The Crusades and Islam

The Crusades and Islam

By Norman Housley

Medieval Encounters, Vol. 13 (2007)

Abstract: Although crusading was not solely responsible for the deterioration of relations between Christianity and Islam in the central Middle Ages, it made a substantial and distinctive contribution toward it. The military needs of the crusader states placed the papacy in a situation of normative antagonism toward the Islamic powers of the Middle East. And while the primary motor of crusading was devotional and individual, the need to arouse people to take the Cross, as well as the creation of an “image of the enemy,” shaped a dominant picture of Islam, its founder, and adherents that was inaccurate, stereotypical, and lacking in humanity.

The twin processes of soul searching and information gathering that were stimulated by repeated defeat in the East had little effect on the negativity of this picture, because their purpose was not to mend relations between the faiths, but to revitalize the Christian cause in order to achieve the recovery of Jerusalem. After the fall of the crusader states in 1291, the image of the enemy was transferred to the northern Turks; although it became much more complex and rounded, it retained a function that was overwhelmingly Euro-centric.

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