THE WISDOM FUND: Issues & Answers

Jihad and The Crusades

Prophet Muhammad
"The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of self."
"The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr."
Karen Armstrong, Muhammad - A Biography Of The Prophet
. . . there are also Christians there who feel it their duty to live alongside the oppressed and the destitute and engage in a dedicated struggle for a just and decent society. It is in this light that we should consider the Islamic jihad, which Westerners usually translate as 'holy war.' -- p. 165
James Carroll, The War Against Islam
The poison flower of the Crusades, with their denigrations of distant cultures, was colonialism. The dark result of European imperial adventuring in the Muslim world was twofold: first, the usual exploitation of native peoples and resources, with attendant destruction of culture, and, second, the powerful reaction among Muslims and Arab populations against colonialism, a reaction that included an internal corrupting of Islamic traditions. The accidental wealth of oil in the Middle East made both external exploitation and internal corruption absolutely ruinous. The political fanaticism that has lately seized the Arab Islamic religious imagination (exemplified in Osama bin Laden) is rooted more in a defensive fending off of assault from ''the West" than in anything intrinsic to Islam. The American war on terror, striking the worst notes of the old imperial insult, only exacerbates this reactionary fanaticism (generating, for example, legions of suicide bombers).
Washington Post, From U.S., the ABC's of Jihad
In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.

The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.

Huston Smith, The Illustrated World's Religions
Muslims report that the most inflexible image of Islam that they encounter in the West is that of a militant religion that has spread primarily by the sword. They see this as a prejudice, born of the thirteen hundred years in which Islam and Europe have shared common borders and much of the time fought over them. It is a stereotype forged by people who have seen Islam as their enemy.

Grant, Muslims say, that the Koran does not counsel turning the other cheek, or pacifism. It teaches forgiveness and the return of good for evil when circumstances warrant, but these do not add up to not resisting evil. The Quran allows punishment of wanton wrongdoers to the full extent of the injury done. Extend this principle to collective life and you have the principle of a just or holy war, which the Koran also endorses. But these do not warrant the charge of militancy.

As an outstanding general, Muhammad left many traditions regarding the decent conduct of war. Agreements are to be honored and treachery avoided; the wounded are not to be mutilated, nor the dead disfigured. Women, children, and the old are to be spared, as are orchards, crops, and scared objects. The towering question, though, is when war is justified. The Koran's definition of a Holy War is virtually identical with that of a Just War in the Canon Law of Catholicism. It must either be defensive or to right an horrendous wrong.

Moving from theory to practice, Muslims claim that in one instance the two coincided. Muhammad adhered meticulously to the charter he forged for Medina, which -- grounded as it was in the Koranic injunction, "Let there be no compulsion in religion (2:257) -- is arguably the first mandate for religious tolerance in human history. Muslims admit that this exemplary beginning was not sustained, but as no histories are exemplary, the question reduces to whether Islam's has been more militant than that of other religions. As the charge that it has been has come primarily form Christianity, its history will serve here as the point of reference.

In favor of Islam are the long centuries during which in India, Spain, and the Near East, Christians, Jews, and Hindus lived quietly and in freedom under Muslim rule. Even under the worst rulers, Christians and Jews held positions of influence and in general retained their religious freedom. It was Christians, not Muslims (we are reminded) who in the fifteenth century expelled the Jews from Spain where under Islamic rule they had enjoyed one of their golden ages. To press this example: Spain and Anatolia changed hands at about the same time -- Christians expelled the Moors from Spain while Muslims conquered what is now Turkey. Every Muslim was driven from Spain, or put to the sword, or forced to convert, whereas the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church remains in Istanbul to this day. Indeed, if comparisons are the issue, Muslims consider Christianity's record to be the darker of the two. Who was it, they ask, who preached the Crusades in the name of the Prince of Peace? Who instituted the inquisition, invented the rack and the stake as instruments of religion, and plunged Europe into its devastating wars of religion?

The safest generalization on which this discussion can end comes from the historians. Islam's record on the use of force is no darker than that of Christianity. -- p. 168-169

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India
. . . North Africa was torn with internecine conflicts between rival Christian factions, leading often to bloody struggles for mastery. The Christianity that was practised there at the time was narrow and intolerant and the contrast between this and the general toleration of the Moslem Arabs, with their message of human brotherhood, was marked. It was this that brought whole peoples, weary of Christian strife, to their side. . .

This frequent intercourse [trade and cultural relations] led to Indians getting to know the religion, Islam. Missionaries also came to spread the new faith and they were welcomed. Mosques were built. There was no objection raised either by the state or the people, nor were there any religious conflicts. . .

. . . The old Alexandrian schools had been closed by Christian bishops and their scholars had been driven out. Many of these exiles had drifted to Persia and elsewhere. They now found a welcome and a safe haven in Baghdad and they brought Greek philosophy and science and mathematics with them -- Plato and Aristotle, Ptolemy and Euclid. There were Nestorian and Jewish scholars and Indian physicians; philosophers and mathematicians. . .

Mahmud's raids are a big event in Indian history, . . . Above all they brought Islam, for the first time, to the accompaniment of ruthless military conquest. So far, for over 300 years, Islam had come peacefully as a religion and taken its place among the many religions of India without trouble or conflict. . . Yet when he [Mahmud] had established himself as a ruler . . . Hindus were appointed to high office in the army and the administration.

It is thus wrong and misleading to think of a Moslem invasion of India or of the Moslem period in India, just as it would be wrong to refer to the coming of the British to India as a Christian invasion, or to call the British period in India a Christian period. Islam did not invade India; it had come to India some centuries earlier. . .

As a warrior he [Akbar] conquered large parts of India, but his eyes were set on another and more enduring conquest, the conquest of the minds and hearts of the people. . . throughout his long reign of nearly fifty years from 1556 onwards he laboured to that end. -- p. 227 - 259

Indan Ambassador M. N. Masud, Understanding Islam
Why did they [the people of the largest Muslim country, Indonesia, an archipelago of some 3000 islands] embrace Islam? It could not have been force or the threat of it because, as far as I knew, not one Muslim soldier from abroad ever landed with a sword in his hand to conquer the heathen land. -- p. 2
M. J. Akbar, The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict Between Islam and Christianity
A Muslim does not have to live in a Muslim state, but he must have the right to live by his divine law; if that is denied, then he is in Dar al Harb, or the house of war, and jihad becomes obligatory upon him. -- p. 36
Jay Rubenstein, Crusade Vs. Jihad: Which Is Worse?
The earliest stories of Muslim atrocities committed against Christians, comparable to the First Crusade, in fact, did not occur until the end of the thirteenth century. . . . In short, they acted like a bunch of crusaders.
Akbar S. Ahmed, Living Islam
Foreigners who are aggressive, ignorant, barbaric and unwelcome. Foreigners who are forever advocating their way of life and prepared to advocate it by brawling and fighting; foreigners with embarrassing and uncouth manners. Are we talking of Muslim immigrants as seen by Europeans in the late twentieth century? No. These are Europeans almost a thousand years ago in the Muslim lands of the Middle East. They came as individuals and as armies and as soldiers of fortune.

Muslims were not their only target; local Christians and Jews were also among their victims. In one instance their behaviour plumbed new depths. It was in the St Sophia church in Istanbul. They violated women, drank, and stripped the church bare. An eyewitness of the fourth Crusade was horrified: 'I Geoffrey de Ville Hardouin, Martial of the court of Champagne, am sure that since the creation of the universe, a plundering worse than this has not been witnessed' (Efe 1987: 18). Compare this to Mehmet the conqueror's entry when, with humility and awe, he fell to his knees, taking the dust from the floor and wiping it on his turban as an act of devotion (Efe 1987). Christians here have a saying: 'Better the turban of a Turk than the tiara of the Pope.'

As for the unfortunate Jews, they would be massacred by the Christians on their way to the Crusades and massacred by them on their way back from the Crusades. Not surprisingly Muslims thought that here was a civilization doomed to barbarism and backwardness for ever. -- p. 64

Phillipe Delmas, The Rosy Future of War
The same Europe that we are now trumpeting as a model of pacifism has been built by wars, down to the last stone. In the sixteenth century Europe knew only ten years of peace, in the seventeenth century only four, and in the eighteenth century sixteen. From 1500 to 1800, Europe was at war 270 years out of 300, with a new war every three years. Austria and Sweden - models of pacifism - were at war every three years during these three centuries, Spain every four years, Poland and Russia every five. But maybe we are going too far back in time. The two World Wars - only recently fought - caused 100,000,000 deaths including 60,000,000 civilians. The Russian and Chinese Revolutions caused at least 50,000,000 more deaths; actually, historians have recently revised this upward to 100,000,000. As for the 146 little wars since 1945, they have discreetly exterminated close to 30,000,000 people, three-quarters of them civilians, and most of them in the name of the world powers. The most distant of these places had histories no different from ours [France]: over the course of its first six centuries of existence, China knew only seventeen years without war. In the course of its last century, China has endured Western colonialism, invasion by the Japanese, liberation, and successive Maoist revolution: all told, China has suffered an estimated 30,000,000 to 60,000,000 deaths. -- p. 148
Roger Garaudy, The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics

50 million people died during World War Il, of which 17 million were Russians and 9 million Germans. Poland too paid a heavy tribute, as did the other occupied countries of Europe, the millions of soldiers from Africa or Asia who had been mobilized for this war as they had been for the first, though they once more had nothing to do with the European rivalries that precipitated the conflict.

The Hitlerian domination was thus far more than the huge "pogrom", as Hannah Arendt described it, of which the Jews were the main if not the sole victims, as a certain form of propaganda would have us believe. Hitlerism was a human catastrophe which, unfortunately, had a precedent in the policy applied over five centuries by the European colonialists to "colored people". What Hitler did to white people, they did to the American Indians, of which they killed [75%] (also through forced labor and epidemics, even more than through massacres); just as they did to the Africans, of which they deported between 10 and 20 million, which means that Africa was robbed of 100 to 200 million of its inhabitants since ten people had to be killed for one to be taken alive during capture by the slave-dealers.

The myth suited everybody : to speak of the "greatest genocide in history" was for the Western colonialists to have their own crimes forgotten (the decimation of the American Indians and the African slave-trade), as it was a way for Stalin to mask his own ferocious repressions.

For the Anglo-American leaders, after the Dresden massacre of February 1945, which killed within a few hours some 200,000 civilians, burned alive by phosphorus bombs, for no military purpose since the German army was being pushed back all along the Eastern front before the lightning quick advance of theSoviet army, which had reached the Oder by January.

For the United States even more, which had just dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in "over 200,000 people killed and almost 150,000 injured, doomed within a given lapse of time."

Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues
Europeans "fought to kill," and they had the means to satisfy their blood lust. In the American colonies, the natives were astonished by the savagery of the Spanish and British. "Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the peoples of Indonesia were equally appalled by the all-destructive fury of European warfare," Parker adds. Europeans had put far behind them the days described by a 12th century Spanish pilgrim to Mecca, when "The warriors are engaged in their wars, while the people are at ease." The Europeans may have come to trade, but they stayed to conquer: "trade cannot be maintained without war, nor war without trade," one of the Dutch conquerors of the East Indies wrote in 1614. Only China and Japan were able to keep the West out at the time, because "they already knew the rules of the game." European domination of the world "relied critically upon the constant use of force," Parker writes: "It was thanks to their military superiority, rather than to any social, moral or natural advantage, that the white peoples of the world managed to create and control, however briefly, the first global hegemony in History."
Uri Avnery, Muhammads' Sword
For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian. . . .

THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

Washington W. Irving, Tales Of The Alhambra
As conquerors [Muslims], their heroism was equaled only by their moderation, and in both, for a time, they excelled the nations with whom they contended. Severed from their native homes, they loved the land given them as they supposed by Allah and strove to embellish it with everything that could administer to the happiness of man. Laying the foundations of their power in a system of wise and equitable laws, diligently cultivating the arts and sciences, and promoting agriculture, manufactures and commerce, they gradually formed an empire unrivaled for its prosperity by any of the empires of Christendom . . .

The cities of Arabian Spain became the resort of Christian artisans, to instruct themselves in the useful art. The Universities of Toledo, Cordova, Seville, Granada, were sought by the pale student from lands to acquaint himself with the sciences of the Arabs and the treasure lore of antiquity. -- p. 52

HRH, The Prince of Wales, Islam And The West
. . . we have underestimated the importance of 800 years of Islamic society and culture in Spain between the 8th and 15th centuries.

Many of the traits on which Europe prides itself came to it from Muslim Spain. Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, alternative medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities. Mediaeval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians to practice their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West.

John Haywood, Atlas of World History
As an inducement the papacy offered Crusaders spiritual and legal privileges. most important of which was remission of penances due for sin. This was popularly interpreted as a guarantee of immediate entry into heaven if the Crusader were to die on the expedition. -- p. 48
Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes
In Ma'ara our troops [i.e. the Franj, Franks, or Crusaders] boiled pagan adults in cooking pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled. -- p. 39

In the space of eighteen months three of the most renowned cities of the Arab world - Tripoli, Beirut, and Saida - had been taken and their inhabitants massacred or deported, their emirs, qadis, and experts on religious law killed or forced into exile, their mosques profaned. Could any power now prevent the Franj from pressing on to Tyre, Aleppo, Damascus, Cairo, Mosul, or - why not even Baghdad? Did any will to resist remain? Among the leaders, probably not. But among the population of the most seriously threatened cities, the relentless holy war waged for the past thirteen years by the pilgrim-fighters of the West was beginning to have its effect: the idea of jihad, which had long been no more than a slogan used to enliven official speeches, was being reasserted. Groups of refugees, poets, and even men of religion were preaching it anew. -- p. 81

John Edwards, History Today
On the second day of January [1492] I saw Your Highnesses' royal banners placed by force of arms on the towers of the Alhambra . . . and in the same month . . . Your Highness, as Catholic Christians and princes devoted to the holy Christian faith and the furtherance of its cause, and enemies of the sect of Mohammed and of all idolatry and heresy, resolved to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the . . . regions of India. -- vol. 42
Joan Acocella, Holy Smoke: What Were the Crusades Really About?
The Vatican wanted to get mightier and holier, and Urban II took on the job.

In 1095, he went on a tour of France, and one afternoon in Clermont he gave a sermon calling on Christians to journey to the East and reclaim the Holy Land. "A race absolutely alien to God," he said, was defiling Christian altars, raping Christian women, tying Christian men to posts and using them for archery practice. None of this was true, but it had the desired effect. First, as the postcolonial theorists would say, it "otherized" the Muslims. Second, it gave the European nobles a cause that could distract them from warring with their neighbors - a more or less daily occupation of knights in that period - and unite them, for a holy purpose. In the months that followed, at convocations across Europe, between sixty thousand and a hundred thousand people came forward and knelt to "take the Cross." . . .

By the Fourth Crusade, participants were guaranteed absolution of all confessed transgressions - in other words, a ticket straight to paradise. The arrangement that Urban offered to the men of the First Crusade is less clear, but they were promised "eternal rewards." So it was two in one: the knights could go on slaughtering people and get to Heaven thereby. That was "positive violence," and, according to Asbridge and Phillips, it was the motor of the Crusades.

President Bush, Evangelical Christians, and 'The Army of God'

Muslim scholars recast jihadists' favourite fatwa

A conference in Mardin in southeastern Turkey declared the fatwa by 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the world into a "house of Islam" and "house of unbelief" no longer applies.

The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

The Bible: King James Version

Quotations on "war" "sword" "kill" "slay"

back button