“Conflict and Resistance Ethics: Towards a Critical Understanding of Jihad and Just War” by H E Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot – CILE - Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics

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“Conflict and Resistance Ethics: Towards a Critical Understanding of Jihad and Just War” by H E Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot

H E Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot | 08/10/2017
“Conflict and Resistance Ethics: Towards a Critical Understanding of Jihad and Just War” by H E Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot

“Conflict and Resistance Ethics:

Towards a Critical Understanding of Jihad and Just War”

[This Keynote lecture was presented in CILE 5th Annual International Conference which was held in Doha, Qatar on March 18-19, 2017]


H E Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot,

Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue,

HOLY SEE, (Vatican).


Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, as titular bishop of Luperciana. Fr. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot was born in Seville, Spain, on June 17 1952. He took his final vows in the Institute of the Comboni Missionaries on May 2, 1980 and was ordained a priest on September 20 of the same year. He worked as a missionary in Egypt and Sudan until 2002. He earned a licentiate in Arabic and Islamic studies from the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome in 1982 and a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the University of Granada, Spain, in the year 2000. Starting in 1989 he was professor of Islamic Studies first in Khartoum, Sudan, and then in Cairo, Egypt, before joining the PISAI, of which he was eventually appointed rector, where he remained until 2012. Fr. Guixot has presided over several meetings on inter-religious dialogue in Africa, specifically in Egypt, Sudan, Kenya Ethiopia and Mozambique. He has also authored various books and has been published in international journals. On June 30, 2012 Pope Benedict 16th appointed him as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. Fr. Guixot is fluent in Spanish, Arabic, English, French and Italian.



Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is an honor for me to represent the Holy See at this 5th Annual International Conference under the title: “Conflict and Resistance Ethics: Towards a Critical Understanding of Jihad and Just War”. On behalf of the Holy See, I greet you all and express my thanks to the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) for organizing this International Conference. I would like to offer some points for your consideration during this important Conference, so that people everywhere may become true promoters of peace and dialogue.


  1. Indeed, the topic of this International Conference is timely, due to the present situation in which, in various ways, it is evident that we are going through a difficult and trying moment in history. This demands both reflection and action taken together to counter any kind of resistance against the peace we all desire and hope for in our world. We all, as members of one and the same human family, deserve it! The title of this important Conference focuses on essential issues of which humanity is suffering today. First, the spread of conflicts, in bits and pieces around the world, to the point that His Holiness Pope Francis speaks of a “Third World War in pieces”; Second, the spread of a mentality where basic ethical human principles are vanishing; thus, a resistance to true ethical values for building up together the common good; and Third, the misunderstanding and misperception of the true meaning of peace and the manipulation of terms and principles, like “jihad and just war”, to justify violence and terror in the name of religion.


  1. The 9/11 terrorist attacks by Islamist militant groups wrongly claiming to act in the name of Islam and true Muslims, have become the symbol of this new era of terror that has led the human family to begin the new Millenium under the stigma of violent conflict and, unfortunately, by negating the value of human life, motivated by a false understanding of religion. This reality, executed aggressively in the past by known terrorist groups claiming responsibility for such violence, is being presently continued by other “religious” groups claiming to be Muslims, fighting a jihad against Muslims and the “West”.


  1. In examining this conflict between groups labeled as terrorists and the “Western” powers, differences emerge between the so-called Christian just war theory and Islamic jihad, indicating opposing notions of “Conflict and Resistance Ethics”. The time has come to consider a more critical understanding of these two principles, as this Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) is remarkably doing. We, Christians and Muslims, are struggling together to counter this misperception of religion, which is spreading particularly among the young. In the so-called ‘war on terror’ both sides have taken great pains to justify their actions in moral terms. As more force is employed, so are sophisticated arguments which directly invoke the just war traditions of the West and Islam. These terrorist groups, who have nothing in common with any religion or any believer or doctrine, took from the just war concepts and, in some cases, reconceptualized their scope and content for their own use.


  1. Rather than a clash between civilizations, it appears from the war on terror that there is a clash within civilizations: in resorting to violence, both sides have acted against their own cultural and religious traditions. Without entering more specifically into the notion of jihad, that our Muslim partners will share during this International Conference, as a Christian, I would like to share with you some ideas, far from being exhaustive, concerning the concept of the so-called just war theory in our Christian tradition.

The main point of the just war theory, as expressed by various scholars, is articulated in the works of Saint Augustine, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ, and Saint Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century scholar. To put it simply, both agree that a war can be just only when it is carried out by a legitimate authority, on the basis of a just cause, and motivated by right intentions.

Jesus’ message is overwhelmingly one of peace. This is clearly evident in his preaching and teachings: “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9). The legitimate use of armed force according to the Catholic Church has to be understood in the light of the commandment: “You shall not kill”. Recalling this commandment, Jesus “asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2302). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The […] commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war” (n. 2307). Consequently, “all citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war” (n. 2308).

           Furthermore, the Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, clearly states that: “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation. […]. The bishops of the whole world gathered together, beg all men, especially government officials and military leaders, to give constant thought to their gigantic responsibility before God and the entire human race” (n. 80).


  1. This absolute condemnation of war finds a sole limit in the recognition of the right to legitimate self-defense, once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted. In this way, legitimate self-defense so understood replaces the so-called just war doctrine. In fact, State authorities and others who share public responsibility have the duty to protect the welfare of the people entrusted to their care. “As long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed” ( 79 §4; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2308).

Legitimate self-defense is not only a right but also a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2265). But it is “one thing to undertake military action for the just defense of the people, and something else to seek the subjugation of other nations” (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 79 §4).

           The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force are, at one and the same time (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2309):

  • The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • There must be serious prospects of success;
  • The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

This understanding of the legitimate use of armed force complies with and enriches the provisions of the UN Charter. This treaty, in fact, engages all Member States of the Organization to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” (UN Charter, art. 2 §4). But at the same time, the UN Charter recognizes “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member” (art. 51) State.


  1. Sadly, in the past different situations have also led Christians to justify the use of violence, in part for religious reasons. One notable example is the Crusades, when it was believed that war, with its intent to free the holy places, would naturally have the support of God. In the twentieth century the Catholic teaching on the relationship between religion and the rejection of violence has become an object of careful reflection. In this context, I would like to call to mind what Pope Saint John Paul II said: “More perhaps than ever before in history, the intrinsic link between an authentic religious attitude and the great good of peace has become evident to all” (Pope John Paul II, Address, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, 27 October 1986: Insegnamenti IX,2 [1986], 1268).Thirty years later, in September 2016 in Assisi, Pope Francis stated that: “Our religious traditions are diverse. But our differences are not the cause of conflict and dispute, or a cold distance between us. We have not prayed against one another today, as has unfortunately sometimes occurred in history”. He added: “We further declare that violence in all its forms does not represent ‘the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction’. We never tire of repeating that the name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!” (Pope Francis, Interreligious Day of Prayer, Assisi, 20 September 2016). Pope Francis’ invitation to a profound turning of this page for the sake of the human family could not be more explicit, overcoming past notions and instances of the so-called “holy war”.


  1. How can conflicts and wars be avoided? Dialogue is an actual necessity, not a choice: there can be no peace in the world without dialogue, especially among believers, who are by far the majority of humanity today. In all religions, there is a treasury of values that can contribute towards building a world of justice, peace, fraternity and prosperity. What is needed is to put together and embrace these values, believed in and accepted by the followers of religions in every part of the world, in order to make a global difference! Let us call on all these people of good will, to whom we are called to extend our hands in fraternity and friendship, and seek collaboration for the common good, for a better world.

Pope Francis is convinced that “if we seek out other people, other cultures, other ways of thinking, other religions, we go out of ourselves and start that most beautiful adventure which is called “dialogue” (…).  Dialogue is very important for our own maturity, because in confronting another person, confronting other cultures, and also confronting other religions in the right way, we grow; we develop and mature. This dialogue is what creates peace. It is impossible for peace to exist without dialogue” (Pope Francis, To the Seibu Gakuen Bunri Junior High School of Saitama, Japan, Vatican City, 21 August 2013).


  1. The promotion of a “culture of encounter”, one that is “open and fruitful” with the other, “demands that we be ready to listen” (Pope Francis, Message for World Communications Day, 24 January 2014). Aware that today we live amongst a “wounded humanity”, Pope Francis believes that the motivation for interreligious dialogue must rest in the mutual commitment to peace and justice, thus making them the basic principles for all our exchanges. In fact, interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and thus a duty for all of us (Cf. Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 250). Dialogue creates a school of humanity and becomes an instrument of unity, helping to build a better society founded on mutual respect and friendship. “It is always worth remembering, however, that for dialogue to be authentic and effective, it presupposes a solid identity: without an established identity, dialogue is of no use or even harmful” (Pope Francis, Ecumenical and Interreligious Meeting, Franciscan International Study Centre, Sarajevo, 6 June 2015). For this, dialogue must be “friendly and sincere” (cf. Pope Francis, Message to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 28 November 2013).


  1. Extremist tendencies, irrespective of their origin, are without doubt among the most dangerous threats to world peace and security. Such radical movements introduce fundamental and sudden changes by imposing uncompromising and violent policies. They create an environment in which mutual acceptance and understanding cannot co-exist. This gives way to various kinds of animosity toward people of different ideologies, race and beliefs. Consequently, we must increase our awareness that any kind of war is incompatible with true religious ethics. What is required, in order to do this, is a serious and widespread formation that fosters dialogue, together with genuine effort by religious leaders and opinion makers to identify those persons who portray false beliefs and behaviours as part of their “religious” ideology.

“As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights. Human life, a gift of God the Creator, possesses a sacred character. As such, any violence that seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the Omnipotent is the God of life and peace. The world expects those who claim to adore God to be men and women of peace who are capable of living as brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological differences […]. We, Muslims and Christians, are the bearers of spiritual treasures of inestimable worth […] Recognizing and developing our common spiritual heritage – through interreligious dialogue – helps us to promote and to uphold moral values, peace and freedom in society” (Pope Francis, Visit to the President of the Diyanet at the Department for Religious Affairs, Ankara, 28 November 2014)


  1. Such peace is a universal responsibility. We are called to go forth together along the path of the proposed subject of this International Conference, that is, to be promoters of true ethical values to counter any kind of possible conflict so that we may overcome these historical concepts of war, and foster that good which engenders peace. Given the critical nature of this context, we cannot remain indifferent. Today the world has a profound thirst for peace. In many countries, people are suffering due to wars which, though often forgotten, remain always the cause of suffering and poverty. We do not have weapons. We believe, however, in the meek and humble strength of prayer and dialogue: “Inspired by common values and strengthened by genuine fraternal sentiments, Muslims and Christians are called to work together for the sake of justice, peace and respect for the dignity and rights of every person, especially in those regions where they once lived for centuries in peaceful coexistence and now tragically suffer together the horrors of war” (Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Common Declaration Istanbul, 30 November 2014).


To end, I would like to express my ardent desire that during the work and exchanges of these days, we may work together to change the misperceptions that prevail in our world, and that, full of hope, we may commit ourselves to promote sincere dialogue. Let us not forget that in our religions, there is a treasury of values that can contribute towards building a world of justice, peace, fraternity and prosperity. “In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms” (Pope Francis, Message for the Celebration of the Fiftieth World Day of Peace, 1 January 2017). Thank you for your kind attention.




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