The Counter Crusade

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Inspirations continued...

Regard the Franks!
Behold with what obstinacy they fight for their religion,
while we the Muslims show no enthusiasm for waging holy war.
- Saladin

It might sound strange to you now, but during the crusades the Muslims had no inclination for war. Islam was a civilization flourishing with great sciences and arts, and both Christians and Jews lived among the Muslims and became known for their crafts and their skills. Every emir would have Christians running his administration because they knew many languages, and Jews were famous for the practice of medicine and banking, and as merchants because they had elaborate networks with Jews outside the Muslim world.

One very interesting phenomenon was taking place in Fatimid Egypt. The Fatimids created a caliphate in Egypt to rival the Abbasid Caliphate, but it was rarely the case that the Fatimid Caliph had any real power. In fact even the very creation of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt came from the encouragement of a Jewish man called Yaqub Ibn Killis. Having been vizier to the last ruler of the Ikhshidid dynasty in Egypt, he knew that Egypt was economically weak and he sought out the Fatimid Caliph in Tunisia and convinced him to move the Caliphate to Egypt. Yaqub rebuilt the whole Egyptian economy and was in charge of all the affairs of goverment, basically ruling the Fatimid Caliphate in the name of the Caliph al-Aziz.

After that, the Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo was governed by several Christian and Jewish viziers who had complete control of every affair of government, because the Caliphs trusted them. One Christian vizier called Bahram became so powerful that he was given not only the title of the vizier and thus overseer of the bureaucracy, but also as the commander-in-chief of the army and thus held the title of The Sword of Islam... Bahram was publically Christian however and invited 20,000 Armenian Christians to come live in Egypt. In this unique case however, Bahram was forced upon the Caliph and the Caliph had no power to remove him, whereas in the other cases the Christian and Jewish viziers ruled by the permission of the Caliphs. In fact, the only time in which Jews and Christians lost their powerful positions in Egypt was in the middle of the reign of the Caliph al-Hakim. Al-Hakim had been very kind to the Christians and Jews in his childhood, but he became very depressed in his middle age and most historians agree that he basically went insane. Even a Christian doctor and historian of the time defended al-Hakim's persecution against the Christians, explaining that he used to be very kind to the Christians and that he was suffering from melancholy and a drieness of the brain. In his later days, al-Hakim reversed his hostility to the Christians and Jews once more, and they once again rose to powerful positions in the Fatimid government (as with the case of Bahram who came after al-Hakim).

Now the Fatimids were attacked by the Crusaders, and they asked for help from Nur ad-Din Zangi, who sent his general Shirkuh accompanied by Shirkuh's young nephew, Saladin. Saladin back then thought that he was being dragged to his death, and was not a man of war. Eventually Saladin would become ruler of Egypt, would officially end the Fatimid Caliphate because it was Shiite, and would then succeed Nur ad-Din and realize Nur ad-Din's dream of uniting Syria. The rest, shall we say, is history.

Now Saladin's generosity to the Crusaders is infamous, and it need not be recounted. What matters here is that the Muslims had been living in harmony with the Christians and Jews, and in the case of Fatimid Egypt, under their power, even though Egypt was a Muslim nation. Let us also recall that Saladin was scared of fighting and wanted nothing to do with it.

"While Saladin was consolidating his power in Syria, he generally left the Crusader kingdom alone, although he was usually victorious whenever he did meet the Crusaders in battle...However, the Crusaders repeatedly provoked him. Raynald of Chatillon, in particular, harassed Muslim trading and pilgrimage routes with a fleet on the Red Sea, a water route that Saladin needed to keep open. Worse, and what made him a legendary monster in the Muslim world, Raynald threatened to attack the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In retaliation, Saladin besieged Kerak, Raynald's fortress.... Then Raynald looted a caravan of pilgrims on the Hajj in 1185, forcing Saladin's response."

Basically, Raynald massacred a caravan of pilgrims, and on another occasion captured another caravan in which Saladin's sister was travelling and it is said that he raped her. I dont want this to go on much longer, but just remember that it was the Muslims who wished to live in peace, and the Christians who were promised Paradise by their Pope for killing the Muslims and capturing Jerusalem. "France, he said, was overcrowded and the land of Canaan was overflowing with milk and honey. "

Of course, not all the crusaders went straight for Jerusalem. Some of them decided to go the opposite direction and commit what some historians call "the first holocaust". "The preaching of the crusade inspired further anti-Semitism. According to some preachers, Jews and Muslims were enemies of Christ, and enemies were to be fought or converted to Christianity."

"Jews were perceived as just as much of an enemy as Muslims: they were thought to be responsible for the crucifixion, and they were more immediately visible than the far-away Muslims. Many people wondered why they should travel thousands of miles to fight non-believers when there were already non-believers closer to home.

The crusaders moved north through the Rhine valley into well-known Jewish communities such as Cologne, and then southward. Jewish communities were given the option of converting to Christianity or be slaughtered. Most would not convert and as news of the mass killings spread many Jewish communities committed mass suicides in horrific scenes. Thousands of Jews were massacred, despite some attempts by local clergy and secular authorities to shelter them. The massacres were justified by the claim that Urban's speech at Clermont promised reward from God for killing non-Christians of any sort, not just Muslims. "

Illustrations of the crusaders massacring the Jews were proudly included in a Bible printed in France in year 1250!

Now this particular post is titled "inspirations", and it was meant to focus more on Saladin's generosity in allowing all the Crusaders who surrendered to live and to take all their possessions with them and escape to other Crusader strongholds. But such information is so easy to find you can do it on your own. So I was inclined more to talk about the Muslim inclination to live in peace with the Jews and Christians, and the Crusader zeal for war (although even that I didnt really get a chance to get into).

We could however reflect on how the Muslims back then, including Saladin, lived by the following principle when war seemed imminent:

"You shall prepare for them all the power you can muster, and all the equipment you can mobilize, that you may frighten the enemies of God, your enemies, as well as others who are not known to you; God knows them. Whatever you spend in the cause of God will be repaid to you generously, without the least injustice.

If they resort to peace, so shall you, and put your trust in God. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient. (Quran 8:60-61)"

- Imad, Leila S. The Fatimid Vizierate 969-1172. Shwartz, 1990.


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