Islamic extremism is a broad topic covering many diverse issues. Given both the breadth and importance of the subject gaining a working knowledge of the facts is vital to understanding the subject matter.
This research corner aims to bring together information on Islamism into one location for your convenience, so that those in search of more in depth information can find it.
Readers can access to up-to-date reports and academic papers on this issue from around the web.
Understanding Islamism and Islamic extremism requires and understand of the context from which it originated.
The Muslim world is grouped together as the ummah, which is variously translated as community or nation. Islam was founded by Muhammed (d.632) in the 7th century and spread rapidly throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Broadly Islam is divided into Sunni and Shiite, divisions that date back almost to the founding of Islam, but there are many subdivisions within each group, all with different interpretations of the religion.
Most Sunni extremism in the world today is from Salafism/Wahabbism, the puritanical ideology that forms the state doctrine of Saudi Arabia and is the theological basis for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab are all Sunni.
Most Shiite extremism in the world today is from the Iranian revolutionary ideology and affiliated organizations. Iran and Hezbollah are Shiite.
See this chart showing the different Islamic sects, their relative sizes and geographical spread.
Understanding the Islamic world begins with reading the Quran. There are many different interpretations of what it means, and 1,400 years’ worth of scholarship leading to a diverse range of sects, groups and mystical Sufi orders.
Nevertheless, all Muslims have the same book. In order to understand the religious and cultural context in which Muslim-majority societies operate, reading the Quran is essential.
According to traditional Islamic theology the Quran cannot be translated. Any translation is regarded as a translation of the meaning, rather than of the words themselves as only the Arabic original is genuine and legitimate. There are dozens of popular translations in English at the very least, which portray very different interpretations. We recommend here two translations with very different outlooks in mind.
Any translation is a good place to start however, if one of these is not available.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, an Indian based Sufi mystic and peace activist has a translation of the Quran. It supports an allegorical and mystical interpretation of the text, in keeping with the translator's philosophy of non-violence.
An online pdf of the Maulana Wahiduddin Khan translation is available, together with an introduction.
The Hilali Khan translation is read by Salafists worldwide and is provided free, having been funded by the Saudi government. It is extremely widespread and was translated by Dr. Muhammed Taqi ud-din al-Hilali and the Pakistani cleric Dr. Muhammed Muhsin Kahn.
An online pdf of the Hilali-Khan translation, complete with commentary, is available.
It is the translation of choice for extremists worldwide.
For an introduction to Islam and Islamic practice:
Islam For Dummies – Malcolm Clark
An excellent summary of the beliefs and practices of Muslims worldwide with a brief history of Islam. Malcolm Clark is a world renowned scholar on the topic and the book provides much needed context to understand Muslim majority societies. This book is an introductory overview rather than a deep analysis, however.
Attitudes of and about Muslims
Mapping global Muslim attitudes is also important to understanding extremism: Muslim Global Attitudes Report 2010 – Pew Research
Attitudes to Muslims are also important. How Americans Feel About Religious Groups – Pew Research Poll
Muslim Americans: No Sign of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism – Pew Research Center (2011)
Living With Difference – Report of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life
In order to understand groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda it is first necessary to understand the ideology behind them. Here are some research papers outlining the development of the modern radical Islamic ideology.
What makes People Extremists – Haroon Ullah, a Professor at Georgetown University, explains why poverty and ignorance are not the root causes of extremism.
A Genealogy of Radical Islam, Quintan Wictorowicz
Religiously the Salafi movement is behind much of the Islamic extremism in the Sunni world today. This outline provides background on how it came to be formed.
Anatomy of the Salafi Movement, Quintan Wictorowicz
The Islamic State's ideology specifically can is explained well in this short primers:
– Alastair Crooke, ex-MI6 for the Huffington Post
What ISIS Really Wants – Graeme Wood, the Atlantic
Clarion Project's Special report on the Islamic State summarizes the group's history, goals and methodology.
Think Tanks have produced papers on the ideology of ISIS:
From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State – Cole Bunzel, The Brookings Institute.
Washington based think tank The Hudson Institute publishes Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, an academic Journal which documents the latest developments in Islamist and Jihadist thought.
It tracks up to date developments in the Middle East, and publishes contributions from leading scholars in the field.
Syrian Civil War
#Greenbirds: Measuring Importance and Influence in Syrian Foreign Fighter Networks – International Centre for the Study of Radicalization
This important report tracks how foreign fighters are recruited, and how they see themselves using Twitter.
http://syriacomment.com/ – This blog posts up to date and in depth information on the Syrian Civil War. It is run by Dr. Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma. Dr Landis uses reliable sources from on the ground, and also publishes guest pieces written by other prominent academics.
http://www.aymennjawad.org/ – Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum. His blog provides excellent coverage of the unfolding situation in Syria.
Death Everywhere: War Crimes and Human Rights Abuses in Aleppo Syria – Amnesty International, May 4, 2015
A number of governments as well as different organizations and academics have come up with suggestions and strategies for how to effectively counter radicalization. Most revolve around supporting the Muslim community in defeating the radicals itself, empowering them to take on extremists by building the so-called ‘moderate voice.’
A Community Based Approach to Countering Radicalization : A Partnership for America. WORDE
Countering Radicalization in Europe – Lorenzo Vidino, ICSR
To Defeat ISIS we Must Decimate Their Theological appeal. – Ed Husain.
How the UK’s Prevent Strategy Failed – James Brandon, War on the Rocks
From the foreword:
“The Prevent programme we inherited from the last Government was flawed. It confused the delivery
of Government policy to promote integration with Government policy to prevent terrorism. It failed to
confront the extremist ideology at the heart of the threat we face; and in trying to reach those at risk of
radicalisation, funding sometimes even reached the very extremist organizations that Prevent should have been confronting.”
CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism (Summary, 18 pages)
CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism (Strategy, 125 pages)
Clarion Project does not comment on issues pertaining to internal Islamic theological divisions. However, it is important to share the work of several scholars and organizations who have been working on creating counter-narratives to extremism and Islamism from within the Islamic theological tradition.
It is important to remember that extremists do not have a monopoly on authentic Islam and are not regarded by other Muslims as the sole legitimate arbiters of the tradition.
Some of these sources are provided here.
A Guide to Refuting Jihadism: Critiquing Radical Islamist Claims to Theological Authenticity – Henry Jackson Society
Seminar Report: Creating an Environment that counteracts militant ideologies and radicalism in Pakistan – Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center
Jihad Trending: A Comprehensive Analysis of Online Extremism and How to Counter It –Quilliam Foundation
No Compulsion in Religion: Islam and the Freedom of Belief – Quilliam Foundation
From Dhimmitude to Democracy (Abridged Version) – Quilliam Foundation
Jihadology – Curated by scholar Aaron Zelin, Jihadology brings together primary sources put out by jihadi groups for an academic audience. Some of the sources are translated, others are not.
Jihad Intel Identifiers – Curated by scholar Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, this site catalogues the identifiers and images used by jihadist groups, enabling law enforcement agencies to familiarize themselves with the different groups
Islamic State Administrative documents – Also curated by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, these documents show the bureaucracy the Islamic State is creating to run its nascent Caliphate and the rules by which they hope to do so.
Islamist Groups in Muslim Majority Societies
This report shows the Islamist groups operating in Egypt before the 2011 revolution
Mapping Islamic Actors in Egypt – Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo
Islamism in the West
Many western countries see increased jihadism and Islamism in their countries. Various efforts have been made at understanding the changes taking place.
Islamic Fundamentalism is Widely Spread – Berlin Social Sciences Center
As American as Apple Pie: How Anwar al-Awlaki Became the Face of Western Jihad – International Center for the Study of Radicalization
A Parallel World Confronting the abuse of many Muslim women in Britain today – Baroness Cox, Bow Group (on Sharia law courts in the UK).
Equal and Free? 50 Muslim Womens Experience of Marriage in Britain Today – Aurat (Womens Charity)
Human Rights Abuses
Islamist groups across the world commit a litany of human rights abuses on a daily basis. Here is a selection of reports, collected from eyewitness accounts and the findings of aid workers, human rights activists and journalists.
Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq – Amnesty International
Violence Against Copts in Egypt – Carnegie Endowment for Middle East Peace (November 2013)
Human Rights Situation in Saudi Arabia in 2014 – European Saudi Organization for Human Rights
State of Human Rights in 2013 – Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Human Rights Abuses in Iran – Clarion Project
War on the Media: Journalists Under Attack in Libya – Human Rights Watch
The kidnapping and indoctrination of children is also a form of human rights abuse as this report shows
Children of the Islamic State – Quilliam Foundation, 2016
It is also important to be aware of the human rights abuses sometimes perpetrated in the war against terror.
Stars on Their Shoulders, Blood on Their Hands – Amnesty Internation shows the human rights abuses of the Nigerian Government in its war against Boko Haram in this report
Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation in the Sultanate of Oman – Habiba Al Hinai
Female Genital Mutilation – Clarion Project’s Factsheet explains what it is, why it is harmful and who it affects.
Sexual Slavery and torture
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya and Boko Haram in Nigeria have all indulged in similar atrocities of mass rapes massacres, forced marriage and enslavement.
Those Terrible Weeks in Their Camp: Boko Haram Violence Against Women and Girls in NorthEast Nigeria – Human Rights Watch report on abuses against women and girls by Boko Haram.
Escape from Hell: Torture and Sexual Slavery in Islamic State Captivity in Iraq – Amnesty International
Egypt: Keeping Women Out – Sexual Harassment in Egypt in the Public Sphere
Circles of Hell – Domestic, Public and State Violence Against Women in Egypt – Amnesty International
Conflict-Related Sexual Violence 2014 – UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon (March 2015, Presented April 2015)
Human Trafficking and Slavery:
Libya: A Growing Hub for Criminal Economies and Terrorist financing in the Trans-Sahara – The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime
Unheard Voices: The Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women – Shaista Gohir, Muslim Women’s Network UK
Pakistan: Honor Violence Against Women and Girls – Amnesty International 1999
Harmful Traditional Practices and Implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan – United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
Iranian Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Fatwa – Religion and Politics in Iran’s Nuclear Strategy – Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Muslim Human Rights Activists
It is near-universal consensus that the only way to defeat the challenge of Islamism is by empowering Muslim human rights activists to oppose extremism from within their societies. Despite a lack of media coverage by mainstream western media outlets, there are many brave activists fighting injustice across the Muslim world.
There are many places to learn about the struggle of Muslim human rights activists to combat the oppression from within their own societies. Here are some of their struggles.
Clarion Project's award winning documentary film Honor Diaries showcases nine brave women's rights activists both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Manal al-Sharif Women 2 Drive TED talk
Support of the Woman's Right to drive from Amnesty International
Challenging the Red Lines: Stories of Rights Activists in Saudi Arabia – Human Rights Watch
Frontline Defenders is an organization which champions human rights activists from around the world and tells the stories of many brave activists such as Biram Dah Abeid- leader of Mauritania's anti-slavery movement
Human rights activists imprisoned in Iran: