Since the oil boom of the 1970s and ’80s, ÂSaudi Arabia, whose official creed is Wahhabi Islam, has exported Wahhabism to parts of Africa, Asia, and the West through scholarships and the funding of radical mosques, preachers, and groups. Al-Qaeda is a direct spinoff of Wahhabi Islam, and IS an outgrowth from al-Qaeda, while the origins of Boko Haram lie in a network of Wahhabi-Salafi groups in Nigeria. This religious context provides the framework for justifying violence. Jihadists quote from Islamic scripture, prophetic traditions, and legal opinions to support their claims and activities. Jihad against non-Muslims and the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or be killed are in fact based on Islamic law. The same is true of the tactic of capturing women and children as war booty and keeping or disposing of them as slaves. Islam also promises rewards and pleasures awaiting the martyr. It is therefore simplistic if not misleading to argue that groups like IS and Boko Haram have nothing to do with Islam.
Nevertheless, it is equally misleading to argue that the jihadi groups represent the true face of Islam. While the legal and doctrinal edicts that the jihadists cite are integral parts of Islamic law, the jihadists without question violate that law by taking it into their own hands. Their failure to consider the conditions necessary for the declaration of jihad, as well as for its proper conduct, provides an obvious example. Questions of which groups can be targeted, and of how and toward what end, are enormously complicated and sharply qualified in the authoritative legal texts. For instance, all four Sunni schools of law, including the Hanbali school, agree that the declaration of jihad can be justified for the sake of preserving or extending the government of an Islamic state. Therefore, as is the case in Christian just-war theory, in which the power to declare war is carefully limited to governments, in Islamic law only legitimate Islamic governments can declare a jihad, not individuals or nonstate actors. An exception is made when a Muslim land comes under attack or occupation by an enemy force, which renders jihad or resistance an individual responsibility. But even then, jihad has to have been formally declared by the legitimate authority properly representing the people of the occupied nation. By declaring and conducting jihad on their own, al-Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, and other such groups act as heretical usurpers.