It is unfortunate that Islam is continuously being purported to be a religion of violence by the missionaries when the reality is very much the opposite. What the majority of Christians are probably unaware is of the violence of their brethren against other religions, most particularly the Muslims, because it is Islam which has always been the closest challenger to the slaves of the Cross.
There are many cases of persecution of the Jews or adherents of primitive religions, such as the natives of Mexico and parts of Southern America by Christians, but we will be focusing on two past persecution of Muslims by Christians; the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.
Persecution during the Crusades
In November of 1095, Pope Urban II initiated the first European attempt at colonizing the Muslim world – known in the West as the Crusades – by drawing this fateful picture:
For you must hasten to carry aid to your brethren dwelling in the East, who need your help, which they have often asked. For the Turks, a Persian people, have attacked them I exhort you with earnest prayer – not I, but God – that, as heralds of Christ, you urge men by frequent exhortation, men of all ranks, knights as well as foot soldiers, rich as well as poor, to hasten to exterminate this vile race from the lands of your brethren Christ commands it. And if those who set out thither should lose their lives on the way by land, or in crossing the sea, or in fighting the pagans, their sins shall be remitted. Oh what a disgrace, if a race so despised, base, and the instrument of demons, should so overcome a people endowed with faith in the all-powerful God, and resplendent with the name of Christ. Let those who have been accustomed to make private war against the faithful carry on to a successful issue a war against the infidels. Let those who for a long time have been robbers now become soldiers of Christ. Let those who fought against brothers and relatives now fight against these barbarians. Let them zealously undertake the journey under the guidance of the Lord.August C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye Witnesses and Participants, (Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith, 1958)
The Catholic Encyclopedia informs us the following about the Crusades:
The Crusades were expeditions undertaken, in fulfilment of a solemn vow, to deliver the Holy Places from Mohammedan tyranny.
The origin of the word may be traced to the cross made of cloth and worn as a badge on the outer garment of those who took part in these enterprises. Medieval writers use the terms crux (pro cruce transmarina, Charter of 1284, cited by Du Cange s.v. crux), croisement (Joinville), croiserie (Monstrelet), etc. Since the Middle Ages the meaning of the word crusade has been extended to include all wars undertaken in pursuance of a vow and directed against infidels, i.e. against Mohammedans, pagans, heretics, or those under the ban of excommunication.
Many of the Christians who took part in the Crusades spoke of their great pride in wading in the blood of their enemies. This is evident in Daimbert’s comments in the Official Summary of the 1st Crusade when he said:
And, if you desire to know what was done about the enemy whom we found there, know that in the portico of Solomon and his Temple, our men rode in the blood of the Saracens up to the knees of the horses.Ibid, p. 275
When Jerusalem was conquered on the 15th of July 1099 by the Crusaders who were also known as the Christian Knights, more than 60,000 inhabitants, both Jewish and Muslim, were slaughtered in cold blood. In the words of one witness
…there [in front of Solomon’s temple] was such a carnage that our people were wading ankle-deep in the blood of our foes, and after that “happily and crying for joy” our people marched to our Saviour’s tomb, to honour it and to pay off our debt of gratitude.
The Archbishop of Tyre, who was also an eye-witness, wrote that:
It was impossible to look upon the vast numbers of the slain without horror; everywhere lay fragments of human bodies, and the very ground was covered with the blood of the slain. It was not alone the spectacle of headless bodies and mutilated limbs strewn in all directions that roused the horror of all who looked upon them. Still more dreadful was it to gaze upon the victors themselves, dripping with blood from head to foot, an ominous sight which brought terror to all who met them. It is reported that within the Temple enclosure alone about ten thousand infidels perished.F. Turner, Beyond Geography (New York, 1980)
Songs were even composed about the conditions of the battles during the Crusades:
Count Roland gripped his sword dripping with gore he strikes his valiant blows, shivering shafts of spears and bucklers, too, cleaving through feet and fists, saddles and sides. To see him hack the limbs from Saracens, pile them upon the earth, corpse upon corpse, would call to mind a very valiant knight.F. Turner, Beyond Geography (New York, 1980)
These quotes are instructive in their presentation of Western Christian foundational attitudes toward Islam. In medieval Europe, the Popes began to use Islam as a proxy to convince backsliding Christians to return to the fold and to convince themselves that Christians were chaste, denouncing Islam as a sexually liberal and even licentious religion. Once the Europeans gained a foothold in West Asia, one of the areas of greatest concern was miscegenation. In the Crusader mind, even sex with one’s own wife was a carnal sin; sex with an infidel woman was punished by “castration for the Crusader and facial mutilation for the woman.” Muslim women were “viewed as defiled and wanton whores and seductresses.” This stigma is evident in Bishop Jacques de Vitry’s comments on the 5th Crusade when he says that:
Those amongst the Saracens are considered most religious who can make the most women pregnant they lie with their concubines and wives often in times of fast, because they suppose making love and desire are so meritorious, either to satisfy lust or to generate many sons to strengthen the defence of their religion.Norman Daniel, Heroes and Saracens: An Interpretation of the Chansons de Geste, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1984)
Persecution during the Spanish Inquisition
It is well known in all Spain that pressure on Isabella led to the foundation in 1478 of the Spanish Inquisition, over which the Crown was given almost full control by the Pope. The Inquisition was founded to solve one specific problem: the religious and public status of “conversos”. Conversos accused of practising the Jewish faith were its main line of business, but such cases tended to occur only at specific periods and often had political rather than religious overtones. Where neither Protestants nor Jews existed the Inquisition still intruded regularly into daily life, as the self-appointed guardian of orthodoxy and morality, with extensive powers to prosecute subversive or disrespectful words, thoughts and writings; sexual misbehaviour; bigamy; usury; superstitious practices; and other crimes large or small.
A later historian, the Jesuit Juan de Mariana, admitted that some aspects of the Inquisition “appeared very oppressive to Spaniards”. But because the tribunal was a tool of deep, seated prejudices, those who directed it were able to bring into being a terrifying social weapon that helped to mould the thinking of Spaniards for centuries. It was one of the most powerful forces in the everyday life of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Spain.
The tribunal set itself a task which was more recognizably “racialist than religious: to purify peninsular Catholicism by eliminating from the Church and its clergy all descendants of Jewish or Moorish blood”. The task was carried out with an efficiency that has left a permanent mark on Spanish history. Even in modern times, distrust of Jews and Arabs has played a significant role in Spanish politics. The early proceedings were undoubtedly bloody: a contemporary historian estimated that in Seville alone between 1480 and 1488 the tribunal had burnt over seven hundred people and punished several thousand.
In the year of 1492, the influential Tomas de Torquemada convinced Ferdinand and Isabella to expel all the surviving unconverted Jews. Perhaps 200,000 Jews, including some of the country’s best educated and most productive people, were sent packing to North Africa and various refuges in Europe.
The struggle against the Moors was always a unifying force, and the final push evoked harmonious cheers of thanks-giving from Spaniards, and from all of Christendom. In 1492, when the Reconquest captured the last Muslim city, Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella, ceremoniously accepted the keys to the Alhambra, the city’s wondrous palace. It was all very chivalrous, except that the religious freedom guaranteed to the Muslims was soon revoked and mass conversions were decreed.
To claim that Christians are on “a moral high ground” when preaching their religion and have been “abstaining from violence” as it is the fundamental teaching of their religion is very much further from the truth, as the evidence shows. One may object that we are concentrating only on the negative, not providing any background analysis, and are not making necessary distinctions between various brands of Christianity and between secular and religious tendencies in the Christian world.
But this is precisely what the Christians do to Muslims. They mostly talk and ask about acts of violence taking place in the vast Muslim world without making any distinctions, or analyzing them properly, or balancing them with the positive aspects. The point in this paper is not to prove that Christianity’s teachings are based on murder and violence, as the missionaries would like to claim for Islam, but only to show that Christians have a much darker past of murder and persecutions against those who do not conform to their doctrines when compared to Muslims.
And certainly, only God knows best!