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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 translates to 'struggle' from Arabic and 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, temples 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 Irelandmarker 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 Irelandmarker or the United Kingdommarker and while religion played a role as a cultural marker, the conflict was in fact ethnic or nationalistic rather than religious in nature. 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.


Those who fought in the name of God were recognized as the Milites Christi, warriors or knights of Christ. 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. 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.

Usually, the ideals and duties of religion were used as tools to legitimize warfare. Religion essentially gave the armies an excuse for their conquests under the guise of "Christianization", but their holy conquests turned out to be a long, violent series of raids for territorial expansion, trade and worldwide dominance, in the name of God.


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 Jerusalemmarker 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.

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 Germanmarker states, Scandinavia (Swedenmarker, primarily) and Polandmarker were beset by religious warfare. Roman Catholicism and Calvinism figured in the opposing sides of this conflict, though Catholic Francemarker 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


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. 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.Some mujtahids (Islamic scholars) have argued that Jihad is not supposed to include aggressive warfare.

Second Sudanese Civil War


From the 11th to the 17th century Hindus fought against the Muslim invasions. Several times during these centuries power swayed from Muslim to Hindu hands. After the loss of power to the Muslims, India was at peace, so long as the Muslim rulers did not attack the faith of the Hindus, but several rulers caused conflicts between them and their Hindu subjects by destroying temples and by giving more power to the Muslim people rather than giving equal power to all Indians. The conflicts in India today between Hindu and Muslim can be traced to these events.

Indian Rebellion of 1857

In 1813, the East India Company charter was amended in order to allow missionary activity across British India. The missionaries soon spread almost everywhere and started denigrating Hinduism and Islam, besides promoting Christianity, in order to seek converts. Many officers of the British East India Company, such as Herbert Edwardes and Colonel S.G. Wheeler, openly preached to the Sepoys. Such activities caused a great deal of resentment and fear of forced conversions among Indian soldiers of the Company and civilians alike. The perception that the company was trying to convert Hindus and Muslims to Christianity is often cited as one of the causes of the revolt. The revolt is considered by some historians as a semi-national and religious war seeking freedom from English bondage though others question this interpretation . The revolt started, among the Indian soldiers of the British East India Company, when the British introduced new rifle cartridges, rumored to be greased with pig and cow fat - an abhorrent concept to Muslim and Hindu soldiers, respectively, for religious reasons. However, in the aftermath of the revolt, British reprisals were particularly severe with hundreds of thousands being killed. While the death toll is often debated by historians with figures ranging between one hundred thousand and one million, it is usually agreed that several hundred thousand were killed.


Yellow Scarves Rebellion

Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion


A careful examination of the Buddhist texts, particularly The Kalachakra Tantra literature, reveals both external and internal levels of battle that could easily be called “holy wars.” Buddhism has not been immune to religious warfare its history, as evidenced by Buddhist conquests of the Cham people, as well as Buddhist war against Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The main ideas of Buddhism emphasized the internal spiritual battle against one’s own ignorance and destructive ways and encouraged the principle of Ahinsa(avoidance of violence) and thus most Buddhists remained neutral or tried to resolve wars in non-violent ways. Buddhists have fought against Muslims as well as Hindus, especially from the 8th through the 10th centuries.

White Lotus Rebellion

Sri Lankan Civil War

The Sri Lankan Civil War between the Buddhist Sinhala majority and Hindu and Catholic Tamil ethnic minority has been characterized by outside observers as a "Buddhist holy war" from the viewpoint of the Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism. The Sinhala hatred for Tamils has been linked to Buddhist religious chauvinism and fundamentalism, and their atrocities on non-Buddhist Tamils been criticized as motivated by a religious-nationalist desire to cleanse the country of non-Buddhist non-Sinhalese ethnics.


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 Israelmarker is debated. There is no reference to Milhemet Mitzvah in official documents from the Israeli government or defense forces.

Jewish-Roman Wars


In Sikhism, a Holy War is only justifiable when all other means to achieve peace have been tried and failed. The early Sikhs of the 15-1600's fought off many Mughal Islamic Invaders, as well as Hindu Rajputs. Sikhs are only allowed to fight for the well being of righteousness, as stated by their 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh. ""When all other means have failed, It is then lawful to take to the sword."

Sikh uprising (1982-91)

Saxon Wars

The Saxon Wars have been described as a religious war.


  1. 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, pp.93
  7. John Esposito(2002). Unholy war: terror in the name of Islam, Oxford University Press, US. ISBN 0-19-515435-5. pp.26
  8. [It was the second Sudanese civil war which began in 1983 which was more clearly provoked by new religious policy of Islamization from Khartoum]
  9. The Indian Mutiny, Saul David, Viking 2002, page398
  10. BUDDHIST NATIONALISM AND RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE IN SRI LANKA, by Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho link
  11. See the chapter 14 "There is no Eastern Solution" in God is not great by Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic, New York, 2006
  12. [2]

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