An Arab Season: Legacy Writings of a Muslim and Christian Relationship

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Not always so contentiously, it turns out. And what did they think of the European interlopers? Suleiman Mourad: If we wrote the history of the Crusades based on Islamic narratives, it would be a completely different story altogether. There was also coexistence, political compromise, trade, scientific exchange, love. We have poetry and chronicles with evidence of mixed marriages. Do Muslim perspectives match Western ones in terms of chronology and geography? They recognize the events we call the Crusades today simply as another wave of Frankish aggression on the Muslim world.

By Christians were not only nibbling at the edges of the Islamic world, but were actually gaining territory in Sicily and Spain. SM: To say the Crusades started in Clermont in and ended at Acre in , we are fooling ourselves.

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History is not that clean cut. What came before and after reflected a lot of continuity and not abrupt change. And geographically? PC: Muslims saw the Frankish threat as Mediterranean-wide. As the Crusades began, what were the physical boundaries of the Islamic world?


PC: The Islamic world—that is, those lands that recognized Muslim rulers and the authority of Islamic Law—was much bigger than the land of the Latin Christian west. It stretched from Spain and Portugal in the west to India in the east. And from central Asia in the north to Sudan and the horn of Africa in the south. Portrait of Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

But there was eventually a movement toward unification, right? He took over Egypt, then set about reconquering Syria and parts of Iraq. He would go on to ultimately recapture Jerusalem from the crusaders and push them back to a thin strip along the Mediterranean. Tell me about medieval Islamic civilization. Within that time, there were golden ages of mathematics and astronomy and medicine, with many advances. One example: A physician named Ibm al-Nafis, who lived in the 13th century in Cairo, was the first person to describe the pulmonary circulation of blood—four centuries before the Europeans discovered that.

The main accomplishment was when, on a large scale, Muslims began to creatively engage with the science and philosophy of the classical Greco-Roman-Byzantine tradition—and began to rethink those ideas. For pretty much the whole apparatus of science, mathematics and logic, Muslim scholars, along with others based in the Muslim world, provided corrections to the Greco-Roman tradition. How would you compare European and Islamic civilizations during this time?

PC: The Islamic world was much bigger and more urbanized, with more wealth and cultural patronage, and more ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Whereas the cities of western Christendom had populations measured in the thousands—Paris and London would have had maybe 20, each—Baghdad likely had hundreds of thousands of citizens. That accounts for the sense of trauma from the Muslim side. How could people from the edge of the known world invade this divinely protected, culturally sophisticated and militarily triumphant region?

There was a lot of soul searching on the part of the Muslims.

Islamic tradition built on many Christian traditions and revered many of the same figures known from the Bible and elsewhere—including Jesus. So for them, Jerusalem was at the center of a vast sacred landscape that stretched to Palestine and Syria. But many places—in Jerusalem, in Acre, Saidnaya and elsewhere—were claimed by more than one community. These were sacred sites for everyone, not just one group.

So they were actually sharing sacred sites that, in theory, they were supposed to be fighting over? Back then, there was a more collective approach to sanctity of space.

Why Muslims See the Crusades So Differently from Christians

We know for a fact that when the crusaders came, most Muslims did not raise a finger. No sooner did the crusaders infiltrate, they were accepted into the political landscape as any others that came: with alliances, wars, treaties, commerce. What did medieval Muslims think of Europeans?

Jerusalem: History of Islam, Christians and Jews and why it's the most controversial?

SM: The broad Muslim perception of Europeans was as cross-eyed barbarians. There is a story about crusader medicine, that they blood-let in order to let the demons out. The people who knew the crusaders gave a much more refined understanding, but the positive narratives were not widely disseminated. PC: Muslim travelers had a hierarchical world view.

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When it comes to matters of morality and human relations, however, "progress," as Coolidge defines it, may well be far more elusive than we would like to think. From a modern Catholic perspective, it is tempting to think of the history of Christian-Muslim relations as one that, at least in recent decades, has been gradually moving from a pattern of confrontation and conflict to one of dialogue and cooperation. After all, with the Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aerate, the church called for a new era of dialogue in its relationship with "non-Christian religions. But in truth the history of Christian-Muslim relations, from its very beginnings until today, has simultaneously unfolded and continues to unfold along both of these major story lines--confrontation and conflict as well as dialogue and cooperation--sometimes running parallel and often intersecting.

The story of confrontation and conflict roughly begins with the period of early Muslim expansionism c. No wars of conquest are without bloodshed and oppression, and neither was the Islamic political expansion in this period. Still, the mass conversion to Islam in these regions was not "by the sword. As for the violence, Arab Muslim forces did not establish their control of this great swath of the known world through mass butchery. The Muslim conquests of the great cultural and urban centers of Byzantine Christendom, such as Jerusalem and Damascus, took place largely by armies meeting and fighting outside the city precincts, and by the victors negotiating a truce with the vanquished that protected the lives and property of the latter on the condition that they accept the legitimacy of their new overlords.

Among Christians, the socio-political reaction to the early Muslim conquests was varied.

For many Christian communities, being relegated to the second-class status of ahl al-dhimma, or "protected peoples", under Muslim rule was a decidedly unfortunate turn of events, involving the loss of many rights and privileges they had taken for granted under Byzantine Christian rule. There were other Christian communities, however, that viewed the Arab Muslim forces as liberators.

Assyrian Nestorian and Egyptian Monophysite communities, for example, were deemed "heterodox" by the church of Constantinople and were therefore subject to persecution. These churches appeared to enjoy more freedom and autonomy under Arab Muslim rule than they had under the rule of their Christian brethren. Christian theological reaction to the coming of Islam seems to have been generally negative.

From the perspective of certain eighth-century Christian theologians, Islam was not just another religion among the many others that had come and gone. It had all the markings of a Christian "heresy.

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