This post shows Islamic jihad in a four-hundred year timeline before the pope called the First Crusade in 1095. The Church, imperfect as it was (and is), was merely responding to Islamic aggression. No jihad. No Crusades. Peace.
Let’s get started with clarifying the issue of who launched what, first.
Historical facts say that Islam has been imperialistic—and would still like to be, if only for religious reasons. Many Muslim clerics, scholars, and activists, for example, would like to impose Islamic law around the world. Historical facts say that Islam, including Muhammad, launched their own “Crusades” (actually Jihad is better, but the irony works here too) against Christianity long before the European Crusades.
Today, Muslim polemicists and missionaries claim that the West has stolen Islamic lands and that the West (alone) is imperialistic.
Westerners—even academics—accept the notion that the West alone was aggressive. It seems that Islam is always innocent and passive. It is difficult to uncover the source of this Western self-loathing. It is, however, a pathology that seems to strike Westerners more than other people around the globe. This anti-West pathology shows up in Westerners’ hatred for the European Crusades in the Medieval Age.
It must be admitted that there is much to dislike about the European Crusades. If they are contrasted with the mission and ministry of Jesus and the first generations of Christians, then the Crusades do not look so good. But did the Europeans launch the first Crusade in a mindless, bloodthirsty and irrational way, or were there more pressing reasons? Were they the only ones to be militant?
The purpose of this article is not to justify or defend European Crusades, but to explain them, in part—though scholarship can go a long way to defend and justify them
We will employ a partial timeline spanning up to the first European response to Islamic imperialism, when Pope Urban II launched his own Crusade in 1095. The timeline mostly stays within the parameters of the Greater Middle East. The data in bold print are of special interest for revealing early Islamic atrocities, their belief in heroism in warfare, or politics today.
Islamic Jihad and Imperialism were very “successful.” The Byzantines and Persian Empires had worn themselves out with fighting, so a power vacuum existed. Into this vacuum stormed Islam.
After the timeline, two questions are posed, which are answered
630 Two years before Muhammad’s death of a fever, he launches the Tabuk Jihad, in which he led 30,000 jihadists against the Byzantine Christians. He had heard a report that a huge army had amassed to attack Arabia, but the report turned out to be a false rumor. The Byzantine army never materialized. He turned around and went home, but not before extracting ‘agreements’ from northern tribes. They could enjoy the ‘privilege’ of living under Islamic ‘protection’ (read: not be attacked by Islam), if they paid a tax (jizya).
This tax sets the stage for Muhammad’s and the later Caliphs’ policies. If the attacked city or region did not want to convert to Islam, then they paid a jizya tax. If they converted, then they paid a zakat tax. Either way, money flowed back to the Islamic treasury in Arabia or to the local Muslim governor.
632—634 Under the Caliphate of Abu Bakr the Muslim Jihadists reconquer and sometimes conquer for the first time the polytheists of Arabia. These Arab polytheists had to convert to Islam or die. They did not have the choice of remaining in their faith and paying a tax. Islam does not allow for religious freedom.
633 The Muslim Jihadists, led by Khalid al-Walid, a superior but bloodthirsty military commander, whom Muhammad nicknamed the Sword of Allah for his ferocity in battle (Tabari, 8:158 / 1616—17), conquer the city of Ullays along the Euphrates River (in today’s Iraq). Khalid captures and beheads so many that a nearby canal, into which the blood flowed, was called Blood Canal (Tabari 11:24 / 2034—35).
634 At the Battle of Yarmuk in Syria the Muslim Jihad defeat the Byzantines. Today Osama bin Laden draws inspiration from the defeat, and especially from an anecdote about Khalid al-Walid. An unnamed Muslim remarks: ‘The Romans are so numerous and the Muslims so few.’ To this Khalid retorts: ‘How few are the Romans, and how many the Muslims! Armies become numerous only with victory and few only with defeat, not by the number of men. By God, I would love it . . . if the enemy were twice as many’ (Tabari, 11:94 / 2095). Osama bin Ladin quotes Khalid and says that his fighters love death more than we in the West love life. This philosophy of death probably comes from a verse like Sura 2:96. Muhammad assesses the Jews: ‘[Prophet], you are sure to find them [the Jews] clinging to life more eagerly than any other people, even polytheists’ (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, Oxford UP, 2004; first insertion in brackets is Abdel Haleem’s; the second mine).
634—644 The Caliphate of Umar ibn al-Khattab, who is regarded as particularly brutal.
635 Muslim Jihadists besiege and conquer of Damascus
636 Muslim Jihadists defeat Byzantines decisively at Battle of Yarmuk.
637 Muslim Jihadists conquer Iraq at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah (some date it in 635 or 636)
638 Muslim Jihadists conquer and annex Jerusalem, taking it from the Byzantines.
638—650 Muslim Jihadists conquer Iran, except along Caspian Sea.
639—642 Muslim Jihadists conquer Egypt.
641 Muslim Jihadists control Syria and Palestine.
643—707 Muslim Jihadists conquer North Africa.
644 Caliph Umar is assassinated by a Persian prisoner of war; Uthman ibn Affan is elected third Caliph, who is regarded by many Muslims as gentler than Umar.
644—650 Muslim Jihadists conquer Cyprus, Tripoli in North Africa, and establish Islamic rule in Iran, Afghanistan, and Sind.
656 Caliph Uthman is assassinated by disgruntled Muslim soldiers; Ali ibn Abi Talib, son—in—law and cousin to Muhammad, who married the prophet’s daughter Fatima through his first wife Khadija, is set up as Caliph.
656 Battle of the Camel, in which Aisha, Muhammad’s wife, leads a rebellion against Ali for not avenging Uthman’s assassination. Ali’s partisans win.
657 Battle of Siffin between Ali and Muslim governor of Jerusalem, arbitration goes against Ali
661 Murder of Ali by an extremist; Ali’s supporters acclaim his son Hasan as next Caliph, but he comes to an agreement with Muawiyyah I and retires to Medina.
661—680 the Caliphate of Muawiyyah I. He founds Umayyid dynasty and moves capital from Medina to Damascus
673—678 Arabs besiege Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire
680 Massacre of Hussein (Muhammad’s grandson), his family, and his supporters in Karbala, Iraq.
691 Dome of the Rock is completed in Jerusalem, the ultimate sign of Islamic imperialism, only six decades after Muhammad’s death.
705 Abd al-Malik restores Umayyad rule.
710—713 Muslim Jihadists conquer the lower Indus Valley.
711—713 Muslim Jihadists conquer Spain and impose the kingdom of Andalus. This article recounts how Muslims today still grieve over their expulsion 700 years later. They seem to believe that the land belonged to them in the first place.
719 Cordova, Spain, becomes seat of Arab governor
732 The Muslim Jihadists stopped at the Battle of Poitiers; that is, Franks (France) halt Arab advance
749 The Abbasids conquer Kufah and overthrow Umayyids
756 Foundation of Umayyid amirate in Cordova, Spain, setting up an independent kingdom from Abbasids
762 Foundation of Baghdad
785 Foundation of the Great Mosque of Cordova
789 Rise of Idrisid amirs (Muslim Crusaders) in Morocco; foundation of Fez; Christoforos, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, is executed.
800 Autonomous Aghlabid dynasty (Muslim Jihadists) in Tunisia
807 Caliph Harun al—Rashid orders the destruction of non-Muslim prayer houses and of the church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem
809 Aghlabids (Muslim Jihadists) conquer Sardinia, Italy
813 Christians in Palestine are attacked; many flee the country
831 Muslim Jihadists capture Palermo, Italy; raids in Southern Italy
850 Caliph al—Matawakkil orders the destruction of non-Muslim houses of prayer
855 Revolt of the Christians of Hims (Syria)
837—901 Aghlabids (Muslim Jihadists) conquer Sicily, raid Corsica, Italy, France
869—883 Revolt of black slaves in Iraq
909 Rise of the Fatimid Caliphate in Tunisia; these Muslim Jihadists occupy Sicily, Sardinia
928—969 Byzantine military revival, they retake old territories, such as Cyprus (964) and Tarsus (969)
937 The Ikhshid, a particularly harsh Muslim ruler, writes to Emperor Romanus, boasting of his control over the holy places
937 The Church of the Resurrection (known as Church of Holy Sepulcher in Latin West) is burned down by Muslims; more churches in Jerusalem are attacked
960 Conversion of Qarakhanid Turks to Islam
966 Anti-Christian riots in Jerusalem
969 Fatimids (Muslim Jihadists) conquer Egypt and found Cairo
c. 970 Seljuks enter conquered Islamic territories from the East
973 Israel and southern Syria are again conquered by the Fatimids
1003 First persecutions by al-Hakim; the Church of St. Mark in Fustat, Egypt, is destroyed
1009 Destruction of the Church of the Resurrection by al-Hakim (see 937)
1012 Beginning of al-Hakim’s oppressive decrees against Jews and Christians
1015 Earthquake in Palestine; the dome of the Dome of the Rock collapses
1031 Collapse of Umayyid Caliphate and establishment of 15 minor independent dynasties throughout Muslim Andalus
1048 Reconstruction of the Church of the Resurrection completed
1050 Creation of Almoravid (Muslim Jihadists) movement in Mauretania; Almoravids (aka Murabitun) are coalition of western Saharan Berbers; followers of Islam, focusing on the Quran, the hadith, and Maliki law.
1055 Seljuk Prince Tughrul enters Baghdad, consolidation of the Seljuk Sultanate
1055 Confiscation of property of Church of the Resurrection
1071 Battle of Manzikert, Seljuk Turks (Muslim Jihadists) defeat Byzantines and occupy much of Anatolia
1071 Turks (Muslim Jihadists) invade Palestine
1073 Conquest of Jerusalem by Turks (Muslim Jihadists)
1075 Seljuks (Muslim Jihadists) capture Nicea (Iznik) and make it their capital in Anatolia
1076 Almoravids (Muslim Jihadists) (see 1050) conquer western Ghana
1085 Toledo is taken back by Christian armies
1086 Almoravids (Muslim Jihadists) (see 1050) send help to Andalus, Battle of Zallaca
1090-1091 Almoravids (Muslim Jihadists) occupy all of Andalus except Saragossa and Balearic Islands
1094 Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus I asks western Christendom for help against Seljuk invasions of his territory; Seljuks are Muslim Turkish family of eastern origins; see 970
1095 Pope Urban II preaches first Crusade; they capture Jerusalem in 1099
So it is only after all of the Islamic aggressive invasions that Western Christendom launches its first Crusades.
It could be argued that sometimes the Byzantine and Western European leaders did not behave exemplarily, so a timeline on that subject could be developed. And sometimes the Muslims behaved exemplarily. Both are true. However, the goal of this timeline is to balance out the picture more clearly. Many people regard Islam as an innocent victim, and the Byzantines and Europeans as bullies. This was not always the case.
Moreover, we should take a step back and look at the big picture. If Islam had stayed in Arabia and had not waged wars of conquest, then no troubles would have erupted. But the truth is this: Islam moved aggressively during the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar in the seventh century, with other Caliphs continuing well beyond that; only then did the Western Europeans react (see 1094).
It must be noted that Islamic expansion continues until well into the seventeenth century. For example, the Muslims Jihadists conquer Constantinople in 1453 and unsuccessfully besiege Vienna for the second time in 1683 (earlier in 1529). By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Islamic Jihad receded, due to Western resistance. Since that time until the present, Islamic civilization has not advanced very far.
Two Questions and Answers
1.. Besides following Muhammad, why else did the Muslims launch their Jihad out of Arabia in the first place?
2. It is only natural to ask why Islam launched its own Jihad long before Christendom did.
In the complicated Muslim Jihad that lasted several centuries before the European Crusades, it is difficult to come up with a grand single theory as to what launched Jihad. Because of this difficulty, we let three scholars and two eyewitness participants analyze the motives of the early Islamic Jihad.
1. World religious conquest
Muslim polemicists like Sayyid Qutb assert that Islam’s mission is to correct the injustices of the world. What he has in mind is that if Islam does not control a society, then injustice dominates it, ipso facto. But if Islam dominates it, then justice rules it (In the Shade of the Qur’an, vol. 7, pp. 8—15). Islam is expansionist and must conquer the whole world to express Allah’s perfect will on this planet, so Qutb and other Muslims believe.
2. ‘Unruly’ energies in Arabia?
Karen Armstrong, a former nun and well—spoken, prolific author and apologist for Islam, comes up short of a satisfactory justification for the Muslim Jihad:
Once [Abu Bakr] crushed the rebellion [against Islamic rule within Arabia], Abu Bakr may well have decided to alleviate internal tensions by employing the unruly energies within the ummah [Muslim community] against external foes. Whatever the case, in 633 Muslim armies began a new series of campaigns in Persia, Syria and Iraq. (Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, New York: Ballantine, 1997, p. 226).
Armstrong also notes that the ‘external foes’ to Islam in Arabia in 633 are the Persians and the Byzantines, but they are too exhausted after years of fighting each other to pose a serious threat to Islam. Therefore, it moved into a ‘power vacuum,’ unprovoked (Armstrong p. 227). She simply does not know with certainty why Muslims marched northward out of Arabia.
3. Religion, economy, and political control
Fred M. Donner, the dean of historians specializing in the early Islamic conquests, cites three large factors for Islamic Jihad. First, the ideological message of Islam itself triggered the Muslim ruling elite simply to follow Muhammad and his conquests; Islam had a divinely ordained mission to conquer in the name of Allah. (The Early Islamic Conquests, Princeton UP, 1981, p. 270). The second factor is economic. The ruling elite ‘wanted to expand the political boundaries of the new state in order to secure even more fully than before the trans—Arab commerce they had plied for a century or more’ (p. 270). The final factor is political control. The rulers wanted to maintain their top place in the new political hierarchy by having aggressive Arab tribes migrate into newly conquered territories (p. 271).
Thus, these reasons they have nothing to do with just wars of self-defense. Early Islam was merely being aggressive without sufficient provocation from the surrounding Byzantine and Persian Empires.
1 Introduction to the Sword in Early Christianity and Islam (begin a twelve-part series)