There are many concepts and phrases which are common to all Muslims, but which have a particular meaning for Islamic extremists.
Jihad is a term that we hear often, in martyrdom videos, Islamic State magazines and on the front pages of Western newspapers. But ‘jihad’ isn’t a term just used by terrorists. It’s an important concept for millions of Muslims, and has little in common with the violent action that extremists on the fringes of Islam take it to mean. It isn’t just this term either. There are many concepts and phrases which are common to all Muslims, but which have a particular meaning for Islamic extremists. We have created a glossary to highlight the extremist interpretations of these, and to help people understand what is meant if they come across some of these phrases.
This glossary of Islamic extremist material contains words and phrases frequently found in extremist material. However, they are not used exclusively by extremists and their use is not an indicator of extremist belief. In fact, many have similar meanings in non-extremist settings, but are included here due to their frequency of use in extremist material.
The example given above, ‘jihad’ shows the range of interpretations that can be applied to one concept. It is the Arabic term for ‘struggle’ in all its forms. Colloquially, it has been used as a short-hand term for a religious war, although this is regarded as insulting by many Muslims. There are different applications of jihad too. Al-jihad al-akbar (the greater struggle), in Islamic terms, means the spiritual struggle to live a good and spiritually pure life. However, many Islamic extremists emphasise the jihad al-asghar instead. Al-jihad al-asghar (the lesser struggle) means an armed struggle against evil and injustice.
A term perhaps more explicitly linked to extremists is ‘kafir’. This means disbeliever, or infidel who has rejected Islam. However, it also highlights an issue with the spelling or transliteration of these terms. There are a number of different ways that many of these terms have been transliterated from Arabic into English. Spellings vary between users and are also often misspelt. In the case of kafir, this can also be spelt ‘kaafir’ and is sometimes misspelt as ‘kaffir’. ‘Kuffar’ is the plural of kafir. The spellings used in our glossary are commonly used, but not universally so.
The glossary also contains terms which are more specialist in use, and less likely to be found in fictional portrayals of Islamic terrorism, or in popular media accounts of groups. One example is ‘tazkiya’ (recommendation). While having an overtly religious meaning ‘Tazkiya al-Nafs’ (Purification of the Self), in Islamic extremist terms it means having a trusted individual vouch for you, or reference you, when travelling in a conflict zone. This may be required to pass vetting processes when joining extremist groups like the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.
The glossary is available here. It explains the meanings of just under a hundred Islamic extremist words and phrases in every-day language. Whilst this guide has been compiled by experts in this subject we are keen to keep it up-to-date and as accessible and useful as possible. If there are other phrases or words that you have come across that you would like to see included, please let us know here.