Where Jihad and the Crusades Differ

Interview With Historian Jean Flori

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

CARNAC, France, MAY 14, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The notions of Islamic jihad and the Christian Crusades might appear similar, but there are deep differences between them, says a French historian.

Jean Flori, medievalist and research director of the National Center of Sociological Research and of the Center of Higher Studies of Medieval Civilization of Poitiers, is the author of the book «The Holy War: Development of the Idea of the Crusade in the Christian West,» published by Trotta and the University of Granada.

Asked if it is possible to compare the Crusades with the Islamic notion of jihad, Flori told ZENIT: «It is a difficult question to address in a few words. I would say no if it is a question of the contemporary jihad, exactly as it is preached and, lamentably, practiced by Muslim fanatics whom we call Islamists.»

«Indeed, the latter adopt a policy of blind terror and they strike Western populations indiscriminately, with no other objective than revenge, and racial or religious hatred,» the historian said.

By contrast, «the Crusade, no matter how terrible and condemnable it was, had as its objective the recovery and defense of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the most important holy place of Christianity, which was in the hands of the Muslims since A.D. 738,» Flori said.

Yet, in a certain sense, «the Crusade can be compared to the jihad» in the Middle Ages, «as they both gave way to massacres and atrocities,» the historian said. «Both were considered holy wars that would obtain paradise for their combat warriors.»

«However, there are notable differences,» he noted. «The jihad was practiced from the beginning by Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Jesus, on the contrary, rejects in his actions and in his preaching all recourse to arms and violence.»

«The jihad, in its warlike form, was allowed from the beginning,» Flori observed. «It preceded the Christian holy war, which was a doctrinal deviation. The jihad’s objective was the conquest of territories which had not been colonized by Islam, the so-called war territories, for the purpose of establishing the Islamic law and not to convert its inhabitants.»

«The Crusade, instead, had as its end the reconquest of the holy places and of the old Christian territories, still inhabited by numerous Christian populations,» the French historian said.

Flori said that today some try to identify the U.S.-led war with the term «Crusade.» He said the extremist Islamists are happy with that, given that they define their own objectives with terms such as «Jews,» «Crusades» and «traitor and tyrants» — words that carry racial, religious and political overtones.

«If in the warlike reaction of the Bush administration, there are dimensions of religious fundamentalism, this is lamentable, but this war cannot be compared to a Crusade, or to a holy war,» Flori said.

«This war has not been preached in the name of a religion, nor does it promise any spiritual recompense to those who are involved in it. And these would be distinctive elements of a holy war,» he said.

«Only religious authorities could proclaim a holy war,» Flori added. «A proclamation of this kind is possible only in a society that is controlled and directed by religious, as was the case of medieval Christian society and as is the case today in Muslim states that are ever more numerous.»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation