How Islamists Distort the Crusades
A few days ago in my resident town of Florence, Italy, I had an impromptu discussion with three European Muslims who claimed that the Crusades sponsored by the Catholic Church were nothing more than a war against innocent Muslims. Naturally, they got defensive when I told them it was the Muslims who first began invading our Christian lands — something they had not historical foundation to stand upon.
Regrettably, there has been quite a surge of revisionist history on the part of Muslims who accuse the Christian West of brutal expansionism when referring to the Crusades. This, of course, is far from the truth. Hence, I feel it is important — and I hope those three Muslims read this — to set some historical matters straight.
Muslims and like-minded apologists refer to, for example, Arab historian Ibn al-Athīr (1160–1233) who characterized that First Crusade (1095) as an invasion by the Frankish empire that had begun with their conquests in Muslim Spain, Sicily, and North Africa a decade before the campaign in Syria. Others like Amin Maalouf, in his The Crusades through Arab Eyes begins his first chapter “The Franj Arrive [sic] (1096-1100)” without giving any priority historical background that would have put into socio-political context as to why Pope Urban II called for the Crusades in the first place. Maaoluf goes so far to publish that “For Arabs, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were years of strenuous efforts to repel a brutal and destructive invasion by barbarian hordes.”
Islamists Drew First Blood
These recognized historical experts fail to mention how the birth of Islam in 622, gave rise to one of the largest political-religious movements on earth, simultaneously paving the way for a military campaign that would see the Middle East and parts of Europe fall under its political dominion.
The early Muslim conquests (Arabic: الفتوحات الإسلامية, al-Futūḥāt al-Islāmiyya) also referred to as the Arab conquests and early Islamic conquests began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. Dr. Bill Warner, founder of The Study for Political Islam, explains that Muhammad established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion In other words, they drew first blood.
Some of military campaigns, prior to the Crusades, initiated by Muslims willfully omitted on the part of reviosnists are:
- The siege of Jerusalem (636-637) was part of the Muslim conquest of the Levant and the result of the military efforts of the Rashidun Caliphate, under the command of Abu Ubaidah, besieged Jerusalem beginning in November 636. After six months, the Patriarch Sophronius agreed to surrender.
- The Battle of Tours (732) when Muslims invaded France, only to be met and pushed back by Charles Martel.
- The Islamic Sack of Rome (846) when the Muslim Arabs (then called Saracens in Europe) after they had rapaciously invaded Christendom through Southern Italy which they succeeded in conquering by fire, murder, rapine and the sword, who invaded Rome and looted the liturgical treasures of the Basilicas of St. Peter and Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The most important among them were the golden cross erected above the tomb of Peter, the so-called Pharum Hadriani, and the silver table donated to the church by Charlemagne, and adorned with a representation of Constantinople.
The Reason for the Crusades
As I explain in my book Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up, the Crusades were a collective response to the ongoing conquest that began with the taking of the Holy Land (Jerusalem) by Muslims in 638 and other Christian territories. Even if some of them were unjust, such as the sack of Constantinople of 1215 (which was condemned by Pope Innocent III, not to mention that he also excommunicated the Venetians who carried out the raid), they were not doctrinal in the literal sense, as jihad is to Islam.
The First Crusade, which was called by Pope Urban II in 1095 (457 years after Jerusalem was overrun by Muslim armies), came at the behest of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus. He had asked the pope in Rome for assistance to turn back the Muslim Turks, who were invading what is now Turkey; they took property as they went, turned churches into mosques, and forced Christians to convert to Islam.
Approximately two-thirds of the ancient Christian world had been already conquered by Muslims by the end of the 11th century, including the important regions of Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Anatolia. It was also that time that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place traditionally held where Jesus Christ was buried, was destroyed by Abu ‘Ali Mansur in 1009. Soon thereafter all Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land were cut off by Muslims. While Mansur did not attack Christendom directly, he demonstrated scorn for the religion, in addition to destroying 30,000 churches in the Middle East.
There is no denying that certain Crusaders were not interested in defending Christendom and behave in an undignified manner. Collectively, for their part, they kept their military operations within lands that were Christian, for their goal was never to overthrow the Turkish Empire, which is why they never attacked Saudi Arabia, specifically Mecca, unlike what the Muslims had done to Constantinople in 1453. That being said, in order to appreciate the necessity of the Crusades, one has to understand how comprehend the 1,400-year-old Islamic threat of jihad subjugate humanity.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.