Crusades: Introduction and their Impact on Islamic Literature

Introduction of Crusades

Thomas F. Madden (b.1960), the author of “The Concise History of the Crusades”, illustrates that the modern word “crusade” derives from “Cruce Signati (“those signed by the cross”), a descriptive term used occasionally after the 12th century to refer to the crusaders. Nowadays, it is generally used to represent a grand enterprise, frequently with a moral dimension, as in General Eisenhower’s    “Crusade in Europe” or a “Crusade for adult literacy.”

In Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, the crusade is defined as any war undertaken in the name of religion; any energetic movement to remove evil or improve a situation. Historically, the Crusades were a series of military expeditions made by Christians of Western Europe to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Similarly, Encyclopaedia Britannica states that the Crusades were the military expeditions that were prepared by Western European Christians in the late 11th century in reaction to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion. The foremost objectives of these crusades were include, checking the expansion of Islām, recapturing the control of the Holy Land in the Eastern Mediterranean, triumphing over pagan areas, and retaking the formerly Christian territories.

Another explanation of the crusades is made by Major George Proctor who states: “The term CRUSADE is derived from the French word Croisade, and is employed to designate that series of extraordinary expeditions undertaken by the Western nations of Europe, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, for the recovery of the Holy Land from the Saracens and Turks.”

Different perspectives concerning the definition of the term Crusade

Giles Constable (b.1929) explains that scholars have four different perspectives concerning the definition of the term “Crusade”, which are given below:


They define the crusades as a Christian Campaign in the Holy Land, “either to assist the Christians there or to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher”, between the years 1095 and 1291 AD, and true crusades must be directed towards the east.


According to pluralists, crusades must have the feature of papal authorization other than that whatever its objective, and they ask how a crusade was started and organized and then entered the history of the crusades not only geographically but also chronologically, down to recent times. They use the term crusade for any campaign explicitly sanctioned by the reigning Pope.


They explain crusades as any and all holy wars connected with the Latin Church and fought in defense of their faith.


Popularists have the opinion that Crusades were only those campaigns that were characterized by popular groundswells of religious fervour – that is only the First Crusade and perhaps the People’s Crusade.

Period of Crusades

Western historiography divides the Crusades into four periods. Among these, the first was the longest and continued from 1095 until the end of the 16th century; the second crusade encompassed the 17th and 18th centuries; the third went from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, and the fourth comes down to the present.

Number of Crusades

Additionally, historians have various views related to the number of Crusades; some said that there were five crusades, some considered six crusades occurred; another group thought that the number of Crusades was seven, and according to a few of them, there were nine crusades fought. But, the majority among them consider that there were eight “official” Crusades that occurred over nearly 200 years. However, the individual allocation of the numbers of crusades for the first time was made by the historians of the eighteenth century, from the first to the ninth, but, these numbers are neither consistent nor accurate. The sequential order of the Crusades from first to fourth is accepted by historians, but, there is no accord in numbering after the fourth Crusade. Sometimes the Crusade of Emperor Frederick II (1227-1229 AD) is considered a part of the fifth Crusade (1217-1221 AD) and sometimes as a separate expedition. It shows that the Sixth Crusade may refer either to the Crusade of Frederick II (1194-1250 AD) or to the first Crusade of King Louis IX (1214-1270 AD) of France, which might also be called the Seventh Crusade. Therefore, each subsequent number after the fifth might refer to either of two different expeditions.

Impact of Crusades on Islamic Literature

The remarkable influence of the first crusade can be seen in the extraordinary explosion of historical writing that emerged after the capture of Jerusalem. In the West, the priests of Crusaders and authors played an important role in the propagation of misconceptions regarding Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). These episodes encouraged authors across the Christian West to write about these events in a way that was not tried before it in history. The development of literacy, and the creation and circulation of the crusade text, was the great event of this period. Many written histories and verbal storytelling, often in the form of Chansons de geste, popular within the early flowerings of the chivalric age, celebrated the First Crusade. Historians have previously looked at these narratives to construct the framework of events but, at present, many scholars are looking behind these texts to consider more profoundly the reasons why they were written, the different styles of writing, the use of classical and biblical motifs, the interrelationships and the borrowings between the texts.

Muhammad Asad (1900-1992) states in his book “Islam at the Crossroads” that, after the episode of Crusades, Europeans conceived of themselves as a unity for the first time in history, and that unity was against the Islamic world. It could be said that modern Europe was created in the ‘spirit of the crusades’. Before that time, they were Anglo-Saxons and Germans, French and Normans, Italians and Danes, but during these events, a new political concept emerged, i.e. ‘Christendom’, and it was the abhorrence of Islam that roused as ‘godfather’ to form the new creation.

However, the episodes of the Crusades proved as a turning point in provoking the Westerns against the Muslim World. Before it, they were not so enthusiastic to write about Islamic literature. The relationship between the West and Islam was changed after these events. They made Islam and Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH) familiar for the first time in the West. But, when Crusade power could not become successful in dominating the Muslim world, Westerners turned their minds to the intellectual contents of the Muslim faith and its refutation and changed their strategy from the battlefield to academic fields. They began their venomous war of pen against Islām and its teachings to change the minds of their people. The literature of that period on Islamic issues offered absurd and ridiculous notions and made efforts to show Islam as the religion of crude sensualist and brutal violence, of observance of formalities instead of purification of the heart. These biased, unfair, and illogical views against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), his religion, and his teachings penetrated the Europeans’ minds and remained in them for a long time, and such attitudes persist to this very day.

La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), a French epic poem written by the Priest Conrad in the middle of the 12th century, is a very important work in terms of the cultural history of Europe. It contains numerous negative and untrue stories about Muslims and describes the Muslims as the worshippers of three gods, i.e. Tarvegan, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and Apollo, but, later the number was raised to thirty gods counted by their literature.

In Toledo, an institution was founded in 1130 AD to translate the books of Islamic philosophy into Latin. Numerous Jewish scholars participated in translating the Arabic material in this institution. The studies of the Bishop of Cluny (Peter the Venerable) aimed to provide a foundation for several early written critical works on Islam, within this institution. Peter the Venerable (1094-1156 AD), a great anti-Semite, also participated and played an important role in translating Islamic works from Arabic into Latin.[14] He sponsored and commissioned two scholars, Robert Ketton (1141-1157 AD) and Hermann of Dalmatia, to translate five Islamic works including the Holy Quran. In 1143 AD, Robert Ketton completed the translation of the Holy Quran into Latin. Peter also added his two texts in these five translations. The collection of all these Islamic works is known by the name “Cluniac Corpus” or “Toledo Collection” [15]. Another noteworthy name associated with the Latin translation of the Holy Quran is Father Ludovic Maracci (1612-1700 AD), a Catholic, and his work was published in 1698. These two Latin translations served as a milestone through which all later translations of the Quran in Western languages have been inspired.

Apart from these, Peter Andre (1092-1156 AD), Gerard Cremona (1114-1187 AD), and Gerbert were also pioneer figures of that time, who translated Arabic books into the Latin language. Before the emergence of the Crusades, the writings of Adelard Bath (1080-1160 AD), Daniel of Marley, and Michael Scott (1175-1232 AD) were unbiased in nature, but during the Crusade era, they became antagonistic in their writings and made all sorts of allegations against Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The tremendous change in their writings continued in later centuries also.

Leave a Comment