Historical facts say that Islam has been imperialistic—and would still like to be, if only for religious reasons. Many Muslim clerics, scholars, and activists, for example, would like to impose Islamic law around the world. Historical facts say that Islam, including Muhammad, launched their own Crusades against Christianity long before the European Crusades.
Today, Muslim polemicists and missionaries, who believe that Islam is the best religion in the world, claim that the West has stolen Islamic lands and that the West (alone) is imperialistic.One hardline Muslim emailer to me said about the developed West and the undeveloped Islamic countries: ‘You stole our lands’ and then he held his finger on the exclamation key to produce a long string of them.
Thus imperialism, a word that has reached metaphysical levels and that is supposed to stop all debates and answer all questions, explains why Islamic countries have not kept up with the West. The emailer did not look inwardly, as if his own culture and religion may play a role. Instead, it is always the West’s fault.
Westerners—even academics—accept the notion that the West alone was aggressive. It seems that Islam is always innocent and passive. It is difficult to uncover the source of this Western self—loathing. It is, however, a pathology that seems to strike Westerners more than other people around the globe. This anti—West pathology shows up in Westerners’ hatred for the European Crusades in the Medieval Age.
It must be admitted that there is much to dislike about the European Crusades. If they are contrasted with the mission and ministry of Jesus and the first generations of Christians, then the Crusades do not look so good. But did the Europeans launch the first Crusade in a mindless, bloodthirsty and irrational way, or were there more pressing reasons? Were they the only ones to be militant?
The purpose of this article is not to justify or defend European Crusades, but to explain them, in part—though scholarship can go a long way to defend and justify them
In this article, the word ‘crusade’ (derived from the Latin word for ‘cross’) in an Islamic context means a holy war or jihad. It is used as a counterweight to the Muslim accusation that only the Europeans launched crusades. Muslims seem to forget that they had their own, for several centuries before the Europeans launched theirs as a defense against the Islamic expansion.
We will employ a partial timeline spanning up to the first European response to Islamic imperialism, when Pope Urban II launched his own Crusade in 1095. The timeline mostly stays within the parameters of the Greater Middle East. The data in bold print are of special interest for revealing early Islamic atrocities, their belief in heroism in warfare, or politics today.
The Islamic Crusades were very successful. The Byzantines and Persian Empires had worn themselves out with fighting, so a power vacuum existed. Into this vacuum stormed Islam.
After the timeline, two questions are posed, which are answered at length
630 Two years before Muhammad’s death of a fever, he launches the Tabuk Crusades, in which he led 30,000 jihadists against the Byzantine Christians. He had heard a report that a huge army had amassed to attack Arabia, but the report turned out to be a false rumor. The Byzantine army never materialized. He turned around and went home, but not before extracting ‘agreements’ from northern tribes. They could enjoy the ‘privilege’ of living under Islamic ‘protection’ (read: not be attacked by Islam), if they paid a tax (jizya).
This tax sets the stage for Muhammad’s and the later Caliphs’ policies. If the attacked city or region did not want to convert to Islam, then they paid a jizya tax. If they converted, then they paid a zakat tax. Either way, money flowed back to the Islamic treasury in Arabia or to the local Muslim governor.
632—634 Under the Caliphate of Abu Bakr the Muslim Crusaders reconquer and sometimes conquer for the first time the polytheists of Arabia. These Arab polytheists had to convert to Islam or die. They did not have the choice of remaining in their faith and paying a tax. Islam does not allow for religious freedom.
633 The Muslim Crusaders, led by Khalid al—Walid, a superior but bloodthirsty military commander, whom Muhammad nicknamed the Sword of Allah for his ferocity in battle (Tabari, 8:158 / 1616—17), conquer the city of Ullays along the Euphrates River (in today’s Iraq). Khalid captures and beheads so many that a nearby canal, into which the blood flowed, was called Blood Canal (Tabari 11:24 / 2034—35).
634 At the Battle of Yarmuk in Syria the Muslim Crusaders defeat the Byzantines. Today Osama bin Laden draws inspiration from the defeat, and especially from an anecdote about Khalid al—Walid. An unnamed Muslim remarks: ‘The Romans are so numerous and the Muslims so few.’ To this Khalid retorts: ‘How few are the Romans, and how many the Muslims! Armies become numerous only with victory and few only with defeat, not by the number of men. By God, I would love it . . . if the enemy were twice as many’ (Tabari, 11:94 / 2095). Osama bin Ladin quotes Khalid and says that his fighters love death more than we in the West love life. This philosophy of death probably comes from a verse like Sura 2:96. Muhammad assesses the Jews: ‘[Prophet], you are sure to find them [the Jews] clinging to life more eagerly than any other people, even polytheists’ (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, Oxford UP, 2004; first insertion in brackets is Haleem’s; the second mine).
634—644 The Caliphate of Umar ibn al—Khattab, who is regarded as particularly brutal.
635 Muslim Crusaders besiege and conquer of Damascus
636 Muslim Crusaders defeat Byzantines decisively at Battle of Yarmuk.
637 Muslim Crusaders conquer Iraq at the Battle of al—Qadisiyyah (some date it in 635 or 636)
638 Muslim Crusaders conquer and annex Jerusalem, taking it from the Byzantines.
638—650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Iran, except along Caspian Sea.
639—642 Muslim Crusaders conquer Egypt.
641 Muslim Crusaders control Syria and Palestine.
643—707 Muslim Crusaders conquer North Africa.
644 Caliph Umar is assassinated by a Persian prisoner of war; Uthman ibn Affan is elected third Caliph, who is regarded by many Muslims as gentler than Umar.
644—650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Cyprus, Tripoli in North Africa, and establish Islamic rule in Iran, Afghanistan, and Sind.
656 Caliph Uthman is assassinated by disgruntled Muslim soldiers; Ali ibn Abi Talib, son—in—law and cousin to Muhammad, who married the prophet’s daughter Fatima through his first wife Khadija, is set up as Caliph.
656 Battle of the Camel, in which Aisha, Muhammad’s wife, leads a rebellion against Ali for not avenging Uthman’s assassination. Ali’s partisans win.
657 Battle of Siffin between Ali and Muslim governor of Jerusalem, arbitration goes against Ali
661 Murder of Ali by an extremist; Ali’s supporters acclaim his son Hasan as next Caliph, but he comes to an agreement with Muawiyyah I and retires to Medina.
661—680 the Caliphate of Muawiyyah I. He founds Umayyid dynasty and moves capital from Medina to Damascus
673—678 Arabs besiege Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire
680 Massacre of Hussein (Muhammad’s grandson), his family, and his supporters in Karbala, Iraq.
691 Dome of the Rock is completed in Jerusalem, only six decades after Muhammad’s death.
705 Abd al—Malik restores Umayyad rule.
710—713 Muslim Crusaders conquer the lower Indus Valley.
711—713 Muslim Crusaders conquer Spain and impose the kingdom of Andalus. This article recounts how Muslims today still grieve over their expulsion 700 years later. They seem to believe that the land belonged to them in the first place.
719 Cordova, Spain, becomes seat of Arab governor
732 The Muslim Crusaders stopped at the Battle of Poitiers; that is, Franks (France) halt Arab advance
749 The Abbasids conquer Kufah and overthrow Umayyids
756 Foundation of Umayyid amirate in Cordova, Spain, setting up an independent kingdom from Abbasids
762 Foundation of Baghdad
785 Foundation of the Great Mosque of Cordova
789 Rise of Idrisid amirs (Muslim Crusaders) in Morocco; foundation of Fez; Christoforos, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, is executed.
800 Autonomous Aghlabid dynasty (Muslim Crusaders) in Tunisia
807 Caliph Harun al—Rashid orders the destruction of non—Muslim prayer houses and of the church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem
809 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sardinia, Italy
813 Christians in Palestine are attacked; many flee the country
831 Muslim Crusaders capture Palermo, Italy; raids in Southern Italy
850 Caliph al—Matawakkil orders the destruction of non—Muslim houses of prayer
855 Revolt of the Christians of Hims (Syria)
837—901 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sicily, raid Corsica, Italy, France
869—883 Revolt of black slaves in Iraq
909 Rise of the Fatimid Caliphate in Tunisia; these Muslim Crusaders occupy Sicily, Sardinia
928—969 Byzantine military revival, they retake old territories, such as Cyprus (964) and Tarsus (969)
937 The Ikhshid, a particularly harsh Muslim ruler, writes to Emperor Romanus, boasting of his control over the holy places
937 The Church of the Resurrection (known as Church of Holy Sepulcher in Latin West) is burned down by Muslims; more churches in Jerusalem are attacked
960 Conversion of Qarakhanid Turks to Islam
966 Anti—Christian riots in Jerusalem
969 Fatimids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Egypt and found Cairo
c. 970 Seljuks enter conquered Islamic territories from the East
973 Israel and southern Syria are again conquered by the Fatimids
1003 First persecutions by al—Hakim; the Church of St. Mark in Fustat, Egypt, is destroyed
1009 Destruction of the Church of the Resurrection by al—Hakim (see 937)
1012 Beginning of al—Hakim’s oppressive decrees against Jews and Christians
1015 Earthquake in Palestine; the dome of the Dome of the Rock collapses
1031 Collapse of Umayyid Caliphate and establishment of 15 minor independent dynasties throughout Muslim Andalus
1048 Reconstruction of the Church of the Resurrection completed
1050 Creation of Almoravid (Muslim Crusaders) movement in Mauretania; Almoravids (aka Murabitun) are coalition of western Saharan Berbers; followers of Islam, focusing on the Quran, the hadith, and Maliki law.
1055 Seljuk Prince Tughrul enters Baghdad, consolidation of the Seljuk Sultanate
1055 Confiscation of property of Church of the Resurrection
1071 Battle of Manzikert, Seljuk Turks (Muslim Crusaders) defeat Byzantines and occupy much of Anatolia
1071 Turks (Muslim Crusaders) invade Palestine
1073 Conquest of Jerusalem by Turks (Muslim Crusaders)
1075 Seljuks (Muslim Crusaders) capture Nicea (Iznik) and make it their capital in Anatolia
1076 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) conquer western Ghana
1085 Toledo is taken back by Christian armies
1086 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) send help to Andalus, Battle of Zallaca
1090—1091 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) occupy all of Andalus except Saragossa and Balearic Islands
1094 Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus I asks western Christendom for help against Seljuk invasions of his territory; Seljuks are Muslim Turkish family of eastern origins; see 970
1095 Pope Urban II preaches first Crusade; they capture Jerusalem in 1099
So it is only after all of the Islamic aggressive invasions that Western Christendom launches its first Crusades.
It could be argued that sometimes the Byzantine and Western European leaders did not behave exemplarily, so a timeline on that subject could be developed. And sometimes the Muslims behaved exemplarily. Both are true. However, the goal of this timeline is to balance out the picture more clearly. Many people regard Islam as an innocent victim, and the Byzantines and Europeans as bullies. This was not always the case.
Moreover, we should take a step back and look at the big picture. If Islam had stayed in Arabia and had not waged wars of conquest, then no troubles would have erupted. But the truth is this: Islam moved aggressively during the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar in the seventh century, with other Caliphs continuing well beyond that; only then did the Western Europeans react (see 1094).