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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A holy war of words: Jihad & crusade

The Sept. 11 attacks brought two misunderstood religious words into politics

After Sept. 11, Americans began to hear about jihad. Commonly (and mistakenly) interpreted as “holy war,” jihad properly means “to struggle, to strive hard and to fight,” as in a Muslim’s interior struggle against sin. (The proper word for “holy war” in Arabic is qital.) Nevertheless, the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks claimed their acts to be “holy wars waged against the biggest oppressors of Islam”—the West and Muslims who support Western ideals.

In the wake of the attacks, President George W. Bush used the word “crusade” to describe the “war against terrorism.” This reminded present-day Muslims of the humiliation and pain their ancestors suffered at the hands of the Crusaders. It evoked fear, anger and worry that the Bush administration (perceived as a Christian entity) might endorse and galvanize efforts of Christian proselytism in Muslim countries and communities.


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