This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here and the previous post here. This is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.There are many similarities between the many wars of Muhammad and the Christian Crusades of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. During this time the imagination and zeal of European Christians were stoked against the suffering of Christians in Jerusalem and the hindering of Christian pilgrims attempting to visit the Holy Land by its Muslim occupiers. To liberate Jerusalem, rid it of pagan unbelievers, and to restore free access to the holy sites by pious pilgrims, several Roman Catholic popes of that ages called upon emperors, kings, and the faithful to join together in many crusades to free the place where Jesus one lived, died, and was buried. It is hard for us in this twenty-first century to understand and comprehend how thoroughly and rapidly "crusade fever" spread throughout Europe and captured the minds and hearts of Christians of that age. It was not only sanctioned by the popes but many a hermit made the crusades the topic of their preaching and aroused many a man, woman, and child to join the crusades. Philip Schaff describes the feeling in those days.
"Bernard of Clairvaux said, pagans must not be slain if they may by other means be prevented from oppressing the faithful. However, it is better they should be put to death than that the rod of the wicked should rest on the lot of the righteous. The righteous fear no sin in killing the enemy of Christ. Christ’s soldier can securely kill and more safely die. When he dies, it profits him; when he slays, it profits Christ. The Christian exults in the death of the pagan because Christ is glorified thereby. But when he himself is killed, he has reached his goal." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume V, Section 48)In many ways, Muhammad felt the same way about Mecca as the Christians four hundred years later in Europe would feel about Jerusalem. Mecca contained the Kaaba, a cube-shaped "house" that housed a black stone that was believed to have fallen from heaven. The Kaaba was the center of worship by many people including Muslims. Muhammad saw it as a great sin by the Meccans in that they had expelled the Prophet and now they were preventing Muslims from worshiping at the Kaaba. Upon his expulsion, Muhammad was weak and could not mount much of a defense, but now that he was strong, he set his eyes on returning to defeat the Meccans and to free the Kaaba that the faithful might once again worship there.
"But if they break their oaths after their covenant [alliance] and thrust at [revile] your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief; they have no sacred oaths; haply they will give over. Will you not fight a people [those Meccans] who broke their oaths and purposed to expel the Messenger [your Apostle], beginning the first time against you [and attacked you first]? Are you afraid of them? You would do better to be afraid of God, if you are believers." (Koran 9:12-13)Muhammad renewed his ambition to retake Mecca and, in a revelation sent directly from Allah, called his follower to fight.
"Fight them [so make war with them], and God will chastise them at your hands and degrade them [put them to shame], and He will help you against them [give you victory over them], and bring healing to the breasts of a people who believe," (Koran 9:14)Muhammad convinced his followers that it was God who stood ready to judge the Meccans and it was God who would bring them low before them and grant them victor over their enemies. In Muhammad's eyes, this fight was at the heart of what it meant to be Muslim. This fight was not just a fight for territory but for life eternal and for a place in Paradise. For a Muslim, it is better for them to fight and to abstain from war.
"O believers, what is amiss with you, that when it is said to you, 'Go [march] forth in the way of God,' you sink down heavily to the ground? Are you so content with this present life, rather than the world to come? Yet the enjoyment of this present life, compared with the world to come, is a little thing. If you go [march] not forth, He will chastise you with a painful chastisement, and instead of you He will substitute another people...Go [march] forth, light and heavy [armed]! Struggle [contend] in God's way with your possessions and your selves; that is better for you, did you know. " (Koran 9:38-39, 41)As the Christian Crusades raged on for more than two centuries, there were voices that challenged the blind religious zeal of the day. In the crusades they saw not the triumph of Christianity but the triumph of the fleshly desires and the ambitions of men. Philip Schaff writes,
"Erasmus struck the right note and expressed the view of a later age. Writing at the very close of the Middle Ages making an appeal for the proclamation of the Gospel by preaching and speaking of wars against the Turks, he said, 'Truly, it is not meet to declare ourselves Christian men by killing very many but by saving very many, not if we send thousands of heathen people to hell, but if we make many infidels Christian; not if we cruelly curse and excommunicate, but if we with devout prayers and with our hearts desire their health, and pray unto God, to send them better minds.'" (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume V, Section 58)I do not draw upon the similarities of the Christian crusades and the Muslim wars to justify the one or to excuse the other but rather to condemn them both. Both proceeded not from the heart of God but from the carnal mind of men. However, there is one distinction between the two that must be brought to center stage, and that is that one was the enterprise of men while the other claimed to be the command of God. One was advanced by popes and monks while the other was proclaimed and commanded by the Prophet and Apostle of a new religion. One was added to the religion some thousand years latter while the other was institutionalized as part of that religion from the very beginning. One lasted for a few hundred years until the prevailing culture of Europe changed while the other has continued almost unabated for fourteen hundred years. The crusades remain a low point in Christian history and one which few, if any, Christians remain who would wish its return. However, one cannot escape the call to war and to fight that was recorded in the Koran (and in the Mother Book in heaven) that is still as valid today as it was when Muhammad wrote it. The crusades produced a people of war, but the Koran produces a religion of war.