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Islamic extremism, Islamist extremism or radical Islam is extremism associated with the religion of Islam. These are controversial terms with varying definitions, ranging from academic understandings to the idea that all ideologies other than Islam have failed and have demonstrated their bankruptcy,[1] as well as political ones like the definition by the government of the United Kingdom which understands Islamic extremism as any form of Islam that opposes "democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs".[2]

It is not to be confused with Islamic fundamentalism or Islamism, the former defined as a movement of Muslims who are of the view that Muslim-majority countries should return to the fundamentals of an Islamic state (though some see Islamic fundamentalism as a form of Islamic extremism) and the latter being a type of political Islam. Islamic terrorism or jihadism is very often the result of Islamic extremism, although not in every case.


Academic definition

The academic definition of radical Islam consists of two parts:

United Kingdom High Courts definition

The UK High Courts have ruled in two cases on Islamic extremism, and provided definition.

Aside from those, two major definitions have been offered for Islamic extremism, sometimes using overlapping but also distinct aspects of extreme interpretations and pursuits of Islamic ideology:

UK High Court rulings

There are two UK High Court cases that explicitly address the issue of Islamic extremism.[8]

May 2016 appeal case

The judge refers to several grounds: section 20 of the 2006 Act; the definition of "terrorism" in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the decision of the Supreme Court in R v Gul.[9]

October 2016 Shakeel Begg case

Begg, a prominent Muslim public figure and Imam at Lewisham Islamic Centre since 1998 lost his 2016 court case of Libel against the BBC. This case is noteworthy because the judge lists a 10-point definition of Islamic extremism that he used to determine the case:

In Charles Haddon-Cave's findings he wrote:[10]

Extremist Islamic positions

118. In my view, the following constitute "extremist" Islamic positions (or indicia thereof).

Key influences of radical Islam

Early Islam

According to the academic definition of radical Islam, the second condition for something to be called radical Islam, is that it is antigovernmental. Consequently, a government is a condition for radical Islam. However, even though the peace of Westphalia was established in 1648 and thus introduced the nation state, the writings of the early Islam period are influential to the contemporary writings that were coined radical after the concept of the nation state was established in Islamic regions as well. Key influences of radical Islam that stem from early Islam include:


Main article: Khawarij

According to some contemporary Muslim commentators, extremism within Islam goes back to the 7th century to the Kharijites.

From their essentially political position, they developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shiʿa Muslims. Tradition traces the origin of the Kharijities to a battle between 'Ali and Mu'awiya at Siffin in 657. When 'Ali was faced with a military stalemate and agreed to submit the dispute to arbitration, some of his party withdrew their support from him. "Judgement belongs to God alone" (لاَ حُكْكْ إلَا لِلّهِ) became the slogan of these secessionists. They also called themselves al-shurat, "vendors", to reflect their willingness to sell their lives in martyrdom.[12]

These original Kharijites opposed both 'Ali and Mu'awiya, and appointed their own leaders. They were decisively defeated by 'Ali, who was in turn assassinated by a Kharijite. Kharijites engaged in guerilla warfare against the Umayyads, but only became a movement to be reckoned with during the second civil war when they at one point controlled more territory than any of their rivals. Kharijites were, in fact, one of the major threats to Ibn al-Zubayr's bid for the caliphate; during this time they controlled Yamama and most of southern Arabia and captured the oasis town of al-Ta'if.[12]

The most extreme faction of Kharijites was that of the Azariqa, who condemned all other Muslims as apostates, also known as the process of takfir. The Kharijites were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to takfir, whereby they declared other Muslims to be unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death.[13][14]The Azariqa controlled parts of western Iran under the Umayyads until they were finally put down in 699. The more moderate Ibadi Kharijites were longer-lived, continuing to wield political power in North and East Africa and in eastern Arabia during the 'Abbasid period.

Because of their readiness to declare any opponent an apostate, the extreme Kharijites tended to fragment into small groups. One of the few points that the various Kharijite splinter groups held in common was their view of the caliphate, which differed from other Muslim theories on two points.

By the time that Ibn al-Muqaffa' wrote his political treatise early in the 'Abassid period, the Kharijites were no longer a significant political threat, at least in the Islamic heartlands. The memory of the menace they had posed to Muslim unity and of the moral challenge generated by their pious idealism still weighed heavily on Muslim political and religious thought, however. Even if the Kharijites could no longer threaten, their ghosts still had to be answered.[12] The Ibadis are the only Kharijite group to surivive into modern times.

Ibn Taymiyya

Main article: Ibn Taymiyyah

Contemporary Islam

The contemporary period begins after 1924. With the extinction of the Ottoman Empire, the caliphate was also abolished. This heavily influenced Islamic thinking in general, but also what would later be coined radial Islamic thought.[15] Key thinkers that wrote about Islam in the 20th century, and especially about jihad, include:

Muhammad Abduh

Main article: Muhammad Abduh

Rashid Rida

Main article: Rashid Rida

Hassan al-Banna

Main article: Hassan al-Banna

Abul A'la al-Maududi

Main article: Abul A'la Maududi

Sayyid Qutb

Main article: Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb could be said to have founded the actual movement of radical Islam.[16] Unlike the other writers that have been mentioned above, Qutb is not an apologist.[17] Some of the proponents of Islam emphasise peaceful political processes, whereas Sayyid Qutb in particular called for violence, and those followers are generally considered Islamic extremists and their stated goal is Islamic revolution with the intent to force implementation of Sharia law and/or an Islamic State Caliphate.

Active Islamic extremist groups

There are over 120 Islamic extremist groups active today.[citation needed] Below is a list of major groups active.


This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items with reliable sources.

Group Name Banner Home Base Leaders Strength Casualties Ideology
Afghanistan/Pakistan Region Abdallah Azzam (founder)
Osama bin Laden (1989–2011)
Ayman al-Zawahiri (present)
300–3,000[18][19] 4,400 casualties [20] To restore Islam and establish "true Islamic states", implement Sharia law, and rid the Muslim world of any non-Muslim influences and other teachings of Islamic author Sayyid Qutb.[21] The title translates to "Organization of the Base of Jihad".
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
Kabylie Mountains, Algeria Abdelmalek Droukdel 800–1,000+[22] 200+ AQIM is an Islamist militant organization which aims to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state.
a.k.a. al-Qaeda West Africa
Mali, Niger, Libya Mokhtar Belmokhtar Under 100 (French claim) Killed 27 in the 2015 Bamako hotel attack. Affiliated branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb listed above.
Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen
a.k.a. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Yemen Nasir al-Wuhayshi   (2011–15)
Qasim al-Raymi (2015 – present)[23]
2000+ Over 250 killed in the 2012 Sana'a bombing and 2013 Sana'a attack. AQAP is considered the most active[24] of al-Qaeda's branches, or "franchises", that emerged due to weakening central leadership.[25] The U.S government believes AQAP to be the most dangerous al-Qaeda branch due to its emphasis on attacking the far enemy and its reputation for plotting attacks on overseas targets.[26]
al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh Asim Umar 300[27][28] Claims 6 killed in assassinations. Naval frigate hijacking attempted in 2014. AQIS is an Islamist militant organization which aims to fight the Governments of Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh in order to establish an Islamic state.
Boko Haram – West Africa Province of the Islamic State Caliphate
Northeastern Nigeria, Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. Mohammed Yusuf  (founder

2002 - 2009)
Abubakar Shekau (current leader)

Estimates range between 500 and 9,000[29][30][31] Since 2009, it has killed 20,000 and displaced 2.3 million. Title means "Western Education is Sin", founded as a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist sect and influenced by the Wahhabi movement, advocating a strict form of Sharia law.
(acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement)
a.k.a. Muslim Brotherhood of Palestine[citation needed]
Gaza Strip Khaled Meshaal 16,000+[32] Since 1988 numerous rocket attacks and suicide bombers targeting Israel Founded as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Its 1988 founding charter, steeped in Islamic rhetoric, calls for jihad to take all of historical Palestine, resulting in the destruction of Israel.
a.k.a. The Party of Allah
Lebanon Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah 1,000+[33] Since 1982 numerous rocket attacks and suicide bombers targeting Israel Shi'a Islamist militant group with Jihadic paramilitary wing. Hezbollah was largely formed with the aid of the Ayatolla Khomeini's followers in the early 1980s in order to spread Islamic revolution.[34][35]
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Commonly known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh)
Syria Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (founder 1999 - 2006)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi 

(2010 -2019)

Abu Ibrahimi al-Hashimi al-Qurashi (2019 - present)

40,000–200,000 at its height across all ‘provinces’[36][37] 30,000+ killed, including Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, other minorities in the Middle East and many others around the world by ISIL or groups associated or inspired by ISIL. Includes Boko Haram[38] Salafi jihadist militant group that follows a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam.[39] Originated as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Gained large swathes of territory in Iraq in 2014 and is currently at war with Iraq, Syria and a coalition of 60 other countries including the United States, United Kingdom and France.
Jemaah Islamiyah Southeast Asia:
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
Abu Bakar Bashir 5,000 [40] Over 250 killed in bombings throughout Indonesia since 2002 With a name meaning "Islamic Congregation", (frequently abbreviated JI),[41] is a Southeast Asian militant Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the establishment of a Daulah Islamiyah (regional Islamic caliphate) in Southeast Asia.[42]
People's Mujahedin of Iran
a.k.a. Mojahedin-e-Khalq
Based in Albania and France
Massoud and Maryam Rajavi 5,000 to 13,500 16,000 to 100,000 Islamic fundamentalist militant group that follows Shia Islamism and Marxism and was the "first Iranian organization to develop systematically a modern revolutionary interpretation of Islam – an interpretation that differed sharply from both the old conservative Islam of the traditional clergy and the new populist version formulated in the 1970s by Ayatollah Khomeini and his government". It is currently at conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran and is based in Paris, France and Albania. The group operates the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political wing of the MEK and formerly had a military wing, the National Liberation Army.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
a.k.a. Pakistani Taliban
Northwest Pakistan Maulana Fazlullah 25,000[43] hundreds TTP is an umbrella organization of various Islamist militant groups protecting foreign terrorists hiding in the mountains of Pakistan. (Not to be confused with Afghani Taliban.)
Kashmir Masood Azhar Aim is to annex Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. operates primarily in Jammu and Kashmir State.
Lashkar-e Tayyiba

a.k.a. LeT

Kashmir Hafiz Saeed Aim is to annex Jammu and Kashmir State to Pakistan and, ultimately, install Islamic rule throughout South Asia. Operational throughout India, especially in the north in Jammu and Kashmir State, since at least 1993.[44]
Allied Democratic Forces Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

See also


  1. ^ Cook, David (2015). Understanding Jihad. University of California Press. p. 103. ISBN 9780520287327.
  2. ^ Casciani, Dominic (10 June 2014). "How do you define Islamist extremism?". BBC News. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  3. ^ Cook, David (2015). Understanding Jihad. University of California Press. p. 103. ISBN 9780520287327.
  4. ^ Cook, David (2015). Understanding Jihad. University of California Press. p. 107. ISBN 9780520287327.
  5. ^ a b Baran, Zeyno (10 July 2008). "The Roots of Violent Islamist Extremism and Efforts to Counter It" (PDF). Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  6. ^ Brian R. Farmer (2007). Understanding radical Islam: medieval ideology in the twenty-first century. Peter Lang. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8204-8843-1.
  7. ^ Jason F. Isaacson; Colin Lewis Rubenstein (2002). Islam in Asia: changing political realities. Transaction Publishers. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-7658-0769-4.
  8. ^ website repository of UK High Court rulings
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^ Casciani, Dominic (28 October 2016). "Imam loses libel action against BBC over 'extreme' claim". BBC News.
  12. ^ a b c Brown, Daniel (2017). A New Introduction to Islam (3rd ed.). Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. pp. 163–169. ISBN 9781118953464.
  13. ^ Khan, Sheema (12 May 2018). "Another battle with Islam's 'true believers'". The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail Opinion. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  14. ^ Hasan, Usama (2012). "The Balance of Islam in Challenging Extremism" (PDF). Quiliam Foundation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 August 2014. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  15. ^ Cook, David (2015). Understanding Jihad. University of California Press. p. 93. ISBN 9780520287327.
  16. ^ Cook, David (2015). Understanding Jihad. University of California Press. p. 102. ISBN 9780520287327.
  17. ^ Idem, p. 103
  18. ^ Bill Roggio (26 April 2011). "How many al Qaeda operatives are now left in Afghanistan? – Threat Matrix". Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  19. ^ "Al Qaeda in Afghanistan Is Attempting A Comeback". The Huffington Post. 21 October 2012. Archived from the original on 23 October 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  20. ^ "Death toll of Al Qaeda attacks: more than 4,400 lives".
  21. ^ Kepel, Gilles (2002). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Harvard University Press. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam.
  22. ^ "Profile: Al-Qaeda in North Africa". BBC. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  23. ^ "Al Qaeda in Yemen says leader killed in U.S. bombing". Reuters. 16 June 2015. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  24. ^ "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – Council on Foreign Relations". Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  25. ^ "The al-Qaeda Brand Died Last Week". Forbes. 6 September 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
  26. ^ "What is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula?". CNN. 14 January 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  27. ^ Sanger, David E.; Mazzetti, Mark (30 June 2010). "New Estimate of Strength of Al Qaeda Is Offered". The New York Times.
  28. ^ "Al Qaeda finds base in India, Modi is on its radar". The Sunday Guardian. 29 March 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  29. ^ "Are Boko Haram Worse Than ISIS?". Conflict News. Archived from the original on 17 March 2015.
  30. ^ "Global Terrorism Index 2014" (PDF). Institute for Economics and Peace. p. 53. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  31. ^ "Al-Qaeda map: Isis, Boko Haram and other affiliates' strongholds across Africa and Asia". 12 June 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  32. ^ Pike, John. "HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)".
  33. ^ Pike, John. "Hizballah (Party of God)".
  34. ^ Jamail, Dahr (20 July 2006). "Hezbollah's transformation". Asia Times. Archived from the original on 20 July 2006. Retrieved 23 October 2007.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  35. ^ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (11 April 1996). "Hizbullah". Retrieved 17 August 2006.
  36. ^ "Isis ranks dwindle to 15,000 amid 'retreat on all fronts', claims Pentagon". The Guardian. 11 August 2016. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  37. ^ "45,000 Islamic State fighters taken off battlefields". 11 August 2016. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  38. ^ Glum, Julia (10 August 2016). "How Many People Has ISIS Killed? Terrorist Attacks Linked To Islamic State Have Caused 33,000 Deaths: Report". International Business Times. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  39. ^ Fouad al-Ibrahim (22 August 2014). "Why ISIS is a threat to Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism's deferred promise". Al Akhbar English. Archived from the original on 24 August 2014.
  40. ^ Freeman, Colin (12 June 2014). "Al-Qaeda map: Isis, Boko Haram and other affiliates' strongholds across Africa and Asia". Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  41. ^ Zalman, Amy. "Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)". Archived from the original on 2 February 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2008.
  42. ^ Counter-Society to Counter-State: Jemaah Islamiah According to Pupji, p. 11., Elena Pavlova, The Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, [1]
  43. ^ Bennett-Jones, Owen (25 April 2014). "Pakistan army eyes Taliban talks with unease". BBC News. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  44. ^ "Field Listing :: Terrorist groups - foreign based — The World Factbook - Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved 16 September 2019.