Crusades and Islam Essay

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Motivating Factors

Of the several theories about motivating factors for the Crusades, the most interesting one is that the late eleventh-century people were in the West suffered from anxiety "verging on alarm" related to their salvation.[footnoteRef:1] In fact, the prevailing theory along this line is that Pope Urban II successfully co-opted the collective apprehension of the faithful in his 1095 clarion call.[footnoteRef:2] Urban convinced the people that they could win remission of all their sins by participating in the liberation of Jerusalem from the Muslims.[footnoteRef:3] The basis for this perspective is that the first Crusade was a Euro-Centric initiative driven primarily by deeply seated Catholic identity, devotion, and anxiety.[footnoteRef:4] In Western Europe, a degree of religious fervor focused on sacred places and sacred things, such as the ability of saints to mediate on behalf of believers through their relics.[footnoteRef:5] There was an accompanying and powerful notion that holy things could be tainted and enslaved -- an idea that became manifest in 1095 when Hakem, who was the Caliph of Egypt, began to persecute the resident Christians and pilgrims to the Holy Land.[footnoteRef:6] This turn of events upset the mutuality between Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem, and it brought about a changed paradigm that "now found intolerable a Muslim possession of the holy places that had been in existence for more than four hundred years."[footnoteRef:7] [1: Housley, Norman. (2007). The Crusades and Islam. Medieval Encounters, 13, 189-208. ] [2: Ibid.] [3: Ibid.] [4: Ibid. p.195. To a lesser degree, crusades up to 1291 were also thought to be rooted in these Catholic trends.] [5: Nickens, Mark. (2004). Crusades: 175 Years of Conflict.] [6: Ibid.] [7: Housley, 2007, op. cit., p. 195.]

The crusaders were not entirely preoccupied with establishing a Feindbild (image of the enemy) or imago inimici (picture of the enemy), although such ethnocentrism is regarded as normative for violent conflict.[footnoteRef:8] As John Tolan, as cited in Hoursey, puts it, "The idolatrous other is an essential foil for Christian virtue."[footnoteRef:9] As such, there was necessary and persistent reference to Muslims as idolatrous polytheists in absolute disregard of Islamic practices as genuine religion.[footnoteRef:10] Any recognition of "Muslim monotheism would have muddied the waters by disturbing the image of the wicked other, which was the purpose of the imago inimici."[footnoteRef:11] [8: Ibid. p. 197.] [9: Ibid.] [10: Ibid.] [11: Ibid.]

That the crusaders were casual about imago inimici derives from two fundamental beliefs: As previously noted, the people of the eleventh century held superstitious beliefs and resident anxiety that close contact with "the wily pagans might lead the innocent into apostasy."[footnoteRef:12] As St. Louis is believed to have told his biographer John of Joinville, the "appropriate way for a layman to defend the Christian faith was not with debate, but the sword."[footnoteRef:13] In addition, the crusaders "were happy to live with imprecision and contradictions."[footnoteRef:14] There was general confusion at the time about the ethnic origins and religious beliefs of their enemy, whom they variously referred to as Saracens or Agarenes.[footnoteRef:15] Both of these designations referred to the Arabs decent from Ishamel, who was the illegitimate son of Abraham and Hagar, Sarah's handmaid.[footnoteRef:16] As Hoursey notes, the eponymous Gesta Francorum, a narrative account of the First Crusade, contained happily cobbled "lists of the enemy that conflated the scriptural, classical, and historical worlds."[footnoteRef:17] The identity of the enemies of Christianity was a conglomerate of the oriental East: "an exotic mosaic made up of different peoples, numerous, diverse, and tumultuous" assembled without logic or reference to fact.[footnoteRef:18] [12: Ibid.] [13: Joinville, John. (1995). Vie de Saint Louis (ed. And trans. J. Monfrim) Paris: Garnier, 26-29, as cited in Housley, p. 198.] [14: Housley, 2007, op. cit., p. 196.] [15: Ibid. p. 197.] [16: Ibid.] [17: Ibid.] [18: Ibid.]

Other aspects of the Crusades were inchoate; crusading ideology was diverse and changed in focus, tone, and content according to the stakeholders, their positions, and their objectives.[footnoteRef:19] Regardless of their apparent or hidden agendas, the stakeholders from each of these groups subscribed to certain elemental beliefs about Islam characterized by three central tenets:[footnoteRef:20] 1) A military lens that was based on the threatening, ambitious, and capable Muslim rulers; 2) a religious characterization of the Islam and Islamic believers; and 3) the need to solidly situate Islam according to the terms of Christian eschatology or the final events in history.[footnoteRef:21] [19: Ibid. p.199.] [20: Ibid.] [21: Ibid.]

The Crusaders and the Church

Even as late as 1291, the Crusades were viewed positively by many people, but Roger Bacon was critical of the crusading and wrote, "those who survive, together with their children, are more and more embittered against the Christian faith."[footnoteRef:22] Over many hundreds of years, Bacon's words came to be viewed as portentous. [22: Rose, Karen. (2009). "Order of the Knights Templar. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, p. 72.]

The crusaders horrified the Byzantines by forming militarized religious units and, accordingly, pillaged as they journeyed east through countries, keeping the conquered lands themselves, instead of restoring the territories taken from the Bzyantines.[footnoteRef:23] Thousands of Jews were massacred in the Rhineland during the People's Crusade, a fact that was used to support Zionism in the 19th century.[footnoteRef:24] Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in a breach that could not be reconciled between the Christian church and the East-West Schism, and to the Ottoman takeover of the Byzantine Empire.[footnoteRef:25] Moreover, because the Fourth Crusade brought attacks on the Eastern Roman Empire -- another Christian power -- instead of attacking Islam, it was viewed as a betrayal of Byzantium.[footnoteRef:26] In 2001, the Catholic Church, in the voice of Pope John Paul II, apologized for the events of the Fourth Crusade in letter to Christodoulous, then Archbishop of Athens:[footnoteRef:27] [23: Ibid.] [24: Ibid.] [25: Ibid.] [26: Ibid.] [27: Pope John Paul II. (2001). Words of the Holy Father. In the Footsteps of St. Paul: Papal Visit to Greece, Syria & Malta -- Words. EWTN (Global Catholic Network).]

"It is tragic that the assailants, who set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret…Division between Christians is a sin before God and a scandal before the world. It is a hindrance to the spread of the Gospel, because it makes our proclamation less credible. The Catholic Church is convinced that she must do all in her power to "prepare the way of the Lord" and to "make straight his paths" (Mt 3:3); and she understands that this must be done in company with other Christians -- in fraternal dialogue, in cooperation and in prayer" (Pope John Paul II, 2001).[footnoteRef:28] [28: Ibid.]

The Crusades were violent and divisive -- attributes that were not in keeping with Christian tenets. Housley asserted that, "the effect of the Crusades on Christian-Muslim relations was profoundly destructive," leaving Muslims with a view of their Western enemies "characterized by generalized stereotyping, abuse, and contempt."[footnoteRef:29] These sentiments have endured in Islamic perspective through the jihads in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, re-emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and sliced the collective Western conscious in the form of contemporary jihads.[footnoteRef:30] The impact of the First Crusade was "traumatizing and totally unexpected for the Muslim population of Syria and Palestine," so much so that subsequent defense of the regained lands essentially eroded the likelihood of any alternative approaches to Islam that Christians may have had.[footnoteRef:31] And, too, relations between Islam and Christianity had already deteriorated, as evidenced by the 1095 conflict in Spain and Sicily.[footnoteRef:32] The record shows that in 1191, negotiations between Richard I and Saladin illustrated the impasse between the two religions about guardianship of the holy spaces.[footnoteRef:33] In his biography of Saladin, Baha al-Din Ibn Shaddad wrote that Saladin's words to Richard I were:…

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