Thursday, May 17, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law -- part 8

(Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)                

There are quite a number of myths about Islam that are popular in the West. Let’s talk first about the Crusades. The myth is that the aggressive West invaded the Islamic world which was minding it’s own business. Quite the opposite is true. The Crusades were a response to the Islamic invasion of Europe and the whole Christian world.

In 711, less than a century after the death of Muhammad, Muslim Arabs, called Saracens at the time, conquered Spain in just a few years. They continued into France as far as Tours in the north where they were finally stopped in 732 by the Franks (a Catholic Germanic Tribe then living in Northern France), led by Charles Martel, the deputy of the Frankish King. The Muslim invaders established the Caliphate of Cordoba, which included territory in France around the city of Narbonne, and were not pushed back into Spain until 759. Charles Martel’s grandson, Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, finally started the reconquest of Spain which only ended in 1492, just a few months before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a period of 781 years! 

Part of the popular myth is that Islamic Spain was a paradise of tolerance and diversify. Medieval Christians of what is now Spain and Portugal were constantly under the threat of Muslim raids. For example, in an attack against Lisbon, in 1189, the caliph Yaqub al-Mansur captured 3,000 women and children who were subsequently enslaved and did the same in Silves in 1191, taking 3,000 more Christian slaves. The Almohads, a Muslim dynasty founded in the 12th century, dominated northern Africa and southern Spain. They were Muslim fundamentalists who believed that Christianity was to be eliminated by unremitting war. The only choices they gave both Jews and Christians in southern Spain were death or conversion. Jews and Christians fled, including Maimonides, the great Jewish physician and thinker. He and other Jews fled east to Egypt while Christians fled north to the small Christian kingdoms. It is a pure myth that everyone got along. When they were tolerated, Jews and Christians had Dhimmi status. When they were not tolerated they were simply killed or converted.

The same  invasion that had struck Spain, Portugal  and France also struck Italy. In 846, Islamic invaders plundered St. Peter's Basilica and St. Paul's Outside the Walls, but were unable to take the whole city of Rome which was still protected by its ancient walls. The Italians resisted but Sicily, Malta, and parts of southern Italy were conquered by the Saracens (Muslim Arabs) and remained part of the Islamic world until 1091 when the (Christian) Normans finally ousted them and set up their own kingdom.

When Muhammad died in 632, the Holy Land had been a largely Christian country for 300 or perhaps 400 years. When the Romans were still pagan in about 132AD, they had put down the Jewish revolution led by Bar Kochba and they subsequently killed or exiled much of the Jewish population. The land became essentially Greek and largely Christian, especially after the conversion of the Romans to Christianity. 

Muslim invaders arrived in 633, but the majority population of the Holy Land remained Christian until probably the late 900’s when the Fatimid Caliph Hakim (called “Hakim the Crazy”) decided that, after 600 years, it was time to rid the Holy Land of Christians. In 1009, Hakim ordered the churches of the Holy Land, about 3,000 in number destroyed, including the church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest pilgrimage shrine in the Christian world. 

Can you imagine what would happen if Christians today even talked about the destruction of the Kaaba in Mecca? Two Muslim factions, the Fatimids and the Seljuk Turks were locked in a struggle for control of the Islamic world and Jerusalem was caught in the middle back and forth between them. In 1056 hundreds of Christians were expelled from Jerusalem and pilgrimage to Jerusalem was forbidden. In 1077 the Jews and Christians of Jerusalem were massacred by Emir Atsiz ibn Uvaq, in retaliation for an uprising against the Seljuk government. Already by 1063, Pope Alexander II had given his blessing to Spanish Christians in their war against the Muslims. 

When a cry for help came from the Byzantines in Constantinople who were also threatened by the latest wave of Muslim invaders, the Seljuk Turks, Pope Urban II sent out the call to rescue fellow Christians from the invaders and to recover the Christian lands lost to Muslim aggression since 630 AD. 

The closing of pilgrimage, the slaughter of Christians, the destruction of the Christian’s holiest shrine and the prospect of continuing Muslim slave raids, and invasions finally pushed the Christian world over the edge. The Islamic world was in a weakened state because of the struggle between the Muslim seljuk Turks and the Muslim Arabs, and they didn’t at first take the Christian threat seriously. After all, the Byzantine Christians had fallen easily before Muslim armies and the Latin Christians in the West were unwashed illiterate barbarians from what the cultivated Muslims regarded as the western jungles of  Europe, the frozen fringe of the world. 

Surprise! After 300 years, the western Christians had begun the push back against the Muslim invasions of 700AD. Sicily, Malta, southern Italy and half of Spain were back in Christian hands much to the shock the Islamic world. They have never quite gotten over that shock. The steady growth of Dar al Islam met its first setback. A land once ruled by Islam is thought of as Dar al Islam, the House of Islam, to which others have no right in the eyes of Allah. The loss of Spain in particular is still a thorn in the Muslim scheme of things. The expulsion of Islam from Spain featured prominently in the thinking of  Osama bin Laden. Things like the train bombings in Madrid in March, 2004 that killed 200 people are retaliation for the expulsion of Muslims 500 years earlier! Bin Laden was determined to take Spain back for Islam and he is not alone in that project.

There is another myth that when the Crusaders finally took Jerusalem back in 1099 that all the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants were killed by the Crusaders. Those Muslims who were holed up in the fortress of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque were indeed killed, but those in the citadel of David on the opposite side of town were given a safe conduct, and there is no contemporary evidence that any Jews were killed. In fact there are contemporary documents found among Jewish papers in Egypt (from the Cairo Geniza) indicating that Jews survived the siege of Jerusalem. 

It is often mentioned that Saladin spared the Christians of Jerusalem when he reconquered the city in 1187. This is not as magnanimous as it might seem. At first Saladin had no plans to do so. Crusaders threatened to kill 5,000 Muslim hostages, and to destroy the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Saladin accepted the terms, on the condition that a ransom was paid for every Christian of the city,  man, woman and child but Saladin, Patriarch Heraclius, the bishop of Jerusalem paid the ransoms for about 18,000 of the poorer citizens, but  another 15,000, who could not afford ransom were enslaved. So much for the chivalrous Saladin, despite recent movies.

Another group of Muslim invaders about 60 years later in 1244, the Khwarezmian Tartars, sacked Jerusalem, decimated the city's Christian population and drove out the Jews. Finally in the 1500's the Ottoman Turks took Jerusalem and a status quo endured until the 20th century in Jerusalem, the City of Peace.

To be continued


  1. FYI: Columbus sailed in 1492 because Spain was finally free of the Muslims; so King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella finally had some money to finance the expedition. All their money and time had been previously trying to free Spain from Muslim control!