How Jihad War Doctrine in Sunni and Shiite Islam Are Equivalent

Shia and Sunni doctrines on jihad are fundamentally the same. 1 Even the so-called “requirement” for the “hidden” Shia Imam’s “consent” to wage jihad, was already argued away regarding “defensive jihad” by Abu Jaffar al-Tusi during the 11th century as the Shia of Iraq were beset by the Sunni Seljuk Turks. 2 This position was reiterated in the 13th century by al-Hilli. 3 These legists maintained—in a deliberately vague and elastic formulation—that Shia Muslims could be summoned to jihad by the Imam’s so-called “designee(s)”—which came to mean the “fuqaha,” or doctors of the (Shiite) Muslim Law. 4 With the advent, at the outset of the 16th century, of the very aggressive Shiite Safavid theocracy under Shah Ismail, who claimed direct descent from the Imams, we see  “non-fuqaha” rulers declaring unabashed offensive, expansionist jihad throughout this dynasty. 5

Demonstrating how Safavid Shi’ite jurisprudence was in agreement with the Sunni consensus on the basic nature of jihad war, including offensive jihad, here is an excerpt from the Jami-i-Abbasi [the popular Persian manual of Shi’a Law] written by al-Amili (d.1622), a distinguished theologian under Shah Abbas I: 6

Islamic Holy war [jihad] against followers of other religions, such as Jews, is required unless they convert to Islam or pay the poll tax.

The 18th century Qajar Shiite theocratic dynasty saw the role of declaring jihad—again, including offensive, expansionist jihad—restored in theory to the Shiite fuqaha. 7 Finally re-emphasizing how such campaigns under the both Safavids and Qajars no longer required endorsement by the Imam, an early 18th century Qajar treatise on jihad states, “It is possible to say that jihad during the Imam’s concealment is more praiseworthy than during his presence.” 8


1. Andrew Bostom. The Legacy of Jihad, Amherst, N.Y., 2005, p. 28

2. Etan Kohlberg, “The Development of the Imami Shi’i Doctrine of Jihad”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 1976, 126, 64–86; pp. 80-81.

3. Ibid. p. 80

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid. p. 81; also The Legacy of Jihad, pp. 28,88, 213-220, 620-622.

6. The Legacy of Jihad, p. 28.

7. Kohlberg, “The Development of the Imami Shi’i Doctrine of Jihad”, pp. 81-83.

8. Ibid. p. 83.

Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism " (Prometheus, November, 2008) You can contact Dr. Bostom at

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