‘Trauma’ and Perplexity

Arabic-Islamic sources provide insight into contemporary reactions to Latin- Christian aggression, not only because they describe them, but also because their authors curse and denigrate the adversary who, in this context, is clearly classified as the erring religious ‘Other’.

Describing a battle with Carolingian forces around Barcelona in 197/812-13, the Andalusian historiographer Ibn H ayyan (d. 469/1076) relates that the victorious Muslims were called to prayer from above a pile of ‘heads of infidels’ (ruiis al-kafara) taken from the ‘enemies of God’ (ada Allah).[1] Arabic-Islamic authors writing on the crusades often combine the ethnonym ‘Franks’ with an almost ritualized curse, e.g. ‘may God curse them’ (lacanahum Allah)[2] [3] or ‘may God desert them’ (khadhalahum Allah).7 Sent to the Hafsid court of Ifriqiya in 635/1238, the Andalusian jurisconsult Ibn al-Abbar recited a highly emotional poem that employs an imagery of mosques converted to churches, of the Muslim call to prayer replaced by the sound of church bells, and of veiled women distributed as prey among Christians, with the explicit aim of arousing the compassion and enlisting the support of his North African coreligionists to repel the Christian onslaught on Valencia.[4]

Modern scholarship tends to emphasize that Muslims in the age of Latin-Christian expansionism nurtured an image of Western Europeans as aggressive barbarians.[5] It has also brought to attention that Latin-Christian aggression went hand in hand with the rise of jihad-ideology in the Muslim world from al-Andalus to the Middle East.[6] [7] A superficial survey of the sources conveys the impression that Arabic-Islamic historiographers of the twelfth to fifteenth centuries focused on what Muslims suffered from the Latin-Christian agents of expansionism, but remained comparatively silent with regard to the societies and political structures in Western Europe backing the expansionist drive. On second sight, however, the extant texts betray that Latin-Christian expansionism into the Mediterranean significantly contributed to spreading information about Western European societies in the Arabic-Islamic world.

Paul Chevedden already pointed out that several Arabic-Islamic scholars were well aware of the fact that Latin-Christian alias ‘Frankish’ societies were expanding, conquering Muslim-held territory on the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily, in North Africa, and the Middle East. By applying the term jihad to these campaigns, these scholars clearly recognized the religious dimension of this expansionist drive.n A letter written by Saladin to one of the provinces and recorded by Abu Shama (d. 665/1268) provides a corroborating example. Saladin contrasts Muslim inertia with the Franks’ religious zeal, probably with the aim of exhorting his addressees to take up arms:

In their lands, on their islands, there is no king, no leader, no prince, not a single noble who, following the example of his neighbour, would fail to come to the battlefields and to rival with his peers in regards to zeal and efforts. Sacrificing their life to defend their religion is something that does not seem much to them. They help their wretched people by sending arms of all sorts, even if it may cost their whole fortune. The only impetus to their actions and the sacrifices they impose is the defence of what they venerate and the honour of their religion.[8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

Other sources indicate that contemporary Muslims pondered the question as to how the Christian faith could be used to legitimize violent action. According to the Genoese historiographer Cafaro (d. 1166), ‘Saracen’ envoys to the Genoese besieging the city of Caesarea pointed to the discrepancies between Christian ideals and crusader action, i.e. violence and military aggression in the name of Christd3 While Cafaro may have used this anecdote to express criticism of crusading activity/4 Arabic-Islamic sources show that some Muslims were perplexed by Latin-Christian violence against Jews and Muslims. 15 The Egyptian scholar al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), for example, clearly failed to understand why periodical spouts of violence against Jewish citizens occurred regularly in several Western European cities/6 and comments in another passage:

Today’s Christians all admit that they are incorrectable perpetrators who reject their own laws and follow their instincts. This is so in spite of the fact that theirs is a religion that endorses submission, the rejection of fighting and vengeance, the renunciation of defensive actions against infidels as well as of violent uprising. According to the gospels: “Whoever slaps your cheek, turn him the other one.” To complete this, another preceding chapter says: “Love those who make you angry and pray for those who curse you”, which seems sufficient [to make my point]. They say: If the Messiah — peace be upon him — had wanted us to wage war, he would not have submitted, and Paul says in his eleventh letter: “Flee from all desires and open yourself to the Lord and to the faith, to love and to submission. Avoid discussions because they engender fighting, for it is not licit for a servant to fight.” This is what Paul says, but in spite of this, they are today the most dedicated people to fighting, the most eager to spill blood and to succumb to their desires. However, they agree with these two precepts, and — when they do so — they acknowledge that they transgress their laws and follow their desires.17

Among the most well-known texts on the Muslim perceptions of the crusaders are the memoirs of Usama b. Munqidh (d. 584/1188). In a chapter dedicated to the crusaders’ character, he derides their primitive medicine, their strange sexual morals, their irrational judicial system, but also acknowledges their first steps at acculturation in a new Middle Eastern environment and the occasional friendly gesture towards a Muslim ally.18

Such passages show that the Latin-Christian onslaught made contemporary Muslims reflect on the character and nature of the aggressors. From there, it was only a small step to give thought to their background, i.e. the geographical, political, and social structures supporting Latin-Christian expansionism.

  • [1] Ibn Hayyan, al-muqtabis II-1, ed. Makkl, trans. Corriente and Makkl, fol. 102a, AH 197,p. 136 (AR), pp. 51—2 (ES).
  • [2] E.g. Ibn al-Athir, al-kamil, ed. Tornberg, vol. 10, AH 492, p. 193 (Leiden), p. 281 (Beirut); vol.10, AH 495, p. 236 (Leiden), p. 343 (Beirut); vol. 11, AH 541, p. 70 (Leiden), p. 108 (Beirut); IbnShaddad, al-nawadir, ed. al-Shayyal, p. 156.
  • [3] Ibid., pp. 78, 90, 110.
  • [4] Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 6, pp. 386—7; Ibn Khaldoun, Histoire desBerberes, trans. de Slane, vol. 2, pp. 308—9. On the symbolic value of the Muslim call to prayer asopposed to the sound of church bells, cf. Tolan, ‘Racket’ (2008), pp. 147—60.
  • [5] E.g. Hillenbrand, Crusades (2000), pp. 271—3; Leclercq, Portraits (2010).
  • [6] Muslim West: Fierro, ‘Success’ (1997), pp. 155—78; Buresi, ‘Reaction’ (2003), pp. 229^1;Viguera Molins, ‘Reactions’ (2003), pp. 243—51; Middle East: Elisseef, ‘Reaction’ (1993), pp. 162—72;Ephrat and Kabha, ‘Reaction’ (2003), pp. 47—58; Leder, ‘Resurgence’ (2011), pp. 81—102; Mallett,Reactions (2014).
  • [7] Chevedden, ‘Interpretation’ (2006), pp. 94—100. Note that Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar andShahada, vol. 1, p. 287, regards the military form of jihad as a concept particular to Islam.
  • [8] Abu Shama, al-rawdatayn, ed./trans. de Meynard (RHC hist. or. 4), pp. 429—30: ‘wa-lam yabqamalik fi biladihim wa-jazairihim, wa-la 'azim wa-la kabir min 'uzama’ihim wa-akabirihim, illa jarajarahu fi midmar al-injad, wa-bara nazirahu fi l-jadd wa-l-ijtihad, wa-istaqallu fi sawn millatihimbadhl al-muhaj wa-l-arwah, wa-amaddu ajnasihim al-anjas bi-anwa' al-silah, ma' akfa’ al-kifah, wa-mafa'alu ma fa'alu, wa-la badhalu ma badhalu, illa li-mujarrad al-hamiyya li-muta'abbadihim, wa-l-nakhwa li-mu'taqadihim . . .’.
  • [9] Cafaro, Annales Ianuae, ed. Pertz (MGH SS in folio 18), a. 1101, p. 13.
  • [10] Cafaro took part in this crusading campaign, cf. Classen, ‘Res’ (1999), p. 397.
  • [11] On Muslim criticism of Christian violence since the ninth century, cf. Kedar, Crusade (1998),pp. 97-8.
  • [12] al-Qarafi, al-ajwiba al-fakhira, ed. al-Shahawi, p. 26; cf. Fritsch, Islam (1930), p. 149.
  • [13] al-Qarafi, al-ajwiba al-fakhira, ed. al-Shahawi, pp. 148-9: ‘al-nasara al-yawm kulluhummu'tarifun bi-annahum 'usa juna, rafidun li-shara’i'ihim, muttabi'un li-tabaTihim, wa-dhalika anna
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