Post-classical history


The First Crusade and the Muslim response, 1095–1146

In this chapter we will examine Muslim reactions to the arrival of the First Crusade and the subsequent establishment of the four Latin states in the Levant. In the process we will discuss the tension between Muslim religious ideology and realpolitik that affected the development of the Muslim counter-crusade, before considering the role played in the latter by ‘Imad al-Din Zangi (r. 1127–46), regarded by both contemporaries and some later scholars as the first great leader in the military jihad against the Franks.


According to the Aleppine chronicler al-‘Azimi (d. after 1161), the first inkling that the Muslims of the Levant had of the arrival of the First Crusade was when the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos (r. 1081–1118) wrote to the Muslims in 1096 to inform them of the impending arrival of the Franks (al-‘Azimi, 1984: 358). Whatever the truth of this, the first major encounters that took place between Muslims and crusaders occurred when the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum was repeatedly raided by the forces of the People’s Crusade (or Peasants’ Crusade) in the autumn of 1096. The Seljuks of Rum dispatched them easily and without mercy, wiping most o them out in less than a month.

The Seljuk sultan of Rum, Kilij-Arslan I (r. 1092–1107) may have considered the People’s Crusade to be simply a continuation of previous Byzantine raids into his territory. Franks had, after all, served in the Byzantine armies before. Thus he may have under-estimated the magnitude of the threat when the major armies of the First Crusade began to gather at Constantinople in late 1096 and early 1097. In any case, he was unable to defeat this second wave of crusaders in battle when they advanced on his capital of Nicaea, and the city fell to them in June 1097. Two more Seljuk defeats followed, at Dorylaeum (Eskişehir) and Heraclea (Ereğli), and then the crusaders fought their way to Antioch, besieging it in October 1097. The city fell to the crusaders in June 1098, and they subsequently beat off an army led by Kerbogha, the atabeg of Mosul (r. 1095–1102). In the meantime, a contingent of crusaders under Baldwin of Boulogne had already taken control of the Armenian city of Edessa (Urfa) in March 1098, inaugurating the first Latin Christian state in the Levant. Antioch, now the second of the Latin states, came under the control of Bohemond of Taranto (r. 1098–1111). In December 1098 the crusaders took Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘man, and the Muslim sources emphasize the fact that the Franks slaughtered many of its people. At the same time it is striking that they do not mention the reports of cannibalism found in European sources, which one might expect to be included in the Muslim sources’ portrayals of the Franks if they had been aware of them (see, for example, Ibn al-Athir, 2006: 17–18). The psychological effect of the conquest of Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘man was very great, however, and it is notable that a number of Muslim rulers came to terms with the crusaders as they continued their march south towards Jerusalem.

By the time that the crusaders reached it in June 1099, Jerusalem was in Fatimid hands, having been taken by them from its Seljuk-appointed Turkmen ruler the previous year. Fatimid tenure of the city was brief; it fell on 15 July, after a crusader siege lasting little more than a month. Both the European and the Muslim sources emphasize the magnitude of the massacre of Muslims and Jews alike that took place at the holy city after the crusaders broke through the walls (for two Muslim accounts, see Doc. 4). The Fatimids sent an army to rescue the city, but it was defeated at Ascalon in August 1099. Jerusalem soon became the capital of a Frankish kingdom, and over the years that followed the crusaders continued to expand their holdings in the Levant, including setting up their fourth state, the County of Tripoli, in 1109.

Many Muslims reacted to the Frankish invasion with shock and outrage, and poets and preachers issued emotional calls to both the local rulers in the Levant and the Great Seljuk sultan of the east for aid against the European interlopers. While the Egyptians sought to mount some opposition to the crusader expansion, such calls went mostly unheeded by the Muslim rulers in Bilad al-Sham, many of whom quickly realized that they could form alliances with the Frankish rulers against their Muslim or Frankish rivals. However, after the fall of Tripoli the Great Seljuk sultan Muhammad (r. 1105–18) was moved to act. Between 1110 and 1115 a number of expeditions were launched against the Franks at his direction. These were not received favourably by the Muslim rulers in the Levant, who probably feared a re-assertion of Great Seljuk power in the region, and after the last expedition was opposed by a coalition of Frankish and Muslim rulers and defeated by a Frankish army from Antioch at Danith in September 1115, the sultan Muhammad refocused his attention east, abandoning the Levant to its fate.

The year 1119 witnessed the first major Muslim victory against the Franks when the Turkmen ruler of Mardin, Ilghazi (r. 1108 or 1109–22) defeated and killed Roger of Salerno, the regent of Antioch (r. 1113–19), at the Battle at Balat, a Frankish loss that was so complete and bloody that it became known to the Latin chroniclers as Ager Sanguinis (the Field of Blood). Ilghazi did not capitalize on his success, however, and he died in 1122. It fell to others, the best known of whom is the ruler of Mosul, ‘Imad al-Din Zangi (r. 1127–46), to pursue the war against the Franks. Zangi spent much of his time pursuing his own political ambitions in the Levant and Iraq, including repeatedly attempting to take control of Damascus, but he also prosecuted periodic campaigns against the Franks. Most famously, towards the end of 1144 he took advantage of the fact that Joscelin II of Edessa had been called away from his capital, conquering the city on 24 December and thus bringing the first of the capitals of the crusader states under Muslim control. Zangi himself died two years later, assassinated in September 1146; according to some sources, he was killed by a Frankish slave while he lay incapacitated by over-indulgence in alcohol. His territories were divided between his sons, principally between Sayf al-Din Ghazi (r. 1146–49), who received Mosul and his father’s lands in the east, and Nur al-Din Mahmud (r. 1146–74), who received Aleppoand his father’s holdings in Bilad al-Sham.


Gaining insight into Muslim reactions to the First Crusade is difficult, primarily due to the distribution of the sources and the agendas that affect their works. The earliest major chronicles, by Ibn al-Qalanisi and al-‘Azimi, were written decades after the First Crusade and also well after Zangi’s conquest of Edessa, when counter-crusading sentiment was much more prominent in the Levantine region than it had been at the time. The few sources that date from the period between the First Crusade and the conquest of Edessa consist of some works by professional poets (for examples, see Doc. 5) and, most importantly, a treatise on jihad by a Damascene religious scholar named ‘Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami (d. 1106) [Doc. 6]. The poets’ works include laments for the fall of Jerusalem, emotional calls for the counter-crusade and above all panegyrics intended to flatter their patrons and ensure that they continued to support them. Al-Sulami’s work, entitled Kitab al-Jihad (the Book of the Jihad) is intended first and foremost as a call to the rulers ofBilad al-Sham in general, and Damascus in particular, to unite and engage in the jihad against the crusaders. Al-Sulami draws on the Qur’an and hadith to provide precedents that encourage his audience (al-Sulami’s work was composed in public and subsequently read aloud at public gatherings) to wage the military jihad against the Franks; he lays out practical and spiritual regulations regarding how the jihad should be conducted; and he severely criticizes rulers who neglect to engage in the holy war. Thus the earliest sources for the period give us some insight into how the Frankish attacks were perceived among some poets and religious scholars, but these works are far less useful in helping us understand the reactions of the politico-military elites, who were most able to mount opposition to the crusaders. Instead we are forced to rely on the testimonies of later writers; this poses significant problems when we seek to trace the origins of the Muslim counter-crusade, since these later writers were strongly aware of their audiences and the impact that their works might have upon them. This had a number of effects on their works, the most important of which, as we have indicated previously, is that later writers, many of whom were religious scholars, used their works as a means by which to teach moral lessons. Such agendas are as present in works that a modern reader might expect to be objective (such as chronicles) as they are in works that adopt a more explicitly pietistic stance. Thus, for example, later chroniclers have a tendency to attribute motives ofjihad to any figure who went out to fight against the first crusaders (see for example Doc. 4.i), regardless of whether or not this was actually the reason for the given individual’s actions; in doing so, they seek to teach their audiences the value of the jihad and encourage them to take part in it. Being forced to read these works through their pietistic lenses, the modern historian finds it difficult to tell to what extent the facts have been skewed to fit the writer’s agenda, and hence treats the sources with great scepticism.


Why did the crusaders come? The Muslim sources express what seems to be a considerable amount of confusion regarding the motives of the Franks. Our earliest datable source, the Kitab al-Jihad of al-Sulami, which was composed in 1105, provides us with the most accurate assessment of the Franks’ intentions, noting that they were fighting a jihad, sought to take control of Muslim territory and had the ultimate objective of Jerusalem [Doc. 6]. Al-Sulami also sees their campaign as part of a wider western Christian offensive against Muslim lands that had already manifested itself in the form of the reconquista in Spain and the Norman conquest of Sicily, a claim that Paul E. Chevedden has recently argued we should take seriously, although the question remains debated (2008:passim). Al-Sulami presents the Franks as having been surprised by the extent of their success, but also encouraged, as a result of the reluctance of Muslim leaders to engage them in battle, to pursue even greater destruction and material and territorial gains in the region. At the same time al-Sulami also sees the Frankish conquest in teleological terms, in that he presents it as a punishment for Muslim behaviour and a test from God, intended to reveal which of the Muslims will return to righteousness and become steadfast defenders of their faith, and which will not. Divine support and both earthly and spiritual rewards, including the spoils of war, divine approval and a place in the heaven reserved for martyrs, are offered to those who return to right conduct and undertake the jihad, while those who do not are criticized for their neglect and threatened with the fires of Hell (Christie, 2007b: passim; for some elements of this discussion, see Doc. 6). Elsewhere in his work al-Sulami also suggests that the Franks have been sent to fulfil a prophecy whereby a group of Muslims will re-conquer Jerusalem, then go on to take Constantinople and Rome (Christie, 2007 a: passim). Thus the Franks are ultimately tools of the divine, intended to bring the Muslims back to good conduct and provide opportunities for them to demonstrate their piety and reap the benefits offered.

Returning more directly to the question of the Franks’ motives, al-Sulami’s ideas are recalled in the views of other Muslim sources. His view that the crusader conquests in the Levant formed part of a wider offensive is echoed in the works of a number of other writers (Hillenbrand, 1999 a: 51–4). His comments on the destructive tendencies of the Franks and his critique of the laggardness of Muslim rulers are paralleled in the work of the Syrian poet Ibn al-Khayyat (d. 1120s) [Doc. 5.i.b]. Meanwhile, his views on the ongoing territorial and material ambitions of the enemy resonate with comments made by Usama ibn Munqidh, who suggests that continued crusader activity was motivated by the lure of Baghdad [Doc. 5.iii]. Naturally, we should not assume that these later writers were drawing specifically on the work of al-Sulami; it is far more likely that all of the authors, including al-Sulami, drew on a common pool of ideas that were circulating at the time. By the same token, al-Sulami’s views do not represent the sum total of suggestions that were made regarding the crusaders’ motives. Al-‘Azimi suggests that the Frankish attack was in fact undertaken in revenge for the killing of Frankish and Byzantine pilgrims who sought to visit Jerusalem [Doc. 5.ii]. Meanwhile, an anonymous poet quoted by the later historian Ibn Taghri Birdi (c. 1410–70) depicts the Frankish offensive as an attempt to propagate an impure, debased form of Christianity by force [Doc. 5.i.c]. Thus Muslim writers ascribed a wide range of motives to the crusaders, ranging from desire for plunder and an urge to spread Christianity to a simple love of violence.

It is striking that of all these sources, only al-Sulami uses the term ‘jihad’ to describe the crusaders’ activities, thus stating that they are conducting a form of religious warfare analogous to the military jihad of the Muslims. How can this be explained? Was al-Sulami the only Muslim writer of the early twelfth century who knew that the crusaders were fighting an ‘official’ holy war? It is clear that as the twelfth century progressed, the Muslims became increasingly aware of a religious motivation behind the Franks’ activities (Kedar, 1996: 347–50), but it is only in the latter half of the century that we see other Muslim writers using the same word to describe the crusaders’ activities; one particularly striking example is found in the universal chronicle of the Mosuli historian Ibn al-Athir (1160–1233) [Doc. 5.iv]. We might be tempted to see al-Sulami as being unusually perceptive for his time, with it taking a long time before another Muslim author had the same insight, but Ibn al-Athir’s depiction of the Frankish jihad suggests a different interpretation. In his account the crusaders are depicted as placing greater value on glory, material gain and political concerns than on pious recovery of the holy city; thus the Frankish jihad is a debased one that would definitely not meet with the approval of his Muslim readers. In this way Ibn al-Athir is careful to devalue the crusade even as he uses the word ‘jihad’ to refer to it. This suggests that Muslim writers who became aware of the crusade doctrine wrestled with the problem of describing it on the one hand but also avoiding granting it any legitimacy on the other. It is thus possible that the absence of the term ‘jihad’ in earlier Muslim sources stems from a desire to avoid using a word that might suggest that the crusaders’ operations were in some way legitimate; referring to the crusaders’ activities as a Christian equivalent of the Muslim jihad would make it harder to represent them as unequivocally malicious and hence valid targets for the Muslim counter-crusade (Christie, 2006: 66–70).

Ibn al-Athir actually provides two possible reasons for the arrival of the crusaders in the Levant, of which the debased jihad referred to above is the first. He also suggests that the Franks attacked the region because they were invited to by the Fatimids [Doc. 5.iv]. Ibn al-Athir, as a Sunni Muslim, saw the Fatimids as heretics and their claims to the caliphate as invalid, so he calls them merely ‘the ‘Alid rulers of Egypt’. He suggests that the Fatimids, intimidated by the Seljuks, invited the Franks to take control of Syria, thus driving a wedge between them and their Sunni enemies. It might be tempting to write off Ibn al-Athir’s account as a slur cast against the Egyptians, but as Carole Hillenbrand has argued, it is possible that the Fatimids did indeed seek to make an alliance with the Byzantines and crusaders against their Seljuk rivals. The Fatimid conquest of Jerusalem in 1098, while their enemies were distracted by the crusaders to the north, would make particular sense if one were to assume that they expected the Franks to leave it in their hands; al-‘Azimi’s account of the letter sent in 1096 by the Byzantine emperor to the (unspecified) Muslims could be seen, then, as a record of communication between the Fatimids and the Byzantines. However, if the Fatimids had any such hopes, they were dashed when it became apparent that the crusade’s ultimate target was the holy city, and thus we see them quickly coming into conflict with the crusaders afterwards (Hillenbrand, 1999 a: 44–7).


The possible Fatimid collaboration with the Franks, mentioned above, in some ways epitomizes the major factor that hindered the prompt development of widespread counter-crusading sentiment among the Muslims of the Levant. Many Muslim rulers were more interested in pursuing their political and territorial ambitions at the expense of other rulers, and it soon became apparent that many Frankish leaders were only too willing to take part in such alliances. Thus the crusaders swiftly became enmeshed in a political environment where realpolitik often trumped religious or political scruples about dealing with the enemy. The failure of the counter-crusading expeditions in 1110–15 authorized by the Great Seljuk sultan Muhammad was ultimately due to political concerns; the Muslim rulers of Bilad al-Sham preferred independence and alliances with non-Muslims to having to accept the re-imposition of Seljuk authority that would come with the sultan’s aid.

Sultan Muhammad’s expeditions were prompted by public unrest in Baghdad in the form of impassioned calls to the military jihad against the Franks. If the later sources are to be believed, such appeals began in 1098, before the fall of Jerusalem to the crusaders, and they reached their height in 1111, when a group of religious scholars, Sufis and merchants from Aleppo, led by a descendant of the Prophet, disrupted Friday prayers in both the Seljuk sultan’s mosque and the caliphal mosque, thus challenging both the secular and the spiritual leaders of the Sunni Muslim community to fulfil their duty as defenders of the faith (Ibn al-Jawzi, 1992: Vol. 17, p. 43; Ibn al-Qalanisi, 1983: 276–7; Hillenbrand, 1999 a: 79). As we saw previously, the sultan had already begun to authorize campaigns against the Franks by this time, but the protests of 1111 proved a particular spur to these, even though the opposition of the rulers of Bilad al-Sham to interference from the sultan ultimately led to their failure.

In the meantime, calls to the jihad against the Franks were also being made within the Levant itself. As indicated above, al-Sulami made one such call in 1105, seeking to provoke, and if necessary shame, the local rulers of the region into taking up arms against the crusaders. While al-Sulami’s call was directed first and foremost at the politico-military elite who could undertake a military response to the Franks, he also saw the defensive jihad as an obligation that was incumbent on all Muslims who were free, adult, male and sane. In line with earlier tradition, he presented the jihad as both a fard ‘ayn (individual obligation) and fard kifaya (obligation of sufficiency). In other words, the duty was imposed on all eligible Muslims until enough undertook it to ensure its success. At the same time, the political leaders of the day were required to provide leadership in the endeavour, making them all the more worthy of criticism for their neglect (Christie, 2007 b: 4–6). Al-Sulami urged his listeners to prioritize the greater jihad against the self over the lesser jihad against the enemy, seeing the former as a prerequisite for the latter [Doc. 6. In this way he reflected contemporary developments in jihad teachings; indeed, he may well have met and been influenced by the great Muslim theologian Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 1111), one of the principal thinkers involved in the development of the doctrine of greater and lesser jihad, who visited Damascus in 1095–96 (Christie, 2007 b: 5–6 and 10–11).

As we have previously noted, al-Sulami presented a number of motivations to his listeners; thus at times we find him describing the delights of Paradise to his listeners in glowing terms, while at other times he provides lengthy, workmanlike discussions of how plunder should be distributed. This is in some ways symptomatic of the wider multi-faceted nature of the text, which is simultaneously an anthology of sections from the Qur’an and hadith, a sermon, a legal text on jihad, a fada’il work on Jerusalem and Damascus, a grammatical treatise and a collection of relevant poetic quotations. As indicated in our Introduction, knowledge of a wide range of literature and the ability to deploy it appropriately were marks of a cultivated Muslim.

Fada’il: Arabic: ‘merits’. Texts praising the merits of their subjects. Muslim writers wrote fada’il works on a range of topics, including places (e.g. Damascus, Jerusalem) and activities (e.g. jihad).

It is not clear how much of an impact al-Sulami made on his listeners or his wider society. The part of al-Sulami’s work that deals most explicitly with the Franks was composed in public in May–June 1105. It is striking that in October–November of the same year the atabeg of Damascus, Zahir al-Din Tughtigin (r. 1105–28) fought the Franks and took strongholds that they were building near Damascus; then in 1106 he took Busra al-Sham, some 70 miles south of Damascus, from political rivals who had previously formed an alliance with the Franks against him. However, we should be wary of assuming that Tughtigin’s activities were a response to calls from al-Sulami and others like him; it is far more likely that Tughtigin undertook these operations to further his own political ambitions, although if they helped to assuage public opinion in Damascus, that would also have been of benefit to him. Thus it is more likely that, as Hillenbrand asserts, al-Sulami’s ideas circulated among the religious scholars of the region but did not provoke an immediate reaction from its political leaders (Hillenbrand, 1999 a: 108).

Hillenbrand sees the Battle of Balat in 1119 as a marker for growth in Muslim enthusiasm for the jihad against the Franks. According to the Aleppine historian Kamal al-Din ibn al-‘Adim (1192–1262), present at the battle was the influential Twelver Shi‘iteqadi(judge) of Aleppo, Ibn al-Khashshab (d. 1133 or 1134). Before the fighting began, he preached to Ilghazi’s troops from his saddle, holding a spear and urging them to fight (Ibn al-‘Adim, 1951–68: Vol. 2, pp. 188–9). Engagement by religious scholars in the militaryjihad had a long pedigree by this time. Some of the earliest writers on jihad, such as ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak (d. 797) and Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Fazari (d. 802 or later) were enthusiastic fighters on the Muslim–Byzantine frontier (Bonner, 1996: 109–25). The presence of a religious scholar seems to have generated some initial reservations among Ilghazi’s troops at Balat, but his eloquence apparently moved his listeners to tears. Admittedly, this reaction to preaching is a frequent topos in such accounts, but we might suggest, assuming that we can at least partially trust Ibn al-‘Adim’s account, that the completeness of the Muslim victory at least resulted to a certain extent from the enthusiasm that Ibn al-Khashshab generated with his preaching. Ilghazi did not follow up his victory at Balat with the conquest of Antioch; the sources accuse him of having instead chosen to spend the following week celebrating with an extended drinking binge, though it seems that he actually directed his attentions more usefully to the conquest of territory between Aleppo and Antioch. Meanwhile, the following decades saw other religious scholars issuing equally passionate calls to the jihad (Hillenbrand, 1999 a: 109–10; see also Paul Cobb’s forthcoming Race for Paradise).

Qadi: A judge or magistrate, versed in Islamic law. Qadis were primarily expected to apply the existing body of legal rulings to cases that needed to be considered, rather than to develop new rulings through delivering legal opinions. The latter was the function of legal experts known as muftis.

Another potential source of information in tracing the beginnings of the Muslim jihad against the Franks is epigraphic evidence found on tombs, mosques, religious colleges and other buildings. Such inscriptions have an advantage over historical chronicles in that they often include dates indicating when they were made, and were frequently created during or shortly after the lifetime of the person about whom they record information. Hillenbrand notes that from 1099 to 1146, the only monumental inscriptions found throughout the Muslim world that include mention of the jihad are those found in Syria. Thus the inscriptions found on the tomb of Balak, the nephew of Ilghazi, who died in 1124 and was interred at Aleppo, describe him in clear terms as a martyr and fighter in thejihad. She argues that the appearance of such language in inscriptions, specifically in the region neighbouring the Frankish states and at the time that the Muslims began to inflict defeats on the Franks in battle, testify to a rise in jihad spirit in the region, or at least increased propaganda using such ideas, as well as the beginnings of an informal alliance between the political and religious classes, the second of which probably composed the texts of the inscriptions in question (Hillenbrand, 1994: 63–9; Hillenbrand, 1999 a: 100–11). Hillenbrand’s argument is disputed by Yaacov Lev, who maintains that in the political language of twelfth-century Syria, the term jihad was used for any military encounter with the Franks but was not intended to be understood as implying any deeper commitment to a holy war; thus the inscriptions under discussion merely indicate that conflict with the Franks was a common occurrence in the area, rather than conveying a particular religious or political ideology (Lev, 2008: 229–30).


‘Imad al-Din Zangi is often regarded as having been the first of the great Muslim counter-crusaders, a reputation that is based on his conquest of Edessa in 1144. However, it is difficult to establish how far he himself took an interest in the jihad against the Franks; indeed, it seems far more likely that territorial and political ambitions were the primary motives behind his actions. Zangi himself had been brought up in a violent and ruthless political environment. His father Aq Sunqur, a Turkish mamluk, had served both Alp-Arslan and Malik-Shah, including acting as the governor of Aleppo from 1087 to 1092, but in the conflict over the Great Seljuk Sultanate that followed Malik-Shah’s death he had been killed in 1094, when Zangi was about 10 years old. Thereafter Zangi was brought up by another of Malik-Shah’s mamluks in Mosul and began his career there. After holding a number of governorships in Iraq, he was appointed governor of Mosul, as well as atabeg for two Seljuk princes, in 1127. He quickly extended his territory in northern Iraq, then in 1128 he negotiated the handover of Aleppo. He then divided his attention between east and west, expanding his territory in northern Bilad al-Sham at the expense of either the Franks or other Muslims, including several attempts to take control of Damascus, and intervening in the politics of Iraq and increasing his holdings there. The taking of Edessa was arguably an act of opportunism, with Zangi acting only because he could take advantage of the fact that its ruler and much of its army were absent.

Mujahid: One who strives in the jihad. The term is used in particular for fighters in the military jihad. A number of rulers included it among their titles as a way of asserting (genuinely or not) their devotion to the jihad against the Franks.

Zangi was certainly seen as a great mujahid (jihad fighter) by those around him. Both during his lifetime and afterwards, poets and historians praised his zeal in fighting against the Franks; the caliph rewarded him for his conquest of Edessa with numerous honorific titles; and monumental inscriptions proclaimed his devotion to the holy war. However, Zangi himself spent more time increasing his territory and fighting fellow Muslims in both Iraq and the Levant than he spent pursuing campaigns against the Latin states, and it is not clear that he was seriously concerned with the jihad, except in so far as it helped him further his political ambitions. In addition, numerous sources attest to the brutal and uncompromising manner in which he dealt with his subjects and opponents. His troops, whom he ruled with an iron fist, were terrified of him. According to the sources, his cruel acts included killing, enslaving, mutilating and torturing prisoners, Muslim as well as Frankish; breaking promises of safe conduct; and once, when drunk, divorcing his wife and ordering that she be raped by stable-hands. At the same time, some depict him as seeking to preserve military discipline and public morality through his uncompromising approach (Hillenbrand, 1999 a: 112–16, 2001: 115–27). Yet whatever they thought of him beforehand, in the eyes of the Muslim writers Zangi’s conquest of Edessa was his salvation, gaining him forgiveness for all his misdeeds. Ibn al-Athir, in his admittedly partisan history of the Zangids, tells the story of a pious man who saw Zangi in a dream after the latter was killed; the man said, ‘[He was] in the best condition, and I said to him, “How has God treated you?” Zangi answered, “He has granted me pardon.” I asked, “On account of what?” and he responded, “On account of the conquest of Edessa”’ (Ibn al-Athir, 1963: 70).

Zangids: Family of ‘Imad al-Din Zangi (r. 1127–46). Members of the Zangid dynasty ruled territories in Syria until the second half of the twelfth century, and in Iraq and the Jazira until the mid-thirteenth century.


As we have seen, Muslim reactions to the arrival of the First Crusade were ones of shock, hostility and, if the varied comments of the sources are to be taken at face value, confusion regarding why the crusaders had come. These quickly transformed into emotional appeals for a Muslim counter-offensive that issued in the first instance from the lips of religious scholars and court poets. At what point these calls provoked a reaction in the politico-military leaders of Bilad al-Sham is unclear, but from the textual and epigraphic evidence we might suggest, tentatively, that the early twelfth century witnessed a gradual growth in the number of Muslim rulers who saw value in pursuing the military jihad against the Franks. Whether they did so from genuine piety or a recognition of the propaganda value of such ideas is of course impossible to tell and remains a matter of scholarly debate; indeed, the German scholar Michael Köhler has contended that the large number of alliances and treaties made between Muslim and Frankish rulers both at this time and later indicates that jihad propaganda was used by Muslim rulers purely to advance their own political, social and economic ambitions. He reinforces his argument when he notes that such treaties were even made by later figures widely regarded as proponents of the Muslim military jihad, such as Nur al-Din and Saladin (r. 1169–93) (Köhler, 1991: passim, esp. 429–31). Nevertheless, in employing such jihad ideology the Muslim rulers of the period under discussion in this chapter set in motion the gradual re-conquest of the Muslim territory that had been taken by the crusaders, as well as setting the stage for much wider use of jihad propaganda by their successors.


Carole Hillenbrand’s The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (1999 a) provides a detailed discussion of the Muslims’ reactions to the First Crusade, as well as the beginnings of the Muslim counter-crusade. At the time of writing, Michael Köhler’s valuable work on Muslim–Frankish alliances is in the course of being published in English translation (2013) as Alliances and Treaties between Frankish and Muslim Rulers in the Middle East. On the activities of Muslim poets, see also Hadia Dajani-Shakeel’s article ‘Jihad in Twelfth-Century Arabic Poetry: A Moral and Religious Force to Counter the Crusades’ (1976); and Carole Hillenbrand, ‘Jihad Poetry in the Age of the Crusades’ (2010). On al-Sulami, see the various articles by Niall Christie in the select bibliography of this book, as well as his The Book of the Jihad of ‘Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami (d. 1106): Text, Translation and Commentary (Al-Sulami; in press at time of writing). For discussion of the evidence of inscriptions, see Carole Hillenbrand, ‘Jihad Propaganda in Syria from the Time of the First Crusade until the Death of Zengi: The Evidence of Monumental Inscriptions’ (1994) and Yaacov Lev, ‘The Jihad of Sultan Nur al-Din of Syria (1146–74): History and Discourse’ (2008). For an assessment of ‘Imad al-Din Zangi, see Carole Hillenbrand, ‘“Abominable Acts”: The Career of Zengi’ (2001). Finally, a useful overview of historical developments in the major Seljuk centres of Bilad al-Sham at the time may be found in Taef Kamal el-Azhari’s The Saljuqs of Syria during the Crusades(1997), while more information on Fatimid Egypt may be found in Paul E. Walker, Exploring an Islamic Empire: Fatimid History and its Sources (2002); and Yaacov Lev, State and Society in Fatimid Egypt (1991).

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