Extremism has lead to numerous catastrophes throughout history and religion has sometimes served as a motive for extremists to act. Whether one is Christian, Muslim, or whether he or she is affiliated with any other religious ideology, the respective person is likely to have a distorted understanding of society as long as he or she is bombarded with malicious information meant to turn them against a series of presumed enemies. Many are inclined to look at religious extremism as a whole, but the truth is that it would be wrong to do so. This topic is much more complex and one would have to concentrate on learning more about the background in each religion and the reason why particular individuals slowly but surely come to believe that it would be essential for them to perform extreme acts in order to prove their religiousness.
a. Religious wars in popular belief
The masses are well-acquainted with the Crusades on account of the frequency with which they were represented through time. However, it was not until recent years that society became familiarized with the idea of Jihad. The media played an important role in shaping people's thinking with regard to each concept and this is why many individuals today have a limited understanding of the Crusades, and, respectively, of the idea of Jihad. Many films and fiction stories in general portray Crusaders as being honorable men risking their lives with the purpose of fighting Muslims in the name of God. In contrast, the Jihad is promoted as a war that is characteristic to terrorists and to people who simply want to harm others in order to emphasize their beliefs.
The reality is that the Crusades are very different from the Jihad and that it would be irresponsible to claim that the two concepts are basically the same on account of how each involves ideas related to religion and conflict.
Christians during the beginning of the second millennium believed that it was up to them to fight wars meant to free the Holy Lands from Muslim influence. The Crusades occurred during the High Middle Ages during a period when Europe experienced much turmoil and many individuals on the continent came to believe that their involvement in a holy war would certainly assist them both from a personal and from a social point-of-view.
The Crusades started in the eleventh century as a result of the fact that Christians started to be persecuted throughout the Muslim world. "Egyptian caliph Al-Hakim ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, (built by Constantine's mother Helen in 330 A.D.); this remains today the most wanton destruction of a key Christian holy site in history." (Jones 11) This marked the beginning of a series of conflicts occurring throughout the Muslim world as Christians started to be perceived as enemies and as individuals who needed to be reprimanded for being present in the Islamic society.
It was not until Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus turned to Pope Urban II with the purpose of having the Western community interfere with local affairs by defeating the Seljuk Turks. While one might be inclined to believe that the idea of war is in disagreement with religion in general, the concept of a just war has been present in Christianity for several centuries before the Crusades actually came into being. "The crusade was the perfect example of the just war, justissimum bellum, and the idea of a just war was inevitably developed and refined in the course of the crusading period." (Setton, Hazard, & Zacour 3)
The idea of Jihad emerged as a result of Islamic principles being brought together and supporting an attempt to better connect to the universe through all means available, even if this would imply that one would have to use force in order to achieve success. The Jihad was an early concept in Muslim history and it gained popularity immediately after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 632. A great deal of Muslim embraced this idea consequent to the prophet's death and promoted it throughout the Islamic world in an attempt to justify a series of wars against non-Muslim communities.
Many Muslims had trouble understanding what Jihad actually meant because of the numerous writings addressing the topic. The fact that writers were inclined to express subjective interpretations of Muhammad's texts meant that they would confuse the masses and thus influence some to believe that it was only natural for them to take on particular attitudes toward non-Muslims.
The Jihad is separated into two conflicts:
the greater Jihad entails an internal struggle during which the individual needs to focus on employing spiritual thinking with the purpose of cleansing his or her soul the lesser Jihad refers to a physical struggle, one involving using physical violence with the purpose of punishing or converting infidels
Muslims were required to act in accordance with principles put across by the Jihad and while the former Jihad meant that they need to concentrate on an individual conflict, the latter promoted the thought that they needed to cooperate with others in order to achieve success as a whole.
d. The crusades and Jihad
While one can find parallels between Bible passages and the Crusades, there are no clear texts in the Christian Scripture that emphasize the fact that Christians need to fight on account of their religious ideals. In contrast, Islam adopted Jihad as a sixth pillar of the religion. This means that the idea of Jihad is actually present in Islamic thought in general while the idea of going against non-Christian has no basis in the Bible. "Unlike the crusade, under Islamic law derived from the Koran, jihad, struggle, is enjoined on all members of the Muslim community." (Tyerman 100)
While it would be wrong to generalize when considering the Crusades and the Jihad, it is only safe to say that many crusaders and jihadists fought because they were passionate about their goals. These people had an ideal and actually believed that they would improve society as a whole by going though with the campaigns they were involved in. "Most of them certainly weren't fighting for personal gain -- it is estimated that a knight in the Crusades needed to spend over 4 times his yearly earnings just to be outfitted for the Crusades." (Jones 5) This makes it possible to gain a better understanding concerning their determination and the fact that they were convinced that the conflicts they were about to become a part of were perfectly justified.
The crusades were a more formal conflict while the jihad is informal (it is often fought by individuals who lack organization). While Islamic law promotes the belief that jihad is an essential concept in the lives of Muslim people, there were numerous Muslims who rejected this idea and refused to take part in conflicts that they had nothing to do with (Laiou & Mottahedeh 26). In contrast, the crusades as a whole started with some of the most influential figures in Europe calling Christians to arms with the purpose to fight a particular enemy and for a particular reason.
The jihad is less confusing when considering the number of conflicts that took place as a result of religious extremism. This is also owed to the fact that the concept of jihad is more powerful in Islam when compared to the concept of crusades in Christianity. Muslims were practically better acquainted with the roles they needed to play as fighters during a jihad while many Christians had a limited understanding of their purpose. Historians actually have trouble reaching common ground concerning the number of crusades that occurred through time. "How many Crusades were there? Should we include the Peasant's Crusade, the Children's Crusade, the Albigensian Crusade? Should Christian attempts to take back Moslem Spain be considered Crusades? Should the despicable Fourth Crusade, which twice sacked Constantinople, be considered an official "Holy Lands" crusade? Most historians view that there were eight "official" crusades, although I've seen some that count as many as 23." (Jones 5)
While both the crusades and the jihad are typically associated with ideas like religion, martyrdom, and dedication, the truth is that there is an additional factor that shaped these respective conflicts. The Crusades also involved a complex web of economic and sociopolitical goals, with many individuals involved in the conflicts hoping to become wealthy as a result of this enterprise and even to expand European influence in the region. Conditions are similar when considering Jihadists, as while some were certainly motivated by religious principles, others could not ignore the material aspect of fighting against their religious enemies. "Yet the Syrian jurists quoted by 'Abd al-Razzaq, perhaps reflecting the determination to make progress on the Byzantine frontier in the first half of the second Islamic century, were quite naturally attracted to the idea that aggressive war was obligatory." (Laiou & Mottahedeh 26) Many Christians and Muslims exploited conflicts…