Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

From Jihad to the Crusades

From Michael J. Bumbulis
Newsgroups: soc.religion.christian
Subject: Re: The Crusades
Date: Sun Dec 22 23:15:08 EST 1996
Organization: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH (USA)
Message-Id: <59l10c$>

Carl Erdmann, whom my college history text claims is
"a distinguished scholar of the Crusades," notes:

"At around the turn of the millennium [the year 1000], the
attitude of the church toward the military class underwent
a significant change. The contrast between militia Christi
[war for Christ] and militia saecularis [war for worldly purposes]
was overcome and just as rulership earlier had been Christianized..
so now was the military profession; it acquired a direct ecclesiastical
purpose, for war in the service of the church or for the weak came
to be regarded as holy and was declared to be a religious duty not
only for the king but also for every individual knight."

What brought about this "signficant change?"

Enter Jacques Ellul, a highly regarded French intellectual who
is retired from his position as Professor of Law and the Sociology
and History of Institutions at the University of Bordeaux.
Ellul is an author of many articles and over 40 books. In his
book "The Subversion of Christianity," Ellul points to

"the many contradictions between the Bible and the practice of the
church, [asserting] in this provocative and stimulating book that
what we today call Christianity is actually far removed from the
revelation of God." [from Ellul's publisher]

In one of the chapters in his book, Ellul argues that the cause
of this "significant change" is the influence of Islam. He notes
that Arab influence on Europe was great and offers several examples.
After citing some examples, he writes:

"All this is very banal. But it does tell us beyond doubt that
even between enemies who are depicted as irreconcilable there
were cultural and intellectual relations. Exchanges took place
and knowledge circulated. In truth, knowledge seems to have
circulated in only one direction, coming from Islam and the
Arab world to the West."

And among this intellectual influence concerned matters of religion.
Ellul writes:

"How can we imagine that there was a well-known and admitted influence
on philosophy that did not have theological repercussions? Everyone
knows that the problem solved by Thomas Aquinas was precisely that
of confrontation between classical theology and Aristotle's philosophy.
But the bridge is by way of the Arabs. We speak of Greek philosophy
and Christian theology. But the Greek philosophy was faithfully
transmitted by Arab interpreters. It was by way of Arab-Muslim
thinking that the problem came to be addressed at this time.
We can hardly think that the Arab influence was nil except
in matters concerning Aristotle."

After highlighting certain theological similarities between
Islam and Christianity, Ellul notes:

"It seems that the Muslim intellectuals and theologians were
much stronger than their Christian counterparts. It seems
that Islam had an influence, but not Christianity."

What might some of these influence be?

"But in Islam there was an indissoluble correlation between religious
law and political power. In this field, too, what was introduced
with Constantinianism, as we have seen, received a new impulse
from Islam. Every political head in Islam is also the ruler of
believers. There is no separation of church and political powers.
The political head is the religious head. He is the representative
of Allah. His political and military acts, etc., are inspired.

Now this is all familiar in Europe. The king or emperor does
not merely claim to be the secular arm of the church but the one
who has spiritual power. He wants to be recognized that he personally
is chosen by God, elected by the Almighty. He needs a prophetic
word and the power to work miracles. His word and person
have to be sacred.

Naturally some of this was already present prior to Islam. It
was not for nothing, however, that this theology, liturgy, and
imperial understanding developed first at Byzantium on the first
contact with Islam, and only later spread to the West. Royal power
became religious not merely in an alliance with the church but
under the influence of Islam, which was more of a theocracy
than the West ever was.."

This, of course, brings us to the ideas which influenced the
West and led to the Crusades:

"In tandem with this great importance of the political power
there is, of course, the importance and glorification of war
as a means of spreading the faith. Such a war is a duty for
all Muslims. Islam has to become universal. The true faith,
not the power, has to be taken to every people by every means,
including by military force. This makes the political power
important, for it is warlike by nature. The two things are
closely related. The political head wages war on behalf
of the faith. He is thus the religious head, and as the sole
representative of God he must fight to extend Islam."

Is it mere coincidence that the Crusades were also the most
obvious manifestation of the papal claim to the leadership
of Christian society?


"This enormous importance of war has been totally obliterated
today in intellectual circles that admire Islam and want to take
it afresh as a model. War is inherent in Islam. It is inscribed
in its teaching. It is a fact of its civilization and also
a religious fact; the two cannot be separated. It is coherent
with its conception of the Dar al harb, that the whole world
is destined to become Muslim by Arab conquests. The proof of all
this is not just theological; it is historical: hardly has the
Islamic faith been preached when an immediate military conquest
begins. From 632 to 651, in the twenty years after the death of
the prophet, we have a lightening war of conquest with the
invasion of Egypt and Cyrenaica to the west, Arabia in the
center, Armenia, Syria, and Persia to the east. In the following
century all North Africa and Spain are taken over, along with
India and Turkey to the east. The conquests are not acheived
by sanctity, but by war.

For three centuries Christianity spread by preaching, kindness,
example, morality, and encouragement of the poor. When the
empire became Christian, war was hardly tolerated by the
Christians. Even when waged by a Christian emperor it was
a dubious business and was assessed unfavorably. It was often
condemned. Christians were accused of undermining the politcal
force and military might of the empire within. In practice
Christians would remain critical of war until the flamboyant
image of the holy war came onto the scene. In other words,
no matter what attrocities have been committed in wars by
so-called Christain nations, war has always been in essential
contradiction to the gospel. Christians have always been
more or less aware of this. They have judged war and questioned

Recall that there was a "significant change." For the first
time, war was considered a holy duty. It was a war against
the infidels. The Crusades started as the reconquista, or holy
war of reconquest.

My history text states:

"The Crusades of the High Middle Ages grew out of earlier
conflict between Christians and Muslims in Spain. The concept
of holy war originated in the Spanish peninsula and gradually
influenced all parts of western Europe. In the eighth century,
the Muslims had overrun the peninsula, and Christian lords
had fled to the mountains in the north."

In other words, the Muslims had previously waged holy war on Spain.
For two centuries, the west had been influenced by Islamic thinking.
Then came their version of the holy war. Put simply, Christendom
had sunken to the level where they began to imitate their enemies.

Ellul notes:

"In Islam...war was always just and constituted a sacred duty.
The war that was meant to convert infidels was just and legitimate,
for, as Muslim thinking repeats, Islam is the only religion that
conforms perfectly to nature. In a natural state we would all
be Muslims. If we are not, it is because we have been led astray
and diverted from the true faith. In making war to force people
to become Muslims the faithful are bringing them back to their
true nature. Q.E.D. Furthermore, a war of this kind is a
jihad, a holy war."

In fact, we learn from the Quran (Sura 9:5) that a revelation
came to Muhammad that he should make war on the idolators
of Arabia and force them to submit and become Muslims. And this
he did.

Critics are quick to claim that Christanity borrowed from other
religions. And here is a case where I would agree with that
assessment. Islamic influence on the west is widely acknowledged.
Islamic holy wars had been going on since the birth of Islam.
It ain't no coincidence that Christian holy wars began
not too long after the birth of Islam, its war against Spain,
and its influence on western philosophy and theology.

Allow me to quote Ellul's conclusion:

"In conclusion, let me make it clear that I have not been trying
to excuse what the Europeans did. I have not been trying to
shift the "blame," to say Muslims, not the Christians, were
the guilty party. My purpose is to try to explain certain
perversions in Christian conduct. I have found a model for
them in Islam. Christians did not invent the holy war or
the slave trade. Their fault was to imitate Islam. Sometimes
it was imitation by following the example of Islam. Sometimes
it was inverse imitation by doing the same thing in order to
combat Islam, as in the Crusades. Either way, the tragedy was
that the church completely forgot the truth of the gospel. It
turned Christian ethics upside down in favor of what seemed
to be very obviously a much more effective mode of action,
for in the twelfth century and later the Muslim world offered
a dazzling example of civilization. The church forgot the
authenticity of the revelation in Christ in order to launch out
in pursuit of the same mirage."