Steve Weissman&Herbert Krosney ‘The Islamic Bomb’ Published, 1981

The ‘Islamic bomb’ was introduced in the 1970’s and is perceived to be the desire for Pan-Islamic nuclear capability amongst Muslim countries. It is understood to be through the notions of religious ties, that the ‘Islamic bomb’ would be acquired.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Pakistani prime minister 1971-77) once said, ‘There was a Christian bomb, a Jewish bomb, and now a Hindu bomb. Why not an Islamic bomb?’ A statement as such certainly would raise concern particularly in Washington- Was Samuel Huntington correct in arguing that the fundamental problem for the West was Islam?  

It’s important to note that the motives of why states strive for nuclear capability are many and varied. Even in the case of states not proclaiming their intentions- it can be quite evident as to why they seek nuclear developments. Israel’s nuclear programme for example remains an open secret, but the state’s decision to pursue the bomb was most likely for national security; to negate the threat from its Arab neighbours in order to ensure the survival of a Jewish state. Yet in the case of Pakistan acquiring the bomb, ideology and religion was used to describe their motives; ultimately known as the ‘Islamic bomb’.

The ‘Islamic bomb’ was present in official discussions of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, amongst politicians, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was most likely out of this rhetoric that the ‘Islamic bomb’ came about. Even though Pakistani officials and the Pakistani media refused to accept that the ‘Islamic bomb’, (arguably unintentionally) stemmed from their rhetoric, they emphasised that the Pakistani nuclear programme was nothing more than an enterprise created for the state.

In 2011, Abdul Qadeer Khan; a key figure in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, stated, ‘Pakistan’s nuclear program has always been a target for Western propaganda and false accusations. I would like to make it clear that it was an Indian nuclear explosion in May 1974 that prompted our nuclear program, motivating me to return to Pakistan to help create a credible nuclear deterrent and save my country from Indian nuclear blackmail.’ (Without agreeing with individual or state justifications of their motives)- I would argue that a ‘Pakistani bomb’, and not an ‘Islamic bomb’, was created due to the threat to national security.

The ‘meme, was a ‘vessel containing not just alleged Muslim nuclear capability, but Libya’s ‘fanaticism’, Iraq’s socialist Ba’athism, Iran’s revolutionary ideology, Pakistan’s Military-Islamic thinking, and Middle-eastern terrorism.’- I think it is critical that when considering a concept as inclusive as the ‘Islamic bomb’, an understanding of its validity is needed. The ‘Islamic bomb’ as quoted above, entwined together ideology, politics, countries, religion- all too easily overstated. The reality being that an ‘Islamic bomb’ (if by which its conditions are as they have been proclaimed), is highly unlikely.

The Middle East (and South Asia) is generally often misunderstood. It is not simply a homogenous region of countries or nations combined together through their geographical location or religion. Rather, it consists of diversity concerning almost every aspect of civilisation; politics, culture, economics, society and religion.

The ‘bonds of faith’ between Islamic states that the supposed ‘Islamic bomb’ is based on, cannot simply be accepted as factual due to huge divisions. The disunity is evident within Muslim majority vs minority countries, within the divisions between Islamic scholars concerning scripture, and of course between Muslim themselves, just like any other faith. How is it then accurate to assume that it is through religious unity and through the bonds of faith between Muslim states that nuclear development will spread amongst the ‘Muslim world’?

In the 20th/21st century, what concerns both politics and Islam, by default, concerns the media. Religion in the modern world has become nowhere more prominent than in the case of Islam. ‘In the media, the ‘Islamic bomb’ threat became the reality, even if that reality was largely a manufactured one.’. Edward Said’s Orientalism emphasises the longstanding attitude towards Islam and the Orient in general; the media as an entity, it can be argued, has essentially become a driving force of hostility towards Islam and its associations; one of which is nuclear proliferation amongst Islamic states.

Jacques Hymans critiques the ‘exaggeration and overreaction’ by the US regarding the threat of nuclear proliferation. Although Hymans highlights the 2003 invasion of Iraq to cement his argument of perception and reality, I would argue that it can be applied to the concept of the ‘Islamic bomb’. He states that the fear generated was the ‘product of a misunderstanding of the past’– a reality that I believe has paved for perceptions of the ‘Islamic bomb’, particularly in the post 9/11 world.

Nuclear proliferation is, and should be assessed based on it being a global issue. It should be tackled on the premise of its root and proximate causes; political factors and not media backed assumptions. Scott Sagan explains that states will ‘seek the development of nuclear weapons when they face a military threat to their security, if they do not face such threats, they will remain non-nuclear states.’ Regarding nuclear aspirations, religious and ideological motives do not have a strong enough stance to validate the truthfulness behind the concept of the so called ‘Islamic bomb’.

Azhar Anam


Ali A. Mazrui. ‘Cultural Forces in World Politics’ Heincmann (1990). Accessed 25th November, 2016. Available at:,+a+Jewish+bomb,+and+now+a+Hindu+bomb.+Why+not+an+Islamic+bomb?&source=bl&ots=y5TYu9hbxY&sig=7tXZ7BrQq571nWdrdF95GCFnSh8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwibg6ir08nQAhXIDcAKHTnBDWMQ6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%98There%20was%20a%20Christian%20bomb%2C%20a%20Jewish%20bomb%2C%20and%20now%20a%20Hindu%20bomb.%20Why%20not%20an%20Islamic%20bomb%3F&f=false

Edward W. Said. ‘Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World’ Vintage Books (1997). Accessed 26th November, 2016. Available at:

Jacques E. C. Hymans. ‘The Threat of Nuclear Proliferation: Perception and Reality’ Ethics & International Affairs (2013): 281-298. Accessed 25th November, 2016. Available at:

Malcolm M. Craig. ‘Nuclear Sword of the Moslem World’? the United States, Britain, Pakistan, and the ‘Islamic Bomb’, 1977–80’. The International History Review (2016): 857-879. Accessed 25th November, 2016. Available at:

Newsweek. ‘Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan: My Nuclear Manifesto’ (2016) Accessed 25th November, 2016. Available at:

Sami Zubaida. ‘Beyond Islam: Anew Understanding of the Middle East’ Palgrave Macmillan (2011). Accessed 25th November, 2016. Available at:

Samuel P. Huntington. ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’ Foreign Affairs (1993): 22-49. Accessed 25th November, 2016. Available at:

Scott D. Sagan. ‘Why do states build Nuclear Weapons: Three models in search of a bomb’ International Security (1996): 54-86. Accessed 25th November, 2016. Available at:

The Diplomat. ‘Why Countries Build Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century’ (2013) Accessed 30th November, 2016. Available at:

Vartan Gregorian. ‘A Mosaic not a Monolith’ Brookings Institution’s Press (2003). Accessed 25th November, 2016. Available at:



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