The perception in the Muslim world is that a global anti-Islamic campaign has been launched by Christendom and its media. The fictional and legendary interpretation of Islam, founded on the Byzantine historical traditions, continues to stir fanaticism and hatred against the image of Islam and Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace.
The furious response of Muslims worldwide to Pope Benedict’s XVI quotation of a 14th Century Christian Emperor reflects the deep anger and suspicion of the Western worlds’ current crusade against Islamic countries.
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached", was interpreted by Muslims, despite his “apology”, as fuelling the current climate of Islamophobia.
Pope Urban II had pronounced a similar statement on 28th November 1095 at the Clermont and had incited Christendom to rise against the world of Islam. Recent history reveals Presidents Clinton and George Bush of the USA, Sharon and Netanyahu of Israel, and Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, declaring Islam to be a real threat to the West.
It was Islam’s victory over Christendom, first during the Crusades which lasted over two centuries, and later by the Ottoman’s conquering Constantinople in 1453, that gave reason to European leaders to denounce the religion of Islam, abuse its Prophet and attribute its spread to the sword.
Indeed, if Islam spread only to countries which its Muslim rulers conquered, then the charge of spread of Islam by the sword cannot entirely be refuted. Indonesia, the largest Muslim country of almost 200 million Muslims, records no conquering Muslim army.
From another perspective, vanquished Muslims lands conquered the military victors culturally, just as the Romans were Hellenized after conquering Greece. The Mongols wreaked havoc in Muslim lands during the 12th and 13th centuries, but were unable to resist the pull of Islam and converted to the religion.
Today, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, despite the invasion and occupation of its lands.
It is in the use of the term Jihad, misleadingly translated in the West as Holy War, that reveal the negative attitudes deeply imbedded in the Western psyche. In quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus stereotypical and the discredited concept of “Holy War”, the Pope was viewed as deliberately tarnishing Muslim history and vilifying Muslim society.
"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," the pontiff stated in his own words, suggesting in context that Islam equates with violence. It is this stigmatisation, bias and antagonism from the religious leader of a billion Christians that Muslims find most distressing.
Muslim scholars have explained that the word Jihad is not violence, nor does not mean “Holy War”. It means “struggle” or “striving”. The word for war in the Qur’an is “Harb” or “Qital”. Jihad means serious and sincere struggle on the personal as well as on the social level. It is a struggle to do good and to remove injustice, oppression and evil from the society. This struggle should be spiritual as well as social, economic and political.
Jihad is to protect one’s faith and one’s human rights. Jihad is not a war always although it can take the form of war. Islam is the religion of peace, but it does not mean that Islam accepts oppression. Islam teaches that one should do one’s utmost to eliminate tension and conflict. Islam promotes non-violent means to bring change and reform.
Actually, Islam urges that one should eliminate evil through peaceful means without the use of force as much as possible. In Islamic history from the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) until now, Muslims most of the time resisted oppression and struggled for liberation in non-violent and peaceful manners.
Islam teaches proper ethics in the situation of war. War is permissible in Islam, but only when other peaceful means such as dialogue, negotiations and treaties fail. It is a last resort and should be avoided as much as possible. Its purpose is not to convert people by force, or to colonize people or to acquire land or wealth or for self-glory. Its purpose is basically: defense of life, property, land, honor and freedom for oneself as well as defense of others from injustice and oppression.
Western Christians may think the crusades are ancient history, but these medieval wars which Christian crusaders slaughtered Muslims and established crusader states in Palestine are vivid memories for Muslims. Current Western threats against Islam and invasions of Islamic countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as a continuation of the Crusades. The resurgence of the spirit of Jihad in oppressed and occupied Muslim lands demonstrates that Muslims are willing to die in the cause of justice, rather than live in servitude in perpetuity.