Leaders from four major religions agreed that modern-day references to jihad or holy war are off target Monday night in the Marvin Center.
Representatives of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism told an audience of about 40 people that war is only permissible as a defense from an aggressor.
The event kicked off Religion Week.
“There is no holy war in the precepts of Islam. The taking of a life is never holy,” said Mahdi Bray, member of the National Muslim Public Affairs Council. “If you take a life, you kill all life. If you save a life, you save all life.”
Bray explained that war is only permissible by necessity in Islam.
“There is a justification to engage in war for defense,” Bray said. “It is a duty to defend the religion.”
Panel members said some Jewish law is similar to Islamic law regarding warfare.
“The only type of war permitted by Judaism today is a defensive war,” said Rabbi Barry Freundel. A Georgetown University professor, Freundel said that war is only a justifiable option when someone attacks or is planning to attack.
Freundel explained some rules of Jewish warfare.
“You can do whatever you need to do to weaken their military,” he said. “However, you cannot massacre people, harm the environment or surround a city and not give your enemy a route to escape.”
Hinduism, in contrast, focuses on ahimsa, which means not hurting, said GW Law School student Vineet Chander. Citing the Bhagavad-Gita, a Hindi religious text, Chander spoke of soldiers who put down their arms and search for non-violent resolutions.
“Ahimsa means using the least amount of violence, given the situation. It is a question of circumstances,” Chander said.
Christianity is similar to Hinduism in its support of peace.
“Jesus Christ is the prince of peace,” said Randy Daybell, a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “In the scriptures, we are to denounce war and proclaim peace.”
Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at Catholic University, advocated the “just war theory” – doing only what is necessary to defeat an enemy. The theory speaks against crusade ideology, he said.
“Force is necessary for the sinful world we live in,” Capizzi said. “A just war is not a holy war.”
Islam places limitations on war as well, Bray said. It prohibits killing civilians, livestock and the poisoning of wells.
“Just because you are at war does not mean you can do anything you want,” Bray said.
The panel addressed how difficult it is to know where and how to use rules of engagement in a “just war.”
“We live in a world where a war is impossible without killing people and the environment, with cluster bombs and whatnot,” Bray said.
Capizzi said democracies have responsibilities to defend citizens.
“Everyone is obliged to defend the common good, but some will choose different means than others,” he said.
Bray concluded by clarifying the meaning of “jihad.”
“Jihad does not mean holy war,” he said. “It does indeed mean struggle. The greatest struggle is of the soul, to overcome evil.”
The panel discussed the rules and circumstances of war, agreeing with Daybell’s comments.
“With a spiritual conversion, we can proclaim peace and renounce war,” Daybell said. “All of the blood and all of the battlefields have not brought us once inch closer to peace.”