At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015, President Barack Obama brazenly criticized the “terrible deeds” committed in the name of Christ. “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” Obama said, hinting that individuals often hijack religion for their own murderous ends. He continued: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Obama’s right. Terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity. Very few Christians who know church history will deny this. However, the Inquisition and the Crusades are not the indictment of Christianity Obama thinks they are. For starters, the Crusades—despite their terrible organized cruelties—were a defensive war.
We typically consider intent when evaluating behavior. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns coordinated by those in power in Christianity in order to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. They had desecrated and destroyed the holiest of Christian sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity. They harassed, robbed, kidnapped, or killed Christian pilgrims visiting such holy places.
There would be eight official Crusades between 1095 A.D. and 1270 A.D., and many more unofficial battles. Contrary to common belief, people didn’t join the Crusades for plunder or financial gain. Most nobles who went on crusade lost their fortunes and many were killed.
THE MUSLIM WARS
No other major faith has combined religion with politics—church and state—as Islam has done during the last 1,500 years. Moreover, no other religion has been promoted and spread primarily through the sword as Islam has been. Frankly, Muslims glorify their early futuhat (or conquests), claiming that they were accomplished with the approval of Allah, who gave them the right to bring mankind under their rule.
Muslim wars of imperialist conquest have been waged against non-Muslim nations for nearly 1,500 years, over millions of square miles (significantly larger than the British Empire at its peak). The lust for Muslim imperialist conquest stretched from southern France to the Philippines, from Austria to Nigeria, and from central Asia to New Guinea. This is the classic definition of imperialism—”the policy and practice of seeking to dominate the economic and political affairs of weaker countries.”
Muslims were intent on establishing a central government (a caliphate), first at Damascus, and then at Baghdad—later at Cairo, and Istanbul. The local governors, judges, and other rulers were appointed by central imperial authorities for far off colonies. Sharia law was introduced as the supreme law, whether or not it was wanted by the indigenous people. Arabic was introduced as the official language, often wiping out the local language. Two classes of citizens were established: the native residents and the colonialist rulers.
WHERE JIHAD AND THE CRUSADES DIFFER
Comparing the Crusades with Islamic jihad can be somewhat tricky, mainly because of the historic context. Whereas the purpose of the Crusades was to regain and secure the Holy Land of Jerusalem—indeed, most activity took place in Jerusalem and the Levant—Islam has been waging jihad for over 1,500 years. Modern jihadists have adopted a policy of blind terror, striking indiscriminately at Western populations with a violence that is motivated by hatred, the need for retribution, and establishment of a worldwide Islamic caliphate. By contrast, the Crusades—no matter how terrible and regrettable they were—had as their objective the recovery and defense of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the most important holy place of Christianity, which had fallen into the hands of the Muslims in 637 A.D.
Here are several other notable differences between the Crusades and jihad.
- jihad has been routinely practiced since the beginning of Islam
- Jesus rejected—in word and in actions—all use of violence
- jihad predates the so-called Christian Holy Wars
- jihad was a matter of conquest
- the Crusades were a matter of recovery and defense
- jihad is intent on establishing Sharia in every territory it conquers
- Christianity is predicated upon free will
Islamic atrocities were not provoked by the Crusaders’ own reprehensible acts, but preceded them. Islamic jihad was not triggered by the Crusades; it preceded them. Domination is written into Islamic scripture. Surah 9:29 says, “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Subdued. That is the proper state, according to the Qur’an, for anyone who does not believe in Allah. Over the course of history, this process of “subduing” unbelievers has taken on a number of forms. Muslim armies were not above killing those they conquered who refused to “submit” to Islam. For example, Muhammad led his armies to slaughter hundreds of males of the Jewish Banu Qurayzah tribe in Medina. The men were beheaded and the women and children were taken into slavery. Millions of Hindus were massacred on the Indian subcontinent in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Muslims murdered 1.5 million Christian Armenians in 1915. According to Open Doors, USA, Muslims continue to murder Christians throughout the Middle East and North Africa today. Here is a link.
The extremist beliefs we’re seeing play out on the international stage today did not spring forth from a void, nor are these ideas merely the marginal opinions of a few fanatics. The principle dogma that they espouse—that Islam is the one true faith that will dominate the world; that Muslim rulers need to govern by Sharia law alone; that the Qur’an and Hadith contain the whole truth for determining the righteous life; that there is no separation between religion and the rest of life; and that Muslims are in a state of conflict with the unbelievers—have roots in discussions about Islamic law and theology that began soon after the death of Muhammad and that are supported by important segments of the clergy today.
Jihad is derived from the Arabic root for “struggle” and not from the usual word for war. This gives a clue to the significance that the Qur’an and the Hadith assign to it, for jihad was never meant to be warfare for the sake of national or personal gain, but rather struggle for the sake of God and on His path alone. Jihad thus has two basic meanings: the first deals with the internal struggle to follow God and do all that He has commanded. The second is to engage in an external struggle (fighting) with others to bring “the Truth” (Islam) to mankind. Jihad was never supposed to be about the forcible conversion of others to Islam—even though it came to that under some Islamic rulers—but rather about opening the doors to countries so that the oppressed people therein would be able to hear the Truth. Some scholars have said jihad is best translated “just war” rather than “holy war.”
The message of Islam is intricately intertwined with its messenger, Muhammad. Allegiance to one necessarily implies allegiance to the other. In fact, it is defined by it. According to Nabeel Qureshi, Muslims who question Allah—who might, for example, wonder about the interpretation of something said in the Qur’an in a study group—are usually tolerated by other Muslims, but questioning Muhammad is grounds for excommunication, or worse. Even though every Muslim would quickly admit that Muhammad is human, in theory fallible like any other man, they often revere him as flawless. Islam has accorded him the title al-Insan al-Kamil, “the man who has attained perfection.”
UNLIKE CHRISTIANITY, ISLAM DECLARED WAR ON SOCIETY AND CULTURE
Michael Youssef, in The Third Jihad, recounts growing up in a Christian home, third generation Protestant. His ancestors were Coptic (which means Egyptian) Christians who endured persecution and held on to their Christian beliefs despite the onslaught of Islam in the seventh century. Youssef said before the Muslim invasion, Christians accounted for nearly 85 percent of Egypt’s population. Today, there are only 10 million Christians in Egypt. The reason Coptic Christians went from being the dominant majority to an oppressed minority in Egypt is that the Muslim invaders from Arabia were Islamists.
Youssef noted, “They came to the people of Egypt and offered them a choice: either convert to Islam or be executed. Christians and Jews (whom the Koran [sic] calls People of the Book) were given a third option: They could choose to keep their original faith by paying the jizya tax—which is really a form of punishment for being a non-Muslim.” Paying the tax put such people under the protection of the Muslim state, but reduced them to second-class citizens in a condition of servitude.
As difficult as it may be for us to grasp, an Islamist envisions the perfect utopian society as a world ruled by a theocratic totalitarian state governed by the principles of the Qur’an. Of course, this would be a society so tightly controlled, so lacking in free will, that sin and vice would theoretically be impossible. This is why the Western concept of human freedom is so despised and considered decadent by Islamists. To provide some perspective, Youssef notes that CBS reporter Lara Logan, who has reported extensively from war zones in the Islamic world since 2002, once told an interviewer, “Islamic terrorists and jihadists that I have met over the years have all corrected me when I have said that Islam is a religion. They all tell me that Islam is a civilization. It’s not a religion.”
A HORRIFIC EXAMPLE
Few illustrations of Islamic jihad are more disturbing than the letters left by the leader of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. On September 28, 2001, the Washington Post published excerpts of a letter found in the luggage of Mohamed Atta, who was alleged to be the leader of the suicide bombers on 9/11. Copies of the five-page handwritten letter, released by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, also were found in luggage of other members of the terrorist team.
Even if Islamic scholars and media consultants do not agree with the doctrine of jihad or would change its definition, they cannot argue that the attackers and their leaders were unequivocal about what jihad involves. Their actions were jihad, based on the fatwa put out by five Islamic caliphates on February 23, 1998 against the United States.
The letters found in the suitcases included the following wording:
Read the Chapter of Tobah from the Qur’an. Think about what God has promised the good believers and the martyrs. Remember the battle of the prophet… against the infidels, as he went on building the Islamic state. You should engage in such things, you should pray, you should fast. You should ask God for guidance, you should ask God for help… Continue to pray throughout this night. Continue to recite the Qur’an. Purify your heart and clean it from all earthly matters. The time of fin and waste has gone. The time of judgment has arrived. Hence we need to utilize those few hours to ask God for forgiveness. You have to be convinced that those few hours that are left you in your life are very few. From there you will begin to live the happy life, the infinite paradise. Be optimistic. The prophet was always optimistic. Say your rakats and blow your breath on yourself and on your belongings. Always remember the verses that you would wish for death before you meet it if you only know what the reward after death will be. Everybody hates death, fears death. But only those, the believers who know the life after death and the reward after death, would be the ones who will be seeking death. Keep a very open mind, keep a very open heart of what you are to face. You will be entering paradise. You will be entering the happiest life, everlasting life. Keep in your mind that if you are plagued with a problem and how [you are] to get out of it. A believer is always plagued with problems… You will never enter paradise if you have not had a major problem. But only those who stood fast through it are the ones who will overcome it.
CHRISTIANITY VERSUS ISLAM
Some followers of Islam claim that the word Islam is Arabic for “peace.” How should we assess such a claim? Does Islam advocate world peace? Does it speak of unconditional love, inclusion, acceptance? Was its founder, Muhammad, a man of peace? Further, does Islam boast a history of peace, or is it riddled with a violent past? Admittedly, Christianity does not have a spotless past. What is important, however, is the Christian church has learned from its past. Additionally, Jesus condemned church-sponsored violence, admonishing Christians to love their enemies. There is no sermon in the Qur’an that compares to the words Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Christianity, we speak of surrendering our lives (our will and our hearts) to Jesus Christ. But there is a huge difference between the surrender that Christ calls us to and the surrender that Islam demands. When we surrender to Christ, He sets us free. We’re told in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (NIV). However, when a person converts—surrenders—to Islam, he becomes a slave to a vast array of rules, regulations, and religious laws, which must be kept to the letter. Amazingly, even absolute compliance with every single edict, which we know is humanly impossible, does not guarantee a Muslim will enter Paradise.
Islam actually means submission. Islam demands unconditional surrender and obedience. In addition, fundamentalist Islam demands that its followers bring the entire world into submission and surrender to Islam.
Christians who surrender their heart and their will to Jesus are eternally secure and free.
We cannot give in to the temptation to lump all religious violence together. Certainly, there are many incidents throughout the history of the Christian church that include war and violence. I do take issue, however, with Obama’s comment that situations in our country such as slavery and Jim Crow were often justified “in the name of Christ” was given out of context.
The Crusades were a series of military campaigns designed to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. These were defensive actions. To the contrary, jihadists have adopted a policy of blind terror, striking violently at Western civilizations with hatred, intent on establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate. It has been the intent if Islam since Muhammad first left Mecca for Medina.