A religious war or holy war (Latin: bellum sacrum) is a war primarily caused or justified by differences in religion. The account of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites in the Book of Joshua, the Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries, and the Christian Crusades (11th to 13th centuries) and Wars of Religion (16th and 17th centuries) are the classic examples but a religious aspect has been part of warfare as early as the battles of the Mesopotamian city-states.
In the modern era, arguments are common over the extent to which religious, economic, or ethnic aspects of a conflict predominate: examples include the Yugoslav Wars and the civil war in Sudan. In several ongoing conflicts including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian civil war, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, religious arguments are overtly present but variously described as fundamentalism or religious extremism depending upon the observer's sympathies.
- 1 Criteria for classification
- 2 Sacral aspects of ancient warfare
- 3 List of major religious wars
- 4 The concept of "Holy War" in individual religious traditions
- 5 Religious conflict in the modern period
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 External links
Criteria for classification
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The European war against Muslim expansion was recognized as a "religious war" or bellum sacrum from the beginning. The early modern wars against the Ottoman Empire were seen as a seamless continuation of this conflict by contemporaries. The term "religious war" was used to describe, controversially at the time, what are now known as the European wars of religion, and especially the then-ongoing Seven Years' War, from at least the mid 18th century.
In their Encyclopedia of Wars, authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod attempt a comprehensive listing of wars in history. They document 1763 wars overall, of which 123 (7%) have been identified and listed as primarily religiously motivated. Of these, religious wars account for less than 2% of all people killed in warfare. This includes 3 million during the Crusades and 3,000 during the Inquisition.
The Encyclopedia of War, edited by Gordon Martel, using the criteria that the armed conflict must involve some overt religious action, concludes that 6% of the wars listed in their encyclopedia can be labelled religious wars.[page needed]
William T. Cavanaugh in his Myth of Religious Violence (2009) argues that what is termed "religious wars" is a largely "Western dichotomy", arguing that all wars that are classed as "religious" have secular (economic or political) ramifications. Similar opinions were expressed as early as the 1760s, during the Seven Years' War, widely recognized to be "religious" in motivation, noting that the warring factions were not necessarily split along confessional lines as much as along secular interests.
It is evident that religion as one aspect of a people's cultural heritage may serve as a cultural marker or ideological rationalisation for a conflict that has deeper ethnic and cultural differences. This has been specifically argued for the case of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, often portrayed as a religious conflict of a Catholic vs. a Protestant faction, while the more fundamental cause of the conflict was in fact ethnic or nationalistic rather than religious in nature. Since the native Irish were mostly Catholic and the later British-sponsored immigrants were mainly Protestant, the terms become shorthand for the two cultures, but it is inaccurate to describe the conflict as a religious one.
Sacral aspects of ancient warfare
Warfare did, of course, have religious aspects since the prehistoric period. Warfare and organised religious cult arise simultaneously with the emergence of tribal structures capable of supporting concerted, large-scale enterprises in the Mesolithic. Our earliest direct records of the ideologies behind early warfare are from the Bronze Age Near East. In the religions of the Ancient Near East, each city state would have its own tutelary deity, as it were owning, ruling and protecting the city. Warfare between these cities was conceived of as warfare between the cities' national gods. By the later Bronze Age, in Assyria and Babylonia, certain gods seem to have acquired the quality of a god of war, e.g. Nergal, perhaps in origin a "warlike" aspect of Shamash, the Sun. The ancient "city-state deity" system is still visible in the Iron Age, thus Athena is the goddess of Athens and responsible for the city's interests in general, and only secondarily a "goddess of wisdom" or a "goddess of warfare". Significantly, the Trojan War is portrayed by Homer as a conflict between factions of the gods, as it were fought out by proxy with the use of human armies. Thus, while each war would be seen as a conflict between the deities of the warring parties, there are very few example in ancient history of an actual "Holy War", where the motivation for the conflict is itself religious in nature. The prime example are the "Sacred Wars" waged by the Amphictyonic League to protect the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the chief religious sanctuary of the ancient Greeks (First Sacred War 595 BC-585 BC, Second Sacred War 449 BC-448 BC, Third Sacred War 356 BC–346 BC).
In Classical Antiquity develops the notion of a pantheon with a divine "division of labour". Now, Ares was "war personified", but while Ares received occasional sacrifice from armies going to war, there was only a very limited "cult of Ares". Hellenistic religion popularized the idea of gods being representations or allegories of abstract concepts. Now, the Greco-Roman god of war Ares-Mars via interpretatio graeca could be equated with warlike gods encountered among other peoples. While early empires could be described as henotheistic, i.e. dominated by a single god of the ruling elite (as Marduk in the Babylonian empire, Assur in the Assyrian empire, etc.), or more directly by deifing the ruler in an imperial cult, the concept of "Holy War" enters a new phase with the development of monotheism. The history of the Roman Empire shows a gradual transformation from polytheism to imperial cult and eventually to Christianity. By contrast, Islam from its beginnings at the end of Late Antiquity was designed as radically monotheistic, and within a century succeeeded in absorbing much of the known world of classical antiquity into the Umayyad Caliphate.
List of major religious wars
|Lowest estimate||Highest estimate||Event||Location||From||To||Religions involved||Percentage of the world population|
|3,000,000||11,500,000||Thirty Years' War||Holy Roman Empire||1618||1648||Protestants and Catholics||0.5%–2.1%|
|2,000,000||4,000,000||French Wars of Religion||France||1562||1598||Protestants and Catholics||0.4%–0.8%|
|1,000,000||2,000,000||Second Sudanese Civil War||Sudan||1983||2005||Muslim and Christian||0.02%|
|1,000,000||3,000,000||Crusades||Holy Land, Europe||1095||1291||Muslim and Christian||0.3%–2.3%|
|130,000||250,000||Lebanese Civil War||Lebanon||1975||1990||Sunni, Shiite and Christian|
The concept of "Holy War" in individual religious traditions
Those who fought in the name of God were recognized as the Milites Christi, soldiers or knights of Christ. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns that took place during the 11th through 13th centuries against the Muslim Conquests. Originally, the goal was to recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims, and support the besieged Christian Byzantine Empire against the Muslim Seljuq expansion into Asia Minor and Europe proper. Later, Crusades were launched against other targets, either for religious reasons, such as the Albigensian Crusade, the Northern Crusades, or because of political conflict, such as the Aragonese Crusade. In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II raised the level of war from bellum iustum ("just war"), to bellum sacrum ("holy war"). In 16th Century France there was a succession of wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants (Hugenots primarily), known as the French Wars of Religion. In the first half of the 17th century, the German states, Scandinavia (Sweden, primarily) and Poland were beset by religious warfare in the Thirty Years War. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism figured in the opposing sides of this conflict, though Catholic France did take the side of the Protestants but purely for political reasons.
The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, known in Arab history as the Battle of Al-Uqab (معركة العقاب), took place on 16 July 1212 and was an important turning point in the Reconquista and in the medieval history of Spain. The forces of King Alfonso VIII of Castile were joined by the armies of his Christian rivals, Sancho VII of Navarre, Pedro II of Aragon and Afonso II of Portugal in battle against the Berber Muslim Almohad conquerors of the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Muslim conquests were a military expansion on an unprecedented scale, beginning in the lifetime of Muhammad and spanning the centuries, down to the Ottoman wars in Europe. Until the 13th century, the Muslim conquests were those of a more or less coherent empire, the Caliphate, but after the Mongol invasions, expansion continued on all fronts (other than Iberia which was lost in the Reconquista) for another half millennium until the final collapse of the Mughal Empire in the east and the Ottoman Empire in the west with the onset of the modern period.
There were also a number of periods of infighting among Muslims; these are known by the term Fitna and mostly concern the early period of Islam, from the 7th to 11th centuries, i.e. before the collapse of the Caliphate and the emergence of the various later Islamic empires.
While technically, the millennium of Muslim conquests could be classified as "religious war", the applicability of the term has been questioned. The reason is that the very notion of a "religious war" as opposed to a "secular war" is the result of the Western concept of the separation of Church and State. No such division has ever existed in the Islamic world, and consequently there cannot be a real division between wars that are "religious" from such that are "non-religious". Islam does not have any normative tradition of pacifism, and warfare has been integral part of Islamic history both for the defense and the spread of the faith since the time of Muhammad. This was formalised in the juristic definition of war in Islam, which continues to hold normative power in contemporary Islam, inextricably linking political and religious justification of war. This normative concept is known as Jihad, an Arabic word with the meaning "to strive; to struggle" (viz. "in the way of God"), which includes the aspect of struggle "by the sword", Jihad is sometimes understood as Holy War, and jihads have been called to convert other non-Muslim states to Islam or as defense.[page needed]
The first forms of military Jihad occurred after the migration (hijra) of Muhammad and his small group of followers to Medina from Mecca and the conversion of several inhabitants of the city to Islam. The first revelation concerning the struggle against the Meccans was surah 22, verses 39-40:
To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid. (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our Lord is Allah". Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will).— Abdullah Yusuf Ali
This happened many times throughout history, beginning with Muhammad's battles against the polytheist Arabs including the Battle of Badr (624), and battles in Uhud (625), Khandaq (627), Mecca (630) and Hunayn (630).
The medieval Iberian Peninsula was the scene of almost constant warfare between Muslims and Christians. Periodic raiding expeditions were sent from Al-Andalus to ravage the Christian Iberian kingdoms, bringing back treasure and slaves. In raid against Lisbon, in 1189, for example, the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur took 3,000 female and child captives, while his governor of Córdoba, in a subsequent attack upon Silves in 1191, took 3,000 Christian slaves.
The Almohad Dynasty conquered all Northern Africa as far as Libya, together with Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberian Peninsula). The Almohads, who declared an everlasting Jihad against the Christians, treated the dhimmis harshly. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, many Jews and Christians emigrated. Some, such as the family of Maimonides, fled east to more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms.
In 1527, Babur ordered a Jihad against Rajputs at the battle of Khanwa. Publicly addressing his men, he declared the forthcoming battle a Jihad. His soldiers were facing a non-Muslim army for the first time ever. This, he said, was their chance to become either a Ghazi (soldier of Islam) or a Shaheed (Martyr of Islam).
Babur's grandson Akbar took up the title "Ghazi" after executing Hemu and his Hindu forces after the Second Battle of Panipat. Akbar the Great, would later inflict even greater defeats upon the Rajputs by conquering Rajputana.
Ali Adil Shah I of the Bijapur Sultanate appealed for help Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah Wali. Both of them had agreed that Vijayanagar's forces would not ford the Krishna River or exert any form of tribute or threats upon the Deccan Sultanates.
Ali Adil Shah I then reconciled Hussain Nizam Shah I and Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah Wali. In return Hussain Nizam Shah I allowed his daughter Chand Bibi to marry Ali Adil Shah I; and Hidaya Sultana a sister of Ali Adil Shah I was allowed to marry Hussain Nizam Shah I's son Murtaza Nizam Shah. Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah Wali was to be the guarantor of the matrimonial alliance. Ali Barid Shah I and Burhan Imad Shah also joined the coalition to protect their prestige.
Third Battle of Panipat, was a military confrontation between the Maratha Confederacy (including its Pindari factions) and the coalition gathered by the Durrani Emirate (consisting of the: Nawab of Najibabad, Nawab of Oudh, Nawab of Farrukhabad, Regents of Rohilkhand, Tajik and Baloch tribes, Qizilbash mercenaries and mainly Afghan warriors).
Ahmad Shah Durrani was persuaded by a Muslim cleric Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, to consider his campaign a Religious war, with an objective to restore the Mughal Empire to Shah Alam II (a son-in-law of the Afghan ruler, whose father, the emperor Alamgir II had been assassinated by the Maratha Confederacy).
Upon succeeding his father to rule the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent began a series of military conquests in Europe. On 29 August 1526, he defeated Louis II of Hungary (1516–26) at the battle of Mohács. In its wake, Hungarian resistance collapsed and the Ottoman Empire became the preeminent power in Central and Eastern Europe. In July 1683 Sultan Mehmet IV proclaimed a Jihad and the Turkish grand vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha, laid siege to Vienna with an army of 138,000 men.
On 14 November 1914, in Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, the religious leader Sheikh-ul-Islam declares Jihad on behalf of the Ottoman government, urging Muslims all over the world—including those in the Allied countries—to take up arms against Britain, Russia, France, Serbia and Montenegro in World War I. On the other hand, Sheikh Hussein ibn Ali, the Emir of Mecca, refused to accommodate Ottoman requests that he endorse this jihad, a requirement that was necessary were a jihad to become popular, on the grounds that "the Holy War was doctrinally incompatible with an aggressive war, and absurd with a Christian ally: Germany"
|“||From the earliest days of Israel's existence as a people, holy war was a sacred institution, undertaken as a cultic act of a religious community.||”|
In the Jewish religion, the expression Milkhemet Mitzvah (Hebrew: מלחמת מצווה, "commandment war") refers to a war that is obligatory for all Jews (men and women). Such wars were limited to territory within the borders of the land of Israel. The geographical limits of Israel and conflicts with surrounding nations are detailed in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, especially in Numbers 34:1-15 and Ezekiel 47:13-20. The concept of a religious war was absent in Jewish thought for approximately 2000 years, though it reemerged in some factions of the Zionist movement, particularly Revisionist Zionism.
Religious conflict in the modern period
Palestine and Israel
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict can be viewed as an ethnic conflict, yet elements on both sides view it as a religious war as well. In 1929, religious tensions over the Wailing Wall led to the 1929 Palestine riots including the Hebron and Safed massacres.
In 1947, the UN decided on partitioning the Mandate of Palestine, which led to the creation of the state of Israel, since then region has been plagued with conflict. The 1948 Palestinian exodus also known as the Nakba (Arabic: النكبة), occurred when approximately 711,000 to 726,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the Civil War that preceded it. The exact number of refugees is a matter of dispute, though the number of Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA is more than 4.3 million. The causes remain the subject of fundamental disagreement between Palestinians and Israelis. Jews make a religious and historical claim to the land, and Palestinians make historic, religious and ethnic claims to the land.
Pakistan and India
The All India Muslim League (AIML) was formed in Dhaka in 1906 by Muslims who were suspicious of the Hindu-majority Indian National Congress. They complained that Muslim members did not have the same rights as Hindu members. A number of different scenarios were proposed at various times.This was fuelled by the British policy of "Divide and Rule", which they tried to bring upon every political situation. Among the first to make the demand for a separate state was the writer/philosopher Allama Iqbal, who, in his presidential address to the 1930 convention of the Muslim League said that a separate nation for Muslims was essential in an otherwise Hindu-dominated subcontinent.
After the dissolution of the British Raj in 1947, two new sovereign nations were formed—the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. The subsequent partition of the former British India displaced up to 12.5 million people, with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million. India emerged as a secular nation with a Hindu majority, while Pakistan was established as an Islamic republic with Muslim majority population.
Abyssinia – Somalia
The Abyssinian–Adal war was a military conflict between the Abyssinians and the Adal Sultanate from 1529 until 1559. The Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (nicknamed Gurey in Somali and Gragn in Amharic (ግራኝ Graññ), both meaning "the left-handed") came close to extinguishing the ancient realm of Abyssinia, and forcibly converting all of its surviving subjects to Islam; the intervention of the European Cristóvão da Gama, son of the famous navigator Vasco da Gama, attempted to help to prevent this outcome but was killed by al-Ghazi. However, both polities exhausted their resources and manpower in this conflict, allowing the northward migration of the Oromo into their present homelands to the north and west of Addis Ababa. Many historians trace the origins of hostility between Somalia and Ethiopia to this war. Some historians also argue that this conflict proved, through their use on both sides, the value of firearms such as the matchlock musket, cannons, and the arquebus over traditional weapons.
Inter-ethnic conflict in Nigeria has generally had a religious element. Riots against Igbo in 1953 and in the 1960s in the north were said to have been sparked by religious conflict. The riots against Igbo in the north in 1966 were said to have been inspired by radio reports of mistreatment of Muslims in the south. A military coup d'état led by lower and middle-ranking officers, some of them Igbo, overthrew the NPC-NCNC dominated government. Prime Minister Balewa along with other northern and western government officials were assassinated during the coup. The coup was considered an Igbo plot to overthrow the northern dominated government. A counter-coup was launched by mostly northern troops. Between June and July there was a mass exodus of Ibo from the north and west. Over 1.3 million Ibo fled the neighboring regions in order to escape persecution as anti-Ibo riots increased. The aftermath of the anti-Ibo riots led many to believe that security could only be gained by separating from the North.
The 2010 Jos riots saw clashes between Muslim herders against Christian farmers near the volatile city of Jos, resulting in hundreds of casualties. Officials estimated that 500 people were massacred in night-time raids by rampaging Muslim gangs.
During the rule of the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem, the discrimination against the majority Buddhist population generated the growth of Buddhist institutions as they sought to participate in national politics and gain better treatment. The Buddhist Uprising of 1966 was a period of civil and military unrest in South Vietnam, largely focused in the I Corps area in the north of the country in central Vietnam.
In a country where the Buddhist majority was estimated to be between 70 and 90 percent, Diem ruled with a strong religious bias. As a member of the Catholic Vietnamese minority, he pursued pro-Catholic policies that antagonized many Buddhists.
The Dungan revolt (1862–1877) and Panthay Rebellion (1856–1873) by the Hui were also set off by racial antagonism and class warfare, rather than the mistaken assumption that it was all due to Islam that the rebellions broke out. During the Dungan revolt fighting broke out between Uyghurs and Hui.
In 1936, after Sheng Shicai expelled 20,000 Kazakhs from Xinjiang to Qinghai, the Hui led by General Ma Bufang massacred their fellow Muslims, the Kazakhs, until there were only 135 of them left.
Tensions with Uyghurs and Hui arose because Qing and Republican Chinese authorities used Hui troops and officials to dominate the Uyghurs and crush Uyghur revolts. Xinjiang's Hui population increased by over 520 percent between 1940 and 1982, an average annual growth rate of 4.4 percent, while the Uyghur population only grew by 1.7 percent. This dramatic increase in the Hui population led inevitably to significant tensions between the Hui and Uyghur Muslim populations. Some old Uyghurs in Kashgar remember that the Hui army at the Battle of Kashgar (1934) massacred 2,000 to 8,000 Uyghurs, which caused tension as more Hui moved into Kashgar from other parts of China. Some Hui criticize Uyghur separatism, and generally do not want to get involved in conflicts in other countries over Islam for fear of being perceived as radical. Hui and Uyghur live apart from each other, praying separately and attending different mosques.
Lebanese Civil War
There is no consensus among scholars on what triggered the Lebanese Civil War. However, the militarization of the Palestinian refugee population, with the arrival of the PLO guerrilla forces did spark an arms race amongst the different Lebanese political factions. However the conflict played out along three religious lines, Sunni Muslim, Christian Lebanese and Shiite Muslim, Druze are considered among Shiite Muslims.
It has been argued that the antecedents of the war can be traced back to the conflicts and political compromises reached after the end of Lebanon's administration by the Ottoman Empire. The Cold War had a powerful disintegrative effect on Lebanon, which was closely linked to the polarization that preceded the 1958 political crisis. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War an exodus of Palestinian refugees who fled the fighting or were expelled from their homes, arrived in Lebanon. Palestinians came to play a very important role in future Lebanese civil conflicts, whilst the establishment of Israel radically changed the local environment in which Lebanon found itself.
Lebanon was promised independence and on 22 November 1943 it was achieved. French troops, who had invaded Lebanon in 1941 to rid Beirut of the Vichy forces, left the country in 1946. The Christians assumed power over the country and economy. A confessional parliament was created, where Muslims and Christians were given quotas of seats in parliament. As well, the President was to be a Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim.
In March 1991, parliament passed an amnesty law that pardoned all political crimes prior to its enactment. The amnesty was not extended to crimes perpetrated against foreign diplomats or certain crimes referred by the cabinet to the Higher Judicial Council. In May 1991, the militias (with the important exception of Hezbollah) were dissolved, and the Lebanese Armed Forces began to slowly rebuild themselves as Lebanon's only major non-sectarian institution.
Some violence still occurred. In late December 1991 a car bomb (estimated to carry 220 pounds of TNT) exploded in the Muslim neighborhood of Basta. At least thirty people were killed, and 120 wounded, including former Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan, who was riding in a bulletproof car.
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