The History of an Idea

June 2016 9781849046299 296pp
 Available as an Audiobook
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No topic has captured the public imagination of late quite so dramatically as the spectre of global jihadism. While much has been said about the way jihadists behave, their ideology remains poorly understood. As the Levant has imploded and millenarian radicals claim to have revived a Caliphate based on the teachings of the Prophet Mohamed, the need for a nuanced and accurate understanding of jihadist beliefs has never been greater.

Shiraz Maher charts the intellectual underpinnings of Salafi-Jihadism from its origins in the mountains of the Hindu Kush to the jihadist insurgencies of the 1990s and the 9/11 wars. What emerges is the story of a pragmatic but resilient warrior doctrine that often struggles — as so many utopian ideologies do — to consolidate the idealism of theory with the reality of practice.

His ground-breaking introduction to Salafi-Jihadism recalibrates our understanding of the ideas underpinning one of the most destructive political philosophies of our time by assessing classical works from Islamic antiquity alongside those of contemporary ideologues. Packed with refreshing and provocative insights, Maher explains how war and insecurity engendered one of the most significant socio-religious movements of the modern era.


‘An excellent and original account of what jihadists actually think. Mr Maher goes well beyond previous works … in setting out a taxonomy of jihadists’ system of beliefs. It will be a must-read work in the study of radicalism.’ — The Economist

‘[A] groundbreaking study … a masterclass in how to do intellectual history, and one that nobody with an interest in radical Islam should miss.’ — Tom Holland, New Statesman

‘Shiraz Maher makes it clear in his fascinating new book that we are witnessing a very recent phenomenon: “the greatest period of anti-western intellectual development in Salafi-jihadi thought took place in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks”.’ — Patrick French, The Guardian

‘Mr. Maher deserves praise for producing a book that is the first of its kind, synthesizing work that has been done on the individual components of Salafi-jihadism. Readers looking for a rigorous but lucid account of Islamic State’s ideas will be well-served by Mr. Maher’s book.’ — Wall Street Journal 

‘Magisterial … The size of the problem adds to the importance of Maher’s book. Essential reading for policymakers, Salafi-Jihadism is an academic work of intellectual history well enough written to interest the general reader too.’ — Robin Yassin-Kassab, The National

‘Shiraz Maher’s excellent study of Salafi-Jihadism … [focuses] less on the caliphate as an institution than on the modern ideology underpinning it. … nuanced analysis’ — The New York Review of Books

‘An excellent intellectual history that scholars of Islamic studies and the Middle East will find an invaluable contribution to the literature.’ — Terrorism and Political Violence

‘In this perceptive and lucid survey, Shiraz Maher, who has built up a justified reputation as an authority on contemporary Islamic extremism, traces the evolution of they key ideas behind one of the most significant religious and political movements of our time. He explains their origins, meanings and, above all, their real impact on violent militants over the last three or four decades. Comprehensive and thought-provoking, this is an important and timely contribution.’ — Jason Burke, author of The New Threat From Islamic Militancy

‘Salafi-Jihadism provides an excellent and important insight into an intricately constructed religious and intellectual situation .. it provides much needed context to some of the most complex and consequential events in the world today. With its elegant, engaging style and crisp brevity, this book is an excellent investigation into a subject many of us would do well to learn that bit more about.’ — Middle East Eye

‘Although Salafi jihadism has profoundly shaped global politics for more than three decades, Shiraz Maher is the first to survey the doctrines that have animated and divided the movement. His book will be a standard reference for years to come.’ — Will McCants, author of The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State

‘Shiraz Maher does a first rate job of explaining a complex and important issue. Salafi-Jihadism is arguably the fastest growing current within the Muslim thought today and is essential to our understanding of how groups like the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda recruit and justify their acts.’ — Hassan Hassan, Associate Fellow of Chatham House; author of the New York Times bestseller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror



Shiraz Maher is Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.

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