A Muslim Perspective on the Crusades

The Muslim empire was severely fragmented prior to and during the initial stages of the Crusades. The fragmentation was due to different elite groups that rose to prominence in different areas of the Islamic world during this time. Since there was not one central leader, different Muslim groups began working against each other in order to gain more political and economic power instead of maintaining a previously unified Islamic world. This separation of powers caused “Muslims to rise up one against another, has placed a violent hostility and hatred amongst them and incited their enemies to seize their territories”.[1] A fragmented Muslim empire created the perfect opportunity for the Crusades to succeed. Though the Muslim community did lack proper unity, the Muslim community was shocked to hear that the Christians from the West had attacked and begun seizing their lands. These attacks, though surprising, did not immediately unify Muslim polities. Instead, the wider Muslim community remained in shock for a period of time or simply ignored the Crusade was happening at all. There was little to no support during the first crusade to conduct jihādas many local rulers had either joined forces with the Crusaders or simply did not attempt to defeat them.[2]

In 1095, Pope Urban II preached a sermon at the Council of Clermont that led to the beginning of the Crusades and the eventual capture of Jerusalem.[3] Though the exact contents of his speech are unknown, the ramifications of that speech are still present today. The Crusades were religious wars fought by Christians or the “Franks,” as they were known in the middle east, against Muslims in order to gain penance, riches, and further advancement of God’s plan. There are many possibilities for why the Crusaders felt it was necessary to conduct a Crusade; as a way to raise money, earn respect, gain pride, and as a form of penance in order to obtain forgiveness from God.[4] Though religion was certainly a driving factor for the crusades, the entirety of their motivations were complex and cannot be reduced to one single motivation. These wars resulted in the Franks capturing and seizing land from the Muslims within Palestine, Syria, and, and most importantly, the capture of Jerusalem.[5] Muslim fragmentation allowed for the crusaders to defeat many armies and capture their cities. Without a fragmented Islamic society, there is no guarantee that the Franks would have been as successful as they were.

According to al-Sulami, an important Muslim scholar during the crusades, the only way to stop Frankish expansion would be to re-unify Muslim forces to stop the Christians.[6] Muslim unity did not happen organically, but was instead aided on by the myriad of mistakes done by the Crusader forces and a drive to defend their territory, God’s territory. The two main causes for Muslim re-unification were because of the Frank’s attack on their alliance in Damascus, resulting in the need for Nur ad-Din’s forces to defend them and Reynold’s attacks on Muslim pilgrims.[7] At the time of the first crusade, the Franks only Muslim allies resided within Damascus. During an extreme miscalculation, the Franks attacked their allies in Damascus. When the Frankish forces were too much for Damascus to handle, their sultan called Nur ad-Din for re-enforcements. Nur ad-Din’s forces were able to push out the Franks and keep Damascus for himself, unifying a previously fragmented Muslim relationship. The direct result of Nur ad-Din assisting the people of Damascus was the unification of the people of Damascus under the rule of Nur ad-Din.[8] This proved catastrophic for the Franks as they attacked their only Muslim allies while simultaneously forging a relationship between Nur ad-Din and the people of Damascus. This was the first of two steps of Muslim reunification against the Frankish forces. The second aspect that directly resulted in the reunification of Muslims was Reynold’s forces in Antioch looting caravans of Muslim’s participating in the Hajj.[9] A Hajj is a form of Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca that is done in order to adhere with the five pillars of the Muslim religion. Though this was considered to be a horrible crime against the Islamic faith, Saladin, Nur ad-Din’s successor, largely ignored it. Even though Saladin had largely disregarded the first attack, the Muslim community was enraged because of this event. The Muslim community was waiting for their leader to take a stance and defend their community when the second looting raid occurred on another caravan preforming the Hajj. The second time this atrocity occurred, Saladin’s sister was aboard the caravan; this could not be forgiven. Saladin knew that he needed to defend his people. With the backing of a unified Muslim community, Saladin declared Jihad against the Frankish forces.

Saladin began the counter attack on the Crusaders in order to defend Islam and reclaim lost lands. In order for Saladin to force out the Crusaders, he needed the support of the entirety of the Muslim community. After the Crusaders turned on their allies in Damascus and attacked several Muslim caravans taking place in the Hajj, it was easy for Saladin to get the support that he needed. A large portion of the Muslim community had reached its final straw when several caravanning groups were attacked and looted by Frankish forces. After the final attack on a caravan group, thirty-thousand people were ready to lay down their lives on behalf of jihād.[10] Saladin’s forces laid siege on Antioch, forcing out the people by lack of food, water, and fire.[11] Crusader forces and the people inside of Antioch hoped for escape, not victory after the Muslim siege. This siege led to a total victory over Antioch and made way for an easy reclaiming of the rest of their lost territory. Saladin’s forces took back all lost territories including, the most important territory, Jerusalem.

Saladin’s victory in Antioch led to almost a complete unraveling of Frankish presence in the Muslim dominated Middle East. The victory at Antioch led to a complete loss of Muslim territory for the Crusaders, including Jerusalem. The battle is also significant because it resulted in a large massacre of Frankish military orders. After slaying a large amount of the Frank’s military, there wasn’t any reason to believe the Crusaders would have the man power to attack Muslim territories again. Saladin was a gracious victor by allowing a large amount of the population to stay within Muslim territories and was extremely courteous to the poor.[12] Saladin also allowed refugees to flee back to Europe instead of taking them prisoner or killing them. Saladin did however behead Reynold in order to defend his sister’s honor. Overall, Saladin and the Muslims were gracious victors as they had mercy on a large portion of the Frankish population that was residing in Frankish lost territories and aiding in the Crusade.

The Crusades were significant to the Muslim community as they helped to unify a previously fragmented community. The Crusades forced cohesion in the Muslim community in order to regain territory what was lost to the Crusaders. The reunification of Muslim forces was also significant to defeating the Crusaders in all future attacks. Muslim reunification under Nur ad-Din and several future leaders allowed for the Muslim forces to re-assert their dominance gaining back Jerusalem, and territories within Syria and Palestine. Under a single Muslim leader, no further crusades were successful and the Muslim community was able to reassert its military and religious dominance in the Middle East.

[1]Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press: 1999), 72.

[2]David Cook, Understanding Jihad (Berkley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press,2005), 51.

[3]Helen Nicholson, The Crusaders (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004), 3.



[6]Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, 73.

[7]Jones, Terry. Crusades. Historical Documentary. Directed by Alan Ereira and David Wallace. Great Britain, 1995.

[8]Jones, Terry. Crusades. Historical Documentary. Directed by Alan Ereira and David Wallace. Great Britain, 1995.

[9]Jones, Terry. Crusades. Historical Documentary. Directed by Alan Ereira and David Wallace. Great Britain, 1995.

[10]Jones, Terry. Crusades. Historical Documentary. Directed by Alan Ereira and David Wallace. Great Britain, 1995.

[11]Jones, Terry. Crusades. Historical Documentary. Directed by Alan Ereira and David Wallace. Great Britain, 1995.

[12]Jones, Terry. Crusades. Historical Documentary. Directed by Alan Ereira and David Wallace. Great Britain, 1995.


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