The Art of Jihad

Realism in Islamic Political Thought

By Malik Mufti

Subjects: Political Theory, Islam, Middle East Studies, History Of Philosophy
Hardcover : 9781438476377, 240 pages, October 2019
Paperback : 9781438476360, 240 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents

Transliteration Note

1. Competing Visions of Jihad

2. Imperial Foundations

3. The Political Turn in Islamic Philosophy

4. Ibn Khaldun's Synthesis

5. Contemporary Echoes


Identifies and traces the evolution of a forgotten “realist” tradition in medieval Islamic political thought, and considers the prospects for its revival in the context of the contemporary Middle East.


Now all but forgotten, there exists within medieval Islamic political thought a coherent "realist" tradition analogous to its Western counterpart. In The Art of Jihad, Malik Mufti begins by analyzing contemporary debates on jihad designed to highlight the lacuna occupied by realism in other cultures. He explicates the features of medieval Islamic realism; those it shares with realism everywhere—a focus on power, for example, or the ubiquity of human conflict—but also those features that are distinctive: its insistence on the political centrality of religion, its rejection of scientific certainty, its valorization of hierarchy, and its adherence to empire as the optimal ethico-political framework. These features are fleshed out through the writings of medieval political thinkers such as Ibn al-Muqaffa`, al-Jahiz, and the anonymous author of a seminal military manual, as well as political philosophers such as Ibn Rushd and Ibn Khaldun. Finally, Mufti explores the prospects for a revival of Islamic realism in the context of the political and intellectual upheavals currently besetting the Middle East.

Malik Mufti is Professor of Political Science at Tufts University. He is the author of Sovereign Creations: Pan-Arabism and Political Order in Syria and Iraq and Daring and Caution in Turkish Strategic Culture: Republic at Sea.


"Mufti provides an insightful examination of the neglected realist tradition in Islamic political thought … This scholarly book will be accessible to anyone with a basic knowledge of Islam or medieval political thought." — CHOICE

"There are few more important themes in Islamic political thought than the problem and status of jihad. Despite the great richness of the Islamic tradition, it is widely recognized that less progress has been made than one might hope in contending in a fruitful way with this phenomenon. This book is one of those rare works that offers a new way of looking at the matter." — Joshua Parens, author of An Islamic Philosophy of Virtuous Religions: Introducing Alfarabi