Argument Evaluation: Primary Source Usama Ibn Munqidh
Usama Ibn Munqidh (1095-1188 CE) was a Muslim warrior, poet and writer during the early crusader era. He was born in his family’s Shayzar Castle, where he was taken under his uncle Sultan guardianship because his father had refused the position as Shayzar Ruler, which then passed down to Usama’s uncle Sultan whom educated him in literature, religion and warfare. Usama experienced all three battle crusades as he resided on the front lines of Syria at the “Shayzar Castle”.
In 1131 Usama decides to leave Shayzar to join Zangi when tensions rose between Sultan’s son because of political rivalry. Usama begins his life as an adventurer constantly moving around a lot from Egypt to Syria and back to Damascus as a role advisor, more oftenly visiting “Jerusalem and other crusader states to foster relations in the event that a combined Burid-crusader force would be needed to halt Zangi’s expansion.” (pg.530) Through his young journey he was able to retain good education from many of the Muslim dynasties he served, leading to his literature career where he was better known for his writing than for his political career.
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Usama’s views on the crusaders is often confusing in the way he goes back and forth trying to understand their actions. In the book of Kitab al-i’tibar, Usama seems to contradict himself at times with using the curse of God against the Franks and then on other events he considers them as good brothers. According to the Book of Memoir the Title, “The Wonders of the Frankish Race”… “He refers to the Franks as “mere beasts” because he fees that, like animals, they are good at fighting but lack morality.” Reading through some of his rambling stories, I see the Franks as warrior-like men in the sense of them protecting the Muslim people.
Usama not understanding their ways assumes they lack morality because of their actions upon how they culturally deal with certain events. These crusaders (Franks) migrated with no intention to gain power, enrich themselves, these crusades wanted to colonize the middle east. They did it in a sense of religious beliefs, doing it in the name of God. Muslims in Palestine only viewed the Christian Western Europeans crusades (The Franks) as a serious threat because they did not understand their culturally moral beliefs. Like Usama, he only considered the Franks to be traditionally lower social-class people to an extent they were also few exceptions were he saw them as genuinely good people.
In this event, a Frankish doctor advises a patient to use vinegar as a disinfectant to clean his wound and effectively this remedy heals it. In another situation, Frankish man sees a young boy with festering sores on his neck and offers the father a remedy, on the condition that he not profit from the knowledge. “This stipulation suggests that the Frank was a monk or a priest”. (pg. 532, “The Marvels of Frankish Medicine”) Usama only portrays the Franks to be unintelligent people or lack morality due to his own views, but we only dehumanize people when we are afraid and by doing that we make it easier to fight the enemy.
Furthermore, Usama mainly viewed the Franks in a disgusting way and moreover they had no sense of respect for their women or self honor. For example, in this story which a bathhouse keeper from Ma’arra, Syria, tells of an incident that occured with a Frankish man. The bathhouse keeper tells Usama about a crusader who wanted to have his pubic hair shaved and how he would like for him to do his wife as well (shave her pubic hair). In one of Usama final stories, a young woman enters a bathhouse full of men with her father so that he can wash her hair. Usama is in disbelief by the Franks moral perspectives to hear of a man touching one’s wife in the most private parts of her body.
In addition, the dishonor to allow your daughter into a bathhouse full of men is shameful to see. Usama shows concern towards the father for taking care of his daughter and assure him heavenly reward. Usama could have just praised the man in sense of pettiness. But, it’s very hard to believe the stories he tells because some just seem way too over exaggerated. Especially in the story were he tells one of his companions to check if the girls is actually a woman, I mean that is just way out of proportion for a “grown” Muslim man to do, right? His own judgement as Muslim is far redundant in the sense that he only makes himself look better than the Franks.
In the Book of Contemplation (Kitab al-i’tibar) Usama at the age of ninety wrote his memoirs in an entertaining and very informative history based on his early life experience with the first three crusaders. In regards with the Franks, he never really came to an understand them as human-beings with moral beliefs but he was very impressed by their Frankish pride.
Frankish people adapted to Muslim culture as christian-like people with the mentality that they were doing everything in God’s name as well as wanting to adapt better lifestyle for themselves. Lastly, the Frankish and the Muslim people were able to reconstruct Muslim society in expanding the word of God with converting Frankish people through religion.