Subject: Prof. Bernard Lewis: Jihad vs. Crusade: Learning the Lingo

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Source: Wall Street Journal
Type: Web Pointer; Web Sample
Date: 27 Sept 2001
Title: Prof. Bernard Lewis: Jihad vs. Crusade 


    Prof. Lewis's ScholarsBase has been updated to reflected
    his latest contributions. (eds.) 



Jihad vs. Crusade 
A historian's guide to the new war. 

Thursday, September 27, 2001 12:02 a.m. EDT 

President Bush's use of the term "crusade" in calling for a
powerful joint effort against terrorism was unfortunate, but
excusable. In Western usage, this word has long since lost its
original meaning of "a war for the cross," and many are
probably unaware that this is the derivation of the name. At
present, "crusade" almost always means simply a vigorous
campaign for a good cause. This cause may be political or
military, though this is rare; more commonly, it is social,
moral or environmental. In modern Western usage it is rarely if
ever religious.

Yet "crusade" still touches a raw nerve in the Middle East,
where the Crusades are seen and presented as early medieval
precursors of European imperialism--aggressive, expansionist
and predatory. I have no wish to defend or excuse the often
atrocious behavior of the crusaders, both in their countries of
origin and in the countries they invaded, but the imperialist
parallel is highly misleading. The Crusades could more
accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last
analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad--a failed attempt
to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a
Muslim holy war.

At the time of the Crusades, when the Holy Land and some
adjoining regions in Syria were conquered and for a while
ruled by invaders from Europe, there seems to have been little
awareness among Muslims of the nature of the movement that had
brought the Europeans to the region. The crusaders established
principalities in the Levant, which soon fitted into the
pattern of Levantine regional politics. Even the crusader
capture of Jerusalem aroused little attention at the time, and
appeals for help to various Muslim capitals brought no
response.  The real counter-crusade began when the
crusaders--very foolishly--began to harry and attack the
Muslim holy lands, namely the Hijaz in Arabia, containing the
holy cities of Mecca and Medina where Mohammed was born,
carried out his mission, and died. In the vast Arabic
historiography of the Crusades period, there is frequent
reference to these invaders, who are always called "Franks" or
"infidels." The words "Crusade" and "crusader" simply do not

They begin to occur with increasing frequency in the 19th
century, among modernized Arabic writers, as they became aware
of Western historiography in Western languages. By now they
are in common use. It is surely significant that Osama bin
Laden, in his declaration of jihad against the United States,
refers to the Americans as "crusaders" and lists their
presence in Arabia as their first and primary offense. Their
second offense is their use of Arabia as a base for their
attack on Iraq. The issue of Jerusalem and support for "the
petty state of the Jews" come third. 

The literal meaning of the Arabic word "jihad" is striving,
and its common use derives from the Koranic phrase "striving
in the path of God." Some Muslims, particularly in modern
times, have interpreted the duty of jihad in a spiritual and
moral sense.  The more common interpretation, and that of the
overwhelming majority of the classical jurists and
commentators, presents jihad as armed struggle for Islam
against infidels and apostates. Unlike "crusade," it has
retained its religious and military connotation into modern

Being a religious obligation, jihad is elaborately regulated
in sharia law, which discusses in minute detail such matters
as the opening, conduct, interruption and cessation of
hostilities, the treatment of prisoners and non-combatants,
the use of weapons, etc. In an offensive war, jihad is a
collective obligation of the entire community, and may
therefore be discharged by volunteers and professionals. In a
defensive war, it is an individual obligation of every
able-bodied Muslim. 

In his declaration of 1998, Osama bin Laden specifically
invokes this rule: "For more than seven years the United
States is occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its
territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its
rulers, humiliating its people, threatening its neighbors, and
using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight
against the neighboring Islamic peoples." In view of this, "to
kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is
an individual duty of every Muslim who can, in any country
where this is possible, until the Aqsa mosque and the Haram
mosque are freed from their grip, and until their armies,
shattered and broken-winged, depart from all the lands of
Islam, incapable of threatening any Muslim." 

Mohammed himself led the first jihad, in the wars of the
Muslims against the pagans in Arabia. The jihad continued
under his successors, with a series of wars that brought the
Middle East, including the Holy Land, under Arab Muslim rule
and then continued eastward into Asia, westward into Africa,
and three times into Europe--the Moors in Spain, the Tatars in
Russia, the Turks in the Balkans. The Crusade was part of the
European counterattack. The Christian re-conquest succeeded in
Spain, Russia and eventually the Balkans; it failed to recover
the Holy Land of Christendom. 

In Islamic usage the term martyrdom is normally interpreted to
mean death in a jihad, and the reward is eternal bliss,
described in some detail in early religious texts. Suicide is
another matter. 

Classical Islam in all its different forms and versions has
never permitted suicide. This is seen as a mortal sin, and
brings eternal punishment in the form of the unending
repetition of the act by which the suicide killed himself. The
classical jurists, in discussing the laws of war, distinguish
clearly between a soldier who faces certain death at the hands
of the enemy, and one who kills himself by his own hand. The
first goes to heaven, the other to hell. In recent years, some
jurists and scholars have blurred this distinction, and
promised the joys of paradise to the suicide bomber. Others
retain the more traditional view that suicide in any form is
totally forbidden. 

Similarly, the laws of jihad categorically preclude wanton and
indiscriminate slaughter. The warriors in the holy war are
urged not to harm non-combatants, women and children, "unless
they attack you first." Even such questions as missile and
chemical warfare are addressed, the first in relation to
mangonels and catapults, the other to the use of poison-tipped
arrows and poisoning enemy water supplies. Here the jurists
differ--some permit, some restrict, some forbid these forms of
warfare. A point on which they insist is the need for a clear
declaration of war before beginning hostilities, and for
proper warning before resuming hostilities after a truce. What
the classical jurists of Islam never remotely considered is
the kind of unprovoked, unannounced mass slaughter of
uninvolved civil populations that we saw in New York two weeks
ago. For this there is no precedent and no authority in Islam. 
Indeed it is difficult to find precedents even in the rich
annals of human wickedness.


Mr. Lewis is professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at
Princeton University. His most recent book is "A Middle East
Mosaic: Fragments of Life, Letters and History" (Random House,




         <>                                        <>
         <>  ... On that account: We ordained for  <>
         <>  the Children of Israel that if anyone <>
         <>  slew a person - unless it be for      <>
         <>  murder or for spreading mischief      <>
         <>  in the land - it would be as if       <>
         <>  he slew the whole people: and if      <>
         <>  any one saved a life, it would        <>
         <>  be as if he saved the life of         <>
         <>  the whole people.                     <>
         <>  Holy Qur'an, Surah al-Maidah 5:32.    <>
         <>  URL:       <>


         "And the mind - may God preserve you - is more prone to
         deep sleep than the eye. Neediest of sharpening
         than a sword. Poorest to treatment. Fastest to change.
         Its illness, the deadliest. Its doctors, the rarest.
         And its cure, the hardest. Whoever got a hold of it, before
         the spread of the disease, found his sake. Whoever tried to
         wrestle it after the spread would not find his
         sake. The greatest purpose of knowledge is the abundance
         of inspiring thoughts. Then, the ways to go about one's   
         needs are met." -- Al-Jahiz ("Puffy"), 9th Century Baghdad,
         Kitab at-Tarbi` wat-Tadweer ("Squaring the Circle"), p. 101,
         Edited by Prof. Charles Pellat, Institut Francais de 
         Damas, 1955.

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