Why do terrorists come from Islam?

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by Neil Godfrey

That question is too often asked rhetorically. The answer that is implied is that there is a “clash of civilizations” and that Islam has been plaguing the West with terrorism ever since its birth in the seventh century. The question usually hides an anti-Islamic bigotry born of ignorance of both Islam itself (and that includes the very nature of religion) and history.

I have answered the question “why terrorists are generally Islamic” in The Origins of Islamic Militancy — for those seriously interested enough to truly understand.

Of course the fact is that throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s the only terrorists most of us ever heard about were fighting for national liberation and Islam per se rarely if ever entered the picture. Islamic terrorism is unquestionably a new phenomenon that has burst on the scene quite recently in historical terms.

I have added to my original post, The Origins of Islamic Militancy, since its first posting. I have added a section on global jihad and the author of this concept, Abdullah Azzam. I have one more section to add to this post and that will be Osama bin Laden’s contribution and what it was, historically, that led to his particular slant on what jihad should be all about. I will notify interested readers when I complete that section.


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Neil Godfrey

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5 thoughts on “Why do terrorists come from Islam?”

  1. Maybe a few post on “the very nature of religion” would help us all. After about 55 years of searching I’m still in the dark. A rather allusive subject indeed.

    1. Have long been looking forward to doing something on it — time, time, time . . . .

      The most satisfying explanation I have read so far is Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained, but I need to catch up on what has been developed from/since that work.

    2. The entire second chapter of The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavanaugh is devoted to determining what exactly “religion” means. Part of his conclusion is:

      So, do we conclude that there is no such thing as religion, no coherent concept of religion, and therefore we need not bother with the question of religion and violence? No. The point is not that there is no such thing as religion. The concepts that we use do not simply refer to things out there in a one-to-one correspondence of words with things. In certain cultures, religion does exist, but as a product of human construction. Some scholars have cited James Leuba’s Psychological Study of Religion (1912), which lists more than fi fty different definitions of religion, to conclude that there is no way to defi ne religion. But as Jonathan Z. Smith points out, the lesson is not that religion cannot be defi ned, but that it can be defi ned more than fi fty different ways.264 There is no transhistorical and transcultural essence of religion, but at different times and places, and for different purposes, some things have been constructed as religion and some things have not. For Western scholars in the nineteenth century, Confucianism was a religion. For Chinese nationalists, it emphatically was not.

      1. How about just one specific out of a hundred possible “definitions”? A person believes there is a supreme being called Allah, who had a prophet called Muhammad, who left his messages in a text called the Qur’an and that its contents, as interpreted, such as worship, are generally obligatory. Is this person “religious”?

        1. PS. – Actually there are quite a large number of men and women who are “religious” in believing in Allah, Muhammad and the Qur’an, and who regard themselves as forming a “religious community”, the ummat al-Islamiyah. I think we should take them at their word.

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