Section Two: Comparison with Other Religions
An issue often brought up by Muslims (and the odd non-Muslim) seeking to legitimize jihad by force (hereinafter simply “jihad”) or to deflect criticism thereof, is the issue of holy war in Judaism and Christinity. The issue of holy war and violence in the Scriptures of Jews and Christians will be dealt with in a few days. Today we will discuss war in Judaism and the Crusades. (Scriptural issues will be dealt with in a later post.)
(This is the fourth version of this post: the last three were quite long. There is much to discuss when it comes to war in Judaism and Christianity, but simply not enough space to discuss them in detail here and then compare them to jihad. But as war in Judaism and Christianity are issues that are worth our attention and scrutiny, especially what with people revising history to demonize Jews and/or Christians or otherwise inaccurately protray war in Judaism and Christinity, it is a series I am thinking about doing later. Nevertheless, I apologize if the issues here are not more fully described.)
War in Judaism, which was mandated by God and, after the writing down of the Scriptures, had Biblical authority, was for the purpose of conquering, settling, and ruling the Holy Land (whose borders and distribution among the Hebrew tribes were explicitly set). Once the Holy Land was conquered, warmongering came to an end (with the exception of defense, which happened often). Or, to put it differently, wars of conquest came to a definitive end once the Holy Land was conquered, no more lands to be conquered.
This is in contrast to Islam in that there are no boundaries or borders for jihad. It is global or, in other words, will not come to an end until the whole world is under the political rule and influence of Islam. The purpose of war in Judaism and of jihad differ: war in Judaism was to claim land given to the Hebrews by God, and only that land He gave them, for the establishment of a homeland of the Hebrew people (who previously were homeless, geopolitically speaking); jihad in Islam is for the establishment of a global Islamic polity, wherein there is no issue of nationhood or homeland. This is an issue of tribal security and land versus a political system. French are supposed to stay in France but Communists or democrats or capitalists or socialists or whatnot are not confined to any borders. Same with Jews versus Islam. (This might underscore the fact that Islam is, traditionally, a political system or entity as well as a religious system, which makes it difficult for us to understand what Muslims do or how to make them more compatible with our values and standards.)
The Crusades began in 1095 when Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos begged Pope Urban II to send help to protect Constantinople from falling to the Muslim Seljuk Turks who were waging jihad against the Byzantine empire and were trying to conquer the Rome of the East. Although Byzantine emperors have previously asked popes for assistance, this is the first time Rome responded, whereupon began about three centuries of the Crusades.
The purpose of the Crusades was for the Cross of Jesus Christ or, in other words, for the interests of Christianity. In reality, the Crusades were mainly for the interests of Western (or Catholic) Christianity. The Muslims were only one of many targets. Crusaders attacked and fought with Orthodox Christians, European pagans, European rulers rebelling against the pope, and heretics. The purpose of the Crusades as being fundamentally for Christianity rather than against Islam may be perceived by the fact that in many cases popes, princes, kings, and other such people used all their authority and influence to make Crusaders fight in one of the Crusades closer to home rather than schlepping all the way to the Holy Land. As such, Crusades against rebellious rulers, heretics, and pagans had the same legitimacy and importance as those setting off against “the Turks”. Furthermore, the Crusades confined themselves to those areas of the current Middle East that the Christians were concerned with. Beyond that they did not venture. If they wanted to destroy Islam, they would have marched against Baghdad or the Arabian peninsula. They did nothing of the sort.
This is important to understand because of the widespread misconception, often held and spread by Muslims, that the Crusades were fundamentally against Islam or against Muslims. The Crusades are often portrayed by Muslims as a spontaneous attempt by European Christians to invade Muslim lands (to enrich themselves thereby) and destroy Islam and convert everyone to Christianity. The Crusades were launched because of jihad against Christians–the Crusades were, in a sense, wars in self-defense–and to secure the interests of Christianity elsewhere.
On the other hand, jihad has as its goal the conquest of the world, which attempt caused Emperor Alexios I Komnenos to ask for help, and which caused Pope Urban II to promote the defense of the Christian lands in the east. The Crusades were limited in scope (against certain targets), time (they came to an end around 1302), and area (the Levant and Europe). Jihad was and is universal, eternal, and global. Furthermore, jihad is more or less specifically against non-Muslim lands whereas the Crusades were far more limited: they were against certain people in certain areas and certain times. Once the Crusades came to an end, the issue was definitively closed. There will never be another Crusade. But jihad…that’s entirely a different case all together.
As such, it is not accurate or productive to compare jihad with war in Judaism or Christianity because jihad is very different from war in Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, if anything, such a comparison shows that Judaism and Christianity have a more peaceful and peace-loving character than Islam. (A classic and perfect example being the Muslims’ unprovoked jihad against the Byzantine empire and Christianity’s subsequent wars in defense.) Indeed, war in Judaism and Christianity can be said to be exceptions that prove the rule (here the rule being that Judaism and Christianity are peace-loving), which does not bode well for arguments by Muslims who bring such issues up. (Unfortunately, for the most part Muslims can depend on Jews and Christians being ignorant of these differences and facts.)