The Christian “Jihad”

It has been 12 years since the 9/11 (September 11) terrorists attacks that changed the world. Today, I want to examine a statement made a century ago about Islam.

Herman Bavinck (died in 1921) is a Dutch theologian who wrote important works for Christian Reformed theology. Just as World War I was about to start, he had a discussion with Snouck Hurgronje, an old friend of his and colleague (who later became a scholar on Islam), about the Islamic Ottoman Empire (Turkey) taking sides with the Central Powers.

The Ottoman Sultan declared a jihad. Hurgronje hoped that “that exposure to the West—to the modern world—will diminish the drive to jihad in Islam.”[1] But Bavinck disagreed with him saying:

I read in your article that you consider jihad to be a medieval institution that even the Muslim world itself is outgrowing … that there are a small group of “modern” Muslims who desire change (though they are outnumbered and not very influential) … that the Caliphate is merely a honorific … and that the jihad is losing its power among Muslims … that cultural influences will moderate the Muslim world…
I see things quite differently; I have different presuppositions… The danger of conflict [with the Muslim world] will remain as long as Islam remains Islam; no cultural influence will alter that… It is precisely because I am not as sanguine as you are about the awakening of Islam, because I judge culture and civilization to be less powerful than religion and consider the strength and influence of intellectuals far below that of the masses, particularly those who are driven by a religious idea…[2]

This statement was made in 1915, almost a century ago. Is this statement still true today? Even now, it seems like it is. Over a century of modernization passed by Islam and it still remain with “bloody borders,” as Samuel Huntington puts it.

This Wikipedia entry shows a list of terrorism incidents just in the first six months of this year, from January until June 2013. You will see bombings and killings have continued in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, U.S.A., UK, and Russia.

You could add to that the current conflict in Egypt between the new military government and the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. Add to that the ongoing war in Syria in which the US may get involved soon.

Christians residing in Islamic countries still pay a heavy price with their lives because they carry the name of Christ as their identity. The Muslim terrorists continue to kill Christians and bomb their churches in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other Muslim countries.

The U.S. was reminded on April 15 of this year in the Boston Marathon bombings, that terrorism conducted by Muslim terrorists (jihadists) is not going to end soon.

I only could conclude with Bavinck that the “danger of conflict [with the Muslim world] will remain as long as Islam remains Islam; no cultural influence will alter that.”[3]

The Caliphate is diminished, and no longer a Sultan/Caliph can declare a jihad. However, the concept of jihad (the lesser jihad) itself is embedded into the fabric of the dominant religion of Islam, both Sunni and Shiite. I doubt Muslims will outgrow this anytime soon.

As Christians, we have our own jihad too. We have our own fight to carry and continue till the end.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Do you know that Paul fought a jihad? In my Arabic Bible, the word used for “fight” is jihad (and even the verb fought is derived from it).[4]

It is like Paul is saying: I have fought the good “jihad”.  This Christian “jihad” is not done through the sword or with physical weapons, but that it is through spiritual weapons of faith, love, and self-sacrifice.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

May you and I keep fighting the good “jihad” (fight), may we keep the faith, and finish the race faithfully as Paul did.


[1]  John Bolt, Herman Bavinck and Islam, PDF, page 2.
[2] Ibid, page 2-3.
[3] Ibid, page 2.
[4] قد جاهدت الجهاد الحسن اكملت السعي حفظت الايمان

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