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Islamic extremism has been defined by the British government as any form of Islam that opposes "democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs."[1] Related terms include "Islamist extremism" and Islamism.[2]

On the other hand, many oppose the use of the term, fearing it could "de-legitimize" the Islamic faith in general.[3] Some have criticized political rhetoric that associates non-violent Islamism (political Islam) with terrorism under the rubric of "extremism".[2]


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.[7]

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.[8]

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).

  • First, a 'Manichean' view of the world. A total, eternal 'Manichean' worldview is a central tenet of violent Islamic extremism. It divides the world strictly into 'Us' versus 'Them': those who are blessed or saved (i.e. the "right kind" of Muslim) on the one hand and those who are to be damned for eternity (i.e. the "wrong kind" of Muslim and everyone else) on the other. For violent Islamic extremists, the "wrong kind" of Muslim includes moderate Sunni Muslims, all Shia Muslims, and many others who are "mete for the sword" and can be killed, and anyone who associates or collaborates" with them...
  • Second, the reduction of jihad (striving in God's cause) to qital (armed combat) ('the Lesser Jihad')...
  • Third, the ignoring or flouting of the conditions for the declaration of armed jihad (qital), i.e. the established Islamic doctrinal conditions for the declaration of armed combat (qital) set out above...
  • Fourth, the ignoring or flouting of the strict regulations governing the conduct of armed jihad, i.e. the stipulations in the Qur'an and the Sunna for the ethics of conducting qital set out above. Thus, the use of excessive violence, attacks on civilians, indiscriminate 'suicide' violence and the torture or the murder of prisoners would constitute violation of these regulations of jihad...
  • Fifth, advocating armed fighting in defence of Islam (qital) as a universal individual religious obligation (fard al 'ayn)...
  • Sixth, any interpretation of Shari'a (i.e. religious law laid down by the Qur'an and the Sunna) that required breaking the 'law of the land'...
  • Seventh, the classification of all non-Muslims as unbelievers (kuffar)...
  • Eighth, the extreme Salafist Islamism doctrine that the precepts of the Muslim faith negate and supersede all other natural ties, such as those of family, kinship and nation...
  • Ninth, the citing with approval the fatwa (legal opinions) of Islamic scholars who espouse extremist view...
  • Tenth, any teaching which, expressly or implicitly, encourages Muslims to engage in, or support, terrorism or violence in the name of Allah.[9][11]

Connection to Kharijites

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. 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.[12][13][14]

Active Islamic extremist groups

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.

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


Group Name Banner Home Base Leaders Strength Casualties Ideology
al-Qaeda Flag of Jihad.svg Afghanistan/Pakistan Region Abdallah Azzam (founder)
Osama bin Laden (1989–2011)
Ayman al-Zawahiri (present)
300–3,000[15][16] 4,400 casualties [17] 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.[18] The title translates to "Organization of the Base of Jihad".
al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Flag of Jihad.svg Kabylie Mountains, Algeria Abdelmalek Droukdel 800–1,000+[19] 200+ AQIM is an Islamist militant organization which aims to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state.
Al-Mourabitoun- AKA:al-Qaeda West Africa Flag of Jihad.svg 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 / AKA:Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Flag of Jihad.svg Yemen Nasir al-Wuhayshi   (2011–15)
Qasim al-Raymi (2015–Present)[20]
2000+ Over 250 killed in the 2012 Sana'a bombing and 2013 Sana'a attack. AQAP is considered the most active[21] of al-Qaeda's branches, or "franchises," that emerged due to weakening central leadership.[22] 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.[23]
al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent Flag of AQIS.jpg India, Pakistan, Bangladesh Asim Umar 300[24][25] 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 AQMI Flag.svg Northeastern Nigeria, Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. Mohammed Yusuf  (founder)
Abubakar Shekau (current leader)
Estimates range between 500 and 9,000.[26][27][28] 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.
Hamas -
(acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement) AKA: Muslim Brotherhood of Palestine[citation needed]
Flag of Hamas.svg Gaza Strip Khaled Meshaal 16,000+ [29] 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.
AKA: The Party of Allah
InfoboxHez.PNG Lebanon Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah 1,000+ [30] 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.[31][32]
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Commonly known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg Syria Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi 15,000–20,000 inside Iraq and Syria[33][34] 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 insprired by ISIL. Includes Boko Haram[35] Salafi jihadist militant group that follows a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam.[36] 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 [37] Over 250 killed in bombings throughout Indonesia since 2002. With a name meaning "Islamic Congregation", (frequently abbreviated JI),[38] is a Southeast Asian militant Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the establishment of a Daulah Islamiyah (regional Islamic caliphate) in Southeast Asia.[39]
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
AKA: Pakistani Taliban
Flag of Tehrik-i-Taliban.svg Northwest Pakistan Maulana Fazlullah 25,000[40] 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.)

See also


  1. ^ Casciani, Dominic (10 June 2014). "How do you define Islamist extremism?". BBC News. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Pankhurst, Reza (May 30, 2013). "Woolwich, "Islamism" and the "Conveyor Belt to Terrorism" Theory". Hurst Publishers. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  3. ^ Taylor, Jessica (November 25, 2015). "Should The Phrase 'Islamic Extremism' Be Used? It's Debatable". NPR. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Baran, Zeyno (2008-07-10). "The Roots of Violent Islamist Extremism and Efforts to Counter It" (PDF). Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Retrieved 2011-11-11. 
  5. ^ Brian R. Farmer (2007). Understanding radical Islam: medieval ideology in the twenty-first century. Peter Lang. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8204-8843-1. 
  6. ^ Jason F. Isaacson; Colin Lewis Rubenstein (2002). Islam in Asia: changing political realities. Transaction Publishers. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-7658-0769-4. 
  7. ^ http://www.judiciary.gov.uk website repository of UK High Court rulings
  8. ^ a b https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/r-v-kahar-and-others.pdf
  9. ^ a b https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/shakeel-begg-v-bbc-judgment-final-20161028.pdf
  10. ^ https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/shakeel-begg-v-bbc-judgment-final-20161028.pdf
  11. ^ Casciani, Dominic (28 October 2016). "Imam loses libel action against BBC over 'extreme' claim". BBC News. 
  12. ^ "Another battle with Islam's 'true believers'". 
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 August 2014. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  14. ^ "Imam Mohamad Jebara: Fruits of the tree of extremism". 6 February 2015. 
  15. ^ Bill Roggio (26 April 2011). "How many al Qaeda operatives are now left in Afghanistan? – Threat Matrix". Longwarjournal.org. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  16. ^ "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. 
  17. ^ "Death toll of Al Qaeda attacks: more than 4,400 lives". 
  18. ^ Kepel, Gilles (2002). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Harvard University Press. 
  19. ^ "Profile: Al-Qaeda in North Africa". BBC. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  20. ^ "Al Qaeda in Yemen says leader killed in U.S. bombing". Reuters. 16 June 2015. Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  21. ^ "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – Council on Foreign Relations". Cfr.org. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  22. ^ "The al-Qaeda Brand Died Last Week". Forbes. September 6, 2011. Retrieved September 7, 2011. 
  23. ^ "What is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula?". CNN. 14 January 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  24. ^ Sanger, David E.; Mazzetti, Mark (June 30, 2010). "New Estimate of Strength of Al Qaeda Is Offered". The New York Times. 
  25. ^ "Al Qaeda finds base in India, Modi is on its radar". The Sunday Guardian. March 29, 2014. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Are Boko Haram Worse Than ISIS?". Conflict News. Archived from the original on 17 March 2015. 
  27. ^ "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. 
  28. ^ "Al-Qaeda map: Isis, Boko Haram and other affiliates' strongholds across Africa and Asia". 12 June 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  29. ^ Pike, John. "HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)". 
  30. ^ Pike, John. "Hizballah (Party of God)". 
  31. ^ Jamail, Dahr (July 20, 2006). "Hezbollah's transformation". Asia Times. Retrieved October 23, 2007. 
  32. ^ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (April 11, 1996). "Hizbullah". Retrieved August 17, 2006. 
  33. ^ "Isis ranks dwindle to 15,000 amid 'retreat on all fronts', claims Pentagon". The Guardian. August 11, 2016. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  34. ^ "45,000 Islamic State fighters taken off battlefields". News.com.au. August 11, 2016. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  35. ^ 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. 
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^ "Al-Qaeda map: Isis, Boko Haram and other affiliates' strongholds across Africa and Asia". 12 June 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  38. ^ Zalman, Amy. "Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)". About.com. Archived from the original on 2 February 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2008. 
  39. ^ Counter-Society to Counter-State: Jemaah Islamiah According to Pupji, p. 11., Elena Pavlova, The Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, [1]
  40. ^ Bennett-Jones, Owen (25 April 2014). "Pakistan army eyes Taliban talks with unease". BBC News. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 

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