The Real History of the Crusades, Part 2: Muslim Aggression

In Part 1 of this series the history of Muhammad and the founding of Islam was presented, wherein the contrasting example and teachings of Muhammad – the Meccan message of solidarity with the outcast, impoverished, and fringes of society, and the violent, intolerant, expansive and aggressive Medinan message – bequeathed something of a schizophrenic worldview that has proven historically problematic. Exacerbating the issue is the lack of a teaching authority within Islam to synthesize these competing messages, as for instance, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church provides for what are colloquially known as the “dark passages” of the Old Testament. Here in Part 2 will be examined the consequences of Islam’s schizophrenia and the role it played in bringing about those series of armed pilgrimages known as the Crusades.

To state Islam is short a teaching authority akin to the Catholic Magisterium is somewhat misleading. Islam can be compared to Protestantism: Protestantism does not possess a teaching authority, yet to be Protestant, regardless of the denomination, carries a particular set of theological and doctrinal suppositions. Consider, all Protestants accept sola Scriptura and reject that Tradition (which means Man’s ability to reason) is an equally valid source of authority. In a perverse sense, this is a type of “teaching authority,” although a Protestant would most fervently argue otherwise. Similarly, Islam is historically tribal if not denominational, and carries certain theological and doctrinal suppositions, of which two are particularly relevant in the history of the Crusades.

Christians consider the Bible to be “inspired”; meaning, what is read in the Bible is not literally God speaking, but rather, The Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Islam, conversely, adheres to what Muhammad preached: that Muhammad merely “retransmitted” Allah’s words as directed via the Archangel Gabriel. In other words, what is read in the Qur’an is not the Holy Spirit working through an individual writer, but literally the words of Allah. Put another way: if Christians read and understood the Bible as Muslims do the Qur’an, the New Testament would have to be read as being authored by God himself and the Gospel writers nothing more than messengers to whom God said, “Record my words!” (Which would then beg the question as to why there are four Gospels. Wouldn’t God get it right the first time?)

The second supposition refers to what has come to be known as the doctrine of abrogation. This means that whenever the Qur’an contradicts itself, Muhammad’s most recent revelation always takes precedent. What does that mean? The more violent Muhammad always takes precedence over the more peaceful Muhammad if there is a contradiction because chronologically the more violent Muhammad (Medina) occurred more recently than the peaceful Muhammad (Mecca).

One important note before proceeding: as with Christians, Jews, or an adherent of any other religion, what an individual chooses to accept, or not as the case may be, is up to him or her. What is irrefutable as history demonstrates, is in order for a Muslim to behave hypocritically these are the sort of things he or she must elect to ignore.

In tandem, the historical consequences of these two pseudo-teaching authorities meant that

  1. The Qur’an cannot be interpreted, synthesized, or understood in any fashion other than a literal manner. Verses such as “Believers! Wage war upon such of the infidels as are your neighbors, and let them find you rigorous; and know that God is with those who fear him!” mustbe read literally (if you believed you were actually reading God’s words precisely, would you dare read them any way but literally?).
  2. Because the more violent Qur’an verses coincide with the latter portion of Muhammad’s life those verses always take precedence over ones of peace preached earlier.

As seen in Part 1, Islam spread through military conquest. The trend continued after Muhammad’s death. We need not delve into the succession dispute and political divisions that resulted in the Islamic groups we see today; suffice to say Islam regardless adhered to Muhammad’s example, in observance of the two aforementioned theological and doctrinal suppositions. The net result witnessed an ever-expanding Muslim empire (in succession: Syria, modern day Iraq and Iran, the Holy Land, Egypt, North Africa, Spain) increasingly imperiling the Christian world, both the Byzantine East and Latin West.

The immediate cause of the Crusades rests with the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus beseeching Latin aid against the Turkish onslaught at his gates. However, this moment was simply the latest in a long series of Muslim antagonisms toward Christianity and the Christian world. In the decades preceding Comnenus’ plea in 1095, Christians were making pilgrimages to the Holy Land in earnest. This is but a sampling of what awaited them (keep in mind the Holy Land was under Muslim control):

–       Gerald of Thouars, the abbot of Saint-Florent-lès-Saumur, was imprisoned and executed upon his pilgrimage (1022).

–       Richard of Saint-Vanne was stoned to death for reciting Mass (1026).

–       Ulrich of Breisgau was stoned to death by a mob near the Jordan River (1040).

–       Bishop Gunther of Bamberg and his retinue of pilgrims were ambushed near Caesarea; two-thirds were killed (1064).

The West wasn’t exempt from such hostilities though – Muslim armies were happy to invade Europe. Charles “The Hammer” Martel famously defended the continent in 732 at the Battle of Poitiers (or Tours, depending on the historian), containing the Muslim threat within the Iberian Peninsula until the Reconquista eventually repelled it back over the Strait of Gibraltar. While Martel’s victory ensured you and I aren’t required to learn the Qur’an today, Southern Europe was not fortunate to have such an indomitable skullcracker as The Hammer. Muslim armies would later successfully invade Rome from their conquered territory of Sicily (including Palermo in 831, Syracuse in 878, and Taormina in 902). On the mainland, Muslim armies took Taranto and Bari (841), sacked Capua, and occupied Benevento soon thereafter. Rome was pillaged in 843 and again in 846, forcing the pope to pay a massive tribute. For more than two centuries Sicily and southern Italy would be under Muslim control.

Fortunately for the majority of the West, it never had to contend with daily life under Muslim rule. The myth of Muslim tolerance is just that: myth. As dryly noted by one scholar, “It is true that the Qur’an forbids forced conversions. However, that recedes to an empty legalism given that many subject peoples were ‘free to choose’ conversion as an alternative to death or enslavement.” Whether speaking of ISIS and Boko Haram or medieval Muslim overseers, dhimmi status is the norm. As remains so to this day, death awaited anyone who converted to Judaism or Christianity. Existing Jews and Christians were prohibited from praying or reading scriptures out loud, including in their homes, synagogues, or churches, lest Muslims overhear them. Further, synagogues and churches could not be built. Dhimmis were usually taxed excessively and also conscripted into Muslim armies and other positions of service.

Unfortunately, dhimmi status also included much more. The Fatimite khalif al-Hākim bi-Amr Allāh, who ruled Egypt and Syria, is known to have ordered:

–       The abolishing of Palm Sunday (1008).

–       The punishing of Christian secretaries, hanging them by their hands and confiscating all their possessions (1009).

–       The destruction of a church in Damascus dedicated to the Virgin Mary (1009).

–       The destruction of another church dedicated to Mary, this time in Cairo, including the desecration of graves in the accompanying cemetery and allowing dogs to eat the flesh of recently buried bodies while the remaining bones of older corpses were dispersed and separated (1009).

–       The destruction of a Coptic Christian church dedicated to Saint Cosma (1009).

–       The destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (1009), considered the worst offense by Europe.

What should be emerging at this juncture is the very real threat that Islam presented to Christianity and the Christian world. This threat was more than a petty political squabble; it was a true clash of worldviews in which one side (Islam) had systematically expanded for centuries through military conquest, subjugating the people of those territories, and making life miserable for them unless they converted. Although there were other factors in Europe, unrelated to Islam, that made Alexius Comnenus’ call for support a felicitous moment to act, it was the Medinan message of Muhammad that proved to be the reason for Christianity to say, “No more!” In Part 3 Europe’s motives will be explored further at the macro and micro levels as well as exactly what Pope Urban II called for at the Council of Clermont.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s