Skip to main content

Syria's 'holy war'

The Russian Orthodox Church's description of Moscow's intervention in Syria as a "holy war" has created a buzz among Lebanese Christians.
Read in 

An Oct. 16 statement by the Russian Orthodox Church declaring Russia's intervention in Syria a “holy war” has sparked considerable debate and concern in Lebanon and other parts of the Arab Mashreq given the possible repercussions for the existence and role of Christians in the area. The church's position was quickly countered by a Muslim campaign calling for Islamic jihad. Jabhat al-Nusra Sheikh Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti offered 1 million Syrian pounds (approximately $5,300) to anyone who abducts a Russian soldier, while Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of International Union for Muslim Scholars, complained, “If we defend our homelands and our homes in the name of Islam, which we believe in, we are accused of terrorism, yet Russia is bombing Syria and the opposition under the auspices of holy war.” The buzz in Lebanon about the statement comes as no surprise. After all, Lebanon is a Middle Eastern country with a prominent Christian community in terms of its political representation and historical role.

This is not the first time that religious authorities and movement leaders have tackled the sanctity of wars in the region. The history of the ancient Mashreq is riddled with examples. More recently, during a speech in 2014, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, raised the banner of “Sacred Defense” in summing up the “story of the Iranian people’s resilience.” Much earlier, in January 2009, Osama bin Laden had called for jihad to stop an Israeli war on Gaza. On July 2 of this year in Yemen, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi implored his supporters to wage holy jihad to confront the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia, which is heading a coalition to support Yemeni government forces. In other words, the region has been the site of numerous calls for jihad by Sunnis as well as Shiites.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.