"Islamic terrorism": A sinister construct

The mercenary-in-chief of the US “war on terrorism,” General Musharraf, used “Muslim” once and “Islamic” twice as adjectives in a single breath during his recent visit to Azerbaijan. He said: “Islamic terrorism is holding the Muslim world hostage… But the West must also change its attitude to the Islamic world.”[1]
Soon after receiving Musharraf’s words from Baku, the New York Times blamed him for not being “convinced or convincing ally in the struggle against radical Islamic terrorism.” [2] The Times aims at milking the sell-out to the last drop, or its editorial right after Musharraf’s comments might be a coincidence. But the prevailing inappropriate use of “Muslim” and “Islamic” as adjectives is neither a coincidence nor less than a harsh reality. Even harsher, however, is the way this confusion is being exploited.
There are two main reasons each behind Muslims and Non-Muslims use of the term “Islamic terrorism” and its unbelievable proliferation in recent discourse: On the part of Muslims, the reasons are: a) The lack of homework before using “Islamic” as an adjective, and b) the excessive opportunism of some political and academic personalities, who use rancid phrases based on these adjectives to please some anti-Islam quarters.
On the part of non-Muslims, the reasons for using Islamic as an adjective are: a) the malicious intentions of the American war lords who have been desperately seeking to associate the core message of Islam with terrorism, and b) naïve borrowing of the terms by the rest without taking pain to do a little research before use.
If we go into dictionary definitions, Oxford describes Islamic as “of or pertaining to Islam.” If terrorism as a phenomenon and methodology pertains to Islam, or if Qur’an guides and trains terrorists, we better appreciate wisdom of General Musharraf and his company who on the one hand declare terrorism "Islamic" and on the other condemn it and wage a war on it. When terrorism is declared Islamic, there is no use to condemning it or carrying out Wanna kind of operations against those who embrace "Islamic" terrorism. After all, it is Islamic.
Muslims’ understanding of Islam is based on the Qur’an, Hadiths, Ijma’ and Qias. Being Islamic means a person, a community, a state, an ideology, or a practice is not against any of these sources. If you are going against the Qur’an and Sunnah, then your action is un-Islamic. In this sense, “Islamic terrorism” means a phenomenon or a methodology approved by these sources of Islamic knowledge.
The systematic anti-Islam campaigns have deepened the confusion to the extent that in the Wikipedia.org and Longman dictionary on the web, there is no definition for the word “Islamic” at all. Instead, these sources carry the same propaganda theme and give example of Islamic Jihad as “an Islamic terrorist Orgnaisation.”
Merriam-Webster considers it sufficient to limit definition of “Islamic” to “an adjective.” Cambridge dictionary defines “Islamic” as “Islamic culture/beliefs/art/law.” The most troublesome aspect is Dictionary.com and Wordnet 2.0 Vocabulary Helper’s defining Islamic as “of or relating to or supporting Islamism.”
There are good examples to see how Islam, Islamic and Islamism are mixed up by all these dictionary sources. Those who define Islamic as something supporting “Islamism,” define “Islamism” in turn as: “1. An Islamic revivalist movement, often characterized by moral conservatism, literalism, and the attempt to implement Islamic values in all spheres of life. 2. The religious faith, principles, or cause of Islam.”[3]
The first explanation mentioned above gives an idea that anything related to “Islamic revivalist movements” is Islamic and thus negative because there is no appreciation for these movements in the Western world at all. The second explanation puts everything -” Islamic “faith, principles, or cause of Islam” -” in the category of “Islamism,” thus leaving nothing positive in Islam.
The same goes with Definitions from the Online Plain Text English Dictionary and Marrian-Webster, which limits definition of Islamic to “adjective.” These sources consider Islamism as “The faith, doctrines, or religious system of the Mohammedans; Mohammedanism; Islam” (Page: 791). Infoplease clearly defines Islamism as “the religion or culture of Islam,” which shows that the years of negative connotations and hidden meanings associated with the negative term “Islamism” have now become part and parcel of Islam.
In short, Islam is considered “Islamism” and everything that pertains to Islam is Islamic. As a result, this line of argument turns everything truly Islamic into “Islamist” and makes it part of “Islamism” by default.
That is why web sites like Wikipedia.org do not consider it necessary to define Islamic at all. Instead, they feel necessary to educate the public about Islamism and hence defines it as: “A fundamentalist religious ideology which holds that Islam is not only a religion, but a system that also governs the politicial, economic and social imperatives of the state. A crucial goal of Islamism is to take control of the state in order to implement the Islamist system. Most Islamist rhetoric and literature compares Islam not with other religions, but with other ideologies, such as Nationalism, Communism, Capitalism, Fascism, etc.” Please note that these words are taken from an article, “Distinguishing between Islam and Islamism,” by Daniel Pipes, a leading anti-Islam campaigner.
Muslims have played a key role in confusing the clear-as-ABC concept of classifying anything as Islamic or Un-Islamic. It is absolutely not surprising to see a Muslim “scholar” using the terms “Islamic militancy” while standing before a predominantly Jewish audience at a Jewish organization. He would definitely have his priorities for using these terms for pleasing his hosts.[4] The world, however, has the right to understand that by adding the adjective “Islamic” to “militancy” in this case means it is a kind of militancy that is approved by Islam and every Muslim is duty bound to follow it. If it is really approved by Islam, there is no need for a Muslim to grumble about it. If Islam, however, does not approve the militancy under discussion, it is absolutely wrong to call it Islamic.
It is understandable to read or hear the American war lords using “Islamic” with every negative concept and act because it helps them create a linkage between the evil and Islam.[5] It means the negative activity or phenomenon is the product of Islam and Islam approves it. What is shocking is the Muslims’ borrowing and using the same terms without considering the associated negative consequences.
Opportunism of some Muslims is evident from the way they exploit these terms for enjoying supports from the modern day Pharaohs. As an example, one may visit www.freemuslims.org and see how these terms are used for maximum advantage and self-promotion. The home page states: “The road to prosperity for Iraq will not be easy. Islamist extremists and terrorist will work hard to destroy Iraq so that they can build an ‘Islamic State.’ This must never happen.”

Of course, there are Muslims, fake or real, who shout Allaho-Albar while beheading their captives. However, calling their actions, for example Islamic terrorism, militancy or violence means legitimising such actions for other Muslims. Others have to follow if such acts really are Islamic.
There are people belonging to one or another religion behind all kinds of violence and human rights abuses that we witness today everywhere in the world. However, no where do we witness labels such as Christian, Jewish or Hindu terrorism. In those cases, it is accepted that every form of violence, wherever that is and whatever cloak it wears, is essentially political in nature. This, however, is not the case if the perpetrators are Muslims. Similarly, we are inculcated that religion is not the exploiter; it is itself exploited by internal or external political interests. Yet this principle does not apply to Islam.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tauuip Erdogan was right when he snubbed Bernard Lewis for his using the phrase “Islamic terrorism” at a recent Middle East panel of the Academy of Achievement in Chicago. Erdogan said: "Such a definition does not only worry Muslims in the world, but also worries all the believers of all the celestial religions. No religion permits terrorism. ‘Islam,’ in front of the word ‘terror,’ ascribes Islam to terror and is unpleasant indeed. You may say a religious [or Muslim] terrorist; however, you cannot say Islamic terrorism."
The bias was evident in the question of Chris Matthews, the panel director, who interjected: "How do we define terror if we do not say terror is Islamic?" Erdogan, underscoring that terror is an outcome, replied: "Terror is not a reason. However, can we endeavor to remove the reasons of terror? The U.S. entry into Baghdad does not solve the problem."[6] So will not the “war on terrorism” with such sinister constructs as “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamic terrorists.”

[1]. Emphasis added. Daily Times, Sunday, July 11, 2004. “Islamic ‘terrorism’ hurting Muslim world: Musharraf,” Agence France-Presse, Baku, July 9, 2004.
Bottom of Form
[2]. "Pakistan Without Illusions", Editorial, the New York Times, July 9, 2004.

[3]. According to Dictionary.com, The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition.  2000 and Ultra-lingua(Islamism)
[4]. Hussain Haqqani: “Islamic militancy” April 27, 2004 in JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) http://www.jinsa.org/articles/articles.html/function/view/categoryid/1930/

Also see: Haqqani at JISNA Board meeting: http://www.jinsa.org/articles/articles.html/function/view/categoryid/2102/
[5]. By using ther term “Islamic terrorism” we justify the propaganda that the Qur’anic teachings are behind all inspiration for terrorism. See, for example: http://www.faithfreedom.org/Quran.htm and http://www.freedominion.ca/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=255502
[6]. “Erdogan to Lewis: ‘You Can’t Say Islamic Terrorism,” Zaman Online. 14.06.2004  http://www.zaman.org/?bl=international&alt=&trh=20040614&hn=9504


Author’s discussion with Husain Haqqani* on the article

Hussain Haqqani: I do not have the talent or energy for debates on semantics but would like to set the record straight on two points: I have not used the construct of Islamic terrorism and my construct of ‘Islamist militancy’ has occasionally been misreported as ‘Islamic militancy’ though I do not see either term as sinister as the actions it describes.

Abid Ullah Jan: Two points are important here: 1: In your words, your construct has been "misreported" and 2: You do not "see either term as sinister as the actions it describe.

Now that we have pointed out at least one source that misreported you, let us see how you ask JINSA to correct your "misreported" words.

However, with point 2 you have closed the doors to the prospects of your doing so. You have indicated that you may not do so because you support the term "Islamic terrorism" regardless of your using this construct. That’s how you play politics with your commentaries in your attempts to please both the Zionists and Muslims masses at the same time. But it always will have negative consequences both for your image and the world’s understanding of Islam.

In your words, the actions that "Islamic terrorism" describe are more sinister than the term itself. If it is so, why is there a need to describe these sinister actions as Islamic? By this logic any other sinister words or deeds could also be called Islamic. If one sinister act could be called Islamic, why not the other? That is the trap which you refuse to see. That’s how Islam is associated with evil and demonized. The curse and the wrath of the mindset that we face today is the result of such seemingly naive constructs, which we refuse to acknowledge as sinister.

Hussain Haqqani: That there needs to be a term for terrorism in the name of Islam is self evident as is the fact that when political or militant movements organize themselves in the name of Islam, it is most likely they will acquire the ‘Islamic’ adjective.

Abid Ullah Jan: Not necessarily. These movements and parties definitely organize in the name of Islam, but if they do something wrong, it does not mean their bad deeds should also be called Islamic. By this standard why not call the Vishwa Hari Parishad, with its scary collection of hirsute, sadhus and swamis, with its destruction of Babri Masjid and burning Muslims alive in Gujarat as Hindu terrorism? Why not the terrorist acts of Israel, a proud Jewish state established in the name of religion and sustained on the basis of defending and protecting a race, are called Jewish terrorism? Why should only Muslims’ action "acquire the ‘Islamic" adjective and why should we as Muslims close our eyes to the reality of what the adjective Islamic actually stands for?

Hussain Haqqani: Why is it okay for a group to call itself the Islamic Party (Jamaat-e-Islami), the Islamic Resistance Movement (Harkat Maqavamat al Islami) or the Islamic Organization (Tanzeem-e-Islami) and not for others to use the adjective Islamic? After all, these parties and groups are not representative of anyone other than those who join them. If the use of Islamic in their names does not imply that whatever they do is sanctioned by Islam, how does it follow that "by adding the term ‘Islamic’ to ‘militancy’ in this case means it is a kind of militancy that is approved by Islam and every Muslim is duty bound to follow it".

Abid Ullah Jan: It is Ok for these groups and parties to be called Islamic because in their stated objectives, goals, vision and mission statements there is nothing contradictory to the Qur’an and Sunnah. How they go about achieving these objectives is, however, a debatable issue. They are not called Islamic because they are representative of every single Muslim individual. They do not get the label Islamic for "whatever they do" but for whatever they claim to stand for. Adding adjective Islamic to the party means its manifesto and motto is Islamic (see the definition given above what Islamic actually means) and that is approved by Islam ["3.104":And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong, and these it is that shall be successful]. However, their deeds, which contradict the Qur’an and Sunnah can never be called as Islamic, nor their title is a license to doing anything and still be counted as Islamic.

Take the example of Muslim homosexual groups who call themselves by the first Chapter of the Qur’an: Al-Fatiha. If because of Al-Qaeda, terrorism could be Islamic by your logic, why can’t homosexuality be Islamic because of “Al-Fathiha" . When Arabs’ involvement in "terrorism" can make it Islamic, why not Arabs’ involvement in homosexuality can make it Islamic i.e., sanctioned by Islam? After all Muslim groups with Islamic titles also have Imams like Imam Abdullah and they have their own congregations.

Hussain Haqqani: Once the adjective Islamic is opened for such use, its use by others is unavoidable. Unfortunately those who think they have a right to judge everyone and everything because of their ‘pure’ ideology and beliefs cannot see that logic. They want all Muslims to behave a certain way and fall in line with their world view, including in the way we use terminology or language.

Abid Ullah Jan: The adjective "Islamic" is here for centuries but was not open for such use as we witness today, nor is its use for un-Islamic activities unavoidable for Muslims, at least, as long as we do not team up with Islam-bashers and start using the same terminology either intentionally to be accepted by them as allies and advisers, or just naively because we don’t bother to find out the reality behind what comes from our trusted friends in institutes like JINSA.

Furthermore, we do not judge anyone. Everyone just presents himself and as I mentioned earlier, it is impossible for everyone of us to conceal ourselves behind the appeal: "please don’t judge us." A man cannot speak but he judges himself. With his will, or against his will, he draws his portrait to the eye of his companions by every word. Every opinion reacts on him who utters it. So we cannot blame other for misjudging us, when we fail to present us the way we want to be considered.

Our "’pure’ ideology and beliefs cannot see [your] logic" because you could not prove that "sinister actions" on the part of Muslims could be called Islamic.

Hussain Haqqani: I understand the concerns expressed about the construct of ‘Islamic terrorism’ and the damage it does to the world’s understanding of Islam and Muslims. But the way to halt that damage is to ensure that the overwhelming majority of Muslims give voice to Islam as the religion of compassion and mercy (Rahmah).

Abid Ullah Jan: You "understand the concerns," that’s why you defended this construct in the very first sentence in response to this article. Your suggestion to halt the damage to the world’s understanding of Islam imply that "the overwhelming majority of Muslims" do not "give voice of Islam as the religion of compassion and mercy." You are mistaken, dear Haqqani. This is not so.

Islam is not what the overwhelming majority of Muslims are displaying today with their words and deeds. The present day Muslims’ giving voice to Islam as the religion of compassion and mercy is irrelevant. The world needs not judge Islam by the voice or actions of Muslims, but from its core message in the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Some of the Muslims are dutifully explaining through lectures to non-Muslim audience, through interviews and full page advertisements, saying: "I condemn terrorism." "We condemn terrorism." "Our organization condemns terrorism." They, however, do not realize that they are setting up a chain reaction and the initial result of such self promotion is that these public relation game are ineffective and Daniel Pipes rightly calls is "Phony Petition."

The chain reaction that we start with your suggestion leads us to sidelining Islam. The question is, where is Islam? What does Islam say? It sounds good to condemn terrorism to present oneself a "moderate," acceptable Muslim, but in the process we undermine Islam. It leads others to conclude that being moderate does not comes by default with embracing Islam and one has to separately pronounce that he condemns terrorism. If he does not he is an extremist.

We fail to present that by the principles of Islam we must be moderate anyway. With this attitude we indirectly support and strengthened the anti-Islam stance that those who follow the fundamentals of Islam are "extremists" who do not condemn terrorism. This ultimately leads to proving the core of Islam as intolerant and violent. We ignore this subtle chain reaction which damages the world’s understanding of Islam the most.

Hussain Haqqani: Division in the Muslim community comes as much from the ‘Islamists’ or ‘Islam pasands’ or whatever you may want to call them as from their critics. What I find objectionable is the repeated insinuation that those who disagree with a certain view of the Ummah’s role are doing so at someone else’s behest or are confusing the picture. (The decision of the author to add pictures of my speech at JINSA, from the JINSA website, to his article is particularly interesting. He begins the article with a quote from General Musharraf but chooses not to run the general’s photo. In classic psychological warfare mode, he is giving the subliminal message of who the enemy within is: the man who chooses to go and talk to a Jewish organization! I wonder who is the polarizer here).

Abid Ullah Jan: You are absolutely right. Muslims are doing greater damage to themselves than anyone from outside.

"Those who disagree with a certain view of the Ummah’s role" is no problem at all. It is hyping the same anti-Islam campaign slogans and justifying Islam-basher’s logic which not only hurts but also gives a clear picture of those who want to be future Karzais and Iyad Allawis in their respective countries. You are right. They are not doing it as much at someone else’s behest as much they are driven into this campaign by their benighted opportunism.

As far not giving Musharraf’s picture, the whole world knows in whose lap Musharraf is sitting. It is time for the world to see who among the Muslim commentators — the two-penny-pen-pushers — are using the same sinister constructs and who they are allied with on the non-violent front against Islam.

The world needs to know about JINSA and the Muslim advisors to it along with the subjects under discussion and the reasons behind JINSA’s giving them such a prominent role. This will definitely help us understand who considers "sinister actions" as Islamic and who supports such sinister constructs and why.

It will help us understand why do you directly and indirectly call for Israel’s recognition in articles which are not even exclusively focusing on this subject, such as http://www.hipakistan.com/en/detail.php?newsId=
en66697&F_catID=17&f_type=source&day=5. These pictures and the associated reverence given by JINSA at least helped me understand why are you so upset with our not accepting the facade of Israel as "a reality."

Hussain Haqqani: Furthermore, the term ‘Islamist’ was used by Islamists themselves long before westerners used it for them. Please refer to Maulana Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi’s use of the terms ‘Muslims by choice’ and ‘Muslims by chance’, ‘Islam pasand Musalman’ (Islam Loving Muslims, implying there are some who do not love Islam) and in at least one English translation of his book ‘Tajdeed wa Ahya al-Deen’ the term ‘Islamist’ for those seeking an Islamic revival. In the Middle East, Islamic movements have often referred to themselves as ‘Islamiyyin’, which can best be translated as ‘Islamists.’

Abid Ullah Jan: The focus of this write up was not on Islamist and Islamism. For my detail discussion on that please refer to The mistaken Islamism. I would just like to add here that the way Maududi’s work is translated and they way the words Islamist and Islamism are used today to utter contempt have no relation to each other. While standing at JINSA podium, neither you present Maududi’s point of view nor your audience looks at "Islamist" from Maududi’s point of view. Hiding behind translation of Maudid’s work cannot justify the contempt that the word Islamist carry with it. Although most of the definitions, as I have mentioned in the mistaken Islamism, exactly reflect what Islam demands of Muslims and calling such obligations or their practice with any name makes little difference, the need however is to realize the malicious intentions behind the use of such terminologies.

Your associating the word Islamist with Maududi is like convicting Einstein for taking thousands of lives and razing Hiroshima to the ground despite the fact that he took no part in the work at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and did not learn that a nuclear-fission bomb had been made until Hiroshima was razed in 1945. Same if your dragging Maududi into the debate about negative meanings associated with the labels of "Islamism" and "Islamists."


* Husain Haqqani is a visiting Pakistani commentator at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. He served as adviser to Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and as Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Note: Mr. Haqqani’s response to Abid Ullah Jan’s article was published on Political Islam Discussion List (PIDL 5319) on July 12, 2004, which the author breakdown for clarity and clarification of each issue raised by the respondent.