Jihad in Dune

Jihad: Comparing the Fremen Revolt to Contemporary Islamic State


Dune, by Frank Herbert, deals with many major themes, including one of extreme suppression. For years, the Fremen have been suppressed by the Harkonnens and the Emperor. Their land, culture and religion had been wiped off after the Harkonnen rule, leading to the ultimate religious “Jihad” in the end of the book. In many ways, the Fremens’ revolt or “Jihad” resembles the contemporary Islamic State Jihad: the product of a genocide that continued unabated as the world stood back and watched. Even though the two Jihads, in Dune and contemporary Islam, serve different purposes, both of them are a result of oppression and domination. Since there are numerous jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, this essay will essentially focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and compare their rebellion and Jihad to the Fremens’ Jihad in Dune.

Jihad in Dune

The word “Jihad” in Dune merely means a struggle for justice against oppression, or a fight against evil by masses. Though the word is very close to the real meaning of its concept, it means something different in Islam. There are two different “Jihads” in Dune, occurring in two different time periods: one by the Fremen, and the Butlerian Jihad that happened 10,000 years before the events chronicled in the 1965 novel of Dune (Wikipedia, Butlerian Jihad).

The Fremen are deprived of their religion, culture, and are also outlawed into the harsh conditions of the desert, forcing them to conserve every single drop of water they have. The Harkonnen suppression forced them to live in extremely severe conditions that have deliberately made the Fremen stronger and more powerful. Their ultimate goal is to restore their traditions and value system, and make Arrakis a better planet for the upcoming generations to live in. Their final revolt against the Harkonnens and the Emperor branches from the very roots of suppression and violence. Paul Atreides foresees the deadly Jihad in one of his early prescient visions, but struggles to find a way to stop it from happening. Once the Fremen accept Paul to be their “Messiah” or religious leader, it empowers them to fight even more: to an extent that Paul himself couldn’t stop the bloody “Jihad”.

The Butlerian Jihad is mentioned many times in the novel Dune, including the appendix, which is an event in the back-story of Frank Herbert’s fictional Dune universe. The Butlerian Jihad or the “Great Revolt” is “two generations of chaos” (Herbert 813). This Jihad led to the outlawing of artificial intelligence and any kinds of computer-related technologies, because of the high dependency of mankind on machines. “Man may not be replaced,” was a new concept that was raised by the masses, and the repercussions of the Jihad created a huge gap in humanity’s quality of life, revolving around a need for humans to perform complex calculations and computations (Herbert 813). Science fiction studies by Lorenzo DiTommaso states that the Butlerian Jihad bought the Imperial technology to a “specialized and codified halt” (313). The revolt upheld religion over science and technology, and humanness over machines and computers.

Understanding Islam

“Islam” is derived from the Arabic word Aslam, which means submission, surrender, resignation and committing of oneself to the cause of Allah (Cowan, 1968: 424, 426). Another Arabic word that is the root word of Aslam is Salam, which is interpreted as safety, immunity, freedom, soundness, wellbeing, peacefulness, salutation or imperfection (Lane, 1978: 1415). “The social and spiritual goal of Islam involves the attainment of peace through absolute submission to the will of Allah” (Okon 171). A. R. I. Doi writes: "Islam means absolute submission to the creator and Lord. A Muslim is a believer whose faith is firm in him and believes in the absolute unity of God who watches all his activities. The entire message of Islam, therefore, is based on two fundamentals; faith (Iman) and right doing (Ihsan)."

The principles of Islam seem to vary widely in different sources: some portray Islam as a religion that is stands as divine mandate to convert humanity. “Islam does not accept the principles of religious freedom as embodied in international documents. It does not recognize the individual rights of citizens to exercise an option to embrace, or reject any religion” (Okon 171). While some portray Islam as a religion that “respects all of God’s apostles” and that Muslims must be respectful to those following other religions and provide them with protection ("Islamic Perspectives on the New Millennium" 20).

Rise of Islamic Jihadist Groups

The rise of Islamic Jihadists and rebel groups started subsequently after the Western colonization upon the Muslim world. The Crusades against Islam started as the early mid-thirteenth century, including the brutal capture of Jerusalem that left a long-lasting distrust and enmity between orthodox followers of Islam and the Western World. The rise of the United States as a global power after the Second World War and the European colonialism “bifurcated the subjected Muslim societies into secularist elites that were dedicated to the goal of modernization along Western lines, and Islamic clusters that were devoted to reforming and reorganizing their societies according to Islamic teachings” ("Islamic Perspectives on the New Millennium" 22).

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, other events of Western dominance and the Syrian civil war, it gave rise to several Islamic State Militant groups like ISIS and the Al-Nusra-Front.

Jihad and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Jihad is derived from the Arabic word J ah ada, which means "he strove or exerted himself against anything which is evil" (Doi, Hadith 1981:74). Jihad is a holy war waged in self-defence against all forms of ungodliness, oppression, inhumanity, tyranny and dictatorship (Okon 172). It is important to note how the Arabic etymology of “Jihad” fairly matches its original meaning resembled by contemporary acts of Islamic Jihadists: who use violence and fear to fight against oppression and inequality.

ISIS was one of the two major rebel factions that emerged in 2013, in the course of the Syrian civil war. Their major motivations include their opposition against the Sunni-dominant government and restore Islam to its lost glories by liberating it from the American dominance. The members of ISIS are said to have motives that are “similar, but in some cases they are diverse and contradictory” (Chulov, The Guardian). Chulov also states that their actual reason for joining the terror group had “little to do with their understanding of Islamic scripture or any sense of holy war.” However, some say themselves as victims of oppression, some as sons of dispossessed families whilst others saw themselves as cultural warriors. They were also mentioned to have a “humiliating loss of power” at the hands of the west in recent times, which ultimately led to their revolt (Chulov, The Guardian).

Jihad in other Science Fictions

Many science-fictional works borrow themes and settings from other science fiction novels. The concept of Jihad as a war against suppression and violence can be seen in many science fictional movies, like the Chronicles of Riddick or even the Hunger Games series. In both movies, we see a race or a group of people that are oppressed by others (Furians in Riddick and the 13 districts controlled by the Capitol in the Hunger Games). At the end of both the stories, we see how the suppressed race becomes stronger over the years, by living in harsh environments, and how their drive for liberation and equality ultimately helps revolt and overtake those above them, who were overpowering them all along.

Resemblance of ‘Jihad’ in Dune and in Islam

It is interesting to see how the Jihad in the book and the Islamic State Jihad rise from common roots of suppression, subjugation and violence. Just like the Fremen were deprived of their culture after they were taken to Arrakis and were suppressed by the Harkonnens, we see the how Muslims in Syria and Iraq were suppressed not only from Western forces, but also from internal conflicts between the dominant Sunni and the Shia Muslims. In both ways, their rebels are a resultant effect of a struggle between a ruthless state and a restive underclass.

Both the Jihads, in Dune and Islam, are violent and bloody and like the Fremens’ ultimate intentions to restore and promote their religion to the whole world, ISIS and other rebel groups also appear to endeavor to globalize Islam to the rest of the world.

ISIS has a huge number of foreign fighters from Europe and Africa, just like Paul (a foreigner) fights for the Fremen at the end.


The radicalization of Islam in recent times seems to have risen from years of suppression from the West, especially the US. Despite internal conflicts between the Shia and Sunni have caused the emergence of rebel groups like ISIS, their ultimate intentions not only seem to liberate themselves from any western influence or power and restore its Islamic traditions and beliefs, but also revolutionize and build a global Islamic Empire.


[1] Al-Tamimi, By Aymenn Jawad. "The Dawn of the Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham." The Dawn of the Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham 16 (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

[2] Jones, Seth and Seth G Jones. "Syria's Growing Jihad." Survival (London) 55.4 (08): 53; 53. Web.

[3] Okon, Etim E. "Jihad: Warfare and Territorial Expansion in Islam." Asian Social Science 9.5 (2013): 171-175. ProQuest Central. Web < http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/ass.v9n5p171 >.

[4] DiTommaso, Lorenzo. "History and Historical Effect in Frank Herbert's "Dune"." Science Fiction Studies 19.3 (1992): 311-325. Web .

[5] "Islamic Perspectives on the New Millennium." Google Books. Ed. Virginia Hooker. ISEAS Publications, 2004. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

[6] Chulov, Martin. "Why Isis Fights." The Guardian. N.p., 17 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. .

[7] "Syria: The Story of the Conflict - BBC News." BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. .

[8] Herbert, Frank. Dune. New York: Ace, 1999. Print.

[9] "Butlerian Jihad." Dune. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. .