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The Crusades were a series of a military campaigns fought mainly between Christian Europe and Muslims. Shown here is a battle scene from the First Crusade. They were inspired at the jihad of the Islam civilization.

Religious violence and extremism (also called communal violence[1]) is a term that covers all phenomena where religion, in any of its forms, is either the subject or object of violent behaviour.[2] Religious violence includes violence that is motivated by religious precepts, texts or doctrines. It also includes violence against religious institutions, persons, or objects, when the violence is motivated by the religious aspect of the target of the violence.

Religious violence, like all violence, is an inherently cultural process whose meanings are context-dependent. Religious violence often tends to place great emphasis on the symbolic aspect of the act. Religious violence is primarily the domain of the violent "actor", which may be distinguished between individual and collective forms of violence. Maurice Bloch argues that religion and politics are two sides of the same coin—power.[3]

Religion as inherently violent

Charles Selengut characterizes the phrase "religion and violence" as "jarring", asserting that "religion is thought to be opposed to violence and a force for peace and reconciliation. He acknowledges, however, that "the history and scriptures of the world's religions tell stories of violence and war as they speak of peace and love."[4]

Hector Avalos argues that, because religions claim divine favor for themselves, over and against other groups, this sense of righteousness leads to violence because conflicting claims to superiority, based on unverifiable appeals to God, cannot be adjudicated objectively.[5]

Some critics of religion (in general) such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins go farther and argue that religions do tremendous harm to society in three ways:[6][page needed][7][page needed]

  • Religions sometimes use war, violence, and terrorism to promote their religious goals
  • Religious leaders contribute to secular wars and terrorism by endorsing or supporting the violence
  • Religious fervor is exploited by secular leaders to support war and terrorism

Byron Bland asserts that one of the most prominent reasons for the "rise of the secular in Western thought" was the reaction against the religious violence of the 16th and 17th centuries. He asserts that "(t)he secular was a way of living with the religious differences that had produced so much horror. Under secularity, political entities have a warrant to make decisions independent from the need to enforce particular versions of religious orthodoxy. Indeed, they may run counter to certain strongly held beliefs if made in the interest of common welfare. Thus, one of the important goals of the secular is to limit violence."[8]

Abrahamic religions

Eric Hickey writes, "(t)he history of religious violence in the West is as long as the historical record of its three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with their involved mutual antagonisms and struggles to adapt and survive the secular forces that threaten their continued existence."[9]


The relationship of Christianity and violence is the subject of controversy because one view is that Christianity advocates peace, love and compassion while it is also viewed as a violent religion. Peace, compassion and forgiveness of wrongs done by others are key elements of Christian teaching. However, Christians have struggled since the days of the Church fathers with the question of when the use of force is justified. Such debates have led to concepts such as just war theory. Throughout history, certain teachings from the Old Testament, the New Testament and Christian theology have been used to justify the use of force against heretics, sinners and external enemies. Heitman and Hagan identify the Inquisitions, Crusades, wars of religion, and antisemitism as being "among the most notorious examples of Christian violence".[10] To this list J. Denny Weaver adds "warrior popes, support for capital punishment, corporal punishment under the guise of 'spare the rod and spoil the child,' justifications of slavery, world-wide colonialism in the name of conversion to Christianity, the systemic violence of women subjected to men." Weaver employs a broader definition of violence that extends the meaning of the word to cover "harm or damage", not just physical violence per se. Thus, under his definition, Christian violence includes "forms of systemic violence such as poverty, racism, and sexism."[11]

Although Christian teaching has been relied on to justify a Christian use of force, another Christian thought is of opposition to the use of force and violence. Sects that have emphasized pacificism as a central tenet of faith have resulted from the latter thought. Christians have also engaged in violence against those that they classify as heretics and non-believers specifically to enforce orthodoxy of their faith. In Letter to a Christian Nation, critic of religion Sam Harris writes that " inspires violence in at least two ways. First, people often kill other human beings because they believe that the creator of the universe wants them to do it... Second, far greater numbers of people fall into conflict with one another because they define their moral community on the basis of their religious affiliation..."[12]

Christian theologians point to a strong doctrinal and historical imperative within Christianity against violence, particularly Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which taught nonviolence and "love of enemies". For example, Weaver asserts that Jesus' pacifism was "preserved in the justifiable war doctrine that declares all war as sin even when declaring it occasionally a necessary evil, and in the prohibition of fighting by monastics and clergy as well as in a persistent tradition of Christian pacifism."[11]


In Islam, the love of and pursuit of peace coexist with laws requiring the eradication of evil using violent means. Islam has been associated with violence in a variety of contexts, including Jihads (holy wars), violent acts by Muslims against perceived enemies of Islam, violence against women ostensibly supported by Islam's tenets, references to violence in the Qur'an, and acts of terrorism motivated and/or justified by Islam. Muslims, including clerics and leaders have used Islamic ideas, concepts, texts, and themes to justify violence, especially against non-Muslims.

Jihad is a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jihād translates into English as struggle. Jihad appears in the Qur'an and frequently in the idiomatic expression "striving in the way of Allah (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)".[13][14] A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid; the plural is mujahideen. Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. A minority among the Sunni scholars sometimes refer to this duty as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it occupies no such official status.[15] In Twelver Shi'a Islam, however, Jihad is one of the 10 Practices of the Religion.

Muslims use the word in a religious context to refer to three types of struggles: an internal struggle to maintain faith, the struggle to improve the Muslim society, or the struggle in a holy war.[16] The prominent British orientalist Bernard Lewis argues that in the Qur'an and the ahadith jihad implies warfare in the large majority of cases.[17] In a commentary of the hadithSahih Muslim, entitled al-Minhaj, the medieval Islamic scholar Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi stated that "one of the collective duties of the community as a whole (fard kifaya) is to lodge a valid protest, to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct".[18]

In western societies the term jihad is often translated as "holy war".[19][20] Scholars of Islamic studies often stress that these words are not synonymous.[21] Muslim authors, in particular, tend to reject such an approach, stressing non-militant connotations of the word.[22][23] There is another word in Arabic that means struggle and is never used when referring to war. Jihad, has by association been used in times of war more often.

Some modern writers[who?] claim that the main meaning of Jihad is the internal spiritual struggle, and this is accepted by many Muslims.

However there are so many references to Jihad as a military struggle in Islamic writings that it is incorrect to claim that the interpretation of Jihad as holy war is wrong. Terrorism refers to terrorism by Muslim or individuals and motivated by either politics, religion or both. Terrorist acts have included airline hijacking, kidnapping, assassination, suicide bombing, and mass murder.[24][25][26]

The hijacking of four passenger jets and the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11 2001, in the United States of America was a significant attack. The controversies surrounding the subject include whether the terrorist act is self-defense or aggression, national self-determination or Islamic supremacy; whether Islam can ever condone the targeting of noncombatants; whether some attacks described as Islamic terrorism are merely terrorist acts committed by Muslims or motivated by nationalism; whether Zionism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict is the root of Islamic terrorism, or simply one cause; how much support there is in the Muslim world for Islamic terrorism[27] and whether support for terror is a temporary phenomenon, a "bubble", now fading away.[28]


The love of peace and the pursuit of peace, as well as laws requiring the eradication of evil, sometimes using violent means, co-exist in the Jewish tradition.[29][30]

The Hebrew Bible contains instances of religiously mandated wars[31] which often contain explicit instructions from God to the Israelites to exterminate other tribes, as in Deut 7:1-2 orDeut 20:16-18 . Examples include the story of Amalekites (Deut 25:17-19, 1 Sam 15:1-6),[32] the story of the Midianites(Numbers 31:1-18),[33] and the battle of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27).[34]

These wars of extermination have been characterized as "genocide" by several authorities,[35] because the Torah states that the Israelites annihilated entire ethnic groups or tribes: the Israelites killed all Amalekites, including men, women, and children (1 Samuel 15:1-20 ); the Israelites killed all men, women, and children in the battle of Jericho(Joshua 6:15-21), and the Israelites killed all men, women and children of several Canaanite tribes ( Joshua 10:28-42).[36] However, some scholars believe that these accounts in the Torah are exaggerated or metaphorical.

Zionist leaders sometimes used religious references as justification for the violent treatment of Arabs in Palestine.[37] Palestinians have been several times associated with a Biblical antagonists, Amalekites. For example, rabbi Israel Hess has recommended to kill Palestinians, basing on biblical verses such as 1 Samuel 15.[38] Shulamit Aloni, a member of the Israeli Knesset indicated in 2003 that Jewish children in Israel were being taught in religious schools that Palestinians were Amalek, and should therefore an act of total genocide was a religious obligation.[39]



One of the best known Mormon actions of violence is Mountain Meadows massacre.

Other religions






File:Gustave dore crusades entry of the crusaders into constantinople.jpg

Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

Examples of religion-based wars include the Mideast conflict between Israel and neighboring Muslim countries, the Crusades, The Troubles in Northern Ireland, French Wars of Religion, European wars of religion, the Taiping Rebellion, Islamic Jihad, the Second Sudanese Civil War, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 and Jewish-Roman Wars.[citation needed]

Examples of religion-based violence and terrorism include the Mormon-led Mountain Meadows massacre, the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Mumbai attacks of 2008, the 2005 London bombings, and the Bali bombings. These attacks are carried out by those with very strong religious convictions. These acts of religious terrorism are seen by the terrorists as small skirmishes in the context of a much larger global religious war.[40] Although the causes of terrorism are complex, it may be that terrorists are partially reassured by their religious views that God is on their side and will reward them in heaven for punishing unbelievers.[41][42]


Mormon-led Mountain Meadows massacre

These conflicts are among the most difficult to resolve, particularly where both sides believe that God is on their side and has endorsed the moral righteousness of their claims.[41] One of the most infamous quotes associated with religious fanaticism was made in 1209 during the siege of Béziers, a Crusader asked the Papal Legate Arnaud Amalric how to tell Catholics from Cathars when the city was taken, to which Amalric replied: "Tuez-les tous; Dieu reconnaitra les siens," or "Kill them all; God will recognize his."[43]

Ritual violence

Ritual violence may be directed against victims (human sacrifice/ritual murder) or self-inflicted (religious self-flagellation).

According to hunting hypothesis, created by Walter Burkert in Homo Necans, carnivorous behavior is considered a form of violence. Burkett suggests that the anthropological phenomenon of religion itself grew out of rituals connected with hunting and the feelings of guilt associated with the violence involved.[44]

See also


  1. Horowitz, D.L. (2000) The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA
  2. Wellman, James; Tokuno, Kyoko (2004). "Is Religious Violence Inevitable?". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion) 43: 291. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2004.00234.x.
  3. Bloch, Maurice (1992). Prey into Hunter. The Politics of Religious Experience.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Selengut, Charles. Sacred fury: understanding religious violence. p. 1.
  5. Avalos, Hector (2005). Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.
  6. Hitchens, Christopher (2007). God is not Great. Twelve.
  7. Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Bantam Books.
  8. Bland, Byron (May 2003). "Evil Enemies: The Convergence of Religion and Politics". p. 4.
  9. Hickey, Eric W. (2003). Encyclopedia of murder and violent crime. SAGE. p. 217.
  10. International encyclopedia of violence research, Volume 2. Springer. 2003.
  11. 11.0 11.1 J. Denny Weaver (2001). "Violence in Christian Theology". Cross Currents. Retrieved 2010-10-27. "I am using broad definitions of the terms "violence" and "nonviolence." "Violence" means harm or damage, which obviously includes the direct violence of killing -- in war, capital punishment, murder --but also covers the range of forms of systemic violence such as poverty, racism, and sexism. "Nonviolence" also covers a spectrum of attitudes and actions, from the classic Mennonite idea of passive nonresistance through active nonviolence and nonviolent resistance that would include various kinds of social action, confrontations and posing of alternatives that do not do bodily harm or injury." Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Weaver" defined multiple times with different content
  12. Sam Harris (2006). Letter to a Christian Nation. Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 80–81. ISBN 9780307265777.
  13. Wendy Doniger, ed. (1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. ISBN 087-7790442.,Jihad, p.571
  14. Josef W. Meri, ed. (2005). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. ISBN 041-5966906., Jihad, p.419
  15. John Esposito(2005), Islam: The Straight Path, pp.93
  16. "Jihad". BBC. 2009-08-03.
  17. Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 72. Cf. William M. Watt, Islamic Conceptions of the Holy War in: Thomas P. Murphy, The Holy War (Ohio State University Press, 1974), p. 143
  18. Shaykh Hisham Kabbani; Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks. "Jihad—A Misunderstood Concept from Islam". The Muslim Magazine. Retrieved 16 August 2006.
  19. cf. e.g. BBC news articleLibya's Gaddafi urges 'holy war' against Switzerland
  20. Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Medieval and Modern Islam (Brill, 1977), p. 3
  21. Patricia Crone,Medieval Islamic Political Thought (Edinburgh University Press, 2005), p. 363
  22. Jihad and the Islamic Law of War
  23. Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism. The doctrine of Jihad in Modern History (Mouton Publishers, 1979), p. 118
  24. Iraqi Terrorist Ramzi Hashem Abed: Zarqawi Participated in the Plot to Assassinate Baqer Al-Hakim. We Bombed Jalal Talabani's Headquarters, the Turkish Embassy, and the Red Cross, Took Drugs, Raped University Students Who "Collaborated with the Americans"
  25. Human Rights Watch - Afghanistan - ABDUCTIONS OF AND ASSAULTS ON WOMEN
  26. to Permit Abortions for Rape Victims
  27. Tony Blair, "Speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council",
  28. The Third Bubble. THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. April 20, 2003
  29. Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties, and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition. Michael J. Broyde, 1998, p. 1
  30. *Reuven Firestone (2004), "Judaism on Violence and Reconciliation: An examination of key sources" in Beyond violence: religious sources of social transformation in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Fordham Univ Press, 2004, pp 77, 81.
    • Goldsmith (Ed.), Emanuel S. (1991). Dynamic Judaism: the essential writings of Mordecai M. Kaplan. Fordham Univ Press. p. 181. ISBN 0823213102.
    • Spero, Shubert (1983). Morality, halakha, and the Jewish tradition. KTAV Publishing House, Inc.. pp. 137–318. ISBN 0870687271.
    • Salaita, Steven George (2006). The Holy Land in transit: colonialism and the quest for Canaan. Syracuse University Press. p. 54. ISBN 081563109X.
    • Lustick, Ian (1988). For the land and the Lord: Jewish fundamentalism in Israel. Council on Foreign Relations. pp. 131–132. ISBN 0876090366.
    • Armstrong, Karen (2007). The Bible: a biography. Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 211–216. ISBN 0871139693.
  31. A. G. Hunter "Denominating Amalek: Racist stereotyping in the Bible and the Justification of Discrimination", in Sanctified aggression: legacies of biblical and post biblical vocabularies of violence, Jonneke Bekkenkamp, Yvonne Sherwood (Eds.). 2003, Continuum Internatio Publishing Group, pp 92-108
  32. Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God delusion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 245. ISBN 0618680004.
    • Carl. S. Ehrlich (1999) "Joshua, Judaism, and Genocide", in Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Judit Targarona Borrás, Ángel Sáenz-Badillos (Eds). 1999, Brill. p 117-124.
    • Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion', pp 289 - 296
    • Hitchens, Christopher, God is Not Great page 117
    • Selengut, Charles, Sacred fury: understanding religious violence, p 20
    • Cowles, C. S., Show them no mercy: 4 views on God and Canaanite genocide, page 79
    • Kravitz, Leonard, "What is Crime?", in Crime and punishment in Jewish law: essays and responsa, Editors Walter Jacob, Moshe Zemer Berghahn Books, 1999, p 31
    • Cohn, Robert L, "Before Israel: The Canaanites as Other in Biblical Tradition", in The Other in Jewish thought and history: constructions of Jewish culture and identity, Laurence Jay Silberstein, (Ed.), NYU Press, 1994, pp 76-77
    • Violence, Scripture, and Textual Practice in Early Judaism and Christianity By Ra'anan S. Boustan, p 3-5
  33. The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies, Donald Bloxham, A. Dirk Moses, p 242
    • Saleh Abdel Jawad (2007) "Zionist Massacres: the Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem in the 1948 War" in Israel and the Palestinian refugees, Eyal Benvenistî, Chaim Gans, Sari Hanafi (Eds.), Springer, p. 78:
    ".. the Zionist movement, which claims to be secular, found it necessary to embrace the idea of 'the promised land' of Old Testament prophecy, to justify the confiscation of land and the expulsion of the Palestinians. For example, the speeches and letter of Chaim Weizman, the secular Zionist leader, are filled with references to the biblical origins of the Jewish claim to Palestine, which he often mixes liberally with more pragmatic and nationalistic claims. By the use of this premise, embraced in 1937, Zionists alleged that the Palestinians were usurpers in the Promised Land, and therefore their expulsion and death was justified. The Jewish-American writer Dan Kurzman, in his book Genesis 1948 … describes the view of one of the Deir Yassin's killers: 'The Sternists followed the instructions of the Bible more rigidly than others. They honored the passage (Exodus 22:2): 'If a thief be found …' This meant, of course, that killing a thief was not really muder. And were not the enemies of Zionism thieves, who wanted to steal from the Jews what God had granted them?'
    • Carl. S. Ehrlich (1999) "Joshua, Judaism, and Genocide", in Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Judit Targarona Borrás, Ángel Sáenz-Badillos (Eds). 1999, Brill. p 117-124.
    • Masalha, Nur, Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: the politics of expansion, Pluto Press, 2000, pp 129-131.
    "Frequently Jewish fundamentalists refer to the Palestinians as the 'Amalekites' … of today… According to the Old Testament, the Amalek … were regarded as the Israelites' inveterate foe, whose 'annihilation' became a sacred duty and against whom war should be waged until their 'memory be blotted out' forever (Ex 17:16; Deut 25:17-19)…. Some of the [modern] political messianics insist on giving the biblical commandment to 'blot out the memory of the Amalek' an actual contemporary relevance in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. In February 1980, Rabbi Israel Hess … published an article [titled] 'The Genocide Commandment in the Torah' … which ends with the following: 'The day is not far when we shall all be called to this holy war, this commandment of the annihilation of the Amalek'. Hess quotes the biblical commandment … 'Do not spare him, but kill man and woman, baby and suckling, ox and sheep, camel, and donkey'…. In his book On the Lord's Side Danny Ribinstein has shown that this notion permeates the Gush Emunim movement's bulletins [one of which] carried an article … which reads 'In every generation there is an Amalek. The Amalekism of our generation finds expression in the deep Arab hatred towards our national revival …'… Professor Uriel Tal … conducted his study in the early 1980s … and pointed out that the totalitarian political messianic stream refers to the Palestinian Arabs in three stages or degrees: …[stage] (3) the implementation of the commandment of Amalek, as expressed in Rabbi Hess's article 'The Commandment of Genocide in the Torah', in other words 'annihilating' the Palesinian Arabs'".
    • See also Hunter, p 103
    • Also describing Palestinians as targets of violence due to association with Amalek is: Geaves, Ron, Islam and the West post 9/11, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004, p 30
  34. Murder Under the Cover of Righteousness - CounterPunch
  35. Full text: bin Laden's 'letter to America' accessed may 24, 2007
  36. 41.0 41.1 Juergensmeyer, Mark (2001-09-21). Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Updated edition. University of California Press.
  37. Christian Jihad: The Crusades and Killing in the Name of Christ
  38. "Kill Them All; For The Lord Knoweth Them That Are His Steve Locks (Reply) (9-00)". Retrieved 2007-08-18.
  39. Burkert, Walter. 1983. Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Berkley: University of California press.

Further reading

  • Appleby, R. Scott (2000) The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Avalos, Hector (2005) Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. New York: Prometheus.
  • Burkert, Walter. (1983). Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Berkley: University of California press
  • Crocket, Clayton (ed.) (2006) Religion and Violence in a Secular World: Toward a New Political Theology. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
  • Girard, René. (1977) Violence et le Sacré (eng. Violence and the Sacred). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G. (ed.) (1987) Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Juergensmeyer, Mark. (2000) Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Berkley: University of California Press.
  • Pedahzur, Ami and Weinberg, Leonard (eds.) (2004) Religious Fundamentalism and Political Extremism. New York: Routledge.
  • Selengut, C. (2003) Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira
  • Steffen, Lloyd. (2007) Holy War, Just War: Exploring the Moral Meaning of Religious Violence. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack (2003) Is Religion Killing Us? Harrisburg:Trinity Press International ISBN 1-56338-408-6
  • Stern, Jessica. (2004) Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: Harper Perennial.

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