Thursday, November 14

The Islamic View and the Christian View of the Crusades: A New Synthesis

I have been reading up on the Islamic view of the crusades over the past few years and besides it being bloody dry and boring, it was literally the mirror image of what the Christian views were. But I always thought that they were being discussed from 2 different matters. After all, Islamic conquests were imperialistic in nature and they just followed what the Greeks, Romans, etc. etc. did. So this article came as a surprise. I quote the abstract:

Conventional wisdom maintains that the Islamic world and western Christendom held two very different views of the crusades. The image of warfare between Islam and Christendom has promoted the idea that the combative instincts aroused by this conflict somehow produced discordant views of the crusades. Yet the direct evidence from Islamic and Christian sources indicates otherwise. The self-view of the crusades presented by contemporary Muslim authors and the self-view of the crusades presented by crusading popes are not in opposition to each other but are in agreement with each other. Both interpretations place the onset of the crusades ahead of their accepted historical debut in 1095. Both interpretations point to the Norman conquest of Islamic Sicily (1060–91) as the start of the crusades. And both interpretations contend that by the end of the eleventh century the crusading enterprise was Mediterranean-wide in its scope. The Islamic view of the crusades is in fact the enantiomorph (mirror-image) of the Christian view of the crusades. This article makes a radical departure from contemporary scholarship on the early crusading enterprise because it is based on the direct evidence from Islamic and Christian sources. The direct evidence offers a way out of the impasse into which crusade history has fallen, and any attempt at determining the origin and nature of crusading without the support of the direct evidence is doomed to failure.

The trip to Sicily in the summer opened my eyes because I never thought about Sicily as part of Italy ever being under Islamic domination but it sure was. The result can be seen all over the island, either in terms of the food or architecture or literature or what have you. A significant amount of architecture and landscape is driven by the Islamic occupation and then the reconquest by the Franks. We stayed in Cefalu which is a classical Frankish town. More interestingly, the Arabic imperialists don't react to the Sicily reconquest in the same way they react to the Spanish reconquest. Interesting.

So this article removed and questioned quite a lot of my previously held conceptions. The crusades did not start by the famous appeal in 1095. As it so happens, the crusades actually started way before when Sicily was reconquered. I quote again.

Six years after the crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, a legal scholar and preacher at the Great Mosque of Damascus, ‘Alī ibn Ṭāhir al-Sulamī (1039–1106), presented an account of the crusading movement in his book Kitāb al-jihād (‘The Book of Holy War’). His interpretation of the crusades came to enjoy canonical status in the Islamic historiographical tradition and was eventually incorporated in the main historiographical tradition of the Middle East.

Al-Sulamī was able to see the crusading movement in its full range. He does not confine crusading to a brief and localized conflict that centred on the Holy Land or the eastern Mediterranean. Instead, al-Sulamī presents the crusades as a Christian jihād against Islam that had three main fronts: Sicily, Spain and Syria. This ‘holy war’ began with the Norman conquest of Islamic Sicily (1060–91), then spread to Islamic Spain, and, by the end of the eleventh century, had advanced on Syria:

A host [of Franks] swooped down upon the island of Sicily at a time of division and dissension, and likewise they took possession of town after town in Islamic Spain [al-Andalus]. When reports mutually confirmed the condition of this country [Syria]– namely, the disagreements of its lords, the discord of its leading men, coupled with its disorder and disarray – they acted upon their decision to set out for it [Syria] and Jerusalem was the chief object of their desires . . . They [the Franks] continued zealously in the holy war (jihād) against the Muslims . . . until they made themselves rulers of lands beyond their wildest dreams.8

hmmmm, makes one think, eh?

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