This article addresses two sets of issues, one historical and thematic, the other contemporary. The first is the normative tradition on jihad of the sword and its expression in different contexts. The second is the relation of religion to the formation of policy, where historical Muslim doctrine and practice has produced a significantly different perspective on this relationship from that in the West. This complicates efforts at mutual understanding and conceptions of present-day radical Islamist militant discourses and practices. My aim will be to identify the main issues at stake so as to provide a meaningful outline for possible engagement.

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