The Crusades & Liberal Islam

Jul 5th, 2006, in History, Opinion, by

The “Jaringan Islam Emansipatoris”, or Emancipatory Islamic Network, write about the Crusades and get it all wrong.

The Crusades, they say, starting off on the right historical foot, were begun under the reign of Pope Urban II in 1095 and were meant to recover the holy places of Christianity, above all Jerusalem, for the Christian world. Across the Eastern Mediterranean military operations were launched against Muslim armies. And then:

The war can be seen as the first contact which gave birth to the tension and emnity between the West and the East.

and wer’e assuming that the “East” here refers to the Muslim world.


Discussions of inter-religious conflicts, above all those between the great religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are often connected with the Crusades.

Liberal Muslim organisations like Jaringan Islam Emansipatoris do a lot of good and this site is generally supportive of them. However at least on this topic they share the prejudices and inability to critically evaluate Islam of their more conservative and orthodox co-religionists. The Crusades were not the beginning of the fight between Islam and the West, they were a second, belated act, by a hitherto sleep-walking Christian world, after centuries of Muslim/Arab aggression, centuries of invasions, conquests, massacres, forced conversions, that reached all the way into the heart of western Europe.

After the birth of Islam, in a small, obscure part of Arabia, in the 7th century, wave after wave of Muslim armies crashed into Christian and Jewish lands, conquered them, usurped them, colonized them, bled them. These armies carried Islam all the way to southern Spain, to Andalusia, and of course to countless, mainly Christian, lands along that bloody way. Conquered peoples were offered few choices – convert or accept the humiliating status of dhimmi. Over three centuries later, after this massive jihad had begun, the European Christians finally and belatedly made some sort of response – the Crusades – and attempted to seize back at least some of the areas lost to Christendom.

The conflict between the West and the “East” can be traced back to the initial, violent, Muslim expansion out of their desert backwater, not to the Crusades.

45 Comments on “The Crusades & Liberal Islam”

  1. Hi,

    Wow. Such a claim you have here: invasions, conquests, MASSACRES, FORCED CONVERSIONS, conquered, usurped, colonized, bled them… as if Muslims then were barbaric group of people, while the rest of the world was civilized and noble.

    I am not a student of history. So, I hope you could elaborate more on this further.

  2. decr_ryan says:

    yes.,absolutly right your opinion’Moslem were not barbarick group of people’…as a group of jihad in ambon,Poso etc or suicide bombing in Bali,wtc,marriot etc. till now a question
    left in my mind ; Who are they?….are they human being?….are they have a sense of humanity?…but I believe they have something to believe in…so please explain me nothing.don’t give me an answer I fear to hear..!

  3. Paul Dale says:

    Well said. Wonderful post, my sentiments exactly. Too bad we cannot see an honest comment like this in traditional media outlets.

    And to Rasyad . . . . the post says does not mention or infer anything about being “barbaric” and does not infer that the rest of the world was “civilized and noble”. That is your own prejudice being applied to a simple statement of historical facts, and part of the problem meant to be addressed by this post:

    i.e. that Muslims have been conditioned to raise the victimization flag and cry foul about the crusades to this day (1000 years later!) while somehow having absolutely no clue about the centuries of Muslim aggression that preceded those events.

    Rasyad, if you are interested in learning about history – and want to find the roots of the present “Islamic fundamentalism”, or whatever one wants to call it, look at the language used during those initial wars against the “infidels” from roughly 640AD-900AD. Furthermore, for a contemporary (pre-Israel) assessment of attitudes in the Arab world look at the writings of Gertrude Bell – someone who loved Arab & Islamic culture but could provide objective criticism.

  4. Jakartass says:

    A historically accurate post.

    But, I wonder, is it just Muslims who “have been conditioned to raise the victimization flag”? Maybe yes, if we only consider the Crusades, but since then there have been groups of Christians victimised by other Christians ~ consider e.g. Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, or the Spanish Inquisition. And groups of Muslims slaughtering other Muslims ~ witness Iraq today.

    Are these too a consequence of those long ago Crusades?

    Finally, Decr_ryan might like to consider that those with the most doubts generally have the strongest faith.

  5. Paul Dale: The origin of Crusade, or the roots of the present “Islamic fundamentalism”, is not my concern in my previous comments.

    What I want to know are these: Did Muslims in the 7th centrury really commit MASSACRES and FORCED CONVERSIONS as Patung said? How do you look at these alleged massacres and forced conversions in their historical context? How are these massacres and forced conversions compared to others in history? Could you point out some books by respective scholars that discuss these questions?

    These alleged massacres and forced conversions by Muslims in the 7th century are new to me. And I guess, for most Indonesians Muslims too.

    Here is a snippet of a recent book I read which tell you just the opposite what Patung wrote. But, as I said, I am not historian…

    Decr_ryan: Patung is talking about the 7th century world.

  6. David says:

    Hi Rasyad,

    I’m not only referring to the 7th century but really to all the time up to the beginning of the Crusades, but, the main part of the Islamic conquest did occur in the 7th and 8th centuries, see map.

    After the birth of Islam, in a small, obscure part of Arabia, in the 7th century

    As for perhaps if you scroll down and read the comments there you might get a different view on it.

    As for massacres we could start with Muhammad himself, if you don’t mind, the massacre of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in which Muhammad allowed the killing of about 600-900 men, beheaded, while their women and children were sold into slavery, their property stolen, – a good discussion on it here, and also a quote from historian Bat Ye’or :

    Muslim chroniclers described the ongoing jihad (holy war), involving the destruction of whole towns, the massacre of large numbers of their populations, the enslavement of women and children, and the confiscation of vast regions. This picture of catastrophe and destruction corresponds to the period of gradual erosion of Palestinian Jewry. According to [the Muslim chronicler] Baladhuri (d. 892 C.E.), 40,000 Jews lived in Caesarea alone at the Arab conquest, after which all trace of them is lost. – [my emphasis]

    Forced conversions are a somewhat tricky area, there is the sword at your neck type, convert now or die now, which was rare I think, but there is also the army at the gates of a city, ready to sack it, how do you think the people in the city felt when they saw this army and heard its leaders call them to Islam? After all, what is the point of jihad if not to convert people to Islam?

  7. Jakartass says:

    I still wonder whether the point of jihad is to convert people to Islam. Mostly, as Karen Armstrong argues in the Guardian today (8.7.06) ~,1815769,00.html ~ “Informed extremists today do not need to be told that their holy war is unorthodox; they already know.”

    It is too easy to give a historical context to today’s religious extremism. Don’t forget that Bin Laden’s initial ‘holy war’ was against the Saudi royal family.

  8. David says:

    Hi Jakartass,

    Yes, perhaps I should have said “After all, what is the point of jihad if not to spread Islam?”.

    I think the purpose of jihad has changed over time. In the beginning, the period we are talking about here, the main purpose was to conquer lands but this necessarily is connected with the broader, ‘spiritual’, aim, that of “establishing the kingdom of Allah on earth” (Mishkat II, pg.253).

  9. Jakartass says:

    So, Patung, the purpose of J.I. here is to spread Islam wherever they can find converts to their particular brand of Islam? It hasn’t got anything to do with we infidels ~ which I’m sure would be the label I’m saddled with by zealots who don’t know me.

    I’m apologise if I’m straying from your original, and very pertinent, historical context, but then we are continuously being told that the Koran (or BIble) says …. , (or said) …

    If the modern zealots see themselves as part of a ‘tradition’ (for want of a better word), then your post is of the utmost importance. What worries me is that these zealots live in the past and dream of the future ~ but have no regard for the present.

    So, where does that leave the rest of us?

  10. dec_ryan says:

    Excelent theory of media expert!..I wonder but ignore it.let’s find the fact n’proof so try to learn by sight n’ view.please not to use emotion,philosopy even your ilusion.It’s not about zealotry but it’s about the truth n’ trust.I’m Indonesian the big community of Moslem.just have a look in my previous post n’ give a simple answer based on what U’ve seen-heard-read n’ may be on going! Be Honest..

  11. I think, about the “massacre of the Jewish Banu Qurayza”, you need to look at it in historical context. Besides, as you may aware, historians are debating about it.

    I wish I could offer something about this event, but I know nothing more than those described in, like, Armstrong’s books.

    The question is, still, were there widespread massacres and forced conversions in Europe by Muslims that then lead to Crusade? How systematic these massacres and forced conversions are? How are they compared to other “massacres and forced conversions” in the preceding or following centuries by Arabs and non-Arabs.

  12. David says:

    Massacres are massacres, you can put all massacres into their “historical context” and then understand them better but they are still massacres.

    …centuries of Muslim/Arab aggression, centuries of invasions, conquests, massacres, forced conversions, that reached all the way into the heart of western Europe.

    I wouldn’t just focus on massacres and forced conversions. I don’t know if the “aggression, and, invasions, conquests, massacres, forced conversions” necessarily led to the Crusades (although the main point of the Crusades was to capture Jerusalem and the Holy Land generally, which had been colonized by Muslims), the point of my post was that Arabs/Muslims attacked first and on a massive scale. If hatred exists between the west and the middle east then don’t blame the Crusades for it, you might be better off blaming Islamic imperialism.

  13. geekgirl says:

    even the sweetest story about spreading Islam can be distorted. take an example: the artistic and culturally rich way of the 9 Islamic priests (i.e. wali songo) spreading Islam during the Hindu period of Indonesia. even that case was distorted to be a forced conversion case..

    i’d rather rely on armstrong’s books. she wrote things honestly so that we can keep open-minded an positive-thinking about everything. being too hard on one thing that hasn’t been proven totally bad is unfair and contraproductive to our efforts in eliminating terrorism.

    Islam hasn’t been proven totally bad (coz I still see heaps, loads of good Muslims in the world), so why we bother giving it a hard time?

  14. This would be my last comment. I thank you for your responses.

    Still, if you could tell me one or two of your favorite books that discuss these massacres and forced conversions in Europe, I would really appreciate it. I would prefer “quite recently” published books; I find reading old history books in my spare time difficult 🙂

    I don’t know much about history, but my guess is that the primary objective of 7th century jihad was not to spread Islam, but for the same reasons Portuguese and the Dutch and British (and Japan too) came here a couple of centuries ago: seeking wealth and power.

    I understand your basic point, and I don’t want to argue about that. I can see why Europeans hated Arab occupier. I guarantee you Indonesians loathed the Dutch and British colonial rule to their bone.

    However, I still don’t understand why you so easily say Muslims Arab committed massacres and forced conversions, and fail to provide detailed evidence or proper historical context.

    Now that I am talking about Dutch rule in Indonesia, let me digress a bit: Do you think the Dutch, when they colonized Indonesia for three and a half centuries, treated Indonesians better than Arabs treated Europeans?

    You worry about “the humiliating status of dhimmi”. How do you think dhimmi status compared to “pribumi” status when the Dutch and British ruled here? How much do you think the Dutch imposed taxes on “pribumi” compared to dhimmi taxes? Do note that the Dutch colonized Indonesia only a few centuries ago.

  15. A few more notes I found while browsing Wikipedia, just in case you find them useful. So sorry Patung, It’s not that I want to spam your blog. This would be really my last comment 🙂

    Forced conversions?
    “Although forced conversion played a role in some later periods of Islamic history, most conversions were voluntary and happened for a number of different reasons.”

    List of massacres

    Dhimmi status
    “While recognizing the inferior status of dhimmis under Islamic rule, Bernard Lewis holds that in most respects their position was “was very much easier than that of non-Christians or even of heretical Christians in medieval Europe”.

    Dhimmi’s citizenry
    “Most contemporary scholars recognize the Jizya as playing an important role in the dhimmi’s citizenry. Some point to the example that whereas all Muslim males about a certain age were required to perform military service, the dhimmI was exempt from this requirement”.

  16. David says:

    Re. your first post. For books you could try Jihad in the West and Islamic Imperialism, and The Legacy of Jihad, all very recent and useful antidotes to Karen Armstrong.

    Yes, no doubt the Arab leaders were also motivated by greed for power and wealth like everybody else, however it is very difficult, in their case, to separate the religious aspect from it, from the desire, as I quoted, of “establishing the kingdom of Allah on earth”. I can see where your’e heading, perhaps trying to make an equivalence between Arab empire building and European empire building, the status of dhimmi vs. pribumi, but it fails because of the nature of Islam, that it is what I call a totalitarian ideology, it is all-encompassing, and crucially, there didn’t develop an independent (secular) law, separate from the religion (of course this is not the case in Indonesia now but perhaps Indonesia is only in the middle stages of its Islamicisation, and because of historical peculiarities) – so it is hard not to view Arab empire building as being inextricably linked with the religion and its cause.

    The second post:

    Forced conversions?
    “Although forced conversion played a role in some later periods of Islamic history, most conversions were voluntary and happened for a number of different reasons.”

    Yet they did occur, never said they were a majority.

    List of massacres

    Omits Banu Qurayza, for example, and many others.

    Dhimmi status
    “While recognizing the inferior status of dhimmis under Islamic rule, Bernard Lewis holds that in most respects their position was “was very much easier than that of non-Christians or even of heretical Christians in medieval Europe”.

    Dhimmi’s citizenry
    “Most contemporary scholars recognize the Jizya as playing an important role in the dhimmi’s citizenry. Some point to the example that whereas all Muslim males about a certain age were required to perform military service, the dhimmI was exempt from this requirement”.

    Dhimmitude is a bad, bad thing, defending it, either by comparing it to the situation in medieval Europe, or by pointing out its supposed bright spots, does no good but go ahead if you like.

  17. Paul Dale says:

    For those trying to excuse current Islamic attitudes (not just extremists) and bring moral relativisim to interpretation of Islamic History. . . . The point of all this is that the Muslim world is still firmly cemented in a mentality of a 1,000 years ago and are people so brainwashed by PC & multi-culturism that criticism of Islam and making a critical assessment of history is off-limits?

    How can anybody with an truly OBJECTIVE mind look at the attitudes, actions, daily events in the Islamic world today and not be MASSIVELY critical. Don’t bring in the usual parade of mis-analagous references to the Spanish Inquisition, etc. . . How does that change a thing, or make criticism less valid?

  18. Tim Robinson says:

    just an insight, “the massacre of bani qurayza” was an unapropriate statement. the bani qurayza Jews were traitors, they broke a pact with Muhammad (pbuh) in which they promised not to aid the pagan Arabs in any way. they broke their oath, and got what they deserved, a traitor’s punishment. only the tribe leaders were executed, the rest of the tribe including women and children were sent into exile. massacres are the likes of the holocaust, the inquisition, bosnia, and haditha.

  19. Hassan says:

    What can we do Paul? we have no control over those extremists any more than you do. it’s not that we can contact the Al Qaeda or OBL to say our objections for their actions. the Quran, our Holy Book, does not permit Muslims killing other Muslims or other people of different faith without a just cause. but those killings continue to happen in Iraq and other places.

    all we can say is to stop all this bloodshet the root of the problem must be tackled, which is unjustice towards Islam. as long as the double standard treatment in the Middle East continues, as long as the West continues its oppression for Muslims around the world, there would always be people who take up arms to fight. i mean, who wouldn’t?

    imagine if in some paralel universe it was the Christians who were oppressed in this world, would they just lay down and die? no. violence will be met with violence, whether we condone it or not. if the West stops it’s aggressions and oppression then the extremists will loose any justification to commit attrocities anywhere in this world. peace on earth, may it come someday.

  20. Paul Dale says:

    Hassan . . . what can you do?!? Maybe stop staying things such as this: “as long as the West continues its oppression for Muslims around the world”, “the West stops it’s aggressions and oppression”. This is a perfect example of the complete lack of objectivity, and apparent inability of even educated Muslims to serparate one’s self from religion.

    Your excuses – “oppression & aggression”? Where was that in 700AD, 800AD, 900AD, etc, etc. You talk about the root of the problem?? . . . do you ever think the root of the problem is the religion itself?

  21. Hassan says:

    that is a fact paul, whether tou like it or not. I ask you this: is there any Islamic country currently occupying other country? none. Muslim lands occupied by western countries? afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq were the easiest to mention. that’s the aggression and oppression I’m talking about.
    if you just leave us alone, none of us will have any reason to take up arms.

    you mentioned somenthing about 700AD, 800AD, 900AD, etc. all i can say is that on those days information wasn’t as credible and sophisticated as it is today. Because of CULTURAL BIAS, misinformation and misunderstanding were a common thing. and I also would like to point out that medieval western scholars were not known for their objectivity.

    the funny thing is, all i heard about the 700AD-900AD’s, was that the Islamic world were on their golden ages. Islamic scientists and scholars like avecena, averus, etc. contributed immensely for the wold’s civilization and knowledge. they also help preserved knowledge from the greek world, preventing its loss through time. all the while, the western world were enshrouded deep in their dark ages. and all i heard about them were of their savagery. the witch hunt, inquisition, and the masacres known as the crusades to name a few.

    that’s the cultural bias I was talking about..

  22. Paul Dale says:

    Hassan, in your mind how do current events in Afg., Iraq, Pal., justify Muslim thought & behaviour in previous centuries? This is not rocket science.

    The goal is not to make you feel “bad” about Muslim history, it is get you to a point where you can actual address these topics without becoming reactionary and bringing in all your prejudices.

    At this point you are only regurgitating standard Muslim boilerplate demagoguery and have been fully indoctrinated. This is exactly the lack of objective thinking that I am talking about in the previous posts.

  23. Fair Guy says:

    Just take a look back on the Qur’an and Hadits, do NOT take a look at Muslim people.
    Islam is peace, perfect and the best way to achive happines both in this world and after:)

  24. geekgirl says:

    I think Hassan is right with his points:
    “is there any Islamic country currently occupying other country? none. Muslim lands occupied by western countries? afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq were the easiest to mention. that’s the aggression and oppression i’m talking about.”

    and paul thinks the behavior or those people in those countries justify the behaviors of Muslims in previous centuries? why would paul thinks that the root of the problems is the religion itself?

    we’re talking about the colonialism right? does that mean the root of Indonesian’s struggles to fight the dutch during the 18th-19th-beginning of 20th century was the religion of Indonesians? nah, the root of the problems is the oppression itself from the colonializer i.e. the dutch!

    each religion in the world has bad history. the history (e.g. during crusades) did not happen because of the religion itself, but because of the people who used religion as a basis for discrimination. that’s all. so easy to point out.

    until today, both religion & race discriminations still exist. that’s what made people want to attack each other. stop discriminations first, and then the struggles against discriminations will subside.

  25. Paul Dale says:

    “Why would paul thinks that the root of the problems is the religion itself?” To be more exact, it is part of the problem, but if you cannot potentially answer that yourself, then not worth the time arguing about it. “Is there any Islamic country currently occupying other country? . . . Well since you asked . . . technically speaking every Muslim country that was conquered by the sword (many) . . . learn a little history. Turkey for example, and (relatively) recently killed +1mn Armenians early last century . . . .

  26. I guess I need to post another comment on this, just to make myself clear… Sorry.

    Let me restate my main point in my previous comments differently.

    Do you know the mistakes committed by radicals or fundamentalists you often criticized here?: They look at a few Koranic verses, or hadith, or Islamic historical event, in isolation. They don’t think much why a particular law is enacted. They do not care much about the customs during that time in Arabian peninsula. Or its (lack of) law and institutions. They don’t consider much what happened previously, or elsewhere…

    In other words, according to them, in interpreting Koran or hadith, historical context does not matter much. For example, when Muhammad ruled that a thief’s hands has to be amputated, that means this is the law, and it has to be upheld forever till the end of time.

    Ironically, by refusing to consider historical context, you commit the same mistakes too.

    I am not defending Dhimmitude, “the massacre of bani qurayza”, or anything. All I am saying is that, when you comment on history, it would be better if you could also provide its historical context. Otherwise, it’s likely that you would distort the picture.

    It’s not as easy as lashing out an historical event in one or two paragraphs, I know. But who says analyzing history is easy.


  27. Erin McMahon says:

    Before you start apologising for European Crusaders, saying that they were only responding to Muslim aggression and oppression, you should remember how well the poor European Christians treated their indigenous religions. Aside from a hotchpotch of token witchcraft and warped paganism, it was systematically annihilated. While Coptics in Egypt, and Jews and Zoroastrians in Iran aren’t the best treated, at least they are still there in the heart of Islamic territory (having survived the 1000-year plus onslaught by bloodthirsty Muslims).

    In terms of Muslim conquest of Europe (Spain), despite hardships Christians and Jews were allowed to stay on and practise their faith. The same cannot be said of the Christian Reconquista, which eradicated non-Christians from the peninsula. As for the Crusades, Christians sacked, raped, pillaged and massacred both Muslims and Jews in the holy lands during their conquests. A marked difference to Saladin’s treatment of Christians when he recaptured it.

    In the case of Indonesia, conflicts in places such as Maluku and Sulawesi are very much a two-sided affair – not just Muslims attacking Christians but also the other way around. In most parts of Indonesia, the different religions get on very well. Antagonism in the eastern islands stem from recent political events much more than religious history – remember, they had been living side-by-side in relative peace and harmony until very, very recently.

    If you’re going to tell people to “learn a little history”, you should probably do a bit more research of your own and look at the other side of the story.

  28. Hassan says:

    what doctrine were you talking about paul? that Muslims should stop blaming the west, and deal with terrorism first? yeah paul, Muslims should clean their own house first before blaming others right? how awfully stereotypical of you paul. it is you who were indoctrinated by the western media then, they wanted to make westerners felt sooo innocent.

    just think about this: for every action there’s an equal opposite reaction. first, there’s the actions, be it invading afghanistan to hunt a person, lying about WMD’s and then invade Iraq, and now murdering Palestinians and lebanese without remorse. then there’s the reactions: Muslims blaming and cursing the west. it could’ve been worse, if somehow the Muslim world decided enough is enough and gave a military reaction (which is unforthcoming though).

    now if a turn the picture around, if you look at history, from the Catholic inquisition, the crusades, the hundred year war between the french and english, the imperialism era, world war I and II, we can come the obvious conclusion that Christian westerners were and are responsible for at least 80% of violence in this planet in the last century.

    Now, can i say that the problem lies in Christianity as a religion?
    think about what you said before “do you ever think the root of the problem is the religion itself?”

  29. Paul Dale says:

    Eric, as for “learn a little” history, it is a proper statement to somebody who does not know any. i.e. people from the “Muslims good – Christians bad camp”. Which is why some historical facts were put forth.

    You have stated some facts, not exactly a revalation, that would be relevant if someone had simply stated that “Christians are good Muslims are bad throughout history”. . . . The relevance of your characterization of history here I don’t know?

    My position is this Eric – maybe you can agree – Islam has been attacking the “west” since its inception. THUS, characterising it is a religion of peace and excusing CONTEMPORARY behavior (by citing history for example) is ridiculous? Futhermore, excusing COMTEMPORARY backwardness, ignorance, hate (by citing history for example) is equally distasteful. What Christians did in Spain in 1492 doesn’t change any of the truths I just stated.

    Sidenote: As for your history, the description of (Saladin) Muslim behavior v Christian behavior is simplistic at best. So you don’t think Muslims committted horrific acts too? What about during the continuing centuries of warfare against infidels after the crusades ended? It seems like you are excusing the Muslim conquest of Spain? So you think coptics and zoroastrians, let’s include Jews in Baghdad, are doing OK because they haven’t been COMPLETELY eradicated. TODAY, personally, I would rather be Jew, Coptic, Zoroastrian in the US or Europe. Same to be said for Muslim, Armenian, etc. etc etc.

    As for the Malukus, you don’t think religion is playing the major part in the conflict, that it is political problem, and both sides are equally guilty??!! . . . let’s leave that for another day.

  30. Paul Dale says:

    Hassan, what is your excuse for Muslim expansion by the sword through 7th – 9th centuries? Can’t think of one? There is no point in engaging you but I will ask you this? Can you be critical of Islam in anyway? At all?! Without blaming somebody else? . . . .

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