Many of the recent articles here have had a medieval focus. Yet there has been a gaping omission with reference to this time period. It is quite likely that any dialogue with a Muslim will quickly migrate to one particular time in Christian history, the Crusades. Is there any strange inversion or ironic twist that might better help the Christian understand this infamous time in our history?
Both Muslim and Christian alike are aware of the Crusades, unarguably one of the greatest Christian atrocities of all time. When confronted with the topic of the Crusades, most Christians will respond that the actions of those of the time didn’t reflect the teaching of Christ. Christians may also point out that there are good Christians and bad Christians, just as there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. These statements are true, but they miss the real point.
A little closer look shows what happened. While the global politics, societies, and events of the time were complex, there is a critical moment to note. This watershed moment was when Pope Urban II gave his speech in Clermont in 1095, asking Europeans to retake the Holy Land as Christian territory . Here is an excerpt from his speech.
“All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested” [i]
Frequent readers of this blog will spot this irony more clearly before explicitly being spelled out. What Pope Urban II did in this speech is introduce the concept of forgiveness of sins via death in battle into Christianity. This decree by the Pope came nowhere from Scripture and was a result of human error. Nowhere does our Lord Jesus Christ teach remission of sin for dying in battle. Rather, this teaching comes from Islam. It is unclear whether the Pope took this teaching from Islam, but the reality is that it is an Islamic teaching nonetheless. Those who disagree should ask themselves what other religion preaches salvation for dying in battle? Obviously Christians are disgusted at the concept of jihad within Christianity. It is embarrassing and distasteful when considering the mandate of Pope Urban II. He deviated from the teachings of Christ and imitated an element of Islamic doctrine.
At any rate, the events that followed this speech were disastrous. Christians melded an aspect of Islam into Christian thought wholesale, and Christians are still apologizing for it almost a millennium later. What is critical here is not that individual Christians of the 11th and 12th centuries engaged in brutal acts. What is critical is that Biblical ideology itself was viciously altered. This perverted ideology caused its followers to act in horrible ways. By papal decree, the concept of jihad, though not specifically named, was smuggled into a place where it never belonged, and never will belong.
So what is the point? The point is that the Crusades started as a result of jihad being declared. Does the Muslim applaud the teaching of jihad or not? This is a question that every Muslim should be asked. If they applaud jihad, then they should not be against the concept of the Crusades. If they denounce jihad, then they do not follow Islam. Many Muslims may react viscerally to this line of reasoning.
Muslims may counter that jihad is only warranted against infidels, so jihad is acceptable when perpetrated against others, but vicious and unwarranted when perpetrated against them. But why is this so? The concept of treating others as you wish to be treated as a moral code is one most people can relate to and will agree with (Luke 6:31). Why is it moral to treat someone else differently than you yourself would wish to be treated? Here the teachings of Jesus can be brought to bear on the topic. Notice that we have moved from arguing over the rightness or wrongness of the Crusaders, and gotten back to Jesus’ message and its relevance for everyone.
To recap, in the case of Christianity, the height of brutality came when the Pope took a page from Islam and tried to shoehorn it into Christian theology. It is just too ironic to watch Muslims harangue Christianity for the one instance when it attempted to adopt an aspect of Islamic teachings. The question must be asked: Do Muslims applaud the inclusion of this Islamic teaching into Christianity or do they denounce adopting this piece of Islam into Christianity? I hope this irony is not lost on you. Muslims condemn Christians of the 11th and 12th century for trying to adopt a tenet of Islam.