Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam Reference

Gilles Kepel


An Arabic word often translated as “holy war,” but which literally means “striving.” While many Muslims have interpreted jihad in a spiritual sense—that it entails a figurative moral “warfare”—numerous early authorities discussed it as a literal war against infidels or apostates. Most manuals of Islamic law regulate jihad in minute terms. For example, participants in a jihad must not wantonly kill women and children or torture enemies. Matters such as the opening, interruption, and cessation of hostilities are also thoroughly covered by Islamic law.

The historical jihad began in the lifetime of Muhammad (c. 570-632 c.e.) with campaigns against the pagans of Arabia. It spread, during the wars of conquest, into the rest of the Middle East, much of south and central Asia, North Africa, and sections of southeastern and southwestern Europe. European reaction to jihad ultimately led to the Crusades (1095-1272), a series of European Christian “holy wars” against the Muslims.