Islam in Europe

While accounts of the European invasion during the Crusades portray the Europeans as backward and peculiar, Jabarti’s account of the French occupation of Egypt views the Egyptians with a combination of respect and fear. Cobb writes that Muslims have always been aware of and curious about the Christian world, even pre-Crusades. The anthropological accounts of al-Bakri and Harun show that they were deeply curious and even sometimes complimentary of European culture. Cobb explores Islamic perceptions of Europe through the study of their maps. He writes, “”For Medieval Muslims before the Crusades, the peoples who lived way down North in Christian Europe were distant and dubious participants in the game of civilization, though acknowledged participants nonetheless”” (15).

Cobb writes that Muslims have always been aware of and curious about the Christian world, even pre-Crusades. He uses the anthropological accounts of al-Bakri and Harun to show that they were deeply curious and even sometimes complimentary of European culture. Cobb explores Islamic perceptions of Europe through the study of their maps. He writes, “”For Medieval Muslims before the Crusades, the peoples who lived way down North in Christian Europe were distant and dubious participants in the game of civilization, though acknowledged participants nonetheless”” (15).

Ibn Muniquidh’s chronicle of the Crusades portrays Europeans with a mix of disgust and condescension. He describes many accounts of what he views as strange and barbaric medical procedures, but a particularly salient one is that of the woman who is unwell, and the doctor, after examining her, decides that she is being possessed by the devil, and then kills her by slicing open her head (5). He described Europeans them as “”void of zeal and jealousy”” because of the casual way they interact with their wives and other women, making them somewhat more barbaric in his eyes(6). He also continuously criticizes their notion of God, writing that God is far too exalted to possibly have a son.

Although we did not read the primary text of this account, Cobb quotes Mas’udi’s account of the Crusades in his chapter on the subject, who perceived the Europeans as brutish, dull-witted, sluggish, and corpulent. Other writers portrayed them as closer to beasts than humans. They viewed Europe as a backward place on the periphery, a “”developing area”” with inhabitants who were fanatical and warlike and who preached a backward creed. (19)

Cobb ventures argue that at this moment in time, some (though not all) of the Muslim perceptions of Europe were vaguely founded in reality. At this time, the Islamic world was in some ways more developed than the Christian world, so this is somewhat founded in reality. They had much larger cities, and wealthier societies.

This can be contrasted with both the perceptions and reality of the French in Egypt in the nineteenth century. Jabarti’s account of these events are incredibly interesting because he seems to simultaneous loathe and respect the French. On one hand, he attacked French fiscal policies and also complained about French infringement on Islamic rights and customs. This caused him to eventually lead an uprising was quickly quashed by the French. He was also highly cynical of Napoleon’ attempts to Arabize his propaganda and criticised him for his lack of religious observance. But on the other hand, he “”praised the French forces for their skill and zeal and likened them to early Islamic emperors engaged in holy war. Such high praise for the French betokened deep respect, even fear”” (13-14).

While Ibn Munquidhs’s account of European crusaders highlights the lack of European zeal, the zeal of the French is something which Jabarti senses quite strongly, and is a source of fear and respect for him. Thus, it seems that Jabarti’s perception of the French was far more complicated than Muslim perceptions of European invaders in the in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. While Jabarti clearly loathed the French invaders, he also held them on a pedestal and granted them a certain respect and fear. Unlike his eleventh and twelfth century predecessors, who viewed Europeans as silly barbarians, Jabarti understands the threat of the French and resents them even more for it. He doesn’t describe the French with the intrigued attitude of Ibn Munquidh, as if encountering a new specimen, but with resentment for their treatment of Muslims.

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