Religion, Peace and Conflict – CAUSES OF WAR

The Causes of War



Throughout history, war has been used as a way to take more land. Greed can also lead countries to invade other countries so they can take resources such as oil. Many believe that this was one of the reasons Iraq was invaded so their rich oil supplies could be controlled.

Both Christianity and Islam warn against the dangers of greed:


‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs’ (Bible)

‘God does not like arrogant or boastful people, who are miserly and order people to be the same, hiding the bounty (money) God has given them’ (Qur’an)


Self Defence

Fighting in self defence is usually considered acceptable as it is viewed as fighting to protect family and way of life. Many people would point to historical conflicts such as World War Two where it was essential to fight against Nazi invasion and support other countries such as Poland who were invaded.

Both Christianity and Islam would generally view fighting in self defence as acceptable as long as it was a last resort and all other methods have tried and failed:


‘Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ (Bible)

‘Those who have been attacked are permitted to take up arms because they have been wronged – God has the power to help them.’ (Qur’an)



Wars are sometimes fought in retaliation against a country which is seen to have done something wrong. An example of a war fought as an act of retaliation is how the United States invaded Afghanistan, as it was believed to be providing shelter to Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban who had organised the hijacking of planes, which were flown into the Twin Towers and Pentagon on 9/11.

Opinions vary as to whether retaliation can ever be right. Does it give fair punishment or does it simply cause more problems long term?


Christian Teachings On Retaliation

  • ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil….if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ (St Paul)
  • ‘But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek too. (Jesus)


Both of these teachings suggest retaliation should be avoided if possible. However, some Christians would use the quote ‘Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ to justify retaliation.


Muslim Teachings On Retaliation

Islam would say that if retaliation is necessary it must be proportionate (not use too much force) and avoid bloodshed wherever possible. Forgiveness is always viewed as the best response.

  • ‘If you believers respond to an attack, make your response proportionate, but it is best to stand fast’ (Qur’an)
  • ‘Hate your enemy mildly, for may be your friend one day’



Religion As A Cause of War

Religion and religious teachings do not cause war. Interpretation of these teachings can lead to war eg ISIS’ interpretation of Sura 9. Where teachings are vague or contradictory they can be used to justify war eg Lesser Jihad


Points to consider:

  • Religion can get caught up in war. Religion is caught up with terrorism and has played a part in many conflicts throughout history such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland or the conflict between Jews and Muslims in Palestine/Israel. However, to say religion is the cause of war is perhaps mistaken. Often politics and power lie at the heart of conflict and then sides split along religious lines rather than it being a cause.
  • Religions often have more in common than first appears. Core teachings are similar for example in Christianity and Islam. Both have teachings which focus on the idea of treating people how you want to be treated. Religion can bring people together following conflict eg Corymeela in Ireland. This is an organization set up to help bring Christians of all denominations together following the Troubles in Northern Ireland.



Holy War

A Holy War is a war fought in the name of God. Both Christianity and Islam have a concept of Holy War.

Within Christianity there was once a very strong tradition of Holy War. A good example of this is the Crusades fought by Christians in he Holy Land to capture Jerusalem. Christians who fought in the Crusades were encouraged by the Pope and told they would receive a place in Heaven.

  • ‘Declare a Holy War, call the troops to arms’ (Bible)


Within Islam a Holy War must have specific characteristics:

  • Faith of Islam must be under attack
  • Right to worship must be threatened
  • Could be fought to remove an unjust ruler
  • Must be a last resort once all other methods have failed
  • Must be declared by a religious leader
  • Women and children should be defended
  • Soldiers should stay on the battle field until the fighting ended
  • A Muslim who dies in a Holy War is promised a place in Paradise


Terrorist groups such as ISIS often use the concept of Holy War as justification for terrorist acts.



Just War

A war, which meets certain criteria, which are viewed as ‘fair’. Originally a Christian concept other religions share similar views.

The Just War Theory was put forward by St Thomas Aquinas. It covers the ‘fair’ reasons to go to war; how the war should be conducted and finally how peace should be restored afterwards.


Criteria in Christianity
  • The war must have a Just Cause. This may include self defence. It must not be to gain territory or resources eg oil
  • The war must be started and controlled the the government
  • The intention of the war must be to bring about good. Good must outweigh the evil which led to war
  • Fighting must be a last resort after all other methods had failed eg negotiations or sanctions
  • There must be a reasonable chance of success. It is unjust to ask people to fight in a war if it will be lost and they will be killed
  • The force used must be proportional; enough used to get the job done but no more. Excessive force should not be used.
  • Innocent civilians should not be targeted
  • Peace must be restored afterwards


Whilst many Christians would rather there was no war, some do accept that they may need to fight under the criteria above.


Lesser Jihad and the Just War Theory

There is no specific Just War Theory in Islam although the concept of Lesser Jihad has similarities. Under the concept of Lesser Jihad, which is the ‘struggle’ to defend Islam against threat, there are similar criteria to that found in the Just War Theory.

For fighting to be considered a legitimate Lesser Jihad the following conditions must be met:

  • Fighting should be a last resort
  • Fighting should be in self defence as a response to aggression from others
  • A decision to fight should be made by a religious/state leader
  • Fighting should be for a just cause not to gain territory
  • If an Islamic country is attacked other countries can join to support
  • If a government has treated Muslim citizens poorly


As with the concept of Holy War, a Muslim who dies fighting the Lesser Jihad will be rewarded with Paradise.


Muslims would also say that conduct within war should meet the following conditions:

  • Dead bodies should be respected
  • Children, women and the elderly should be protected
  • Trees should be protected
  • Animals should only be killed for food
  • Prisoners should be treated with respect

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