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Religion’s impact on the mind of a Terrorist


This week we’ll take a look at the impact religion has on individuals that carry out violent acts (terrorism) in support of their theological views. For this week’s article, I would like to tackle it from two directions. One direction will be how religion, in general, can impact the mindset of a terrorist. Second, I will address how Islam can impact the mind of a terrorist as it did in the assassination of Mr. Taseer (Geopolitical Diary, 2011).
*Note: This article is part of a larger study on the above assassination.

The subject of this article is one that I have spent a good bit of time studying over the years. I spent the first 32 years of my life as an atheist and then became a Christian. This background has allowed me the interesting perspective of understanding the logic from both sides of the fence so to speak. One consistent flaw I’ve found on both sides (secular and religious) is the attempt to present or understand an issue to the other side from one’s own perspective.  This is very relevant to understanding the physiological and behavioral effects on the religion based terrorist, as an attempt to understand it from a secular view will lead to an inadequate understanding. For instance trying to understand the actions of a suicide bomber from a secular perspective would likely lead to a conclusion they are insane or depressed, which is not typically the case. Rather the analyst must step into the mind of a believer to better understand the psyche involved. When looked at through this lens it is not nearly as hard to understand the logic behind it.

Religion to its followers is a fact, not a possibility. This is significant in understanding the terrorist actions and motivations behind them. Specifically to this topic, it is critical in understanding the psychological and behavioral influence religion has on the adherents. Religion subjugates its followers to its doctrine. Theological considerations aside, this can have a positive or negative influence on action dependent on the narrative. A positive example would be that of charitable deeds, while a negative influence would be that of obligatory killing. In the believers mind all actions are justified by the highest authority (their respective deity) and those who attempt to oppress such action are working against the will of god. From their perspective, it really is an “us vs. them” scenario (Cinoğlu, 2010, p. 204). In the (strong) believers mind the threat of ridicule, incarceration, and even death are minute when their eternal destiny is hanging in the balance of their current deeds.

It would be expected with the above understanding that a believer’s behavior will correspondingly reflect the doctrines of belief and scriptural guidance. Religion is an excellent tool for the crafty leader to utilize in the advancement of agenda. Essentially if you can convict followers to a religious belief you have summoned the authority of god to endorse the effort. This can be and has been done with virtually all religions (Hoffman, 2006, p. 82). That being said, Islam poses a challenge not typically seen with other religions as its founder (and prophet) was a great established warrior and set precedence for all followers (Sunnah).

One great challenge with Islam is the religious bent toward domination by conversion, subjugation or violence. While many apologists distort the Qur’an and other (Islamic) holy text to argue otherwise; Muhammad (or Allah) was very clear on these points. For instance, I recently read an article that references a Qur’an verse in an attempt to validate the religion as being against killing (Cinoğlu, 2010). The verse used (a common one by apologist) is taken out of context and disregards that it is clearly directed towards Jews as well has attached stipulations (Qur’an, p. 5:32). Furthermore, many often cited verses displaying peaceful compromise are abrogated by the prophet later in his ministry; a practice he clearly articulated in Surah 2:106. This rule of abrogation is a point of contention among many Muslim sects and further allows bending scripture to fit agenda.  My intent is not to attack Islam, but rather approach it objectively. It teaches what it teaches, whether that message is wrong or right hinges on whether it is the one true religion as it claims. That particular question is beyond the scope of this article and unnecessary for analyzing the impact religion has on its followers.

Two critical things that are historical and accepted documented fact contribute to this dilemma. First, In Islam Muhammad represents the ideal Muslim. Second, after establishing Islam (approx. 13 years) Muhammad on average waged 9 battles a year until his death (Qur’an). To be clear in my post here, I’m not making the claim that all Muslims are terrorists. As with any religion, you have varying doctrinal views and adherence. What I am saying is that it is very difficult to condemn terrorist actions within the parameters of the religion. This is especially difficult to do on acts that are conducted against non-Muslims as compared to acts against other Muslims. That being said, even Muslim on Muslim violence is hard to decry as the conducting side has likely deemed the victim as a heretic or apostate. The punishment for both is death as clearly dictated in the Qur’an as well as other accepted texts (Hadith) (Qur’an, p. 4:89). From the radicalized Muslim perspective, it is obligatory to ensure the Islamic Ummah is established as the dominant (single) religion in the world. The radical desires to please Allah with his personal sacrifice in that endeavor, he trusts and rests his destiny in Allah’s will and most encouragingly he has the promise of heavenly prestige and reward if he dies in that cause. In a religion that heavenly judgment is based on works scale the appeal of a judgment exemption has to be an enticing offer.



Cinoğlu, H. (2010). A sociological understanding of the relationship between terrorism and religion. International Journal Of Human Sciences , 199-209.

Geopolitical Diary. (2011). Pakistan’s Deadly Struggles with Politics and Religion. Geopolitical Diary.

History.com Staff. (2010). The Real Robin Hood. Retrieved from History.com: http://www.history.com/topics/british-history/robin-hood

Hoffman, B. (2006). Inside Terrorism. Columbia University Press.

Qur’an. (n.d.).