French citizens pay tribute to the memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris, in November 2015. (Source: WIKIPEDIA)
Jihadism at its origins
At first, when Muhammad was still alive and was in Saudi Arabia trying to survive, to organize his team and spread the Message of Allah, the term appeared. It was promoting the inner struggle of the pious individual to walk on the path of God defeating all the disadvantages of the human nature. Collectively, the Muslim community should imply jihad in order to live by the Orders of Allah. When Muhammad was moving trying to survive himself and his team, another “column” of Jihad appeared, that of the outer struggle. This kind of struggle provides that the pious people shall use their hands and/or a weapon so as to protect themselves from other aggressors.
So, when the Prophet died, the term jihad had two meanings. On the one hand, was the “greater jihad”, the struggle of the pious people and the community in general in order to keep their faith and live by God’s will. It can be said that the most important ways for someone to engage in the “greater Jihad” are the participation during communal activities, the forgiveness, the action for the establishment of the social justice, the Prayers in the Mosque and the strife to overcome “lesser” feelings such as anger, hate and others. On the other hand, it was the kind of “lesser Jihad” which called the Muslims to protect themselves and their communities even by war. The most important fact concerning that meaning of Jihad, in other words “Holy War”, is that it does not have an aggressive purpose. According the Qu’ran and the example of the life of Muhammad the war is permitted only in case of a defense. The Muslims can wage a Holy War in case they are under attack, they are oppressed and in order to strengthen their faith by their attackers. Also, it promotes the value of peace if the enemy wants it.
Jihad from the 7th to 16th century AD
Although the two meanings of Jihad were at the biggest part clear, the situation was changed. Immediately, after the passing away of Muhammad in 632 BC, his successors designed and implemented an aggressive war against those countries that the Muslims thought as enemies. However, they wanted to expand their territory because at that time neither the Byzantine Empire nor the Sassanid one were enemies of the Muslim Arabs. In order to gather a lot of troops, the term Jihad was introduced. It was a meaning distortion of this term. Islam was not under attack by anyone.
The first Caliphate named Rashidun (632-661 AD) commanded by the most close companions of Muhammad conquered Mesopotamia, the Middle East, the North Africa, some islands of the Aegean Sea, some coastal areas of Spain and some parts of Sicily, while it set the base for further expansion in the Mediterranean Sea in the name of Allah. Although the religious character of those expansive wars was obvious, the first Caliphs respected the conquered nations.Battle between the Crusaders and the Muslims during the Siege of Accre (1204). The Crusades were some kind of respond to the Muslim expansion, in other words Jihad. (Source: WIKIPEDIA)
The successor of Rashidun Caliphate was that of the Ummayads (661- 750 AD). They continued the series of conquests capturing more parts of the Iberian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. However, the Ummayads’s expansion was stalled in the mid 7th century. In the West it was the Battle of Tours in which the Christian Frankish Kingdom was the winner halting the Muslim advance. In the east, the Ummayad army suffered decisive defeats trying to conquer the last part of Central Asia. In 750 AD that Caliphate was succeeded by the Abbasid Caliphate (750- 1258 in Damascus, 1261-1517 in Cairo). During the period of the Ummayds, some consequences would mark the global history. To begin with, it became clear that Islam was an enemy of the Christian world both Orthodox and Catholic and the reverse. Secondly, the defeats of the Ummayads and the internal tensions showed that the Muslim expansion had limits and that the Muslim army was not unbeatable. Last but not least, it led to the disintegration of the Muslim territories into different and independent Emirates. Islam was not united any more.
During the reign of Abbasid Caliphs the behavior of the Muslims altered. They continued for some time the war against the Byzantines after the latter attacked them to regain the lost soil and won conquering Cyprus as well. After the war ended, the Islamic Golden Age began. Te development of the science, the arts, the literature and the technology was initiated, whereas the relations between the Christians (especially the Catholics) and the Muslims were restored.
The 12th century would lead the two worlds again in war. The presence of the Muslims in the Holy Lands of Christendom (Palestine) had exaggerated some Christian kings. The religious authorities in Europe had the same attitude. Ideas of a campaign against the Muslim infidels who had conquered and defile the Christian cities were spreading. The Pope joined this stream of revenge and the Period of the Crusades started. From 1095 to 1291 AD the two religions were at a warring state. Jihad, now as a mean of defense against an infidel rival, was introduced. The Crusaders conquered several parts of the Middle East after fierce battles, but they didn’t manage to hold those lands. In addition, the Fourth Crusade caused a spoil inside the Christian world and a rivalry between the Catholics and the Orthodox. In late 13th century the war in the East had been paused. The Muslims being under attack protected their religion and regained the lost areas.
Another Crusade called Reconquista took part in the Iberian Peninsula. The Spanish and Portuguese kings for almost five centuries (800- 1495) tried to recapture the Christian lands from the different Muslim Emirates. The breach between the two religions continued to be wide. Though, the Iberian Crusaders achieved at defeating the Muslim forces and regaining the lost soil. The idea of Jihad could not prevent the Muslim defeat.
It is evident that the term Jihad was not a “demonic” term. It was a word with a religious and human meaning, providing that war was a solution only in case of an attack by a third party. The death of Muhammad and the dynamic of the Arabs, led the first two Caliphates to declare Jihad against kingdoms of infidels which were not their enemies, giving the meaning of a protection of Islam from a possible future attack. This strategy for almost two centuries bore good results. The expansion of Islam was tremendous. Though, it was stopped by the Christians in Spain. This halt marked a sign in global history. Islamic expansion stopped and a rivalry of Christians and Muslims was established. Additionally, for the Muslims and especially their leaders, this meant the end of Jihad and strife for power into the Caliphate.
It was showed that a period of peaceful relations was followed in which jihad was marginalized into the personal life of each pious Muslim. However, this peaceful period ended with the Crusades. The attack of many Christian armies against the Muslim areas brought Jihad as a defensive mean into the everyday life. Now, Jihad was the shelter for the protection of Muslim communities and territories in the Middle East. The words of the Prophet were implemented. The Muslims fought hardly and after decades they hold their position. Jihad was used in the Iberian Peninsula as well- though it was not enough for the survival of the Muslim Emirates.
As the humanity was at the front of a new transitional era between the Medieval period and Modernity, Jihad was a sign of Muslim aggression, having lost its prime meaning. The next centuries would bring radical changes in the Muslim world and, of course, in the term Jihad.
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