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It is nearly impossible to describe Muslim expansionism in the centuries following the death of the Prophet Muhammad - broadly undertaken in service of the Islamic doctrine of jihad - as being somehow compatible with modern norms of international relations, including self-determination and noninterference in the affairs of other states. To detractors, this seems to suggest a certain tension in modern Muslim thought that jihadist movements have been able to exploit. Modern Muslim intellectuals, that is, are forced to somehow reconcile an expansionist past, which was not only tolerated by early jurists interpreting Islam’s sacred texts but indeed exhorted by them as a duty of the Muslim community, with modern realities, where the jihad as it was historically understood has become something of an embarrassment. In so doing, the argument runs, they leave themselves exposed to the “literalist” claims of the jihadists, who can call up such sources at will and demonstrate the true Islamicity of their actions relative to modernists who can only rely on abstract principles and vague apologies that sound suspiciously Western.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the fallacy of this conclusion through the examination of “lone wolf” terrorism. This form of terrorism is quite relevant not only because of its inherent danger, but also because the methods of the lone wolf terrorist have been broadly accepted by a panoply of the most extreme Islamist organizations, very much including the so called Islamic State. I will show that even if early and medieval Muslim jurists hardly incorporated a worldview that rested on principles of mutual tolerance and respect toward other states and other religions, they nonetheless regarded the jihad as a fundamentally conservative doctrine, meant to preserve the Muslim state as it was and direct violence exclusively in external directions, in an organized and systematic attempt to expand what was known as the House of Islam into the universal Muslim state. The notion of lone wolf terrorism - individually directed and organized violence, executed beyond the meaningful control of the caliph - was entirely foreign. Moreover, it depends on deliberate violation of one of classical Islam's core concepts in international relations, that of respect for the terms of a covenant of security, or aman, when granted by a non-Muslim power to a Muslim or the reverse.