The evolution of Modern Islamic views on The Crusades

I've been reading The New Concise History of the Crusades (Lanham: Roman and Littlefield, 2006) by modern, secular mediaeval expert Thomas F. Madden. It's a very readable, popular-level book, drawing on his expertise in this area.

His final chapter and conclusion are fascinating, how the remembering and retelling of history changes over time… and in the process distorts history.

For a long time the Western world saw the Crusades as a good thing

Until the last 70 years or so, much of the reflection of the Crusades was positive. It was a noble and glorious cause. As a result, 'crusade' had the overtones of a “grand and glorious campaign for a morally just goal” (215).

Bringing civilisation through the process of colonialisation and the Great War were both portrayed as glorious Crusades. In fact the the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after Wolrd War I was seen as the final chapter of the Crusades.

The Western, anti-religious and anti-colonial revisions of the Crusades

From the Enlightenment into the 19th Century, the Crusades began to be seen by some intellectuals as a horrible example of senseless, intolerant religious war. Saladin was portrayed as a wonderfully chivalrous leader whose sophisticated civilisation was brutalised by the crusaders. 

Marxism likewise provided a new lense through which to examine the Crusades: they were simply an early, imperialistic land-grab.

The historical evidence, as weighed by Madden, do not justify either of these secularist readings of the motivations of the crusaders or the cultural realities of the Crusades. They are more anachronistic re-readings than accurate, contextual explanations.

The Crusades were not an important thing for the Muslim world until the 19th and 20th centuries

The simple fact is that the crusades were virtually unknown in the Muslim world even a century ago…. Westerners may be surprised to learn that Muslims in the Middle East have only recently learned of the crusades…. It must be remembered that although the crusades were of momumental important to Europeans, they were a very minor, largely insignificant thing to the Muslim world. (217–218)

It seems that knowledge of the Crusades was introduced to the Middle East by colonialism, to show how Western imperialism was a good thing for the Middle East… and that kind of backfired 😛

Once the Western world began to critique colonialism and revise and critique the history of the Crusades in the second half of the 20th Century:

Arab nationalists and Islamists agreed fully with this interpretation of the crusades. Poverty, corruption and violence in the Middle East were said to be the lingering effects of the crusades and subsequent European imperialism. The Muslim world had failed to keep up with the West because it had been dealt a debilitating blow by the crusaders, a blow that was repeated by their European descendents in the nineteenth century. (220)

 

The reality of the Crusades vs the modern re-tellings

But Madden asserts that this just does not reflect the historical reality:

Scholars have long argued that the crusades had no beneficial effect on Europe's economy. Indeed, they constituted a massive drain on resources. The rise of population and wealth in Europe predated the crusades, indeed allowed them to happen at all. Rather than decadent or 'assaulted on all sides' the Muslim world was growing to ever new heights of power and prosperity after the destruction of the crusader states in 1291. It was the Muslim world, under the rule of the Ottoman sultans, that would invade western Europe, seriously threatening the survival of the last remnant of Christendom. The crusades contributed nothing to the decline of the Muslim world. Indeed, they are evidence of the decline of the Christian West, which was forced to mount these desparate expeditions to defend against ever expanding Muslim empires. (221–222)

And in reflection on the use of the Crusades in some modern Muslim rhetoric:

It is not the crusades, then, that led to the attacked of September 11, but the artificial memory of the crusades constructed by modern colonial powers and passed down by Arab nationalists and Islamists. They stripped the medieval expeditions of every aspect of their age and dressed them up instead in the tattered rags of nineteenth-century imperialism. As such, they have become an icon for modern agendas that medieval Christians and Muslims could scarcely have understood, let alone condoned. (222)

The ‘literary and linguistic miracle’ of the Qur’an?

I attended a Christian-Muslim debate last night at UTAS last night between Samuel Green and Sheikh Wesam Charkawi. The Sheikh made much of the literary and linguistic miracle of the Qur'an.

I was left pondering how one could really falsify this assertion. The Sheikh didn't really give objective measures by which one could assess whether or not the Qur'an's 'perfection' had been matched or not.

And as soon as such measures were articulated, surely then matching the Qur'an's perfection becomes a matter of colour-by-numbers.

So either the assertion is unfalsifiable… or false.

One of his proofs was a quote from E. H. Palmer's introduction to the Qur'an:

“That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur′ân itself is not surprising.”

Although the quote in context actually makes a similar point to my post:

“That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur′ân itself is not surprising. In the first place, they have agreed beforehand that it is unapproachable, and they have adopted its style as the perfect standard; any deviation from it therefore must of necessity be a defect. Again, with them this style is not spontaneous as with Mohammed and his contemporaries, but is as artificial as though Englishmen should still continue to follow Chaucer as their model, in spite of the changes which their language has undergone. With the prophet the style was natural, and the words were those used in every-day ordinary life, while with the later Arabic authors the style is imitative and the ancient words are introduced as a literary embellishment. The natural consequence is that their attempts look laboured and unreal by the side of his impromptu and forcible eloquence.”

Constantine Christianity Conspiracy: amazing how little evidence there really is

We are doing a series on the history of Christianity at the UTAS Christian Union. As much as time and energy allows, I am trying to engage with some primary sources, rather than just Wikipedia pages and general 'introduction to church history' texts.

At our first 'Citywide Gathering' we did the topic 'Did the Early Church Invent Christianity?'. As a part of that I read a bunch of theories claiming that Constantine basically created Christianity as we know it today in 325AD, suppressing the more diverse and pagan Christian spiritualities of the previous centuries and burning their texts en masse.

So I read every extant primary source related to the Council of Nicaea. And was bowled over just how little evidence there is for these theories. At all. For theories that are so widely reported and repeated in various ways, there is basically nothing at all. It's all an exercise in speculative reading between the lines. It genuinely is a paranoid conspiracy theory of the 'the 1969 moon landing never happened' or 'the American government did 9/11' or 'the world is ruled by Illuminati lizard men' variety.

I mean Constantine didn't really even get the theological issues at stake. He tried to get both sides of the Arian Controversy to kiss and make up and just stop talking about it. And even after Nicaea he kinda changed his mind and started supporting the Arians more than the Nicaeans.

Amazing.

There are some objections to Christianity that really tie us in knots a bit. This isn't one of them.

Millennial Missionaries: selfish and superficial? Or sacrificial with better haircuts?

Have you seen this yet? It's pretty funny:

 

And no doubt there is that strand of self-absorbed and materialistic millennial attitude and behaviour. What is especially powerful about this video is how it cunningly exposes the power of buzz words to manipulate and justify our actions. As long as you string together the right God-words you can mask the most repulsive wordliness. I've seen this not just among the young and trendy, but also among the pompous traditionalists.

BUT. I also feel uneasy about this video  It's funny… but I could imagine this is how an older missionary perceives many millennials… when it's really a matter of much more superficial differences: 

  • A millennial might dress more stylishly. Their clothes may not cost more than the missionary of a previous generation… and yet the older missionary is suspicious.
  • A millennial might take the time to appreciate and enjoy the environment they find themselves in, in good conscience… where the older missionary mainly talks about missing vegemite.
  • A millennial might talk about their feelings, pleasures and preferences in good conscience… where the older missionary thinks it's more discreet to not mention such things.
  • A millennial might question, challenge and reject pointlessly burdensome patterns of missionary behaviour and expectation that don't serve the cause of the gospel, but have just become normal. 

But the millennial missionary may well work just as hard, sacrifice just as much. What seems like cutting and penetrating critique, might just be resentment and predjudice.

I have often heard sneering and judgmental comments about 'trendy urban church planters with their lattes'. And knowing many hardworking and pious urban church planters in our Australian cities, this really does indeed betray exactly this kind of very shallow judgmentalism. Anyone who fancies that urban church planting is comfortable hasn't tried it. But sure, the coffee is better.

Applying 1Corinthians 11:2–16 in the 16th century

Two interesting sections from John Calvin's commentary on 1Corinthians:

Regarding the covering of the head:

 Let us, however, bear in mind, that in this matter the error is merely in so far as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established, is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this — that it should appear that the man has authority, and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is το πρέπον — decorum If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther.

Regarding verses 14–15:

“Doth not even nature itself…” He again sets forth nature as the mistress of decorum, and what was at that time in common use by universal consent and custom — even among the Greeks — he speaks of as being natural, for it was not always reckoned a disgrace for men to have long hair.  Historical records bear, that in all countries in ancient times, that is, in the first ages, men wore long hair. Hence also the poets, in speaking of the ancients, are accustomed to apply to them the common epithet of unshorn. It was not until a late period that barbers began to be employed at Rome — about the time of Africanus the elder. And at the time when Paul wrote these things, the practice of having the hair shorn had not yet come into use in the provinces of Gaul or in Germany. Nay more, it would have been reckoned an unseemly thing for men, no less than for women, to be shorn or shaven; but as in Greece it was reckoned all unbecoming thing for a man to allow his hair to grow long, so that those who did so were remarked as effeminate, he reckons as nature a custom that had come to be confirmed. 

What should I call my book?

I'm about to submit a manuscript to Matthias Media, which God-willing they will publish. The working title has been 'Living Well', but I'd like to give them some ideas for a title and sub-title that is a little bit more explanatory and a lot more catchy. As you can see below, I haven't really advanced much further with my brainstorm. Can you help?

If your suggestion, or something very much like it, ends up getting used I'll send you a free copy of the book 🙂

What's my book about? It is an ethics book exploring the topic:

  • How we hold together theologically the ideas of living well in God's good but fallen creation, with the commands to die to self and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel in these last days. 
  • It is also an exposition of Christian freedom as the framework that helps us make different decisions about how we might sacrifice good things for the cause of Christ.

Main title ideas

  • Living Well at the End of the World
  • Living Well While Dying for Christ
  • The Good Life of Dying for Christ
  • Live for the Kingdom
  • Joyful Sacrifice
  • Single Minded in a Complex World

Subtitle ideas

  • Living well in God’s world and making decisions in the last days
  • How do we live zealously for the kingdom while loving people and enjoying God’s creation?
  • Why it's really good and we're actually free to sacrifice for the sake of Christ

Some random words and ideas

  • Simple vs Complicated
  • Really Good Because it’s Really Real
  • Burnout vs Sellout 
  • Worldly
  • Wartime, lifeboats, cure
  • Sacrifice
  • Urgent
  • “Even Soldiers Get Icecreams Sometimes”

Mirrors 9th June 2016

  1. “It's not life hacking [to get just get a Solution] but hacking being human.” A very emotional and personal episode of the Startup Podcast about a startup founder juggling work and parenting.
  2. Reflecting on complementarianism and domestic violence.
  3. I try to squeeze a little bit of God into my rollerblading podcast occasionally. Listen at 6:13–7:15  for an example.
  4. A Gospel Coalition Australia article on Sgt. Peppers
  5. A far superior (but still critical) article on the perceived imbalances in Equip 2017 than the one in Eternity.
  6. Your church needs to be less stable
  7. Some tips on a welcoming mind-set and welcoming habits for a welcoming church.

About Xian Reflections

Xian Reflections is written by Mikey Lynch.

Mikey graduated from the University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Arts in 2002. In 2000 he became one of the founding leaders of Crossroads Presbyterian Church where he was the lead pastor for 7 years from 2003.

Mikey now works as the Campus Director of the University Fellowship of Christians, University of Tasmania, Hobart. Mikey is the chairman of The Vision 100 Network (Tasmania) and a founding director of Geneva Push (national) – both church planting networks. He is also a chaplain at Jane Franklin Hall and the chairman of New Front Door: the Church IT Guild.