Post-classical history

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Document 5 MUSLIM VIEWS OF THE CRUSADERS AND THEIR MOTIVES

(i) A number of Muslim poets wrote emotionally charged works about the impact of the First Crusade, calling on their patrons to take up arms against the Franks. These include the Khurasani poet al-Abiwardi (d. 1113), whose call is quoted in the work of Ibn al-Athir [see Doc. 4.ii]; the Syrian Ibn al-Khayyat (d. 1120s); and an anonymous poet quoted by the Egyptian historian Ibn Taghri Birdi (c. 1410–70).

(a) Al-Abiwardi. Note that the Muslims firequently confused the ifranj (Franks) and rum (Byzantines) in this period.

We have mixed blood with flowing tears, and there are none of us left worth pitying.

The tears that a man sheds are the worst of weapons when sharp blades stir up the fires of war.

O sons of Islam, behind you are battles in which sons [of your enemies] fell at your feet.

Are you drowsing in the shade of safety, bliss and life, carefree like a flower in a luxuriant grove?

How can your eye sleep, filling its lids, in the face of sinful acts that wake every sleeper,

While the resting-places of your brothers in al-Sham become the backs of their warhorses or the bellies of lions?

The rum inflict humiliation upon them, while you drag behind you the coat-tail of a life of ease, acting like a peaceful man.

How much blood has been shed, and how many fair ladies have concealed, in shame, their beauty behind their hands,

When white swords have points that are stained red, and brown iron spearheads have become bloodied tips?

Between the seizing of an opportunity to stab and the impact itself is a blow, [for fear of] which children’s hair turns as white as that of old men.

This is war, and whoever stays away from its adversities to keep himself safe will afterwards grind his teeth in regret.

Sharp swords are unsheathed in the hands of the polytheists, and will be sheathed again in necks and skulls.

In the face of them, the one who is veiled in goodness [the Prophet] all but calls at the top of his voice, ‘O family of Hashim [the Prophet’s clan],

‘I see my community not pointing their spears at the enemy, and the faith on weak pillars!

‘[The Muslims] avoid the fire [of war] for fear of destruction, not realising that disgrace is the inevitable consequence.

‘Must the brave Arabs be content with the harm [that they suffer], while the valiant Persians close their eyes to their dishonour?’

Source: ‘Izz al-Din ibn al-Athir. (1966) Al-Kamil fi’l-Ta’rikh. Ed. C.J. Tornberg. Beirut: Dar Sadir, Vol. 10, pp. 284–5.

(b) Ibn al-Khayyat

How long [will this go on]? For the polytheists have swollen in a flood, of which the torrent [of the sea] is frightened by the extent.

Armies like mountains have stormed out of the land of Ifranja, to bring about our destruction.

They treat well whoever gives way to adversity, and they buy off whoever prepares for war.

The tribe of polytheism does not disapprove of evil-doing, and does not know any economy with injustice.

They do not prevent anyone from [taking part in] the killing, and do not spare any effort in destruction.

How many young women have started to beat their throats and cheeks in fear of them,

And mothers of young girls who never before knew the heat [of day] nor suffered cold at night?

They are almost wasting away from fear, and dying of sadness and painful agitation.

So protect your religion and your harem, defending them like someone who does not see death as a loss.

The heads of the polytheists have ripened. Do not neglect them as a vintage and a harvest.

Their [sword] edge must be notched, and their cornerstone demolished.

For Alp-Arslan, in similar circumstances, went out [to fight], and he was sharper than the sword.

Source: Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Khayyat. (1994) Diwan ibn al-Khayyat. Ed. Kh. Mardam Bey. Beirut: Dar Sadir, pp. 184–6.

(c) anonymous poet

Unbelief has made harm to Islam lawful, about which lamentation for the religion is prolonged.

What is right perishes and what is forbidden is permitted. The sword cuts and blood is shed.

How many Muslims have become spoils of war? [How many] Muslim women have [had] that which is forbidden stolen away?

How many a mosque have they made into a church, a cross set up in its mihrab?

Pig’s blood in it is suitable for them, and the burning of Qur’ans in it as incense.

Do God and Islam not have a right whereby young men and old should be defended?

So say to those with insight, wherever they are, ‘Respond to God and [what] He obliges [you to], respond!’

Source: Jamal al-Din ibn Taghri Birdi. (1963) Al-Nujum al-Zahira fi Muluk Misr wa-l-Qahira. Ed. M.‘A. al-Q. Hatim. Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya, Vol. 5, pp. 151–2.

(ii) Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-‘Azimi (d. after 1161) wrote a city chronicle about his hometown of Aleppo, Ta’rikh Halab (The History of Aleppo). In it he ascribed motives of revenge to the crusaders. Note that the reference to the pilgrims ‘who escaped’, below, is intended to convey that some of them were killed.

The people of the coastal ports prevented Frankish and Byzantine pilgrims from crossing to Jerusalem. News of what happened spread from those who escaped to their countries, and [the Franks] prepared to invade [the Levant].

Source: Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-‘Azimi. (1984) Ta’rikh Halab. Ed. Ibrahim Za‘rur. Damascus: n.p., p. 356.

(iii) Usama ibn Munqidh (1095–1188) was a Syrian emir who travelled widely, often as a result of tactful departures after becoming embroiled in political conflicts. He is well known to modern historians for his ‘memoirs’, which contain entertaining tales of Frankish behaviour [see Doc. 14]. However, in his own time he was actually more highly regarded for his poetic talents. The following is drawn from Lubab al-Adab (The Kernels of Refinement), an anthology on cultured behaviour that also includes historical anecdotes.

When the Franks (God forsake them) came out in the year 490 [1096–7], conquered Antioch and defeated the people of Syria, greed insinuated itself into them, and their innermost feelings told them of the riches of Baghdad [or ‘taking control of Baghdad’] and the country of the east. So they mobilised, gathered and set out, aiming for the country.

Source: Usama ibn Munqidh. (1987) Lubab al-Adab. Ed. Ahmad M. Shakir. Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Salafiyya, p. 132.

(iv) Ibn al-Athir [see Doc. 4.ii] suggests two possible causes for the First Crusade.

When it was the year 490 [1096–7] they invaded Syria. The reason for their invasion was that their ruler, Baldwin, a relative of Roger the Frank who had conquered Sicily, gathered a great host of Franks and sent to Roger, saying, ‘I have gathered a great host and I am coming to you. I shall proceed to Ifriqiya [the eastern Maghrib] to take it and I shall be a neighbour of yours.’ Roger assembled his men and consulted them about this. They said, ‘By the truth of the Gospel, this is excellent for us and them. The lands will become Christian lands.’ Roger raised his leg and gave a loud fart. ‘By the truth of my religion,’ he said, ‘there is more use in that than in what you have to say!’ ‘How so?’ they asked. ‘If they come to me,’ he replied, ‘I shall require vast expenditure and ships to convey them to Ifriqiya and troops of mine also. If they take the territory it will be theirs and resources from Sicily will go to them. I shall be deprived of the money that comes in every year from agricultural revenues. If they do not succeed, they will return to my lands and I shall suffer from them. Tamim [the ruler of Ifriqiya] will say, “You have betrayed me and broken the agreement I have [with you].” Our mutual contacts and visits will be interrupted. The land of Ifriqiya will be waiting for us. Whenever we find the strength we will take it.’

He summoned Baldwin’s envoy and said to him, ‘If you are determined to wage holy war [jihad] on the Muslims, then the best way is to conquer Jerusalem. You will free it from their hands and have glory. Between me and the people of Ifriqiya, however, are oaths and treaties.’ They therefore made their preparations and marched forth to Syria.

It has been said that the Alid rulers of Egypt [the Fatimids] became fearful when they saw the strength and power of the Saljuq state, that it had gained control of Syrian lands as far as Gaza, leaving no buffer state between the Saljuqs and Egypt to protect them, and that Aqsis [Atsiz, a Turkmen chieftain] had entered Egypt and blockaded it [in 1077]. They therefore sent to the Franks to invite them to invade Syria, to conquer it and separate them and the [other] Muslims, but God knows best.

Saljuqs: see Seljuks.

Source: Ibn al-Athir. (2006) The Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period, pp. 13–14. Richards’ translation has been slightly modified.

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