:: The Rise of Islam ::
In the early seventh century, an Arabian merchant named Muhammad claimed an angel had entrusted him with a message from the one true God. Muhammad began to rail against the idol-worship that he saw around him. At first, no one minded his message. Then, around 622, angry idol-peddlers forced Muhammad to flee Mecca.
When Muhammad returned to Mecca, he came to conquer, and he brought an army with him. His followers became known as Muslims (from Arabic, “those who submit”); their beliefs and practices were called Islam (“submission”). After Muhammad’s death, his followers conquered Arabia, Syria, and North Africa. In 638 the city of Jerusalem fell to the Muslims. By the early eighth century, Muslim troops had invaded Europe, conquering Portugal and Spain before being stopped by King Charles the Hammer at the Battle of Tours. Even after the Battle of Tours, warfare continued for centuries in Spain, Sicily, and southern Italy.
When a Muslim army of Seljuk Turks neared Constantinople in the eleventh century, the Eastern emperor begged for help from Christians in the west. At this same time, the Muslim occupants of the roads leading to Jerusalem were charging vast tariffs and harassing Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.
:: The First Crusade ::
In 1095, Pope Urban II reacted to this state of affairs by proclaiming these words in a field near Clermont, France:
“Your Eastern brothers have asked for your help! … Turks and Arabs have conquered their territories. … If anyone out of devotion alone … sets out for Jerusalem to free God’s church, the journey shall be the equivalent of penance … All who die … shall have immediate forgiveness. ”
According to one report, the crowd responded by chanting, “God wills it!” Lords and fools, ruffians and serfs joined together, sewing cloth crosses on their tunics. Their campaign would be, as they saw it, both a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and a holy war against Arabs and Turks.
The First Crusade was underway.
Four years later, a Crusader army reached Jerusalem and conquered the city. Muslim blood flowed ankle-deep on the Temple Mount. Newborns were thrown against walls. Crusaders torched a synagogue, burning the Jews inside alive.
Both Western and Eastern Christians had well-founded reasons to fear the advance of Islam in the eleventh century. At the same time, none of these reasons can justify the slaughter of any people-group in the name of Jesus Christ. To this day, the First Crusade remains a blot on Christian efforts to witness to Muslims and Jews.
:: What the Crusades Accomplished ::
First Crusade (1095-1099): Crusaders conquered Jerusalem.
Second Crusade (1147-1149): Crusaders recovered Portugal.
Third Crusade (1187-1192): Muslims retook Jerusalem in 1187. King Richard the Lionhearted responded by setting out with two other kings to take back the Holy Land. He succeeded only in negotiating free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims. The Robin Hood legends are set in this era, during Richard’s absence from England.
Fourth Crusade (1202-1204): Western Crusaders on the way to the city of Zara became entangled in a political conflict in Constantinople. On Good Friday, in the year 1204, the Crusaders pillaged the capital of the Eastern Empire and murdered thousands of Eastern Christians. Tensions already existed between churches connected to the Eastern Empire and western churches that looked to the bishop of Rome for leadership. In the tenth century, the two communions had clashed over the addition of a word to the Nicene Creed. In the eleventh century, a representative from the bishop of Rome had condemned and excommunicated Christians in eastern churches. The horrors of the Fourth Crusade became the final straw that forever shattered Christianity into two parts: the Roman Catholic Church in the west, and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the east.
To learn more about the beginnings of Islam as well as the icon controversy, watch this video.
To learn more about the Crusades, read this interview with Rodney Stark.
30 Days through Church History: Day 15