The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf: A Summary

A summary of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf.

It was 1096 when the Arabs first began to hear rumors about the coming Franj. They had no clue as to the real aims of the people. They only listened to the words of their spies.. Kilij Arslan, “whose territory was closest to these Franj”, he being the sultan of Nicaea, a northern Asia Minor city, immediately feared the worst. Thus, when the Franj came, he was well prepared. He destroyed the Frankish army, led by Peter the Hermit. The next year, however, when the Franj began their first real great expedition, their army said to be larger than any, with women and children included, Kilij Arslan and his city were defeated. And so the Franj moved on, easily managing to take Edessa and Antioch, northern Syrian cities, the year after. In Ma’arra they were even said to have been cannibalistic because of their lack of food. Rumors were heading around that the Franj’s big goal was the conquering of Jerusalem. But who could believe them? Jerusalem was one of the greatest cities in the Muslim world. Who could ever conquer it? But the Franj just kept going, conquering more and more places on their way, heading south. At last they reached Jerusalem in 1099; it was conquered. Jerusalem’s fall brought more fear than ever over the Arabs. The Franj seemed undefeatable. The next year, the Frankish count of Edessa, Baldwin, became the king of Jerusalem. The Arabs only feared the worst.

In 1104, the Muslims had a victory at last! Could their luck be turning? They resisted conquering at Harràh. The Franj, however, merely moved on. From 1109 to 1110, they conquered Tripoli, Beirut and Saida. But once again, another Muslim city, Tyre, resisted capture; yet a little more hope. But in 1115, all hope was replaced by fear, when the Muslims and the Franj, made an alliance against a Syrian sultan. The Franj now occupied all of the coast, except for Ascalon. Even more fear came over the Muslims, when they learned that Ibn al-Khashāb, the qādī of Aleppo, a great tactician who had led many a riot against the Franj, was murdered.

Nevertheless, the Franj had lost their original grand powers. Once again, in 1128, they failed to capture another great city, Damascus. Meanwhile, Zangī became the ruler of Aleppo. Seven years after the Frankish attempt, he tried to take Damascus, in an effort to try to once again unite Syria. However, he was unsuccessful as well. In 1140, Damascus made an alliance with Jerusalem against Zangī, who was still attempting to unite Syria. In 1144, he took Edessa, the first state conquered by the Franj. “When news of the reconquest of Edessa spread, the Arab world was gripped with enthusiasm. The most ambitious projects were attributed to Zangī.” He was given so many honoring names like “ . . . the great, the just, the aid of God, the triumphant, the unique, the pillar of religion, the cornerstone of Islam, . . . the king of princes, . . . protector of the prince of the faithful.” The list just goes on. “The Franj trembled at the very mention of his name.” Two years later, when his great plans had just begun to play out, he was murdered by a drunken member of his army. He was replaced by his son, Nūr al-Dīn.

In 1148, Conrad, the German emperor, and Louis VII, the king of France, led another Frankish expedition. However, it was a weak expedition that immediately turned back. Meanwhile, Nūr al-Dīn took hold of Damascus. Muslim Syria was now under his authority. In Egypt, a man named Saladin had succeeded his uncle and become the vizier of Egypt. Saladin overthrew the Fatamid caliphate. Being the only master of Egypt, he found himself in conflict with Nūr al-Dīn. The conflict solved itself, however, when in 1174, Nūr al-Dīn died of a sickness around age sixty. From that year to 1183, Saladin took Damascus and Aleppo; Egypt and Syria were now under his control. At last, in the year of victory, 1187, Saladin reconquered Jerusalem and most of the Frankish territories. All the Franj had left, were Antioch, Tripoli, and Tyre.

In 1190, Richard the Lionheart, king of England, helps the Franj recover many Muslim cities. Jerusalem, however, still stands strong. In 1193, at age 55 Saladin dies in Damascus. His “empire is reunited under the authority of his brother, al-’Ādil.” A mere decade later, the Franj sack Constantinople. Quickly, they head for Egypt. They manage to take Damietta, but while heading for Cario, they are stopped by the sultan al-Kāmil, Saladin’s nephew. In 1229, al-Kāmil hands Jerusalem over to Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. The Arab world is disgusted.

In 1244, the Muslims reconquer Jerusalem for the final time. For forty years, the Arab world goes through a series of Mongol and French invasions. At last in 1291, the sultan Khalīl takes Acre, finally ending two centuries of Frankish presence.

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