This is the VOA Special English Background Report.
Iraqis are being urged to lead a "jihad" against American and British forces. Iraq's information minister went on state television Tuesday to read what he said was a statement from President Saddam Hussein. The statement described the war in Iraq as a conflict between Islam and its enemies. It described jihad as a duty for Iraqis, and the act of dying for the religion as a way to reach heaven.
This heavily religious message surprised some people. For many years, Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party kept religion separate from government.
Jihad means "struggle" in Arabic. In some cases it is defined as "holy war." But Islamic experts say jihad also can mean a nonviolent struggle or a struggle within oneself to become a better person.
Calls for jihad in Iraq have reached beyond the country's borders. Arab men from a number of countries have gathered in Syria, for example. They wait for a chance to cross the border. But some Arab governments do not want their people to join the war in Iraq.
The men who want to fight in Iraq say they are going to fight what they call “infidels.” In English, a common meaning of infidel is a person who does not accept the majority religion. Among some Muslims, infidel has come to mean anyone who does not accept Islam.
Islamic experts say the first people to talk about a holy war were the Christian crusaders in Europe during the Middle Ages. Iraqis have accused the United States and Britain of leading a new crusade by invading Iraq. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns that began a thousand years ago.
European Christians set out to capture Jerusalem from Muslim control. The Crusaders failed to establish lasting control over that city. What they did establish, however, was lasting hatred.