Social jihadists are mass radicalising people to become their weapons, with youngsters being their primary recruits

If we see the terror landscape across the world, alarming signs are surfacing. While it is quite evident in disturbed countries, like Nigeria and Somalia, its outreach to big and stable Islamic countries is a new and disturbing phenomenon seen in the last decade.

Terror follows the path of radicalisation but the threat of mass radicalisation is limited when a terror outfit follows the path of direct war, carrying out assault operations on the state. The effect is mostly localised and fails to grab the masses largely to follow the path of radicalisation because those terrorists are not someone living in the house next door who can come and radicalise his or her neighbours. They lack social contact. They are not like some regular preachers from mosques or similar religious institutions who can indoctrinate masses in the name of religion.

That is what social jihad does.

The Britannica Encyclopedia defines jihad as a meritorious struggle. It “primarily refers to the human struggle to promote what is right and to prevent what is wrong”. Merriam-Webster defines jihad as a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty. Mary Habeck, Associate Professor of Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins University, calls it a just war that is both an individual and communal duty.

But the history of jihad always saw distortions, the Britannica Encyclopedia says, giving it a military sense, with every war against non-Muslims called jihad to expand the Islamic rule. Jihad was to protect your home turf but was ultimately used as a tool of aggression. The jihadists saw and made their followers believe Islam was under attack. They wanted to spread the territory of Islam to every corner of the earth. They, in fact, wanted to convert the whole world into an Islamic regime. For them, jihad, a meritorious struggle, was converted into “militant jihad”, a concept co-opted by the terror organisations of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Now, clerics or preachers, the most important part of Muslim society, are taking that militant jihad to the next level. We can term it “social jihad”. Its fundamentals are simple but deeply penetrating. Social jihadists are not going to challenge the ruling governments directly by carrying out large-scale bomb attacks or mass shootings or truck rampages or plane attacks.

Instead, they are now challenging the masses on their faith and, in turn, radicalising them. They are creating tools that will be their weapons to directly challenge the governments to force them down, something that is not possible for a big terror group like al-Qaeda or Islamic State.

They are mass radicalising people to become their weapons, with youngsters being their primary recruits. Two big Muslim countries are good examples – Pakistan and Bangladesh.


The rise of the radical form of the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam has put Pakistan, the second largest Muslim country, on a dangerous path. The country that used pushing terror in its neighbouring countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan as its unstated state policy, is now among the most terror-affected countries because of that policy adopted since the 1980s when it used to train Mujahideens to fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It chose to radicalise a section of its population, to create and nurture Mujahideens, who became the future terrorists once the Soviet Afghan invasion was over.

By Santosh Chaubey

Santosh Chaubey is a data journalist with around 15 years of experience. He writes analytical stories on national and international political affairs and developments. Follow him @santoshchaubeyy

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