They weren’t all battles and bloodshed. There was also coexistence, political compromise, trade, scientific exchange—even love.
Muslim forces ultimately expelled the European Christians who invaded the eastern Mediterranean repeatedly in the 12th and 13th centuries—and thwarted their effort to regain control of sacred Holy Land sites such as Jerusalem. Still, most histories of the Crusades offer a largely one-sided view, drawn originally from European medieval chronicles, then filtered through 18th and 19th-century Western scholars.
But how did Muslims at the time view the invasions? (Not always so contentiously, it turns out.) And what did they think of the European interlopers? (One common cliché: “unwashed barbarians.”) For a nuanced view of the medieval Muslim world, HISTORY talked with two prominent scholars: Paul M. Cobb, professor of Islamic History at the University of Pennsylvania, author of Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades, and Suleiman A. Mourad, a professor of religion at Smith College and author of The Mosaic of Islam.
HISTORY: Broadly speaking, how do Islamic perspectives on the Crusades differ from those of the Christian sources from Western Europe?
Suleiman Mourad: If we wrote the history of the Crusades based on Islamic narratives, it would be a completely different story altogether. There were no doubt wars and bloodshed, but that wasn’t the only or dominant story. There was also coexistence, political compromise, trade, scientific exchange, love. We have poetry and chronicles with evidence of mixed marriages.