Did the Crusades Intensify the Jihad?
A new book explains the true role the Crusades played on the jihad.
Editor’s note: The following book review of The Intensification and Reorientation of Sunni Jihad Ideology in the Crusader Period, by Suleiman A. Mourad and James E. Lindsay, first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of the Middle East Quarterly and was written by Raymond Ibrahim, a Shillman Fellow at the Center.
One of the more pernicious and prevalent post-9/11 myths is that one of Islam’s most fundamental concepts, jihad, has been distorted by “violent extremists” who have “hijacked the religion.” In this fairy-tale view, jihad is above all a struggle for self-betterment that al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Boku Haram, and others have twisted and deformed. Mourad of Smith College and Lindsay of Colorado State University provide an excellent antidote to this ahistorical nonsense by offering a serious primer on the historical codification of jihad and its subsequent application in response to the Crusaders.
The first part of the book deals with Islamic literature on jihad and the role of Muslim scholars in elucidating and disseminating the concept. The authors then focus on the Forty Hadiths for Inciting Jihad compiled not long after the Second Crusade by Ibn Asakir, “one of the most celebrated scholars of medieval Islam, both in his own time and in subsequent centuries.” The actual text of the Forty Hadiths is presented in both Arabic and English, offering the reader the chance to read firsthand what kind of statements concerning jihad are attributed directly to Muhammad, all of which are deemed by Sunnis as sahih or “authentic.”
The hadiths, and the worldview they have engendered, speak for themselves: “Lining up for battle in the path of God [jihad] is worthier than 60 years of worship.” “If he dies or is killed, all his sins are forgiven … He will be wedded to the virgins of paradise, and the crown of dignity will be placed on his head.”
Themes emerge, some familiar to those following modern day jihadist discourse (e.g., the supremacy of jihad versus all other duties, and the great rewards associated with it)—but also lesser known ones, such as the terrible punishments awaiting those Muslims, according to Muhammad, “who do not believe in jihad … They will be tortured like no other sinful human.”
Mourad and Lindsay make clear that the Crusades did not create the doctrine of jihad, which had already been codified in books such as Ibn Mubarak’s Kitab al-Jihad some three hundred years earlier. The primary innovation, or “reorientation,” in this period is that Asakir and other Islamic scholars intensified the importance of jihad in the new context of repulsing infidel invaders. They also expanded “the ideology of jihad to include direct and indirect attacks against other Muslim groups, especially Shi’is.” Although jihad had been proclaimed against other Muslims more than two hundred years before the Crusades, afterward, it became a major theme as Sunnis saw Shiites as subversive moles, weakening Islam against outside aggression.
Considering that the Muslim world is even more vulnerable to non-Muslim influence today than during the Crusades, it is unsurprising that in its most recent Islamic State manifestation, jihad continues to intensify, its fury directed against whatever is in its path—Jews, Christians, Yazidis, and, of course, Shiites.