In light of the political unrest in many Middle Eastern states there is much polemic in the West about the social failings of Islam and, almost in the same breath, much derision of the warlike character of the Muslim message. Let us look briefly at the historical context of this through the lens of Byzantium.
It is tempting to look at the many periods in the past when Christianity and Islam "came into conflict" and what the call of Jihad meant, in fact, for both religious groups.
I will focus on just one of those periods, late ninth century, mentioned in my novel King of Lies elsewhere on this site. This is the period running up to a decisive battle in which Muslim forces were turned around by the Byzantine armies as the former campaigned closer and closer to Constantinople.
It was a bit earlier than this, in the late eighth and early ninth centuries, that the concept of jihad began to transform from an act of necessity for Muslims faced with trouble and onslaught to an ascetic act of religious piety involving warfare against a "religious" enemy. For an excellent article detailing the complex evolution of this paradigm I refer the reader to http://www.doaks.org/publications/doaks_online_publications/Crusades/CR02.pdf
There are many fascinating aspects to the late ninth century conflicts which are relevant to this site.
Firstly, Byzantium had been routinely encroached on for decades by Arab fleets in the south (by this point the Arab forces had taken Siciliy and Crete) and in Anatolia (what is today the Turkish mainland).
Thus, at least in the 9th century, the Byzantine battles against the Abbasid were largely defensive, and derived from the need to defend their border (and those retired warriors settled there to defend the borders). The word "Jihad" was known to educated Byzantines even if they spoke no Arabic - largely, I think, because they had no word for the concept in Greek, but mostly because they could identify with it in some way.
But the Byzantines were reluctant warriors, and fought wars not so much out of desire but out of necessity to protect the stability and boundaries of the Eastern Roman Empire, which they saw as the Kingdom of God on Earth.
All of this is largely true except for one very significant counter example. A very large group of religious rebels, the Paulicians (in many ways the original Protestants) had established themselves right next to the Muslim Emirates of south east Anatolia.
These Paulicians, after being almost obliterated through brutal onslaughts initiated by the Byzantine Empress Regent Theodora, collaborated in the late 9th century with the Emirates to confront the religiously orthodox establishment. This was a holy war on both sides - the Byzantines fought against the Paulicians for the continuity of the orthodox religious tradition against the perceived heresy of the Paulicians and the Paulicians fought the Byzantines for the survival of their "restored" true faith. But what is truly abominable is that the Byzantines persecuted their religious "siblings" with such terrifying zeal, one that gives lie to the whole concept of Byzantine pacifism. In many ways it was a kind of crusade.
The battle of Lalakaon (sometimes known as the battle of Poson or Porson) is arguably the most successful battle fought during the brief reign of Emperor Michael III against the Emirs of Melitene and Tarsus. It is little known that this was one of those key battles in which the Arab invasion of mainland Europe was stemmed for several centuries. It was a phenomenal feat of organizational planning. Michael and his Uncle Petronas succeeded in timing the onslaught so that the Emirs would be far afield from their regular bases and separated from their Paulian allies. At the same time Petronas succeeded in bringing five armies from all corners of Byzantium to meet at a single point on a single day, and the only way he did this was to predict, with uncanny accuracy, the route which the Emirs' armies would take as they were pushed further away from home - right up to the Black Sea.
Byzantine internal policies reflected pacifism to some extent - for example, capital punishment was almost unheard of. Instead mutilation and humiliation were the normal punishments for even the most serious crimes. The Byzantines themselves would say that they abhorred both kinds of holy war - jihad and crusade. It was anathema to them to practise war unless forced to do so to protect what was theirs. But again, one could argue that the Paulicians give the lie to any sweeping generalization about Byzantine pacifism.
One of my reasons for writing about all this is to work towards the thesis that any instrument of power that uses religious beliefs to justify war is almost guaranteed to be fundamentally flawed. This applies to proponents of war in any faith, whether it be Orthodoxy, Catholicism, or Islam.
Even a cursory investigation of 20th and 21st century history reveals that this probably applies.