In much of the Western world, ever since September 11, 2001, nightly news segments, popular media, and political discussions have focused in on the idea of jihad. The 9/11 attack was by far the largest and most significant in a string of escalating attacks – which include attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and on the USS Cole in 2000 – by militant groups claiming association with Islam. The groups claiming responsibility for these events, and others, identify themselves as Muslims fighting a jihad – a holy war – against America and the West. Their claims have sparked many interesting debates about the nature of jihad. When President Bush declared the United States’ entrance into the global War on Terror, he made it clear that the war was not against Islam, claiming in a speech delivered on September 17, 2001 that “Islam is Peace.”1 In the framing of the War on Terror, President Bush, his political allies, and supporters of the war often invoked religious feelings of their own, characterizing it as a battle of good versus evil, of light against dark, or in the words of Mark Juergensmeyer, as a “cosmic war.”2 They, and many scholars who have written since, either consciously or unconsciously appealed to many aspects of a Christianized conception of just war.
In this conflict between groups labeled as terrorists and Western powers, we see ideas about the Christian just war and the Islamic jihad pitted against each other. This seemingly opposing relationship raises questions about the relationship between the two religious doctrines of war. After a historical analysis of the independent rise of each theory, it becomes clear that there are both significant parallels and foundational differences between the two doctrines. Notable points of comparison will include the drastically different messages of the founders, the treatment of soldiers, the role each doctrine played in the rise of their respective empires, and the need for correct authorization and intention for war.
In the sections that follow, I will trace the development of the just war theory in Christianity and the Islamic idea of jihad up to around the end of the Middle Ages. My approach in tracing the development of just war theory is more or less tied to a linear history of the development, with discussions on several important theorists along the way. The section concludes with a discussion of the work of Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century scholar, for two related reasons. The first is that Aquinas’ work essentially presented the consensus on the licit use of violence by Christians, and although subsequently there have been contributions to the rules of conduct in war, little has been added to the core theory.3 One of the major reasons for this, and also the second rationale for concluding in the late medieval period, is that beginning around the time of the Reformation the Christian Church became so fragmented that it is nearly impossible, and certainly outside the confines of this paper, to develop a single just war theory.
The section devoted to the development of jihad is slightly less linear, and also noticeably less tied to specific scholars in its development. My approach, for both theories, is in line with the approach of most of the prominent scholars I could locate. The difference in explaining the two theories comes from a fundamental difference in how they developed. Western scholars even from before the time of Christianity had a tradition of writing things down.4 By contrast there is almost nothing remaining of pre-Islamic Arabian cultures except some fragments of poetry.5 Furthermore, the hadiths, which play an incredibly important role in Islamic law survived primarily orally, similar to the oral tradition in Judaism, until about the ninth century, some three hundred years after Muhammad’s death.6 Although written commentaries on the hadiths began appearing soon after, the English translations of these commentaries are difficult to find. I am thus deeply thankful for the work of Nuh Ha Mim Keller in translating the fourteenth-century text Reliance of the Traveller as well as Mawardi, ‘Ali ibn Muḥammad, and Wafaa Hassan Wahba for their work.
In this paper I have attempted to condense two enormous bodies of literature into a single and relatively short comparison of the two traditions. As James Turner Johnson wrote, “there is a fundamental difficulty in doing a comparative study across cultural lines,” and that difficulty is defining the exact elements of comparison in such a way that it includes both traditions.7 Most available texts comparing jihad and just war fall into one of two principal groups. The first group is composed of volumes which contain many essays on either just war or jihad.8 The second group is composed of books that seek to draw direct comparisons between the two, such as Johnsons work, The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Cultures. My analysis differs from this second group in that these texts tend to focus more on ideas about certain key elements. For example, Johnson focuses on ideas of justification, authority and conduct in just war and jihad, whereas this paper seeks to focus more on the historical development of the tradition and cast a somewhat broader net of comparison.
The Origins of Christian Just War Theory
Christian tradition has given birth to two distinct yet similar formations of a permissible war: the holy war and the just war. Holy wars have traditionally been fought for the sake of the faith, for ideals, and have been waged on the authority of God or a religious leader acting in the name of God (for example, a pope). The just war has generally been fought on more mundane grounds, for the sake of protecting a territory or righting a wrong, and usually under the authority of some secular and political figure in the name of a state.9 Throughout human history violent conflict has played a role in shaping cultures and in giving rise to nation-states. In the midst of this violence, many different cultures have attempted to restrict the violence, hoping to limit its destruction of people, land, goods, economic resources, and culture. Of particular importance to the formation of the Christian just war tradition were the efforts of the ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures to develop a code for warfare that would somehow establish rules and limits. The idea of just war in these ancient cultures came largely out of the idea that war should be fought for the restoration of peace and justice.10 Since peace was held in such high esteem it was necessary that other methods of dispute resolution be attempted before turning to the last resort of war. These pre-Christian societies laid down the ideas that later Christian writers would adopt as the foundation of what became just war theory.
Contributions of Pre-Christian Societies
Since Christianity had its roots in Judaism, the development of Christian just war theory was heavily influenced by Jewish texts and traditions. The multiple wars fought by Israel, both righteously with the approval of God (and unrighteously without God’s approval) served as examples for later Christian writers.11 Augustine would eventually find this divine authorization, or even command, for war extremely important as justification, and argued that Moses showed no cruelty in going to war on God’s command.12 Furthermore, the law of the Torah provided Christian writers with the earliest elements of what could be considered an anti-scorched earth policy for warfare. The Jewish code for war is clearly spelled out in Deuteronomy 20 (although Joshua 11 also contains information that would later be used by Christian writers on just war).13 Deuteronomy 20 dictates that enemy cities near to Israel could be subjected to extermination (20:16-18). However, if the cities were beyond Israel’s borders and agreed to submit peacefully, they would be offered peace, and if accepted become laborers for the Israelites (20: 10-11). If the cities refused to submit and instead made war, the Israelites were commanded to “put all its males to the sword. [They could], however, take as [their] booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil” (20: 13-14). And in one of the more interesting passages, even if the city were within the confines of Israel, and its people were to be put to death; the trees that produced food must be spared (20: 19-20).14
Ancient Greece also developed a code of war, parts of which would later be adopted by Christianity. Of particular importance in the Greek community was the process of mediation. The Greeks were in a particularly good position to use mediation as a form of dispute resolution because their culture was composed primarily of independent city-states, which shared a common language (although with several dialects) and culture, and none of which held an overwhelming upper-hand in combat (in contrast to disputes between Rome and Israel for example). The record of the ancient Greeks in using mediation to solve disputes between their city-states is quite impressive, but, the process was limited to the Hellenes, and could not be applied to the ‘barbarians.’15
If mediation and all other means of dispute settlement were to fail, then war could be permissible so long as the end-goal was always peace. This was essentially the argument of the Greek philosopher Plato, who first gave form to the theory which is now called “just war.”16 Plato’s argument centered on the distinction he drew between “war,” which was when “Greeks to battle with barbarians,” and “civil war,” when “Greeks fight with Greeks.”17 The rules Plato lays out apply to “civil war” which, because it exists between natural friends and not enemies, must be regulated. Of central importance was restriction of violence to “the minimum necessary to obtain satisfaction from the enemy.”18 According to Plato, a scorched-earth policy was not advisable, since it would inevitably not just punish the guilty, but also the innocent majority. His argument here was not necessarily for noncombatant immunity, but rather against unrestrained use of violence.19
The author of the term just war was another prominent Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who maintains a long and lasting impact on Christian thought. Aristotle first coined the term as a way of referring to the wars between the Hellenes and the non-Hellenes, who were thought of as barbarians.20 For Aristotle, warfare was not simply an ends in itself, but rather a means of achieving peace, justice, glory and strength.21 Virtuous and just men (meaning the Greeks) could use war for expansion of territory, because those that they conquered (the barbarians) would benefit by their rule, and peace would become more likely. One of the downfalls of Aristotelian thought on just war is that it reasons that any war which is fought for the purposes of peace and justice will be successful. Yet, when a city-state uses war simply as a means, it will fail. Unfortunately, this rational fails to distinguish fully between a war that is just and one that is merely successful.22
The contribution of Roman culture and thought on just war to the development of early Christian just war theory was enormous, as the Church came of age in the Roman period. Both Ambrose and Augustine, important early Christian writers who are commonly regarded as the progenitors of Christian just war theory, drew heavily on Roman theorists and legal traditions. The largest contributions of Rome to the just war come in the form of just causes and the legal foundation of the Roman wars. In the Roman tradition there are essentially three conditions that constitute a just cause: defense, retaking something wrongly taken, and punishment of evildoing.23 True to their legalistic view of war, the Roman Republic had a set procedure by which war could be waged, culminating in a formal and authoritative declaration of war. The first step in the process was a civil action of repetitiorerum in which a demand was sent to a foreign power for redress of injuries suffered by Rome or its citizens. If the foreign power did not comply within thirty-three days, the high priests, upon authorization of the Senate and the Roman people, could issue a formal declaration of war. By having the priests declare war, Rome was making the legal action a religious one as well, and essentially asking for the help of the gods in battle. Since Roman authorities had first attempted a civil solution to the conflict, Rome was assumed to have a just cause for war. Invoking the authority of the gods made it both a just war and also a religiously dutiful one.24
The single greatest Roman contributor to the just war tradition was Cicero, whose writing in the first century B.C.E. clearly spelled out the Roman legal and moral conditions for a just war. Cicero’s writings are extremely important in the Christian just war tradition, given that Christian writers would later base their work heavily on his writings. Most notably was Ambrose, who has been called “a Christian Cicero.”25 Cicero was primarily concerned with the idea of a just cause for war, as he believed that “a war waged without cause was not really war but piracy.”26 For Cicero the just cause of a war is the restoration of lost goods, which can constitute more than just physical property but also rights and privileges.27 Cicero did include in his position a punitive concept of a just war, as he expanded the just causes to include punishing the enemy for wrongs they had committed, as well as repulsion of enemy attacks.28 Once war had been properly authorized and declared, it was also important for Cicero that it be fought justly. Cicero believed that in order for an empire to remain virtuous and good it must win its wars honorably. Cicero argues that it would “have been a great disgrace and an outrage to overwhelm by crime rather than by virtue” and that “if an empire is to be sought for the sake of glory, then away with the crime! For there can be no glory in it.”29 Faith and honor should be upheld at all times, even with Rome’s enemies, and any oath sworn, even to an enemy, must be kept. Furthermore, Cicero believed that once victory had been obtained mercy should be shown to enemies, unless they had acted barbarously. Cicero also advocated that when the Roman army was besieging a city care should be taken to avoid harm to innocents. This last point was important because Cicero, like Plato before him, helped birth the tradition of distinguishing between the guilty and the innocent in war, although he did not specify the immunity of noncombatants.30
New Testament Contributions
Chronologically, the next major figure to appear in the development of Christian just war was Jesus himself. To put it simply, Jesus never gave his followers a clear and absolute position on war, or even on simply being a soldier, nor do we find such a clear position in any of the later New Testament writings. It is clear, however, that Jesus left his followers with a tradition of peacemaking, but whether that idea of being a peacemaker is compatible with the Greek idea of just war being a means to peace, or even with the Roman notion of pax romana is unclear and contentious.
Some of the most prominent statements of Jesus’ ministry about peace come to us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters five to seven (and also paralleled and condensed in Luke 6:17-38).31 The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes, in which Jesus makes the statements “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (5:7) and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (5:9). Later in the Sermon Jesus discusses the Ten Commandments (5:21-48) in which Jesus tells his listeners that not only is it sinful to murder, but also “if you are angry with a brother or sister,32 you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable” (5:22). Later (5:38-40) Jesus challenges the Jewish saying of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” by instructing his followers to not resist evil, but rather “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” In 5:43-44 Jesus commands followers to not only love their enemies, but also to pray for those who persecute them. 7:12 contains the first of two formations of the Golden Rule that Jesus gives followers (“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you…”) with the other occurring in 22:39 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”).
Some have argued that part of Jesus’ role as a peacemaker may have been intended to help discourage a Jewish revolt against the Roman empire (which when it did happen in 70 C.E. ended disastrously).33 The argument here references Luke 14:31 which, in some readings, seems to compare unfavorably the Jewish military resources with those of Rome, and cautions that any responsible King would see that any such fight would be a slaughter. Jesus’ message, in this reading, was not pacifism of principle, but rather pacifism of prudence. This possibility can be seen also in the disciples Jesus gathered. Simon the Zealot belonged to a radical and militaristic Jewish group (who later staged the revolt in 70 C.E.), and some have suggested that “Judas Iscariot’s surname may mean ‘man of the Sicarii,’”34 referring to a group of dagger-wielding Jews who carried out political assassinations.
Later Christian writers would turn to other passages in the Gospels (and in Paul’s writings as well) to help support just war theory. One of the most prominent of these passages occurs in Matthew 8:5-13 when Jesus encounters a Roman centurion asking that Jesus heal his servant. During the exchange it is revealed that this man has great faith in Jesus, so much that Jesus declares “in no one in Israel have I found such faith” (8:10). Those arguing in favor of a just war stance (and opposing pacifists) point out that in this passage Jesus declares a Roman soldier to have great faith, while never admonishing the man for his profession.
Proponents of just war have also referred to the account in John 2:15 of Jesus cleansing the temple with a whip of cords, a seemingly violent act. They also will refer to Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but the sword.” This text is paralleled in Luke 12:51, where instead of ‘sword’ the author substitutes ‘division.’ The interpretations of this text are wide and varied, but many authors seeking to use it to justify the use of violence or war forget the next verse, which is a clear parallel in both gospels to Micah 7:6. By referencing Micah, Jesus may actually have been alluding to the adversity his disciples would have to face to remain faithful to his message.
Further New Testament evidence used by many writers to support just war theories come from any passage in which Jesus seems to be upholding the civilian government, such as in Matthew 22:15-22, when Jesus concludes that one should “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (22:21).35 The thirteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, which starts “let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God” (13:1), is often used in similar fashion, and read as upholding the established government, or at least a government even if secular.36
Despite the later use of New Testament texts to support ideas of just war, first-century Christians were generally pacifists.37 Given the teachings of Jesus (“Blessed are the peacemakers”), and many of his actions, such as reprimanding Peter for drawing his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane in the night Jesus was arrested (John 18:11), it is easy to see who a pacifist movement would have developed. However, as Christianity grew and became more integrated into mainstream cultures, its position on war, the use of violence, and military service changed.
Early Christian Writers
With the Christianization of the Roman Empire under Constantine in the fourth century, a movement began to reconcile Christian teachings with the reality of Roman wars. A justification for war, and specifically for Roman wars (fought to extend pax romana), became necessary. Ambrose, writing in the fourth century C.E., a contemporary of Constantine and a mentor to Augustine, was the first Christian theorist to argue that a Christian’s obligation to love their neighbor extended to the obligation to protect the neighbor from harm being inflicted unjustly. Ambrose argued that the use of force was even justified to protect the victim; however the force against the assailant was limited, because Christ died for the assailant as well.38 In his discussion of how wars ought to be fought Ambrose closely mirrored Cicero, arguing that fidelity, loyalty, and respect for the rights of the enemy must be preserved. In his efforts to help in the Christianization of the Roman Empire, as well as fighting against heretics and upholding Catholic orthodoxy, Ambrose also justified the use of violence against heretics, and thus justified the Roman wars against the barbarians, who were all deemed heretical.39
Augustine of Hippo (a fourth century bishop in Africa, and adviser to many Roman officials) is referenced by many scholars as the most authoritative of early Christian writers on just war theory. However, he never wrote a document in which he directly and wholly addressed his position, or what he thought the orthodox Christian position ought to be, on just war. Instead what we have are conclusions drawn from a variety of his writings, including “his biblical commentary on Joshua, his anti-Manichean writing, and letters to Count Boniface, the senior Roman official in North Africa.”40 It is important for readers to remember that Augustine was heavily influenced by secular writers, most especially Roman, and was also extremely concerned with establishing and defending orthodoxy. In his writings, we see Augustine’s great concern that any belief other than strict orthodoxy poses a threat to the faith, and “eventually concluded, against a backdrop of imperial repression of heretics in which he had a hand, that the ecclesiastical hierarchy had the right and the duty to seek imperial coercion of heretics qua heretics.”41 Many of his writings also display a deep commitment to the notion that right intentions, or interior motivations, are more important for salvation than external actions. As such, Augustine based his theories on violence and just war on a combination of Roman legal tradition, Roman and Judaeo-Christian thought, and early Christian pacifism. Central to Augustine’s position on just war was his conviction that war was “both a consequence of sin and a remedy for it.” 42 He viewed the true evils of war to be “the desire to do harm, cruelty in taking vengeance, [and] the lust for dominion.”43 Also important to Augustine’s conception of just war was that war should have peace as its goal, and thus war was seen as an instrument of peace and could only be waged to secure it.44
Augustine’s theory on just war can be broken down into eight components, which although not all-encompassing of the theory, provide a sufficient framework to work with. These elements are summarized quite efficiently by Langan:
a) a punitive conception of war, b) assessment of the evil of war in terms of the moral evil of attitudes and desires, c) a search for authorization for the use of violence, d) a dualistic epistemology which gives priority to spiritual goods, e) interpretation of evangelical norms in terms of inner attitudes, f) passive attitude to authority and social change, g) use of Biblical texts to legitimate participation in war, and h) an analogical conception of peace. It does not include non-combatant immunity or conscientious objection.45 The first two elements are fairly clear, but the other elements need some clarification. With regards to authorization (element (c) above), Augustine places the power to authorize war entirely in the hands of the ruler (in his worldview this was a monarch).46 Augustine reasoned that the ‘natural order’ which seeks peace results in the ruling of the people by a monarch, and therefore the natural order has ordained the monarch with the authority and power to undertake war.47 In line with this reasoning, Augustine argues that since it is a soldier’s duty to carry out commands, the soldier is innocent in carrying out a ruler’s commands.48 Augustine does, however, leave the ultimate decision making up to God, who is the final judge and ultimate guarantee of righteousness. Element (f) should be considered with (c) as the two both remove authority almost entirely from the individual, and thus also responsibility, and place the obligation to act justly on a higher power (either human or divine).49Element (d) above shows Augustine’s concern for things spiritual over things which are corporeal, and his seeking for a conversion of mind and heart. It is both “the affirmation of the priority of spiritual goods” and a demonstration of “a strong paternalistic tendency, in which one is willing to take action overriding others’ conception of what constitutes their good.”50 Element (e) is related to (d) in that it also refers to the need for righteous inside of persons, a conversion of mind and heart. For example, Augustine argues that Jesus’ command to “turn the other check” is actually a disposition of the heart and not the body.51 Augustine’s analogical conception of peace (element (h) above) is closely tied to his conception as war being a means for establishing peace, and also his writings in The City of God. Although Augustine laments the need for war, he does see it as the means by which we can establish the partial, temporary, and imperfect peace here on earth, which is distinct and separate from the ultimate peace to be found in the heavenly city.52
By the early Middle Ages, the concepts of what constituted a just war had all been laid out by the Church Fathers, principally by Augustine.53 The task for medieval scholars was to create a more concrete doctrine of just war, which was largely based upon prior teachings. Medieval scholars were deeply concerned with the topics of just and holy wars as this was the time period of the Crusades. Ivo of Chartres, in the time period of the First Crusade (and owing his episcopacy Pope Urban II), although hesitant to endorse the Crusades, did leave behind several texts which echo elements of Augustine’s theories about just war.54 Although “some of Ivo’s authorities taught that both secular and ecclesiastical law forbade the shedding of human blood,” Ivo also “cited numerous canons which maintained that lawful authorities were legitimately entitled to employ violence. Preeminent among those authorities were judges and kings. Judges were authorized by God to employ the death penalty.”55 Here Ivo is echoing Augustine’s formation of a just authority, and Ivo further echoes Augustine in absolving soldiers and executioners of the guilt of homicide, so long as they were acting on the command of a lawful authority (a king or judge).56
Gratian, writing in the twelfth century, drew heavily from the work of Ivo in writing his legal work, the Decretum,57 which in itself would later be used extensively by scholars, including Thomas Aquinas.58 Gratian was principally concerned with the question of whether Christians could participate in war. His answer to the question was affirmative but only for a just war defined as “those fought to regain something stolen or to repel injury [concepts Johnson attributed to Isidore of Seville) or to revenge injury, punish evil, or restore something wrongly taken [concepts Johnson attributes to Augustine].”59 Describing what constitutes a just war, Gratian argues that “no war could be considered just unless commenced by an authoritative edict; and, even with proper authority, a just war must fulfill the second requirement that it be waged to right a legal wrong or injury.”60 Using Augustinian texts taken from the work of Ivo, Gratian wrote that war can only be legitimately used out of necessity and for the restoration of peace. Military prowess and warfare are instruments of peace, and even during war soldiers are to be pacific, as their goal is the restoration of the enemy to a peaceful state through conquest.61 Despite containing many definitions of what a just war is, Gratian, like previous writers, did not provide a neat and comprehensive formula for a just war. There is no specific mention of just cause (‘justa causa’) or right intention (‘recta intentio’), or of defense. Also missing is a definition of who the just authority is.62
Although the rules used for conduct in war continued to develop up through the early modern period63 (and are still debated today), the consensus on the licit use of violence by Christians (jus ad bellum) was presented in settled form by Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican priest and influential theologian of the thirteenth century, in his question “On War.”64 In this work Aquinas lays out three requirements for defining when a war is just. First for Aquinas is “the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged.”65 Condition two for Aquinas is a just cause, “namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault.”66 His third and final condition is that “it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.”67 By rightful intention Aquinas also means that peace must be the end sought through violence. As should be obvious, Aquinas’ formulation of the just war very closely mirrors Augustine’s, although Aquinas presents a much simplified and condensed answer to the question on war. To solidify the tie between the two, it should be noted that in his writing, Aquinas cites Augustine’s sermons and letters, most notably Contra Faustus Manichean.
In the above discussion one clear element of the just war theory remains missing – the concept of noncombatant immunity. Essentially this idea is that innocent civilians are not to be directly targeted, and that care should be taken to limit civilian casualties in war. Although writers from Plato to Augustine all hinted at the idea of certain groups being exempt from violence, and the Old Testament laws even specify that women and children are not to be harmed, none of these early sources spelled out a rule of noncombatant immunity. The origin of the concept of noncombatant immunity almost certainly has its roots in medieval times. Gratian, and many other medieval writers, exempted “pilgrims, clerics, monks, women, and the unarmed poor from violence”68 but did not specify noncombatant immunity. Johnson attributes the rise of the idea of noncombatant immunity to a movement in the tenth century by French bishops who declared a “peace of God,” “essentially a declaration that peaceful noncombatants were not to be molested.”69
The just war tradition then comes to us with the following conditions for justification: the war must be launched by a properly constituted authority, for a just cause, and as a last resort. War must be formally declared, there must be a realistic hope of victory and the evil of warfare must be judged to be less than the evil of not fighting.70 Additionally, the tradition specifies that non-combatants should not be targeted whenever possible, and that the measure of physical force to be used must be proportionate.71