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Just sharing – How Islamist extremists quote the Quran

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Summary

Islamist extremists make heavy use of the Qur’an (Islam’s most sacred text) in their strategic communication. This study analyzed the most frequently cited or quoted verses in the Center for Strategic Communication’s database of over 2,000 extremist texts.  The texts date from the years 1998 to 2011, and originate primarily from the Middle East and North Africa. Taking this data as a starting point, we provide a qualitative analysis of the historical contexts and core narrative components of the cited passages.

The results confirm certain common assumptions about extremist readings of the Qur’an. There is a disproportionate use of surahs (chapters) from the later Medinan over the earlier Meccan period – only one of the top ten most frequently cited surahs of the Qur’an is Meccan. The Medinan surahs also fall within a certain historical window representing the onset and completion of military conflict between the earliest Muslims and the “pagan” clans of Mecca and their allies.

Other findings in the report raise questions about the veracity of claims often made by analysts. The most surprising is the near absence of the well-known “Verse of the Sword” (9:5) from the extremist texts. Widely regarded as the most militant or violent passage of the Qur’an, it is treated as a divine call for offensive warfare on a global scale. It is also regarded as a verse which supersedes over one hundred other verses of the Qur’an that counsel patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.

We conclude that verses extremists cite from the Qur’an do not suggest an aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed.  Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor, and retribution.  This shows close integration with the rhetorical vision of Islamist extremists.

Based on this analysis we recommend that the West abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination, focus on counteracting or addressing claims of victimage, emphasize alternative means of deliverance, and work to undermine the “champion” image sought by extremists.

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About Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Muhammad Haniff Bin Hassan is a Fellow. He holds a PhD and M.Sc. in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (previously known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies), Nanyang Technological University. He received his early education in Aljunied Islamic School. He then continued his tertiary education at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, National University of Malaysia, with honours in Syar`iah and Civil law. Mr. Haniff is also active in social activities as a member of the Islamic Religious Council Appeal Board, HSBC Insurance Islamic Advisory Board from 2000 to 2014, Association of Islamic Religious Teachers and Scholars of Singapore (PERGAS) and Management Committee of Al-Irsyad Islamic School. He writes extensively in Berita Harian (a local Malay newspaper) and has also published articles in The Straits Times. He has published six books in his name, co-authored a monograph and helped publish two books for PERGAS and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. His personal website in Malay is at www.haniff.sg

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