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What were the Crusades?

Crusaders waged war against Muslims.
Jerusalem, Israel.
A map of the Middle East, site of many of the battles of the Crusades.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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The Crusades were a series of military expeditions launched by Christian Europe in an attempt to reclaim territory from the Muslims. In addition to waging war on the Muslims, the Crusaders also fought Paganism and numerous Christian sects. These holy wars were sanctioned by Popes and many civic leaders, and they had far-reaching repercussions, some of which continue to be felt today, despite the fact that they ended in the 14th century.

The backstory behind the Crusades is incredibly complex, but they were essentially sparked by two things: Muslim conquest of Christian holy sites such as Jerusalem, and social unrest in Europe. The Muslim conquest was a thorn in the side of many church leaders, while social unrest provided a pool of potential soldiers to be exploited. Some historians have suggested that the focus of the First Crusade in 1096 was actually brought about by concerns that political infighting would tear Europe apart; by sending warriors off to claim new territory, the Pope could help to stabilize the political situation in Europe.

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From the start, the message of the Crusades was mixed. Although they were in theory holy expeditions, they were not very religious in nature. Crusaders were granted indulgences which allowed them to behave however they pleased while on Crusade, and many took advantage of this to loot, rape, and murder indiscriminately as they swept into Spain, the Baltic region, and the Middle East. While some undoubtedly did have religious ideals, many more were simply on a quest for glory, treasure, and land.

Initially, the Crusades were successful, and some formerly Christian territories were reclaimed. Subsequent expeditions sent out reinforcements to continue to hold the land against rising Muslim empires. However, ultimately the Islamic world proved to be too powerful, and the Christian strongholds were overwhelmed, with the Crusaders being beaten back into Europe by understandably upset Muslim warriors who wanted to reclaim the lands they thought of as home.

In addition to external Crusades, there were also expeditions in Europe, with Popes using them as a tool to weed out rivals and heretics. Many people were glad to see the Crusades come to an end, since numerous Europeans died or disappeared during them, and ignominious events such as the Children's Crusade in 1212 did nothing to promote a positive image of these allegedly holy wars.

As a result of these wars, some parts of the Middle East continue to experience tension between Christians and Muslims. Despite the fact that Muslims and Christians once got along in regions like Spain, the Crusades drove a wedge between these religious faiths, and that wedge continues to be a political and social issue today.

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Discuss this Article

anon291677
Post 9

I agree with this article. Even though the land was still holy to the Christians, it was also just as holy to the Muslims. It seems that a lot of people forget that Muslims all believe in Jesus along with other Prophets such as Noah, David, Abraham, Moses, etc., and that they are just as important to Muslims as they are to Christians and others.

anon246339
Post 7

Christianity was in the Middle East long before Islam. Also, all the countries in and around those areas had their own cultures, religions and customs long before they were invaded and forced to convert to Islam. Persia and Egypt to name but two.

The Crusaders went to the middle east to defend that which Muslims had taken, not the other way around. The Muslims were always invaders, even in Europe (Spain), India, etc. And yet they have the audacity to blame others for invading the countries that they themselves invaded in the first place.

TrogJoe19
Post 5

@FitzMaurice

I don't think this rift is as extensive as it is made out to be. Why would Turkey want to join the EU if it harbored old bitterness? Turkey is probably one of the most Westernized nations in the Mid-east, and it is still Muslim. They even use the Latin alphabet.

FitzMaurice
Post 4

The holy crusades were a savvy plot to make money. It got all of Europe united in a single mission to pursue personal immortality and drive back the Turkish invaders. Unfortunately, it also created a long-lasting rift between Europe and the Middle East.

eds
Post 1

The article above claims that Christians and Muslims once got along in Muslim-ruled Spain, and the Crusaders drove a wedge between the two populations.

But even historians who celebrate Muslim Spain admit that most non-Muslims there lived as second-class citizens subject to various forms of legal and social discrimination set down by Islamic law. Non-Muslims had a "protected" or dhimmi status, which meant that, as long as they accepted their inferior social position stipulated by Islamic law, non-Muslims lives and property could not be taken by Muslims.

Somewhat like the Jim Crow laws in the United States, which subjected African-Americans to social stigma and limitation and required humiliating obsequiousness, the "dhimmi" or protected status abased non-Muslims as a population.

And even when non-Muslims accepted that second-class status and "knew their places," their lives and property could still be subject to forfeit if any Muslim claimed that a non-Muslim had violated the dhimma, or protection contract.

Non-Muslim testimony was not equal to Muslim testimony in Islamic courts. Thus, predators could take advantage of non-Muslims, accuse them of blasphemy against Muhammad or the Qur'an, or of other crimes, and the non-Muslims accused would have little legal recourse. Periodically mobs would form and massacre non-Muslims and loot their property.

Sometimes, a Muslim governor would elevate a non-Muslim to a high post in Muslim Spain, but because mainstream interpretations of Islamic law say that a non-Muslim may not rule over a Muslim, the occasional elevation of a gifted non-Muslim to an administrative position in Muslim Spain could provoke massacres by the Muslim population against non-Muslims.

It is an error to say that the Crusades drove a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in medieval Muslim Spain. Mainstream interpretations of Islamic law differentiated strongly, and still do differentiate strongly, between non-Muslims and Muslims, and give the latter significantly more rights than the former.

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