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3 Reasons Why the Crusades Don’t Compare with Jihad

Categories Theology

andwering jihadSince 9/11, politicians and pundits have not only claimed Islam is a religion of peace, they’ve insisted Christianity is a religion of violence. Case in point: the Crusades.

Rodney Stark quotes such sentiments in God’s Battalions: “during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam.” (8)

But is this true?

In his new book Answering Jihad, Nabeel Qureshi brings clarity to comparisons between Christian Crusades and Islamic jihad. “If Christians fought in the Crusades," writes Qureshi, "does that not show that Christianity is violent? If it doesn’t, then how can I accuse Islam of being violent?” (132)

Of course, the question rests on the assumption the two—both the religions and their violent expressions—are comparable, even equatable. They aren’t, for at least three reasons.

Jesus Explicitly Taught Peace, the Quran Doesn’t

“If Islam’s final and most succinct commands on peace and violence can be found in surah 9 of the Quran, Jesus’ final and most succinct commands on peace and violence can be found in the Sermon on the Mount.” (126) What we find in each is striking.

For example, the Quran commands violence against enemies (9:5, 30 38–39, 41), but Jesus commands enemy-love: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:43–45) While Jesus connects enemy-love to salvation, Islam connects salvation to jihad, insisting “the sword wipes away sins.” (50)

Violence was part of Muhammed’s life and teaching: he waged war against Byzantine Christians and taught salvation by violence. In contrast “Jesus’ radical stance against violence coheres with the life he lived and the message he preached.” (131) By contrast, there is no room for violence in Jesus’ ethic.

The Crusades Don’t Reflect Christianity, Jihad Reflects Islam

In last week's column we addressed claims that Islam is a religion of peace. While not all Muslims are violent, Qureshi insists it would be neither thoughtful nor honest to claim Islam is devoid of violence. Instead, “jihad reflects the religion of Islam, whereas the Crusades do not reflect the Christian faith…Holy war is the very foundation of the Islamic faith.” (132, 134) Two Quranic passages illustrate:

"kill the polytheists wherever you find them, lay siege to them, take them captive, and sit in ambush for them everywhere. If they (convert to Islam) leave their way." (9:5)

"The Jews say ‘Ezra is the Son of God’ and the Christians say ‘Christ is the Son of God.’ These are the very words of their mouths, they imitate what disbelievers say before them. May Allah destroy them!" (9:30)

Unlike the Quran, there is no concept of holy war in the New Testament, primarily because Jesus did not commission anything conceptually similar to what the Quran and Muhammed did with jihad. Which means the Crusades departed from, rather than reflected, the Christian faith.

The Crusades Weren’t Commanded, Jihad Is

As Qureshi reveals, “jihad was commanded by Muhammed and the Quran, both in principle and in reality.” (132)

By contrast, "for the first 300 years after Jesus Christians never fought a single battle," reflecting his commands against violence. In fact, it took nearly a thousand years for his followers to radically depart from his teachings enough to engage it with the Crusades. Not so for Islam:

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. (137)

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“It should be clear there is a great difference between jihad and the Crusades.” (132)

Qureshi's book provides further insights into questions we’re all trying to answer when it comes to jihad. Engage Answering Jihad yourself to learn the truth about Islam and a better way forward for loving our Muslims neighbors.

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