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Crusades – Do they matter?

February 20, 2013

When I began working this series on Christian perspectives on war, I was going to pass over discussing the crusades. After all, they are long past and have no implications on what we believe today, right? After looking beyond the history of the Crusades, I found they still touch our world events we see in the news. While I will deal with the Crusades in short, as they are a historical event, I will take some time to look at the continuing implications they brought about.

The First Crusade took place from 1096 to 1099. The objective of this Crusade was to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim invaders. By all accounts this was a brutal action. Hundreds of men, women, and children were slaughtered when the Crusaders conquered the city. The Second Crusade followed in 1147-1149 in attempt to secure the Holy Land from Muslims coming to conquer and recapture it. “Salah al-Din the Ayyubid was able to unite them [the Mulsims] under the Islamic banner of jihad[1] and after this they were able to defeat the Crusades holding the Holy Lands. A Third Crusade took place from 1189 to 1192 with similar results, reasons and atrocities.

After this point, the Crusades took on a different target. They were more interested in fighting anyone who was seen as being against God or in the way of God’s mission. The Fourth Crusade was launched against the Byzantine capital to force their church to fall under the control of Rome. The Fifth Crusade was launched against Muslims in Egypt, and the Sixth and Seventh Crusades were directed at recapturing the Holy Land from the Muslim authorities who were ruling it at the time. In the midst of all of these Crusades, there were subplots, or peripheral battles which the religion of the foe was not of consequence. These peripheral battles were against foes who were Christian or Muslim. No longer was the religion of the enemy important.

So what exactly is a Crusade? A Crusade is different from a Just War. “The crusade differed from the just war primarily in its intensely religious quality.”[2] This intense religious quality was the motivating factor for many of the people who volunteered for duty in these conflicts. Many preached sermons which motivated people to join the Crusading forces. Pope Urban II and Peter the Hermit were two individuals who were well known for their calls to enter the Crusade and fight the battle for God. This religious fervor allowed them to feel their atrocities were acceptable since they were being done in the name of God. Each side in these fights was ruthless and can blame the other as the instigator ad nauseam.

All of this leads to today. First, when the Jewish people were awarded the land which is now known as Israel the Muslims in the region drew the protest of Muslims in the region. This singular act gave a Crusading perception to Muslims in the region. After all, the majority of the Crusades were done to reclaim the Holy Land and here the nation was taken from the Muslims by political power and Christian nations influence. Second, as the Western World has waged war in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern nations over the past 20+ years the Muslims in that region, and specifically the Islamic Extremists, see Crusade in the action. Since the Gulf War, “many Muslims perceive all political contact between Western countries and Islamic countries, and all social contact between Christians and Muslims, as taking place in the perpetual atmosphere of the crusading spirit.”[3] This perceived crusading spirit and distrust come from the lack of integrity and adherence to treaties and agreements during the Crusades. “The treachery and perfidy of the Crusaders were evident also in their unwillingness to abide by treaties or be faithful to agreements. [4]

As Christians, we see the Crusades as long gone history, a set of dates and places to memorize in an effort to pass a test. To those living in the Middle East it is so much more. “Christians should understand that the Crusades, for most Muslims, are not something that began and ended in the Middle Ages.”[5] In a global world we live in, we need to take this into context when we see news of our conflicts in the Middle East. Through this lens, how does this two decades old war appear? Through this lens, how do missionaries in the Middle East countries appear? What about military strikes in non-hostile nations?

By no means is this a commentary on American international policy or support for the feelings of the Muslims of a continued Crusade. I am simply trying to provide some background on the Crusades and their lasting effects in a part of the world where there is currently conflict. As Christians, as missionaries, we need to look at these events and their consequences through an objective lens as they directly affect any relations between Christians and Muslims in that region. It affects the safety of missionaries in the region. As Christians interact with Muslims, these things need to be remembered and taken into account.

In the future weeks you will continue to see the ongoing impact of the Crusades in the Pacifism and Just War Theory’s Christians typically apply to conflicts.


[1] Wadi Z. Haddad. “The Crusaders Through Muslim Eyes.” Muslin World 73, no. 3-4 (July 1, 1983): 234-252. ALTA Religion Database with ALTASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 14, 2013). 235

[2] Lisa Sowle Cahill. Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994. 44

[3] Livingston Huff. “The Crusades and Colonial Imperialism: Some Historical Considerations Concerning Christian-Muslim Interaction and Dialogue.” Missiology 32, no. 2 (April 1, 2004): 141-148. ALTA Religion Database with ALTASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 14, 2013). 145

[4] Wadi Z. Haddad. “The Crusaders Through Muslim Eyes.” Muslin World 73, no. 3-4 (July 1, 1983): 234-252. ALTA Religion Database with ALTASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 14, 2013). 241

[5] Livingston Huff. “The Crusades and Colonial Imperialism: Some Historical Considerations Concerning Christian-Muslim Interaction and Dialogue.” Missiology 32, no. 2 (April 1, 2004): 141-148. ALTA Religion Database with ALTASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 14, 2013). 145

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