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Religious war: Wikis


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A religious war is a war caused by religious differences. It can involve one state with an established religion against another state with a different religion or a different sect within the same religion, or a religiously motivated group attempting to spread its faith by violence, or to suppress another group because of its religious beliefs or practices. The Muslim Conquests, the French Wars of Religion, the Crusades, and the Reconquista are frequently cited historical examples.

The Muslim concept of Jihad,which is the Arabic word for struggle and which has a combative aspect, was set down in the 7th Century. Saint Augustine is credited as being the first to detail a "Just War" theory within Christianity, whereby war is justifiable on religious grounds. Saint Thomas Aquinas elaborated on these criteria and his writings were used by the Roman Catholic Church to regulate the actions of European countries.

Many wars that are not religious wars often still include elements of religion, such as priests blessing battleships. Differences in religion can further inflame a war being fought for other reasons. Historically, places of worship have been destroyed to weaken the morale of the opponent, even when the war itself is not being waged over religious ideals.

Religious designations are sometimes used as shorthand for cultural and historical differences between combatants, giving the often misleading impression that the conflict is primarily about religious differences. For example, there is a common perception of The Troubles in Northern Ireland as a religious conflict, as one side (Nationalists) was predominantly composed of Catholics and the other (Unionists) of Protestants. However, the more fundamental cause is the attachment of Northern Ireland to either the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom and while religion played a role as a cultural marker, the conflict was in fact ethnic or nationalistic rather than religious in nature.[1] Since the native Irish were mostly Catholic and the later British-sponsored immigrants were mainly Protestant, the terms become shorthand for the two cultures, but it is inaccurate to describe the conflict as a religious one.[1]



Those who fought in the name of God were recognized as the Milites Christi, warriors or knights of Christ.[2] Christian fighters believed that victory was achieved through divine intervention or aid from God, and they took great pride in their beliefs. These blessed warriors pursued opposing armies and the heretic religions and cults of the time, and were highly admired by the Church and the State.[3] Often, these enemies would be one and the same, such as the Lombard Legions, which were portrayed as a common enemy of Rome and a satanic Pagan tribe as well.[citation needed]

Usually, the ideals and duties of religion were used as tools to legitimize warfare. Religion essentially gave the armies an excuse for their conquests in the name of Christianization.



The Crusades were a series of military campaigns—usually sanctioned by the Papacy—that took place during the 11th through 13th centuries in response to the Muslim Conquests. Originally, the goal was to recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims, and support the besieged Christian Byzantine Empire against the Muslim Seljuq expansion into Asia Minor and Europe proper. Later, Crusades were launched against other targets, either for religious reasons, such as the Albigensian Crusade, the Northern Crusades, or because of political conflict, such as the Aragonese Crusade. In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II raised the level of war from bellum iustum ("just war"), to bellum sacrum.[4]

French Wars of Religion

In 16th Century France there was a succession of wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants (Hugenots primarily). These series of wars were known as the Wars of Religion.

Thirty Years War

In the first half of the 17th century, the German states, Scandinavia (Sweden, primarily) and Poland were beset by religious warfare. Roman Catholicism and Calvinism figured in the opposing sides of this conflict, though Catholic France did take the side of the Protestants but purely for political reasons.

Taiping Rebellion

Inspired by a formerly illegal Protestant missionary tract in China, the core of the Taiping faith focused on the belief that Shangdi, the high God of classical China, had chosen the Taiping leader, Hong Xiuquan, to establish his Heavenly Kingdom on Earth.

The Taiping rebels, professing this new creed, were able to mount their rebellion and recruit multitudes of followers in their sweep through the empire. The Taiping rebels denounced the divine pretensions of the imperial title and the sacred character of the imperial office as blasphemous usurpations of Shangdi’s title and position. In place of the imperial institution, the rebels called for a restoration of the classical system of kingship. Previous rebellions had declared their contemporary dynasties corrupt and therefore in need of revival; the Taiping, by contrast, branded the entire imperial order blasphemous and in need of replacement.

The Bible, in particular a Chinese translation of the Old Testament, profoundly influenced Hong and his followers, leading them to understand the first three of the Ten Commandments as an indictment of the imperial order. The rebels thus sought to destroy imperial culture, along with its institutions and Confucian underpinnings, all of which they regarded as blasphemous. Strongly iconoclastic, the Taiping followers smashed religious statues and imperially approved icons throughout the lands they conquered.

The Guinness Book of World Records calls this the "bloodiest civil war" with some 20 million estimated dead[5]


Jihad means "to strive or struggle" in the way of God, and is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, although it has no official status.[6] In the West, Jihad is often understood as "Holy War", but it has a broader meaning in Islamic theology. It can be striving to lead a good Muslim life, praying and fasting regularly, being an attentive and faithful spouse and parent or working hard to spread the message of Islam.[7]


In the Jewish religion, the expression Milhemet Mitzvah (Hebrew: מלחמת מצווה, "commandment war") refers to a war that is both obligatory for all Jews (men and women) and limited to territory within the borders of the land of Israel. The geographical limits of Israel, and therefore of this religious war, are detailed in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, especially Numbers 34:1-15 and Ezekiel 47:13-20. The relevance of this concept to the contemporary State of Israel is debated.[citation needed] There is no reference to Milhemet Mitzvah in official documents from the Israeli government or defense forces.


  1. ^ a b McGarry J, O'Leary B, 1995. Explaining Northern Ireland: Broken Images. Oxford, Blackwell
  2. ^ Tyerman, Christopher. The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, London, 2004. PP. 63.
  3. ^ Tyerman, Christopher. The Invention of the Crusades. Oxford University Press, Basingstoke, Hampshire. PP.15
  4. ^ Christian Jihad: The Crusades and Killing in the Name of Christ
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ John Esposito(2005), Islam: The Straight Path, p.93
  7. ^ John Esposito(2002). Unholy war: terror in the name of Islam, Oxford University Press, US. ISBN 0-19-515435-5. p.26
  • Pryor, Fancis (2004). Britain A.D. : A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo Saxons. London: HarperCollins. 
  • Tyerman, Christopher (2004). The Crusades : a very short Introduction. London: Oxford University Press. 
  • Tyerman, Christopher (1998). The Invention of the Crusades. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Oxford University Press. 
  • Backman, Clifford (2003). The Worlds of Medieval Europe. New York: Oxford University Press. 


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