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Background: It's well known that the crusades initiated an east-west contact that led to an exchange between Europe and the Islamic world. Foreign goods, philosophy, sciences, flowed east to west, and reaction to the paradox of Holy War led to chivalry as a synthesis of the warrior and Christian ideals.

But ... did the crusades also change the cultural-intellectual world of Islam? Either by adaptation (like the first examples) or reaction (the second)?

Recent histories portray this exchange as very unequal, from enlightened Islam to barbarous Franks. This makes me a little suspicious! The Franks created a 200 year colony, and met countless muslims as subjects, friends, enemies, partners, and finally conquerers. Did that presence really leave no such creative trace on the Islamic world?

Even ceding "Europe as backwater" (which has merits, though I prefer a story emphasizing the Med Sea over East vs. West here) exchanges with "barbarians" are often not as one-way as they seem!

Question: Did contact with "Frankish" (European) culture alter the cultural or intellectual history of the medieval Islamic world?


Prior Research: I've read the crusades prompted Islam to unify in opposition, and centuries later laid a framework for pan-national identity. Neat, but not what I'm looking for. I've read several books on the crusades but the cultural-intellectual stuff is really only given for the Franks. Thanks!

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    "Crusades initiated an east-west contact" This is a wrong assumption. Also, its a bold assumption that the "paradox of Holy War led to chivalry as a synthesis of the warrior and Christian ideals" First time I hear about this. Do you have a source/research to back this point? Also, reconsider the question. The main point of Frankish-Muslim contact was not Holy Land or the Crusades but northern Spain and the whole western mediterranean coasts, including modern day Sicily, Italy and also southern France coasts. Are you looking for Frankish influence or Crusade influence?
    – James
    Sep 11 at 15:08
  • Do you know of any literature that was written by authors from the middle east that is available in your language. I guess it's only natural that literature written by European authors lend more focus on the "Islam -> Frankish" exchange, since that's territory more familiar to them.
    – Dohn Joe
    Sep 12 at 8:05
  • @DohnJoe: I do, at least for primary sources! But going through old texts for hints that might lead me astray anyway is a last resort.
    – Random
    Sep 12 at 18:31
  • @James I'm just repeating stuff I read in history books. It's true the Reconquista was the big show for the early middle ages, but it's also not wrong to call the First Crusade a new thing. The chivalry bit seems to be a common theory, read it in Marc Morris, read it in a specialist history of Romance literature. Good idea to look at other countries etc., I'm looking for "Frankish" or West European influence (so all the Christian states to come out of west Rome) but my primary area of interest for Islam is Egypt, the Levant, and the Middle East in the High Middle Ages.
    – Random
    Sep 12 at 18:36
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    If you fancy getting it, you could read Amin Maalouf's *The Crusades Through the Arab Eyes." Quite interesting.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 14 at 22:08

2 Answers 2

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There is so much to unpack here that I don't really know where to start...

Islam in it's first several centuries, with the exception of very early period, expanded almost exclusively by conquest. Initially it did it at the expense of the Byzantium and Persia, but it quickly spread in Africa (East and West Africa - latter called then Western Sudan), rest of Persia and then India. So Europe was but one of several directions of expansion by conquest.

That said, it was a direction that was moved in often - Byzantium was seen as a existential threat to the Ummah, so it was given extra attention, but not the singular, witness the conquest of North Africa, then Spain and following attempted invasion of Gaul. In the meantime, though, there were raids all over the Mediterranean. Battle of Tours was in 732, The Sacking of Rome in 846...

So Muslim conquest was not something Europe was unaware of.. On the contrary, in addition to the actual conquests or raids in force, Europe was subject to constant raiding for slaves for all this time and well into 18th century, with raids known to be reaching British Islands, and possibly even Iceland. (Tom Holland "In the Shadow of the Sword", Christopher Hitchens: Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates, City Journal, Spring Issue, 2007)

All the while all that invading and conquering of Europe by Muslim is going on, the trade between the East and West continues more or less uninterrupted. Concept of sanctions or embargo or trade block is pretty recent, back then something so trivial as war was not reason enough for trade to cease.

Somewhat different story is with cultural and scientific exchange. In that period it is, initially, from East to West, simply by necessity - at that period Western Roman Empire doesn't exist anymore, and That part of Europe just begins to pull itself together out of that collapse... Eastern Roman Empire is in decline, mostly due to weakening from recent wars with Persia and successful but costly re-unification of Roman Empires (Italy, parts of Northern Africa), but just militarily and economically. Culturally, almost all the centers are in the East. Islam quickly absorbs those and they, along with the ones established by Islamic states on their own, are for a while, the scientific center of gravity.

But Europe quickly gains and overtakes East in that regard, mostly due to the fact that all over the Muslim world scientific progress is all but eradicated, mostly by the Islamic version of Counter-Reformation, which focuses mainly on the jihad-based concept of expansion and solidification of rule. This all happens in relatively short period of time between 1000AD and 1400AD. (Toby Huff, "The Rise of Early Modern Science")

This caused most, if not all, traces of any potential influence of Crusader West on Islamic world to be eradicated. Not that there was much of that, in the first place. The First Crusade, while relatively large as a military operation was actually a response to Muslim atrocities happening in the conquered territories (not that it didn't commit atrocities on it's own, of course), and not an effort to stem the expansion of Islam.

As far as Islam is concerned, the Europe was a "al-Harb" territory, so while not conquered it would server as a source of wealth and slaves mostly. It's Cultural achievement were considered irrelevant by Muslims, and of course later were seen as very undesirable. So it can be safe to say that impact of the Crusades on the Muslim society was on the small side, with me personally leaning towards negligible.

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    A lot of this really needs some citations. Are you planning on adding those in to this answer at some point?
    – cmw
    Sep 22 at 23:35
  • "Islam, with the exception of very early period, expanded almost exclusively by conquest". Source? What about South East Asia (a very large area) and West Africa (another very large area)? You're ignoring the key role played by trade. Also, "....it quickly spread to Central Africa..." Again, source? This article on JSTOR says otherwise. Sep 23 at 0:51
  • @cmw - Thanks for keeping me honest. Added sources to parts where I thought most applicable.
    – AcePL
    Sep 23 at 13:40
  • @LarsBosteen - Good catches. Thanks!! Edited accordingly.
    – AcePL
    Sep 23 at 13:41
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There were different levels of exchanges,and thus of influence between the Muslims and the Frankish worlds.

First category: Direct consequences

The direct consequences of the Crusades on the Muslim world was, besides what you know already about unifying forces, that expanding Islam with military conquest could not be regarded as a possible objective anymore.

The different stops met by Islam's expansion (Talas, Poitiers) were one thing. Meeting a powerful religion ready to fight back for its own objectives was another: it meant Islam could not only be imposed by a military conquest followed by natural move of the conquered into the dominant religion, because Christian conquerred would fight. Thus, the phenomenon of the Crusades itself forced Islam to be reconsidered, enhanced by theological considerations.

Second Category: Diplomatic consequences

The Crusades created a new form of diplomatic relations, on equal positions for both Muslim and Christian politicians. The Christian world was not only a powerful enemy now, it was also an enemy which whom agreements could be found. Thus, there was a willingness to separate politics from religion in the exchanges between diplomats and chief of states.

Third Category: Trade consequences

Exchange between Muslim world and Christian world were on both directions: while the Muslims gave (back) some intellectual depth on many subjects, specific products and "new technologies", the Christians gave a solid sens of practice as well as specific products (slaves, Nordic animals). This triggered two things:

  • First, you could imagine to enslave your enemies, even if they were close to you, as soon as they had not the same religion. This contributed to the behavior of capturing slaves outside the borders of Islam, that fed soldiers for the Janissaries corps for example
  • Second, complexity of the world was shown by the Northern, cold countries that Islam had not yet encountered in the Mediterranean nor Indian Ocean. This is a contribution to understanding the world that should not be underestimated

Overall

There were no great upheavals of Islam nor Christianity from the Crusades, on a theological point of view: Both had already a lot of questions to fulfill. However, this opposition and exchange in the Middle East during hundreds of years created in the Islamic intellectual culture a change towards:

  • More place for the politics => this opened the way to the Turks
  • Less possibility to expand Islam with war => this led to a stop in Muslim conquests and less preachers
  • Complexity of the world known became higher
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    "led to stop in Muslim conquests" needs, at least, clarification. By the crusades, Muslims had been losing land in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries, and would continue doing so, but after the crusades Islam was expanded by conquest to at least the Balkans and India. Therefore, I can't see that stop (even temporary) without further explanation.
    – Pere
    Sep 7 at 17:35
  • @Pere This is a misunderstanging (english is not my native tongue). By "stops in muslim conquests" I meant the battles BEFORE the crusades at Talas, Poitiers that are usually considered as stop points of Muslim expansion. I don't say the crusades are those stops Sep 7 at 18:36
  • I see several bad assumptions... Crusades were were very late and at first not quite powerful response to Muslim atrocities committed in the conquered territories, not to the expansion per se. West in general was not in a position to react to them in organized and succesful way for nearly 3 centuries prior to first Crusade. They did not stop Muslim expansion, but slowed it significantly, and only after Malta it could be considered significant opposition by Muslim (and specifically Ottoman Empire by now). And last but not least: by Crusade I Muslim world started to abandon scientific progress..
    – AcePL
    Sep 22 at 14:13
  • @AcePL " West in general was not in a position to react to them in organized and succesful way for nearly 3 centuries prior to first Crusade" Precisely, and when the Crusades started, it was the time an opposition started. Not only with Crusades, but with the fightings in Spain as well. Which "Malta" are you speaking about? And could you back up your last sentence ? Sep 22 at 16:06
  • @totalMongot - Toby Huff in his book "The Rise of Early Modern Science" mentions that Muslim world relatively quickly started to turn away from science. So, universities that were best in the world started to go into their decline or were outright converted to madrassas, which focused exclusively on koranic studies. It can be argued that by the start of 14th century this change was almost but done.
    – AcePL
    Sep 23 at 7:44

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