created a sense of global solidarity among them in the Afghan conflict. In 1989, after the demise of Azzam, Osama bin Laden took the helm of this jihadist movement and named the organization Al-Qaeda (AQ). After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, these fighters returned to their home countries, spreading their ideology and laying the groundwork for future global jihads.
The then AQ’s chief, Osama bin Laden, took the strategy of “strike the head of the snake” where the snake was the USA. The conflict between the USA and AQ was uneven and in no way comparable. So, Bin Laden wanted to drag the USA into a ghost war. AQ attacked the US military in various countries to achieve asymmetric attrition of war. And the Manhattan Twin Towers attack changed the landscape of global terrorism, which allured the USA to attack Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Bin Laden was successful in his strategy and replicated the US invasion as nothing but a war against Islam in front of Muslim youths. Thereby all regional jihadist groups were united under the umbrella of Al-Qaeda and rest we all know what happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Mali, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Niger and lastly Pakistan.
After analysing the movement patterns of AQ, it is apparent that the organisation follows a territorial strategy for initiating battle. This strategy involves targeting two types of Muslim countries: confined and open. Confined countries refer to those that are encircled by hostile non-Muslim countries and are not suitable for immediate conflict. On the other hand, open countries are bordered by 2-3 Muslim countries and meet six specific characteristics before AQ will consider opening a war front. These characteristics include: (1) having a border with 2/3 Muslim countries, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, (2) a lack of central government control over the entire country, such as in Somalia and Afghanistan, (3) mountainous, forested, or desert terrain, (4) easy access to illegal arms and ammunition, (5) pious and resolute people, and (6) dissatisfaction with the current ruling system. Once all six prerequisites are met, AQ will initiate a war front. However, if these prerequisites are not met, the organisation will prepare a deliberate plan to fulfil them.
The transformation of regional Jihad into Global Jihad is the power of ideology. This makes it a particularly potent force that cannot be defeated by military means alone. It is also important to understand the social and historical context of this Global Jihad in which it emerged. To prevent similar developments in the future, it is necessary to address the root cause of these conflicts and to create a more just and equitable world.
[Image by Stuart Brown / CIA, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect TGP’s editorial stance.
The author is a political and defence analyst based in Bangladesh.