Since the dawn of time when man first walked the earth – before civilization or cities, before human conception of god or divinity, there was WAR.

It can be argued that the first spark of intelligence triggered the creation of god – a physical manifestation of the divine. But homo sapien has been waging war even before he conceptualized divinity. A wood club or a sharpened stone was man’s weapon, his savior & source of his power. The weapon & the ability to use it allowed him to survive. He grew in power and status by using these weapons in an organized manner against his fellow man – by waging WAR.  Before man knew how to think, he knew war and strife. As the first spark of intelligence in man spread to become a raging fire of discovery and innovation, his search for reason to justify the brutality incumbent in the waging of wars intensified. How could man justify the violence and then resume life after perpetrating brutality on his fellow man? This search led humanity back to religion and god. God became the reason to hate and religion gave the justification to wage war. From religion rose the concept of a “HOLY WAR” – righteous violence against a people deemed enemy – by religion and demands of a ruthless, bloodthirsty god.

Human history is replete with examples of genocidal massacres, of extermination of civilizations, of extinction of cultures – all justified as righteous or holy war. The term “just war” was first coined by Aristotle to convey the idea of war as a means to secure peace and prosperity through self-defense against conquest of barbaric civilizations.


Violence of Christianity & Islam form the history of war and religion. Monotheistic religious dogma demands waging of war and that war is called as a righteous war, a holy war , crusade or now presently a jihad.


Are these wars truly righteous or simply holy wars? What are the characteristics that differentiate a jihad or a crusade from a righteous war?

JIHAD & CRUSADES – The concept of a Just War/Holy War posits that under a given set of circumstances, it is permitted and sometimes obligatory, to wage war. This idea has pervaded the philosophical traditions & theological discourse in both Christianity and Islam.  Crusade (often conflated with Holy War) & Jihad was justified on basis of an intuitive sense that the 2 ends of moral spectrum – pacifism & total war were impractical and unsupported by logic. To justify jihad or crusade, their adherents asked similar questions regarding the reasons for war (jus ad bellum) & the means to conduct the war (jus in bello)Jihad or Crusade enjoy a theological & scholarly consensus. Passing of time has not dimmed this consensus. The reasons for holy wars evolved with time but ironically the Jihad war doctrine and the Just war doctrine remained in consensus through the ages and philosophical theories of the ages.

Origin of holy war theories can be traced back to writings of Bishop Augustine of Hippo (430CE). His writings were simply a coherent enumeration of reasons for waging of wars. He derived many of his theories for the existing theories from Old Testament, Roman Law & Cicero’s philosophical works.

For a religious war to be declared it is essential that the declaration comes from the religious leadership and that the leadership must be absolute. During the 1st millennium of Christianity, the Roman pope acted as the infallible Vicar of Christ on earth for all Christians. Even after the Great Schism that produced the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church and until the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation that began in the 15th century, European Christians faithfully followed their leaders within the Church.

The question of religious leadership in Islam, on the other hand, has been a point of contention since the fourth and final caliphate ended in a civil war or the first fitna, that created permanent divisions in Islam. However all schools and Fiqras of islam concur in the concept of Fiqh (Jurisprudence) guided by a Shar’ia. Traditionally, fiqh consists of four main elements; in order of decreasing
authority and importance,
the Qur‟an, the sunnah, ijma‟, and qiyas. (Ijma” is the consensus reached by the ulema (clergy), Qiyas is the derivative reasoning on religious issues).

The consensus (ijema) of early muslim jurists principles of a Just War (Jihad) based on principles elucidated in the Augustinian tradition of Just War. In both Early islamic and medieval christian thought, jus ad bellum required

  • just cause,
  • legitimate authority, and
  • right intention

But jus in bello provided some exclusion of noncombatants from intentional harm. These elements describe the context of religious ethical rulings on warfare at time of the Crusades & Jihad.

War was almost a legal practice under Roman law, with “just cause” as a chief contributor to Just War theory. After Emperor Constantine was baptized in 313 C.E., Saint Ambrose christianized Cicero‟s De Officiis, combining christian morality and the previously established Roman ethics to offer the basis of Just Wars.

On the other hand Sayid Qtub in his work “Milestones” derives extensively from the Just/Holy war concept of christianity and the edicts from his own religion to propose a comprehensive treatise on imperialism and holy war. He combined the two into an ideology of total war of expansionism – of destroying Dar-ul-harb (land of war/non muslims) and expanding Dar-ul-islam (land under rule of islam)


The arabic root j-h-d forms the word Jihad. It literally means struggle. From the rise of islam, creation and expansion of the muslim community, jihad has played a central role. However the meaning of Jihad, has over time and as a subjective term, has changed many times. However, one meaning has remained constant – waging war against the oppressor (kaffir, by rejecting the call of islam becomes the oppressor).

During the Meccan Period, Jihad meant non violent struggle to maintain faith and to disseminate islam among nonbelievers. But the meaning changes dramatically after the Hijr of 622 CE to Medina. The references to Jihad increases during the Medina period. During this period a new aspect is added to the term – Qital (fighting) – 22:39-40. This broadening of the semantics of Jihad to include qital allowed muslims to retaliate with force against those who attack or persecute them. Subsequent verses like 2:190-91 convert concept of self defence into an obligation using the argument that “oppression is worse than killing”. After 8 years of tribal wars with early muslims and their polytheistic arab tribals, medina jews and byzantines, the Book combined a war of conversion (9:5, Known as the Sword Verse) against all remaining polytheists with a war of subjugation against non muslims (9:29)

Jurists’ focused on what may be called the Expansionist jihad. The religious head, the imam was “obliged” to undertake jihad whenever the conditions of the islamic state permitted him to attack dar-ul-harb and bring its lands and peoples into dar-ul-Islam . This was a collective duty of the muslim community (fard kifaya),

By making waging of Jihad obligatory it forced all adherents to the faith into a state of permanent war of expansion. However the expansionist streak was hidden behind a series presumed choices that were offered to the inhabitants of dar-ul-harb.

Before any jihadi attack, the kaffirs, the murtads, the polytheists are offered a typical “Hobson’s Choice”.

Accept Islam – in which case no further action against them was permissible. Refusal – they are offered dhimmi status incumbent upon them not building or repairing their temples, not doing anything to offend muslims and paying jiziya (a tax that can only be accepted by the muslim after duly humiliating the dhimmi). This option, initially pertained to Jews and Christians but was steadily expanded to include Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists as the Islamic frontiers expanded.

Only the polytheist Arabs who fought against the founder of the faith were excluded from the dhimmi option. They had only one option – Convert or Die.

The second type of Jihad is the defensive Jihad. muslims are enjoined to rise in defense of their faith. This is not a choice but an obligation (fard’ayn). They HAVE to fight to defend the dar-ul-islam from aggression or threat – real but more often, perceived threats or slights. The theory of defensive jihad was developed in periods spanning the crusades – when 2 monotheistic faiths fought 3 wars to a stalemate. However, writings of scholars of the period like Suleiman Murad made no difference between an offensive or a defensive Jihad.

Can it thus, be said that the semantics between a defensive or offensive Jihad exist only in the mind of non muslim scholars who seek to rationalize the state of perpetual war that exists against them?

The only difference that exists is that a defensive Jihad frees its perpetrators of any moral obligations that would restrain the hands of the believers in their war against the non-believers.


After the end of the second world war, the islamic world was by far the biggest loser – not in terms of territory but in terms of its religious identity. WW-1 had already seen the end of the last caliphate – the Ottoman Empire and now the power had, for the first time since islam’s rise, shifted, inexorably, away from the muslim world. This sparked an underground movement that started out as search for an identity that fit with the new realities of post colonial world. The islamic world saw these changes as a threat and this brought forth the revival of the doctrine of Jihad – the defensive jihad. 

One of the most famous muslim poets of the subcontinent – allama iqbal, accused the muslims for “loosing their taste for death”. He along with his contemporaries revived the forgotten Islamist identity agenda of Abul Ala Mawdudi. Writings of egyptian political activist Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966) provided ideological basis for revival of extremism. Along with Ibn Taymiyya, Mawdudi and Qutb are considered the intellectual forebears of “Muslim fundamentalism.”  Today scholars tracing the roots of “Islamic terrorism” consider Mawdudi’s and Qutb’s definitions of jihad as authoritative.

The fact that islam spread mostly through the sword makes it more pertinent to understand the meaning and threat of jihad.

Al Qaeda is fighting a jihad in the Middle East, Taliban now rules Afghanistan and stakes claim on autonomous northwestern regions of Pakistan. Al Shahab, Boko Haram are waging a Jihad against their own people in Africa. LeT, HuJI etc are engaged in Jihad against India, ISIS has laid waste to Syria & Iraq

Whether “holy war achieves its purest Islamic form” in these areas is a debatable proposition. There can be no denying the emphasis that these terror organizations place on the ethical nature of its struggle against the enemies of islam. The central idea that governs the waging of jihad against the kaffirs is the concept of total war by any and all means until the world becomes dar-ul-islam and finally Youme Akharat – The end of the world  could be achieved.

Silence of muslims to terror attacks may be perplexing to those who seek to view them from a western lens. To understand this one must account for the nexus between supra nationalism or the concept of universal brotherhood to the nation of islam – the Ummah (formed out of post colonial era) and islamic political radicalism. On the surface of it no clear similarities exist between the two dynamics, there are significant commonalities. They both share a distaste for western imperialism, they are also unable or unwilling to differentiate between worldly and religious.

Mawdudi based his radical reformulation of jihad was based on appropriations of the thought of his predecessor intellectuals. But he differed from them as well as from Islamic traditionalists in important ways. In rejecting the authority of traditional interpretations of the book, Mawdudi, like Qutb, was following in the footsteps of modernist muslims like Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Abdul. It was his interpretation of the nation/state & thought & politics which influences militant islamic concepts of jihad. By deftly conflating the religious and the secular, Mawdudi transformed the ethical and political dimensions of the contemporary discourse and practice of jihad.