Towards a Definition of Terrorism 2

Furthermore, we have the requirements of the Islamic ethical system which consists of concepts unknown to positive law yet are deeply-rooted in this system. Lying may, for instance, reach the degree of a major sin and so may calumny. We thus find that Islam seeks earnestly to protect all kinds of true human freedoms, and to defend the dignity of the individual and society, as well as the cohesion of society and integrity of the family, considering any attack on them to be an atrocious crime liable to the sternest punishment which may go as far as execution, crucifixion and the like.

Islam upholds the principle of personal responsibility and considers any attack on innocent people as a major crime. It focuses on the defense of the weak, the humble and the oppressed and enjoins jihad for their protection: “And why should you not fight for the cause of Allah, and for the helpless old men and women....” (1)

The Muslim is required to always stand up for the oppressed until they get their rights. Imam 'Ali (A) gave this advice to his two sons: Be opponents of the oppressor and defenders of the oppressed.

He also said: To me the lowly are noble until I get their rights for them, and the powerful are weak until I get such rights from them. Perhaps the mention in the Holy Qur'an of the blessing of security:

“And hath made them safe from fear” (2)

is the best proof of the importance it attaches to security.

However, it would take too long to elaborate on all the related matters. Nevertheless we wish to state that the first criterion for identifying humaneness is the intention of the perpetrator and the general acceptability of his act is Din with all its spirit, laws and concepts.

Turning our attention to the second framework, namely the general human framework, we can accept those principles that are unanimously respected by mankind as represented by its official organs, its popular organizations, its conscience and sentiments, as another set of criteria to determine the presence of humaneness or its opposite in the intention of the perpetrator, and of the above-mentioned general acceptability (although we believe the two criteria to be mostly overlapping).

As an example of the foregoing, we may notice the present unanimity of mankind in considering the following as inhuman:

• prostitution and the disintegration of family relationships;

• narcotics and the disintegration of individual's rational personality;

• colonialism and the undermining of peoples' dignity and plundering of their resources;

• racism and the disintegration of human brotherhood;

• violation of all recognized rights and the breaking of covenants:

• bombardment of populated areas, use of chemical weapons. attacks on civil aviation, national railways, commercial and tourist vessels, and similar methods which are universally condemned in war.

There is no divergence whatsoever as regards the anti-human nature of the above instances. Therefore, these and similar violations suggest the acceptable criteria which should form the basis of our definition, and any act to eliminate and oppose them is a human act which must be supported if itself not accompanied by violation of other human values.

Fourth Point: Definition of Terrorism

In the light of the above, we can arrive at a comprehensive definition of terrorist acts, a definition which is unanimously acceptable and on which we can base our positions. Yet before putting forth our suggested definition, we may recall that we should note therein the following elements:

• intimidation and violation of security of any kind;

• presence of inhuman intention and motive;

• unacceptability of the end and purpose and the act itself by humanity.

Accordingly, our definition may be as follows: Terrorism is an act carried out to achieve an inhuman and corrupt (mufsid) objective, and involving threat to security of any kind, and violation of rights acknowledged by religion and mankind. For the sake of clarity, we may add the following points:

1. We have used the term 'human' instead of 'international' for the sake of wider consensus, official or otherwise, so as to emphasize the general human character of the statement.

2. We have introduced the epithet 'corrupt' (mufsid) to connote the attribute accompanying inhuman objectives, i.e. the spreading of corruption in the land, and to include the imperative to avoid such objectives.

3. We have referred to various types of terrorism with the phrase; “security of any kind”.

4. We have mentioned the two criteria, i.e. religious and human, first to be consistent with our belief and then to generalize the criterion.

5. As may be noticed, the fact that an operation is violent does not constitute a condition for considering it a case of terrorism. In the light of the above definition, we shall be able to ascertain the nature of one act or another and determine whether it is a case of terrorism. We shall confirm that the definition does not apply to the following:

a. acts of national resistance exercised against occupying forces, colonizers and usurpers;

b. resistance of peoples against cliques imposed on them by the force of arms;

c. rejection of dictatorships and other forms of despotism and efforts to undermine their institutions;

d. resistance against racial discrimination and attacks on the latter's strongholds;

e. retaliation against any aggression if there is no other alternative.

Similarly, the definition does not apply to any democratic action unaccompanied by terrorism even if it does not have a humane objective. Nor does it apply to individual destructive acts if they have no social effects. The above definition, however, does apply to the following:

a. acts of piracy on land, air and sea;

b. all colonialist operations including wars and military expeditions;

c. all dictatorial acts against peoples and all forms of protection of dictatorships, not to mention their imposition on nations;

d. all military methods contrary to human practice, such as the use of chemical weapons, the shelling of civilian populated areas, the blowing up of homes, the displacement of civilians, etc.;

e. all types of pollution of geographical, cultural and informational environment. Indeed, intellectual terrorism may be one of the most dangerous types of terrorism;

f. all moves that undermine adversely affect the condition of international or national economy, adversely affect the condition of the poor and the deprived, deepen up nations with the shackles of socio-economic gaps, and chain up nations with the shackles of exorbitant debts;

g. all conspiratorial acts aimed at crushing the determination of nations for liberation and independence, and imposing disgraceful pacts on them.

The list of examples that fit in with the suggested definition is almost endless.

Fifth Point

Although many meetings have been held and many attempts made to combat terrorism, they have generally failed because of the following reasons:

- They were not based on international human considerations but were aimed primarily at achieving narrow interests.

- They did not deal with the circumstances that generate terrorism, nor did they seek the real motives of terrorism. It is indeed comical that the United States of America, which is the mother of international terrorism, and the author of all the circumstances of oppression and subjection of peoples, by strengthening dictatorial regimes and supporting occupation of territories and savage attacks on civilian areas, etc. should seek to convene symposia on combating “terrorism”, i.e. any act that conflicts with its imperialist interests.

Killing a person in a forest is an unforgivable sin, But the massacre of a peaceful nation is a debatable question.

At any rate, the real cure of terrorism - acts of individual terrorism in particular - consists, in our view, in removing the conditions that have brought it about.

Islam, in its treatment of all cases of deviation, strongly stresses this aspect. It seeks first to reform the social atmosphere and eliminate all inducements to crime. It also emphasizes self-restraint through education of the innermost soul and through giving the latter a unique human mould that causes it to spontaneously shun any transgression of prescribed human norms and rules by the Shari'ah. In addition, Islam does not omit to lay down a comprehensive, realistic and flexible code of sanctions that deals with facts according to their social effects.

Going back to our current reality, we must seek the prevalence of a just system and prevent aggression and encroachment upon other peoples' rights. Under such circumstances when a person allows himself to be induced to commit terrorism or aggression, the whole mankind will stand up against him. If, however, we fail to fulfil this standard, all our treatments will be local and palliative; though they may alleviate pain, they will not eradicate the cause of the disease.

The Author: Ayatullah Shaykh Muhammad 'Ali Taskhiri



1. The Holy Quran 4:75

2. The Holy Quran 106:4