Black Markets and Islamist Power

The rise of militant jihadist groups is one of the greatest international security crises in the world today. In civil wars across the modern Muslim world, Islamist groups have emerged out of the ashes, surged dramatically to power, and routed their rivals on the battlefield. 

Toggle Display Demo

Read more

From North Africa to the Middle East to South Asia, these jihadist groups have seized large swaths of territory and consolidated political control over disparate ethnic and tribal communities. Out of the most broken and ungovernable places on earth, they have built radical new jihadist proto-states out of enduring anarchy. Why have these ideologically-inspired Islamists been able to build state-like polities out of enduring civil war stalemate, while so many other powerful armed groups have failed to gain similar traction? What makes jihadists win? In this book, Aisha Ahmad argues that behind the heat rhetoric, there are actually hard economic reasons behind Islamist success. By tracking the financial origins of jihadists in Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Mali, and Iraq she uncover the secret role an important but often-overlooked class plays in bringing Islamist groups to power: the local business community.

To uncover the hidden nexus between business and Islamist interests in civil war, Ahmad journeys into war-torn bazaars to meet with these jihadists and the smugglers who financed their rise to power. From the arms markets in the Pakistani border region to the street markets of Mogadishu, their stories reveal a powerful economic logic behind the rise of Islamist power in civil wars. Behind the fiery rhetoric and impassioned ideological claims is the cold hard cash of the local war economy. By bringing the reader from the mosque to the market, Ahmad explains exactly why business, far more than religion, explains the rise of militant Islamist power across the modern Muslim world.


Advanced Praise

Conducted under the most challenging circumstances, Aisha Ahmad’s path- breaking, creative, and unique eld research shows how the appeal of Islamist
armed groups can be as much economic as ideological. This very approachable book has lessons that should transform the way governments and campaigners
combat extremism.
— BARNETT R. RUBIN, Associate Director of the Center on International Cooperation, New York University, and former Senior Adviser to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, United States Department of State (2009-2013)
It is well known, yet often forgotten, that war does not just destroy; it also creates. Through remarkable fieldwork, this book shows how Islamist armed groups succeeded in supplying local business elites with both trust and order, thus helping them maximize their profits and gaining their allegiance. By exposing the extent to which political extremism relies on the pursuit of pro t, Aisha Ahmad deepens our understanding of these vexing convicts.
— STATHIS KALYVAS, Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science, Yale University
In this impressive volume based on remarkable, intrepid research, Aisha Ahmad lays bare the economic dynamics that undergird Islamist successes in civil wars, dynamics that arise out of the relationship between mosque and market. Beautifully written and compulsively readable, Jihad & Co. covers not only a unique and fascinating look at how civil war economies operate but also a powerful explanation of how the intersection of business and Islamist interests contribute to the rise of Islamist power in disordered societies.
— STEVEN MILLER, Director of the International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School of Government