It’s a Matter of Intent

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.

Imperialistic

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.”

Colonialist

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.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

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.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

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.

 

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward- Question #17 – How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades?

answering jihad

 

This is the seventeenth in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen will cover eighteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week nineteen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 17 – How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades?

QURESHI RECALLS WAKING UP one morning to a tweet in which a disgruntled individual accused him of criticizing Islam inconsistently. If Christians fought in the Crusades, does that not show that Christianity is violent? If it doesn’t, then how could Qureshi accuse Islam of being violent?

crusades

Of course, this individual did not have the advantage of reading the previous sixteen chapters of Qureshi’s book before asking his question. By now [for those of you who have read the book, or have been following this weekly series] it should be clear there is a great difference between jihad and the Crusades. Jihad was commanded by Muhammad and the Qur’an, both in principle and in reality, whereas Jesus commanded no such thing as the Crusades, neither in principle nor in reality. Therefore, jihad reflects the religion of Islam, whereas the Crusades do not reflect the Christian faith. There is a significant difference between the two.

HOLY WAR

As was mentioned at the end of the previous chapter (Question #16), Jesus’ teachings on peace and violence were so clear that no Christian force entered into battle until after Christianity was assimilated into the Roman Empire in the fourth century. At that time, much that was culturally Roman coalesced with the Christian faith, and warfare began to gradually enter the Christian perspective.

By the turn of the fifth century, the question had become a serious one: Were Christians prohibited from all warfare, or might they engage in battle under certain circumstances? It was at this time that the Christian theologian Augustine began formulating a framework that would allow Christians to fight a just war. Providing stringent conditions, Augustine argued that fighting could fall within the will of God, but only as a necessary evil, an act that required penance. Many Christians adopted Augustine’s view, and for the next few centuries some fought under the banner of their faith with the understanding that they would have to repent as a result.

map of the crusades.jpg

So it was approximately four centuries after Jesus that Christians formulated a theology of acceptable warfare, but it took another seven centuries before Christians developed a concept of holy war. Just after the First Crusade was launched, the contemporary historian Guibert of Nogent remarked in his work, On the First Crusade, “God has instituted in our time holy wars, so that the order of knights and the crown running in their wake… might find a new way of gaining salvation.” No longer did warriors see themselves as committing sin when they fought; instead they saw their actions as meritorious, even salvific [i.e., leading to salvation].

salvationist

By contrast, Muhammad himself taught his warriors that fighting was salvific. According to Sahih al-Bukhari, “…the first army amongst my followers who will invade Caesar’s city will be forgiven their sins” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.56.2924). As Qureshi demonstrated in his answer to Question #4, Allah essentially made a bargain with Muslims. Death in battle would secure a mujahid’s station in heaven (9:1110).

So it was not until Christians were a thousand years removed from Jesus that they developed a theology of holy war, whereas Muhammad and the Qur’an themselves taught Muslims that fighting could lead to salvation. Holy war is in the very foundation of the Islamic faith.

THE NATURE OF THE CRUSADES

Some records of the Crusades depict Christians committing abominable acts. An example is Count Emicho’s slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland. A rogue Christian leader, Count Emicho systematically slaughtered and plundered innocent Jews against the behest of multiple Christian bishops. He asserted that his zeal was on account of the Jews’ mistreatment of Jesus, ignoring the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew.

Also jarring is the description of what crusaders did to Muslims after scaling the outer fortifications of Jerusalem, as recounted here in a translation of the Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum collected in R.G.D. Laffan’s Select Documents of European History:

Our men followed and pursued them, killing and hacking, as far as the temple of Solomon, and there was such a slaughter that our men were up to their ankles in the enemy’s blood… Entering the city, our pilgrims pursued and killed the Saracens [Muslims] up to the temple of Solomon. There the Saracens [Muslims] assembled and resisted fiercely all day, so that the whole temple flowed with their blood. At last the pagans were overcome and our men seized many men and women in the temple, killing them or keeping them alive as they saw fit… Then the crusaders scattered throughout the city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and houses full of all sorts of goods. Afterwards our men went rejoicing and weeping for joy to adore the sepulchre of our Savior Jesus and there discharged their debt to Him.

At then end of the fighting, the archbishop of Pisa and the count of St. Gilles wrote a letter to the Pope, an English translation of which has been produced by the University of Pennsylvania, boastfully describing their victory: “If you desire to know what was done with the enemy who were found there, know that in Solomon’s Porch and in his temple our men rode in the blood of the Saracens [Muslims] up to the knees of their horses.”

Qureshi writes, “Please allow me to be clear: I denounce these atrocities unequivocally. I am utterly against the courses of action that the crusaders took, as they demonstrated a disregard for the value of human life, a demonization of Jews and Muslims, and no grounding whatsoever in the teachings of Jesus. That said, the description in these accounts are clearly exaggerations, as there were not enough people in the entire world to create a knee-deep lake of blood in Jersusalem. We should not view this florid language as a precise fact.”

hands of peace

Qureshi believes it is important to be accurate about the historical context of the battle. John Esposito, professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, has denounced the First Crusade in his book, Islam: The Straight Path, using these terms: “Five centuries of peaceful coexistence elapsed before political events and an imperial-papal power play led to centuries-long series of so-called holy wars that pitted Christendom against Islam and left an enduring legacy of misunderstanding and distrust.” Professor Esposito’s sentiments may be admirable, but they’re based on fiction, a fiction that has taken hold of the popular understanding of the Crusades.

The reality is that Muhammad proclaimed war against Byzantine Christians, and his companions undertook the work of conquering Christian lands. Muslims had been subjugating Christian lands ever since the inception of Islam, just as the Qur’an commanded them. According to Crusade scholar Thomas Madden, in an article he wrote for the National Review shortly after September 22, 2001, “The crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christians world.”

This may bear repeating: Muslims had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world before the First Crusade. Islamic conquests were also often brutal. Qureshi shared one account of Muhammad’s companion ordering his soldiers to slaughter defenseless women and children in the chapter on Question #4. Here is another example from the Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu as Muslims were conquering the Bishop’s people:

[W]hen with great toil and exertion [the Muslims] had cast down the walls of the city, they forthwith made themselves masters of it, and put to the sword thousands of its inhabitants and soldiers, and they gained an enormous booty, and took the women and children captive and divided them amongst themselves, and they made that city a desolation.

This slaughter of men and enslavement of women and children follows Muhammad’s example in his treatment of the Quraayza Jews. Qureshi said, “Let us also not forget that Muslims often enlisted the captured boys in their slave armies, starting with the ghilman in the middle of the 800s, and later the mamluks. This practice became so deeply rooted in Islamic custom that, according to Daniel Pipes, sixteen of the seventeen preeminent Muslim dynasties in history systematically used slave-warriors.”

CONCLUSION

When we condemn the Crusades, we ought to do so in light of what they actually were: a defensive effort after much of the Christian world had been conquered by Muslims. Yet Qureshi does condemn the Crusades. The slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland and Muslims in Jerusalem was, in Qureshi’s opinion, unconscionable, especially since crusaders had taken on the name of Christ. If their efforts had represented the state and not the church, and had they been much more humane, Qureshi believes he might have felt differently. But instead he believes taking the symbol of the cross, on which Jesus died for his enemies, and turning it into a symbol for killing one’s enemies deserves to be condemned.

Qureshi said, “As a Christian, I am thankful it took a millennium for Christians to so distort Jesus’ teachings to support holy war. Had Christians engaged in such wars one hundred or two hundred years after Jesus’ death, perhaps the matter would be less clear-cut. As it is, there is little question. Jesus did not commission any concept of holy war, and it took Christians a thousand years to depart from the foundations of Christianity radically enough to engage in it.

By contrast, violent and offensive jihad is commanded in the Qur’an and we find corroborating traditions in the life of Muhammad. The foundations of Islam command Muslims to engage in holy war, offering them salvation if they die while fighting. It took Muslims 1,300 years to depart from the foundations of Islam so radically as to insist that Islam is a religion of peace.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #18–What Does Jesus Have to do With Jihad? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.