Praise God—but First, the Market

Why some jihadist groups rise to power

“The most beloved of places to God are the mosques, and the most hated places to God are the markets.” —Muhammad

For the millions of Muslims who reject the odious interpretation of Islam advanced by militants, the great dilemma has been how groups like ISIS or the Taliban were able to come to power at all. How is it possible that local populations in which both women and men had previously been free had come to support movements that would curtail their freedoms, dictate their spiritual practice, rob women of the rights of full personhood, and brutally punish those who don’t fall in line? What is the common thread to explain their ascendancy to power in otherwise failed states?

It was a conundrum that Aisha Ahmad decided to investigate. An assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, she spent more than ten years travelling through some of the world’s fiercest political terrain to unravel the complex...