Taking the Place of Martyrs: Afghans and Arabs Under the Banner of Islam

Arab Studies Journal, Vol. 20(1), Spring 2012, pp. 12-39

29 Pages Posted: 9 May 2013 Last revised: 28 Sep 2015


This article examines how so-called “Afghan Arabs” – Islamist activists drawn to war-torn Afghanistan in recent decades – reconciled their pan-Islamist commitments with the experience of doctrinal and cultural difference vis-à-vis Afghans. Previous approaches to transnational Islamist activism have tended to either uncritically assume a monolithic Muslim identity or posit a rigid dichotomy between fanatic “foreign fighters” and the relatively moderate “local Muslims” who they putatively seek to indoctrinate. Eschewing both types of reification, this article argues that pan-Islamist projects should not be understood as attempts to erase intra-Muslim differences, but rather as endeavors to process them. Afghan Arabs struggled to understand, evaluate, and respond to doctrinal and cultural differences in ways that often defied the conventional juxtaposition of radical Salafi Arabs versus moderate Sufi/Hanafi Afghans. Diverse longstanding discursive traditions in Islam – including discussions over miraculous events [karāmāt] and visitation of saints’ tombs [al-ziyāra] – provided common terms of reference that Arab activists and their Afghan counterparts could invoke to ensure that even contentious disputes could contribute to a shared project.

Keywords: Jihad, Afghanistan, Afghan Arabs, Islamic Mysticism, Militancy, al-Qa'ida, Islamism

Suggested Citation

Li, Darryl, Taking the Place of Martyrs: Afghans and Arabs Under the Banner of Islam. Arab Studies Journal, Vol. 20(1), Spring 2012, pp. 12-39, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2262478

Darryl Li (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1126 East 59th St
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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