The Crusaders: Muslims vs. Christians

Osama bin Laden said of the American response to 911 it is a “new crusade and Jewish campaign led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the cross.”

Christianity is often criticized for the Crusades involving the Muslim world. A review of some of what preceded and precipitated the Crusades might put them in a different light. A chronology of history reveals Islam struck first in the Middle Ages as Osama did in America.

Jerusalem has been the center for much of the conflict. Byzantine Emperor Heraclius captured it from the Persians in 630 AD. The first Muslim-Christian clash over the territory resulted in the Muslim conquest and banishment of the Byzantines (Christians). They began work immediately on a mosque on the temple mount.

Exultant in victory the Muslim armies soon conquered Armenia and Egypt in the 640s. By 711 they had control of north Africa and parts of Europe. By 712 they penetrated deep into Spain killing the king. They crossed the Pyrenees and invaded parts of France. They were stopped at the battle of Tours.

By 717 they besieged Constantinople for the first of seven times. It finally fell in 1453. Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica fell to the Muslims and provided launching ports for assaults against Italy. By 846 they were pillaging outlying areas of Rome. By the tenth century the tide began to turn. The Byzantines began to counterattack and regain some territory. By 1000 most of the Holy Land was Christian but a Muslim ruler named Hakim persecuted them and drove them out.

In 1055 the fierce Seljuks, pagan nomads, made deep incursions into the Muslim world. They converted to Islam and became even more militant in spreading their new faith. In 1071 the Byzantine Emperor was totally defeated by these new Turkish Muslims. This resulted in great loss of territory. The Seljuk Turks captured Jerusalem from the Egyptian Shi’ite Fatimid in 1071 and drove out the Christians in 1091.

The Fatimids recaptured Jerusalem in 1098. In 1099 the first Christian crusade was launched against Jerusalem. Christians controlled most of the Holy Land until the Muslims once again conquered it in 1291.

By the fourteenth century the formidable Ottoman Turks began to invade Europe. Such territories as Hungary, Albania, and Serbia fell to them. Bitterness still exists in those areas. In May of 1453 they conquered and pillaged Constantinople. Much of their army was composed of young adults who were captured as children, taken from their Christian parents and “converted” at the point of the sword.

In 1683 the Ottomans launched their last assault against Europe which was their second attack on Vienna where they were defeated. The Muslim world went into a long period of eclipse from which it is just now emerging.

The crusades represent a grim and regrettable part of history. Perhaps this historical background frames them in better understanding.