A Different View

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A Different View

The Jewish World
…115 The Muslim Perspective

While much of the literature and historical documentation of the Crusades focus on the conflict between Christians and Muslims, there were other events, views, and perspectives of these times that are of equal importance. The followers of the Jewish religion, both in Europe and in the Middle East, were in many ways caught between the warring parties. Oppressed for centuries because of their supposed role in the death of Jesus Christ, Jews everywhere had a difficult time, but their situation in Europe was generally worse than it was in the Middle East. Often segregated, or separated, into ghettos away from Christians in European cities (and sometimes also from Muslims in the Middle East), the Jews of Europe generally were not allowed to own property, were restricted to certain specified occupations, and were forced to wear an identifying mark or badge to distinguish them from Christians. From being a largely agricultural people, they were compelled to live in cities in Europe where the professions of moneylending and commerce were the only ones open to them.

During the Crusades, the position of Jews in Europe was particularly dangerous, for traditional hatred bubbled over in the form of pogroms, or mass killings of Jews by Crusaders on their way to fight the infidel, that is, those people of the Middle East who did not believe in the Christian God. In the Middle East, things were often better for followers of the Jewish faith. Generally, in medieval times Jews were more integrated, or mixed, into normal life in the Middle East than in Europe. Although the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an (or Koran) calls the "children of Israel" unbelievers, it also states that Jews should be allowed to live in peace. The Jews in Europe and the Middle East did not take part in the great Crusader conflict between East and West, but they were often caught up in it, as were the Jews of Jerusalem, who were slaughtered along with all Muslims when the city fell to the Christian soldiers in 1099 during the First Crusade.

The histories of the Crusades have often presented the matter from the Christian point of view, neglecting that of the Muslims and also excluding other events in the Muslim world during the two centuries of religious warfare with the West. The Islamic world had a high culture at the time of the Crusades. Both in the arts and sciences, Muslim poets and scholars helped develop a civilization that was in many ways superior to that of the Christian kingdoms of the West at the same time. Muslims were especially strong in areas such as mathematics, medicine, and astronomy and thus looked at the European invaders, most of whom were uneducated, with a sometimes humorous and unflattering eye.

The Crusaders were not the only enemies the Muslims faced in the Middle Ages. Out of Central Asia the Mongols stormed into the Middle East in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These seminomadic warriors, led at first by the infamous Genghis Khan and later by his sons and other relatives, destroyed entire cities, killing all who fought against them. In many ways they presented a more dangerous threat than the Crusaders, and it was not until the middle of the thirteenth century that a Mamluk, or former slave warrior, from Egypt, Baybars, was able to stop their advance. All in all, the picture of Europe and the Middle East at the time of the Crusades was a very complex one, which cannot be seen solely in the restricted terms of a long-drawn-out conflict between Christians and Muslims.

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A Different View

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