Notes and reflections on Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell
The chapter on the Crusades was very interesting. First did you realize the term Crusader wasn't used until the 13th century (although the author says the absence of the word doesn't mean the absence of the concept)? From a military point of view, the Crusades were "negligible." Much of what happened was par for the course among people back then. What was big stuff was that these Crusades symbolically came to mean Muslim vs. the West and eventually became a rallying point for Muslims when they finally realized that they needed to unite around some common cause. Back then - they simply were more interested in fighting each other. In fact a Fatimid ruler offered assistance to the Crusaders as they advanced towards Syria. The Muslims really didn't know what was going on when these Knights from Europe appeared. They apparently did not realize liberation of Jerusalem was the goal. But they soon learned.
The Muslims were used to war, but had lost much of the connection to Muhammad's religious aspect to war so they were startled how a fervent faith inspired these Christian armies.
One aspect mentioned was the motive for these wars. European tribes were constantly fighting each other and Urban II wanted to divert them from this divisiveness to a common cause that would "increase the prestige and influence of the church." (pg.92) Jerusalem became the uniting point. Another motivating factor was the memory of Fatimid ruler Hakim's order that desecrated the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem years before. Apparently this man came to power as part of a Shi'ite takeover of Egypt. He not only declared himself caliph, but messiah and he was harsh on any who opposed this revelation. When some conflict with Christians occurred, his soldiers destroyed part of this famous church and the memory festered in Europe for decades.
The Crusaders came at a perfect time. There really was no Muslim world - at least not a united one. While the Seljuks had united to break down the Byzantine Empire, they immediately became small factions of city-states suspicious of each other. So the Western Europeans not only did not have to struggle with the Byzantines, but they had no united Muslim empire to stand in their way.
The author said the Franks - for these were the Europeans who came - were gruesome in their taking of Jerusalem. Even Christian chroniclers have shamed their treatment of Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians. While this treatment lasted a few terror-filled days, it was not wave after wave of fighting for centuries as some might imagine. The images of constant fights have been ingrained in our heads because this is the stuff of books and Hollywood movies. It's the stuff of history as well since mundane every day existence - farming, trading, worshiping, living - often doesn't make the cut for what to tell about life. Yet the author makes an attempt and I was especially amused by the memoirs of a Muslim aristocrat Usama ibn Munqidh who grew up in northern Syria. He considered the Templars his friends although at times he battled them. He enjoyed human nature and recorded interesting tidbits of life as he saw it. He marveled at the practices of the Franks - their medical procedures which often left people dead instead of healed, their "rough justice," the fact that immodesty didn't bother them and the way they interacted with others.
Mostly the Christian rulers and the conquered peoples lived together in peace. As was also true in Cordoba, the mixing and mingling of cultures and languages happened. Some Muslims decried the fact that Muslim peasants preferred their Christian landlords to Muslim ones. In some ways it was like Cordoba without the refinement. The Franks, quite frankly, seemed a bit uncivilized. I found the connection between the Franks and Maronite Christians interesting especially when the author noted this connection existed throughout the twentieth century when Lebanon was created.
Al-Aqsa Mosque was turned into a church yet there was a place for Muslims to pray. This was normal for these times. Whichever religion ruled the land, their places of worship took over. There was no great outcry about this although the author correctly notes if such a thing happened today the region would be plunged into chaos.
"If wars between religions had been of such overriding importance, then Christians throughout Europe would have rushed to fight side by side with their Byzantine brothers, and Muslims would have overcome their divisions and joined hands to fight a common adversary. That did not happen." (pg. 102) The author believes saying the Crusades was only a religious war is not true. "Although the occasional cry for war against the infidel was not unheard of, later polemicist - in the interest of giving muscle to the clash-of-civilizations perspective - have excavated those and emphasized them out of all proportion to their frequency. Muslim calls for holy war in the twelfth century were much like calls to end poverty in the twentieth - no one could disagree with the noble ambitions, but few were interested in actually doing anything." (pg. 109)
Next up...the Muslims finally unite and a hero emerges!