The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Charlemagne's crusade

Among the questions debated among the so-called “counter jihad” is the extent to which Muhammad’s heresy, in turn, inspired similar movements in Christendom. Among these would be the holy war. More to the point, I’d like to look at “take the cross or this sword”.

I’d heard the Crusades called a Christian jihad before, back when I used to haunt Christian booksellers in the early 2000s. Probably independently of that confession's tracts, in 2006 one Yitzhak Hen observed the bloody verdict of Verden as religiously-tinged violence. This Jew looked for such atrocities before in Christian history, and despite having every motive to find some he failed. So he looked to classical Arabic accounts of Islamic maghazi instead and, as anyone might, found quite a lot of holy battles on their part. Hen concluded that since Islamic qital preceded Charlemagne's conquests, the one likely inspired the other. It seems anachronistic to consider the Saxon wars a proto-crusade, but then – I’ve done that already with Heraclius, before anyone had even heard of Muhammad.

A decade later, another scholar Daniel König has looked into Charlemagne's time and place. He finds that jihad had little to do with Verden.

König reasonably holds that for Frankish impressions of Islam, we have to start with Spain and the Maghreb. He points out that, over the long decades the Umayyad-commanded Arabs absorbed the Western Med, their invasions and “Islamicisations” were piecemeal and chaotic. Each city received its own terms based on whether the amir was in a good mood or not: viz., the amir was pleased when it surrendered, annoyed when he had to fight. (Such was exactly the way it had gone in Syria a century prior.) There was, in short, no Pact of ʿUmar. And the bulk of the Umayyad-era maghazi narratives are equally bogus.

Spain, when it was conquered, instantly became a backwater for Islam. It lay far from the Madina and Damascus, and even further from Iraq when the ʿAbbāsids massacred the Umayyads there and made it the caliphate's base. What mattered more to newly-conquered Spain was what the Berbers were up to. König notes by way of example that in the 740s, when the Berbers rebelled, Spain suffered what northwest Africa suffered. And the Muslims couldn't even take all of Spain. So early Islamic Spain was also a mess.

Until the 760s it was difficult to find an Arab there (much less a Berber) who even could tell you what Islam *was*. The senior judges could tell you, but these were few. Maybe Mūsā b. Nuṣayr the Lakhmi could have told you (and even here I wonder *what* he would have told you; e.g. did he accept sura 28?). Most Muslims here had other concerns, like staying alive. Only after the Umayyads had restored themselves as amirs in Spain was there a consistency at least in its governmental classes.

König also finds what it seems Hen could not find, on non-Islamic precedent among the Christian Germans and Latins for handling conquered peoples.

Given the knowledge of Islamic Spain I have, which isn't much, I am going to treat König's essay as the default stance on whether or not the Caroling mind had been infected by Islamic holy war. It has convinced me that Hen's essay had overreached. But I cannot call König's essay conclusive, yet, because there's a gap from 760 AD on - [update] which I'm to discuss later. Really we need more legal texts with a secure eighth-century provenance (wouldn't we all?). Perhaps some will turn up in an arid part of southern Spain.

UPDATE 7/14/16: Split this off from the above book-report: possible legal texts.

posted by Zimri on 17:41 | link | 0 comments

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