Sunday, November 20, 2005

Understanding Islam - pt. 2, The Point of a Sword

Okay, first things first: this post is about history. History, unfortunately, is not a science and is open to interpretation and distortion. Occasionally, history can be conjecture or even a bald-faced lie, but if all the participants of the events are dead, who's to argue with the historian? What you're about to read is what I've been able to absorb from various sources and water down enough to fit in the context of a blog entry.

One last point: this is history from my point of view. It is subjective.

To begin, let us understand that the militaristic expansion of Islam began almost immediately under the Prophet Muhammad. In the last ten years of his life, Muhammad initiated at least six major battles and at least five expeditions, or caravan raids. Additionally, in every town he controlled, the Jews were expelled.

After Muhammad

After the death of the Muhammad, Abu Bakr took control and became the first caliph. Abu Bakr ruled for only two years. In those two years, he undertook at least two raids against towns and caravans, twelve battles, and six major campaigns.

He was succeeded by 'Umar who was caliph for a decade and during whose rule Islam spread extensively east and west conquering the Persian empire, Syria and Egypt. 'Umar set up the first public treasury and a financial administration and established many of the basic practices of Islamic government.

By the end of 'Umar's reign in 644, Islam had spread by force until it comprised the entire Arabian peninsula, Persia, Armenia, the Nile River valley and North Africa as far west as Tripoli. Notably, 'Umar did order the protection of Christian sites in Jerusalem when it was taken by the Muslim armies in 637.

'Umar was succeeded by 'Uthman who ruled for some twelve years during which time the Islamic expansion continued, though not without internal discontent. One must bear in mind that the entire "empire" is still fairly new and many are not willingly subjugated. 'Uthman was in turn succeeded by 'Ali. With the death of 'Ali in 661 the rule of the "rightly guided" caliphs came to an end.

The next seventy years see the conquest of all of North Africa, many of the islands in the Mediterranean, advances in Asia Minor and into the Indian subcontinent, as well as dozens of major revolts, rebellions and battles amongst themselves for control of the caliphate. Spain falls and the Muslims attack into France where they are stopped at the battle of Tours in 732.

Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, already beset by marauders and bandits now had to deal with the Muslims as well. Christians settled in the east were also subjected to deplorable conditions following the conquest of those lands by the Muslims. In 762, Pepin the Short entered into negotiations with the Caliph of Baghdad. For the next 350 years or so, Christian-Muslim relations gradually improved. Meanwhile, during the 8th and 9th centuries, the Muslim sphere of influence expanded further into Persia, Afghanistan, and much of India.

By the tenth century, Christian pilgrims to the Holy Lands were accustomed to visiting Jerusalem and praying at the Holy Sepulchre without fear of the Muslims. All that changed in 1009, when the Caliph of Egypt, Hakem, ordered the Holy Sepulchre destroyed along with all the Christian and Jewish establishments in Jerusalem. Christians were brutally persecuted throughout the east. In 1070, Jerusalem was occupied by the Muslims, followed by Antioch in 1084. By 1092, none of the great cities of Asia remained in Christian hands.

The First Crusade, begun by Pope Urban II, was an attempt to retake Christian lands:

"On beholding the enormous injury that all, clergy or people, brought upon the Christian faith... at the news that the Rumanian provinces had been taken from the Christians by the Turks, moved with compassion and impelled by the love of God, he crossed the mountains and descended into Gaul."

-- Foucher de Chartres, "Histoire des Crois"

On November 27, 1095, at Clermont-Ferrand, in Auvergne, Urban II addressed an assembly of bishops, abbots, and knights, ordering them to rescue the Holy Sepulchre. While the armies were being assembled, a ragtag mob led by Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless headed east, slaughtering Jews and plundering what they could. In August of 1096, they crossed into Asia Minor where they pillaged continuously until they were killed almost to a man by the Turks.

UPDATE: Please note that Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless were not sanctioned by the Pope. Their "expedition" was essentially a bunch of undisciplined thugs who got fed up waiting for the armies to form, train, and march/sail to battle.

The four armies of the Crusade reached Constantinople between December 1096 and May 1097. The first city retaken was Nicaea, which Alexius Comnenus (of Constantinople) actually "negotiated" away from the Turks before it could be taken by the armies of the Crusade. Antioch was retaken in June 1098, and was successfully defended against an immediate counterattack.

Jerusalem was retaken in July 1099, but the Christian position was very unstable. Before his death, Urban II called for a second Crusade which was crushed in Asia Minor. With support still coming in from Europe and in particular the Norwegians, Genoese, Pisans, and Venetians, the remnants of the First Crusade were able to complete their conquest by 1124.

Four Christian principalities were established at Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, and Edessa. By the middle of the 12th century, the Christian states of the East were well organized and more wealthy and prosperous than most of the states of Europe.

These states were not to last long. By 1187, Jerusalem was lost.

So what does all this mean. Nothing, except that this is what happened.

The religion of peace has never been peaceful.

In a future post, I will discuss what I think it means for us.


Anonymous Square said...

Thanks for the history lesson. It is good to see you posting again.


11:47 AM  
Blogger ljmcinnis said...

Indeed! Well researched post. Thanks for sharing it.
I, too am glad to see you back and hope all is well with you and yours.

2:53 AM  

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