Was the First Crusade Really a War against Islam?
The First Crusade is remembered as one of the cruelest acts of war with the slaughter of 3,000 Muslims and Jews in the city of Jerusalem (Morton). The instigation of this horrific event is conceived as a war against Islam, but further investigation of the events that led up to this point in history contradict this belief and offers another factor. Nicolas Morton’s article “Was the First Crusade Really A War Against Islam” reveals that a thirst for power motivated by religious faith not a hatred toward Muslims was the real reason for the First Crusade.
The struggle for power and the concept of war was prevalent during the eleventh century. The Turks display their quest for power as they conquest the Byzantine Empire threatening not only the Christians, but the Muslims as well. The breaking point seems to reveal itself as the Turks take over Jerusalem which the Christians and Muslims consider their Holy Land resulting in a call for aid from the west (Morton). The second power struggle is seen in Pope Urban II accepted the challenge to offer a charge to the crusaders. He is influenced by his own thirst for power through the church, so he adds a religious twist in his motivational speech knowing that these people will take action if they think they are commanded by God to do so. The pilgrimage to the Holy Land had become dangerous and then impossible as the Muslims overtook Jerusalem. With this in mind, Pope Urban II uses scripture to mislead the Christians focus as he quotes Matthew 5:13, “you are the salt of the earth” then says, “but if you fall short of your duty, how, it may be asked, can it be salted?”(Bogars). He also promises those who participate in the fight and die will be given “remission of sins” (Bongars).
Count Stephen in his letters to his wife Adele brags on this aspect as he says, “many of our brethren and followers were killed and their souls were borne to the joys of paradise” (Munro). The Crusaders now become more excited about taking over Jerusalem than fighting a specific enemy as they believe that this is a direct task given to them by God. Consequently, the letters from the Crusaders reflect this power struggle as we see in Count Stephens letter to his wife Adele when he says, “we fought with the fiercest courage, under the leadership of Christ” (Munro). The third power struggle is seen in the Crusaders themselves as the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Christians were not trained in combat as the Turks and knowing nothing more than they were fighting an “unknown enemy” the path to Jerusalem would be filled with blood and loss. The ignorance of the religious beliefs of both the Muslim beliefs also dispels the belief that this was a flame of “anti-Islamic fury” (Morton). Instead the Crusaders became interested in Turkish culture and beliefs that were not fully, but somewhat being influenced by the Muslims. The Turks intermingled exchanging “religious adherence” for aid in battle (Morton). This influence, however, shows the final power struggle in the Muslims. Believing the Turks to be “barbaric” and “uncouth” (Morton), the Muslims used the chaos the Crusaders were causing to rebel against them thus providing aid to the Christians on the pilgrimage.
The Bible states, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (ESV, Matthew 5:44) which is in direct contrast with Pope Urban’s speech. On July 15, 1099, the Crusaders unleashed years of bottled up animosity and aggression on the Muslims for the mere purpose of taking back Jerusalem. The idea of negotiating peace as they had with others along the way forgotten and replaced with annihilation instead of negotiating peace as it had with many along the way. Nicholas Morton proves that the First Crusade is not an war against Islam, but rather spurred by the thirst of power empowered by faith.