From Crusaders to Suicide Bombers

From time to time, politicians from the West use the term ‘crusade’ when describing the battle against Islamic fundamentalism, perhaps not realising that the term itself harks to a bloody campaign waged by fanatical Christian extremists in order to recover the holy places in the Middle East which were then under the control of Muslim rulers.

Pope Urban II ordered the first crusade in 1095 in response to the appeal of the Byzantine emperor who sought help of his co-religionists to protect him against the Turkish invaders. The Pope combined these two projects into one and urged the European rulers and people to go to war and serve the cause of God. He also declared some concessions for the crusaders who were ready to embark on this campaign. They were granted indulgences which would eliminate their worldly sins and reduce their torment in purgatory, paving the way to heaven. Those who would die fighting would earn martyrdom.

Such was the impact of the Pope’s declaration and the propaganda conducted for the Church by the likes of Peter the Hermit, a religious fanatic, that there was great enthusiasm among the common people to go and fight against the infidels.

They embarked on the first crusade on 1095 and travelled by land and sea first to Constantinople.

When the Crusaders reached Constantinople, the emperor was disappointed that they were not warriors but instead common people with no experience of fighting. He encouraged them to go to Anatolia and fight against the Turks. As a result of the encounter, they were slaughtered in the battlefield.

From the crusaders to today’s suicide bombers, there have been many who have shed blood in the name of religion

The First Crusade, known as the Crusade of the Barons ended in failure. Armed with only religious enthusiasm, they could not succeed in the battlefield.

The news of their failure created dismay and hopelessness in Europe. However, such was the religious zeal and support of the Church that this time the European rulers, aristocracy and knights began preparations in advance to once again undertake the project of capturing the holy places.

The Second Crusade was launched in 1147. Before embarking, the rulers and the knights made sure that they were well-prepared for the war considering the high cost of weapons, horses and living expenses. Some sold their properties which were purchased mostly by the bishops who were rich and could afford to invest in real estate. Others prepared their wills and bequeathed their wealth and properties to their families.

They accepted this war as a religious obligation of the highest order that would absolve them of their sins.

The Second Crusade was different from the first as it was fought by professional warriors who had previously been involved in battles against their rivals in Europe. They succeeded in a number of battles against the Muslim armies and captured important cities, their final triumph being the occupation of Jerusalem which was the main target of the holy warriors. After occupying the city, they neither spared the Muslims nor the Jewish inhabitants, and massacred them all.

The Second Crusade led to the establishment of crusader states in the Middle East, headed by different rulers belonging to the royal families of Europe. However, these states were surrounded by the Muslim rulers who either continued the war against the crusaders or concluded treaties of peace.

After the occupation of Jerusalem, two important Orders of Knights emerged, one was known as the Templars, originated from the Temple of Solomon and the Aqsa mosque. The other was known as Hospitallers whose duty was to take care of the pilgrims. These two were the militant Orders whose responsibility was to protect and look after the pilgrims who visited the holy places and were directly under the control of the Pope.

In the meantime, political changes took place in the Middle East. After the decline of the Fatimid caliphate in 1171, Salahuddin Ayubi became the Sultan of Egypt and extended his political power in Syria. He decided to fight against the crusading states and liberated Jerusalem from the Christian rule. His campaign coincided with the Third Crusade in 1187, which was led by Richard the Lionheart, the king of England.

After defeating the crusaders in a number of battles Salahuddin finally reoccupied Jerusalem in 1187. However, his treatment with the Christians of Jerusalem was different and he allowed them to live peacefully and retain their properties.

His victory earned him the title of ‘Ghazi’ for rescuing the holy city from the Christians. In history, he is known as not only a warrior but also as a generous and tolerant king.

The Third Crusade continued for five more years but failed to achieve any substantive results. When the Mamluk dynasty (1250-1517) came to power in Egypt, Sultan Baibars undertook campaigns against the crusading states and defeated them one by one. After existing for nearly two centuries, these states were wiped out and the crusaders also stopped coming to the Middle East for their help.

Such was the outcome of the crusades which cost thousands of lives and loss of property; they brought nothing but failure and disappointment in the end. Religious fervour which urged the people of Europe to sacrifice for a holy cause ended without achieving anything.

Although the crusades were popularly supported in Europe, there was also criticism by some individuals who argued that to shed blood in war was against the teachings of Christ; it was a religion of peace, love and brotherhood which appealed to its followers to love their enemies. However, these voices remained unheard. Religious passion motivated people not for peace but for violence and bloodshed which created an environment of terror and the fear of death.



– Mubarak Ali (Dawn)

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