Explaining and deconstructing the ideology of Islamist terrorism

To abuse a phrase, it is much easier to be persuaded that Islamist terrorism is not Islam than it is to say exactly what is ‘unIslamic’ about it.

Our view is that it is not enough simply to propose mainstream Islam as the self-evident alternative. Students, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, want a full-on engagement with the arguments so dispiritingly advanced by the terrorists.

This demands a serious effort to educate ourselves: we must have knowledge enough to cash the cheques we sign when we make our claims. Once we understand the ideology we can move from familiar refrains to effective rebuttal.

About these resources

These have been hastily gathered to help teachers, especially Religious Education teachers in the UK, to explain and deconstruct the Islamist terrorist narrative from within the paradigm of Islam. Challenges from outwith Islam are plentiful, but they usually don’t grasp what is really going on, and also aren’t generally helpful when teaching religion per se.

WORK IN PROGRESS: we welcome contributions, suggestions for improvement, and comments on usability: teachagainstterrorism@gmail.com.

We want this to be responsive: What are your teaching challenges? What resources for teaching and what reading for professional development do you need? Please email so that we can shape this appropriately.

The profession does not yet have ‘lesson ready’ resources, so this material will need careful unpacking for students.

And this is a sticking-plaster solution. We want it to evolve into something more more comprehensive, better structured, and ‘lesson ready’ in the medium term.


Key elements of the Islamist terrorist ideology

  1. Considered rejection of traditional authority
  2. Decontextualised use of proof texts
  3. Black-and-white categorisation of people

Rejection of traditional authority

In this respect the ideology is highly modern, and its deepest roots go back only to the turn of the 20th Century. Islamist terrorism rejects the institutions, people, and methods of the historical Sunni consensus in favour of an individualist ethic where texts are chosen without a coherent methodology.

This stupidity needs to end by Hisham Hellyer. How the structure of authority differs between Islamism and traditional Islam. The media ‘hook’ is polemical but the substance is accurate and from a recognised authority.

Decontextualised use of proof texts

Deviance: Examining the Understandings and Theological Claims of Takfiri Ideological Movements in Light of Classical Islamic Scholarship by the Sanad Network
A step-by-step demonstration of how one Quranic verse was reinterpreted in C20 to produce support for theocracy, and for the killing of those who dispute the interpretation. Clear demonstration that this was a break with Sunni Islam’s interpretative tradition.

On War & Beheading: How ISIS Manipulates Hadiths – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani on YouTube
Response to the execution of hostages. The scholar is more fluent after the first third of the video. Clear explanation of the need for context in using proof texts, which ISIS and others disregard. Carefully chosen segments of this video could be effective. (The frequent honorifics may need explaining.)

Defending the transgressed by Shaykh Afifi al-Akiti. Lengthy technical fatwa but with some more accessible points such as:
Prohibition on killing civilians

Black-and-white categorisation of people

General guides

Refuting ISIS – a rebuttal of its religious and ideological foundations
by Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi (on Amazon). Systematic fatwa in counter-narrative form. Like others, he argues that fighting ISIS is a communal obligation on all Muslims (fard kifayah). With the minority, he adopts the position that ISIS have left Islam, and are apostates.

A guide to refuting jihadism by Rashad Ali and Hannah Stuart.
Lengthy but accessible summary of the major planks of the ideology, challenging the theological authenticity by reference to primary texts in Islamic legal tradition.

Bombing without moonlight: the origins of suicidal terrorism by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad.
Long, difficult, and extremely erudite account, demonstrating the novelty of the terrorist ethic and how it was grafted onto the rootstock of Islam during the 20th Century.

Statements of condemnation from Muslim scholars & others

Far too many to list. The most articulate I have seen is the Open letter on the mayhem in Paris from Hamza Yusuf at Zaytuna College.

Some others:
Muslim Council of Britain
British Imams Online
Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussein Pirzade
MuslimMatters (US-based but international focus)

See also:
Hisham Hellyer, Mainstream Muslim voices must make themselves heard

Twitter accounts to follow:
@rashadzali1 – Rashad Ali, CENTRI, counter-terrorism practitioner
@hahellyer – Hisham Hellyer, Royal United Services Institution and Brookings Institution