Jihad – Islam’s 6th Pillar

by Norman Berdichevsky (June 2009)

Delivered to the NER Symposium in Nashville, TN. May 30, 2009. 

The Five Pillars of Islam are the shahada or declaration that Allah is the only God and that Muhammad is his prophet, the haj (the pilgrimage to Mecca), sala (daily prayer five times a day), zaka (the giving of alms), and (saum), the month long fast from sun-up to sun-down during the month of Ramadan yet the focus of attention of Islam’s geography and role in international affairs has always been JIHAD.


In order to understand JIHAD as a veritable sixth essential element in the spread of Islam historically and the threat it poses today, one must understand how Islam radically differs from other faiths and functions politically and geographically.

In Medieval Spain, numerous theological debates were held to discuss the relative merits and claims of the three monotheistic religions. Even though many centuries have passed, there is still a fundamental division among them. The Jews first discovered a path towards redemption and how to live in a just society according to God’s commandments. They thereby believed they were setting an example by serving God as a nation and demonstrating their way of life to other nations. This continued to be possible even after the destruction of the Temple and loss of Jewish independence in 70 AD.
Christians, on the other hand, believed that this was possible on an individual level through the agency of God’s church and could be achieved by anyone no matter what his or her nationality, race or sex.
The radical interpretation of Islam (frequently referred to as “Islamism” and now in power in Iran) that has become a threat to the traditional Western model of the state requires a continual appraisal of a chess-board like map of what part of the world has been subdued and placed under Muslim rule FOREVER (no retreats or “do-overs” are allowed). In this regard, territories such as Israel, Spain, Chechnya, Greece, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Armenia and even large regions in China, Ethiopia, and India which were once under the sway of Muslim rulers and therefore considered submitted to Allah. They cannot be allowed to return to the Camp of War.
Islam, (literally “submission”), regarded as the “Camp of Believers who have already  submitted to the will of Allah and Muhammad’s message”, is referred to as the Dar al-Islam. Its success is to be measured on the political map to the extent it has prevailed over the other camp of non-believers (the infidels in the Dar al-Harb, or “Camp of War”. More than a matter of personal submission to the will of Allah, subjugation of the Camp of War requires dominion over territory.

Dar al-Harb
is used by Muslim scholars to define where Muslims are not in power and therefore not able to “practice their religion without interference”. A non Muslim  resident of the Dar al-Harb is called a harbi as opposed to a tolerated non-Muslim subject (dhimmi) living in a land within the dar-al-Islam. A harbi has no rights, not even an unconditional right to live. For centuries, if a harbi from “outside” wanted to enter the territory of Dar al-Islam, Islamic tradition required a passage of safe-conduct. In an interview with the prominent Arabic language newspaper in London, Asharq-al Awsat, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi on July 19, 2003 stated… “It has been determined by Islamic law that the blood and property of people of Dar Al-Harb is not protected.”

Who is Al-Qaradawi? He is a highly respected and popular Egyptian theologian who appears regularly on Al-Jazeera and is the founder of IslamOnline – a popular website offering opinions and religious edicts (“fatwa”). He is considered to be a favorite Islamic scholar of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and an opponent of the Mubarak regime). He is also regarded as the most prominent spokesman for rejecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and democracy as inappropriate for Muslims to follow. He has supported Palestinian suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians and demanded a worldwide Muslim reaction against Denmark in the wake of the Muhammad cartoons.

No reputable Muslim cleric in a Muslim majority state has openly confronted Al-Qaradawi’s interpretation of Jihad (Holy War) based on ultimate political-military confrontation with Dar al-Harb. Jihad is mentioned in the Koran more than 150 times. Literally, the word means “striving” or “struggle” but it is almost always mentioned in connection with appeals to devout believers to confront, conquer, convert and kill pagan non-believers or to humiliate and subdue Christians and Jews.
Who then are “moderate Muslims” that want to live in harmony with their neighbors but have a theological sword hanging over their heads? They are of two types, both of which seek to avoid ever having to explain their views to non-Muslims.

  1. Believers who are far from the centers of political power where Jihad has traditionally been viewed as a sixth pillar of Islam. Muslim clerics and scholars in these areas have tended to stress Jihad as an internalized exhortation to “strive in the way of God”, thereby overcoming man’s baser instincts.
  2. Rulers, whose security in office, has depended on a close tactical alliance with non-Muslim nations and are themselves targets of the “Islamist” movement everywhere. Prominent among these are the current Saudi dynasty of Arabia, the ruling Hashemite clan in the Kingdom of Jordan, the regime of Husni Mubarrak in Egypt, the Persian Gulf Shiekhdoms – Qatar, Abu-Dhabi, etc., and the current leadership in the North African states of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria who have been subject to a more than a decade long insurgency from native Islamist extremists. They are all walking on a tightrope. 

Such rulers representing Muslim states who coexist and even depend upon more powerful “unbelieving states” that are part of the Dar al-harb, have accepted the principle adopted by the Ottoman sultans that a protracted peace may be necessary. Rather than confront powerful non-Muslim states, especially the United States and the major European nations with the inconvenient  and potentially embarrassing reality that they are only useful temporary allies who will inevitably be forced to recognize the superiority of Islam and submit to Dar al-Islam, a neutral “Dar al-Ahd” (Camp of Truce) was invented to define them.

Jihad in World War I

The 20th century has witnessed examples of jihad used as incitement to commit genocide and in two world wars in which a “selective jihad” was used by Muslim and European tyrants as allies to mobilize the political and economic resources of the Muslim world against Western civilization and democracy. In 1914, the only focus of Muslim power in the world was the Turkish Ottoman Empire whose sultan still commanded the respect and obedience of most of the world’s Sunni Muslims whether or not they were citizens. The Turkish Sultan, Mahomet V, was the only acknowledged “Caliph” and he and his court in alliance with the “Young Turk” movement followed a pro-German line, convinced that a victory by the Central Powers would help reverse the backward slide of the empire and enable them to recover territory lost to the hated Russians who had connived to help liberate the Christian Slavic peoples and the Greeks from Turkish rule.

In response to the call for Jihad, approximately a million and a half Armenians throughout the Turkish Empire died as a result of executions, mass violence, hunger and forced expulsions during 1915-1917. Several similar genocidal crimes against Greeks in the 1890s and again in the period 1919-1924 resulted in close to a million fatalities. In both cases, civilians, many of them aged men, women and children were the victims. All of the soldiers following the orders of their superiors were Muslims (Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Druze) convinced that they were following the justified edict of Jihad.

The court of the previous Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II (deposed in 1909), had welcomed and flattered Kaiser Wilhelm II on his visit to Palestine in 1898 and expressed a favorable attitude towards the construction of a German financed Berlin to Baghdad railway. German military officers were involved in the training of both the Turkish army and navy. The controlled Turkish press represented the Kaiser in the most favorable light and hinted that he was considering conversion to Islam and regarded himself as a European “Protector of Islam”. In a future European conflict, the Ottoman Sultan would endeavor to promote religious extremism by calling upon Sunni Muslims everywhere to join a “selective jihad” against the British, French and Russian infidels. The Germans with no Muslim subjects and Austria with only a few in Bosnia could be regarded as allies in spite of their Christian faith.

Mussolini and Hitler’s Appeal to the Jihadists

For more than sixteen years since Mussolini’s regime came to power in 1922, anti-Semitism was rejected by Fascist Italy. Like Kaiser Wilhelm however, Mussolini felt that considerations of power politics ultimately required favoring Muslim sensitivities to keep them as allies or acquire new ones rather than the potential benefits that Italy might derive from favoring the Jews. The Fascist movement in Italy was not favorably disposed towards the Catholic Church and resented the opposition the Vatican had demonstrated to Italian unification. Until the Lateran Treaty (1929) that recognized the sovereignty of the Vatican City State, relations between the Catholic Church and Mussolini’s Fascist regime were cold and relations with Nazi Germany reached a low point in 1934 that brought Mussolini into direct confrontation with Hitler over the question of Austria’s independence. 

It was however, Mussolini’s quest for a new and grand version of ancient Rome with colonial possessions in North Africa, naval supremacy in the Mediterranean (“Our Sea” – “Mare Nostrum“), the Italian desire for revenge against Abyssinia for the disastrous defeat suffered at Ethiopian hands at Adowa in 1896 that resulted in a total change of his position on a possible alliance with Zionism. In his view Italy had sacrificed much in World War I only to be denied the fruits of victory with an expanded colonial role in the Middle East and Africa. This led him to pursue an aggressive campaign that ultimately brought him into an alliance with Nazi Germany and Hitler whose ideology he had previously ridiculed. 

In March 1937, Benito Mussolini opportunistically proclaimed himself as “Protector of Islam” following a state visit to the Italian colony of Libya where he opened a new military highway. The occasion was to mark the brutal suppression of resistance to Italian occupation that ended with the execution of a Senussi rebel leader, Omar al-Mukhtar. Italy simultaneously began a propaganda campaign designed to pacify Muslim sentiment around the Mediterranean and deflect anti-colonialist sentiment against the British and French presence in North Africa and the Middle East.

This policy included secret Italian support of the most extreme anti-Zionist of the Palestinian Muslim political figures, Haj Amin al-Husseini who had been installed in office by the British in 1931 even though he finished fourth in an election of Palestine’s chief religious leader (mufti) by Muslim notables. The British tried to impress the Arab population that even though they were widely blamed for the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine as a “Jewish National Home,” they respected Muslim concerns and rights. Ironically, Italian support was provided for the same reason – exploitation of the mufti’s appeal to the most radical fundamentalist Muslim religious sentiment in the expectation that they could “outbid” the British for Arab sympathy.

Mussolini, in a typically extravagant and bizarre dramatization of his manly image, and newly established title of Protector of Islam, arranged for a ceremonial girding on of the “Sword of Islam” in Libya in 1937. At the ceremony in Tripoli, he declared “Italy will always be the friend and protector of Islam throughout the world.” Italian Foreign minister Ciano noted that Islam was totally compatible with the Fascist outlook and added that “The Islamic world, in accordance with its traditions, loves in the Duce, the wisdom of the statesman united to the action of the warrior.” 

In the Italian campaign of aggression against Abyssinia, the Catholic Church was exploited by Mussolini to lend its approval to a war it characterized as one on “behalf of Western civilization against African barbarism.” Nevertheless, a large proportion of the Italian forces were Muslim recruits from Libya, Eritrea, Somaliland and the Muslim dominated Galla region who were Jihadi-inspired Arab volunteers  cynically exploited by the Italians to fight against the “infidel” Christian Ethiopians. 

Hitler and Germany’s Endorsement of Jihad against the Jews
Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers’ Halbmond und Hakenkreuz. Das “Dritte Reich”, die Araber und Palästina, (Crescent Moon and Swastika: The Third Reich, the Arabs, and Palestine) published in September, 2006 documents the Arab sympathies for Nazism, particularly in Palestine and German attempts to mobilize and encourage the Arabs with their ideology.

In a telegram to the Palestinian Grand Mufti,Haj Amin al-Husseini,  on November 2, 1943, Heinrich Himmler wrote; ”The National Socialist Movement of greater Germany has since its inception, inscribed upon its flag, the fight against world Jewry. It has therefore followed with particular sympathy the struggle of freedom-loving Arabs, especially in Palestine against Jewish interlopers. In the recognition of this enemy and of the common fight against it lies the firm foundation of the natural alliance that exists between the National Socialist greater Germany and the freedom loving Muslims of the whole world.” To all Muslims aware of the telegram, this meant Germany endorsed the mufti’s call to jihad.

When the British quelled an Arab revolt in Palestine in 1938-39, al-Husseini fled to Iraq where he helped orchestrate a pro-Axis coup and vicious pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad. Thanks to the counteroffensive of the Red Army in front of Moscow in 1941/1942, at Stalingrad in 1942/1943, and the defeat of the German Africa Corps at El Alamein, the Germans never managed to actively intervene militarily in the Middle East. Many Bosnian Muslims were nevertheless recruited by the Mufti and served in a special SS division. For this, he was sentenced to death in absentia after the war by a court in Yugoslavia under Marshall Tito.  

The Call for Jihad Against the Jews in Palestine and Israel 
The unrest in Palestine during the British Mandate is most frequently presented as a unilateral struggle between rival nationalisms (Arab vs. Jewish). The impulse towards Jihad on the part of the Muslim extremists dominating the Arab nationalist cause is downplayed or purposely ignored by Leftwing opinion. In spite of repeated propaganda campaigns by anti-Zionists that the Muslims of Palestine bore no ill will against ultra-orthodox religious (and non-Zionist) Jews, the violent pogrom of 1929 in Hebron was motivated by traditional calls of Jihad against the veteran Jewish community in the town resulting in dozens of aged Orthodox men, women and children killed.
Even the official Palestine Royal Commission Report of 1938 gave evidence of the religious fanaticism animating the Palestinian Arab national movement reporting  in detail how the Arab Higher Committee under the leadership of the Grand Mufti had employed violence and intimidation against scores of village chieftains and Bedouin as well as moderate Muslim Arab personalities culminating in the murder of Nasr el Din Nasr, the Mayor of Hebron and attempts on the life of Hasan Shukri, the Mayor of Haifa. Christian Arabs were hardly exempt from gross intimidation by the Mufti’s leadership to express support for the Palestinian cause. Here too, Jihadist calls were frequent to pressure Christian Arabs to give up the tarboosh (fez) in favor of the keffiyah, for Christian women to wear the veil just as their Muslim counterparts and for Christian shopkeepers to close on the Muslim Sabbath of Friday instead of Sunday.  
On May 15, 1948, Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, General-Secretary of the Arab League, generally recognized as a “moderate spokesman” for Arab nationalism proclaimed that the conflict with the Jews was unavoidable and promised publicly in classical Jihadi religious terms that the Arab invasion of Palestine to crush the Jews “will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades“. Azzam was an Egyptian who, on many occasions, assured Zionist leaders that he did not wish to see a confrontation but that it would be inevitable and contrary to his moderate position, he would be forced by “Arab public opinion” (the Arab street) to couch his rhetoric in the most extreme position to capitalize on Muslim religious as well as nationalist emotion.
“Islamism” and Jihad vs. The World
In the 1960s, it could be said that the political leadership of every Muslim state had set a course on imitating the Western concept of the nation state and paid lip service only to the concept of the idea that all Muslims constituted a world-wide community. These views were shaken by a renewed extremist Islamist campaign in Egypt led by the Muslim Brothers founded and inspired by the Islamist theorists Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949) and Sayyad Qutb (hanged by the Egyptian government in 1966), in Pakistan under the influence of the continuing conflict with India and the views of cleric Mawlana Mawdudi (1903-1979), and most dramatically by the triumph of the revolution led by the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini (1902-1989) that overthrew the Shah in Iran.
The credo of the Muslim Brothers (or Brotherhood) for which there is no possibility of misinterpreting states that Allah is our goal, the Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle is our way and death in the path of Allah is our highest aspiration”.
Mawdudi, who founded the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami (Muslim Block) in 1942, argued that the ultimate goal of the Jihadi movement  is to destroy all those regimes that are opposed to the precepts of Islam and replace them with a world wide government based on Islamic principles.   
The emergence of militant Islamism among both Sunnis and Shi’ites and the call for all legislation to be based on the Koran as well as world-wide Jihad became as much a threat to the “moderate” rulers in these three states as against the Dar al- Harb. The assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (by the Muslim brothers) was a harbinger of the growing Jihadi threat and the desire to implement an Islamist solution wiping away the vestiges of Western and secular institutions everywhere in Muslim and Arab countries. Attempts to placate the Islamists in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Malaysia, Lebanon and elsewhere have only led to their increased strength.  

Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim brothers and Hizbollah is an Iranian puppet committed to a Shi’ite variety of the same world-wide jihadist call. Western politicians and so called Leftwing or “progressive” political forces urging or pressuring Israel to “negotiate” with these two Jihadist terror organizations display a willful ignorance and simply refuse to acknowledge the reality of their violent heritage, fascist character and long term goals to destroy the West.  

f we are to learn anything at all from history, it is that the Islamist concept of jihad was unequivocally understood as “violent holy war” against the infidels and not subject to interpretation. It remains a political weapon that has been used quite similarly by the last Ottoman Caliph, the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs, Al-Qaeda and rival extremist Sunni and Shi’ite clerics in Iraq today. It is still attractive to much extremist opinion in large parts of the Arab world, Chechniya, the Sudan, Pakistan and even in Indonesia. Its attraction throughout the 20th century for those autocratic and dictatorial European leaders who sought to become “Protectors of Islam” and “borrow” it, was to exploit its violent and evil appeal for their own purposes.

To comment on this article, please click

To help New English Review continue to publish interesting and informative articles such as this one, please click here.  

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more by Norman Berdichevsky, click here. 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New English Review Press is a priceless cultural institution.
                              — Bruce Bawer

Order here or wherever books are sold.

The perfect gift for the history lover in your life. Order on Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon or Amazon UK or wherever books are sold

Order at Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold. 

Order at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Available at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Send this to a friend