Published at The Wall Street Journal
Why did Prohibition in America fail? The Pakistani Islamic scholar Abul Ala Mawdudi argued that it was because the law “required people to accept human rather divine reasoning.” What was needed was a harsh and absolute divine mandate to root out evils like alcohol. As the Ottoman empire was being swept away and national-independence movements were about to overrun the Muslim world, men like Mawdudi began articulating a new ideology that would meld medieval and modern concepts. That ideology, Salafi-jihadism, now represents one of the West’s greatest security challenges.
Al Qaeda and the Islamic State may be today’s two most infamous outgrowths of the Salafi-jihadist movement, but they both arose from a wider intellectual history, Shiraz Maher writes in his new book, “Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea.” Mr. Maher, a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, sets out to provide “an explanatory backstory accounting for how we got to where we are” and presents it in a highly readable and incisive overview.
According to Mr. Maher, Salafi-jihadists all adhere to five ideological pillars, and learning to identify them will help us understand an enemy that has shown itself to be highly adaptable. The first of these pillars is jihad, the method by which the Salafi-jihadists’ millenarian vision is to be realized, upending the existing world order and creating a utopia. Liberal interpreters of Islam would explain jihad as an internal struggle or an overcoming of the self. But to Salafi-jihadists, it is a military matter and an obligation second only to accepting the faith itself, and must continue until the end of time.
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