[PDF / Epub] ✅ Les Croisades vues par les Arabes Author Amin Maalouf – Saudionline.co.uk

10 thoughts on “Les Croisades vues par les Arabes

  1. says:

    This was a challenging reading experience, and I struggle to put into words why.

    I loved Maalouf's reflections on identity and cultural belonging, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, to the extent that I read it with students several times. I admired his autobiographical work Origins, which offers an explanation for his deep understanding of the diverse strands that make up an individual personality, shaped by numerous family patterns, education and personal experience.

    I thought I would love his well-researched, brilliantly detailed account of the crusades from the perspective of the Arab world as well. It promised to deliver new angles on a topic I had already studied with interest from the more common European standpoint, giving me a unique opportunity to gain better insight into the other side of the story that features the origin of East-West, Islam-Christian clashes - with lasting effects reaching into our contemporary world and history writing.

    I had to force myself to read on however. On multiple occasions, I was about to break it off altogether. Why?

    It was not the fact that all names and events seemed strangely distorted, told without the overarching context I was used to. That was quite charming, actually, once I got used to it. I had no issues whatsoever with the narrative bias either, as that was what I expected and hoped for.

    What made me cringe, over and over again?

    The interchangeable actors in a play filled with shortsighted power struggles, hubris, greed, stupidity and violence.

    It does not really MATTER that the perspective has changed from a European to an Arab setting. The reckless, faithless, brutal rapists and killers are just the same on both sides of the conflict. Yes, it is true that the crusaders are guilty of invasion, and the Arab local community is innocent. In that respect, the Christian rulers and their followers certainly are more guilty than the defenders of their own territory. But the outcome for the narrative is the same. One sequence of treason, violence, cowardice and war after the other, with no end in sight. What that means for civilians, and most of all women and children, I do not want to describe in detail.

    Such a completely meaningless, utterly idiotic conflict, forced upon people by criminal kings and churches in Europe, carried out by armies full of violent, uneducated brutal men, claiming to be acting in the name of an all-powerful god. Both sides were convinced that they were divinely justified to kill and ravage according to their current political needs.

    The book was, to be short and precise, too depressing to make a rewarding read.

    As it focuses on the military aspects rather than on cultural questions, I missed the erudite and balanced prose that I am used to from Maalouf, and had to work my way through countless sieges, all quite similar, regardless of which side won, and which side suffered more - depending on occasion.

    I believe it is important for this book to exist, and to be read, especially by European historians, but it was hard - very hard - to digest.

  2. says:

    This is what 'The Crusades Through Arab Eyes' about:

    European and Arab versions of the Crusades have little in common. For Arabs, the twelfth and thirteen centuries were years of strenuous efforts to repel a brutal and destructive invasion by barbarian hordes. Under Saladin, an unstoppable Muslim army inspired by prophets and poets finally succeeded in destroying the most popular Crusader kingdoms. The memory of this great and most enduring victory ever won by a non-European society against the West still lives in the minds of millions of Arabs today.

    Amin Maalouf has sifted through the works of a score of contemporary Arab chroniclers of the Crusades, eyewitness and often participants in the events. In this ground-breaking account, he retells their stories in their own vivacious style, giving us a vivid portrait of a society riven by internal conflicts and shaken by a traumatic encounter with an alien culture. He retraces two critical centuries of Middle Eastern history, and offers fascinating insights into some of the forces that shape Arab and Islamic consciousness today.

    The reason I read this book is because I don't really know Muslim's strategies and side of the Crusades.

    It is well-researched and highly readable.

    I have different kind of feeling when I read this book. I always reflect theirs action. I ponder deeper towards my religion, Islam. I hope the world will be peaceful. Inshallah.

    There are six quotes in the book which has grabbed my attention. I just find it intriguing. Usman Ibn Munqidh's quote have a huge impact on me.

    'Regard Franj! Behold with what obstinacy they fight for their religion, while we, Muslims, show no enthusiasm for waging holy war.' Saladin

    'Every time the Franj took one fortress, they would attack another. Their power mounted relentlessly until they occupied all of Syria and exiled the Muslims of that country.' Fakhr Al-Mulk Ibn' Ammar, Ruler of Tripoli

    'I was about to being the prayer when a Franj threw himself upon me, seized me and turned my face to the East, telling me, 'That's how you pray!' Usman Ibn Munqidh, Chronicler (1095-1188)

    'May God grant victory of Islam and not to Mahmúd. Who is this dog Mahmúd to merit victory?' Nur al-Mahmúd, Unifier of the Arab East (1117-1174)

    'When the master of Egypt decided to hand Jerusalem over to the Franji, a great storm of indignation all the lands of Islam.' Sibt Ibn al-Jawzi, Arab Chronicler (1186-1256)

    'Attacked by Mongols - the Tartars - in the east and by Franj in the west , the Muslims had never been in such a critical position. God alone could rescue them.' Ibn al-Athìr

  3. says:

    I honestly don’t know how to regard this book. On one hand it is well-written, brief, perfectly readable description of crusades, seen from a unique perspective. Its main strength is the fact that the author uses only Arabic, predominantly primary sources, which is invaluable for the European student of the period for a simple reason that Arabic sources so scarce to English-speaking readers.
    At the same time I can’t help but consider this book as lost opportunity. Maalouf attempts to present the view from ‘the other side of the hill’, which in itself is an admirable and much needed initiative. But the problem is this view is so polarized, that the content of the book becomes practically unusable on its own. It is perfectly understandable that Muslims of the time regarded Crusades in absolutely negative terms. However, those views are only a small part of the book. Most of it consists of narrative of the author himself, who doesn’t even pretend to be objective. Language used by Maalouf consistently creeps uncomfortably close to modern political rhetoric and I have to admit, made it quite difficult for me to finish the book.
    Like I initially said, I feel very split about this book, for obvious reasons. If read without previous knowledge of the period or backed up by more balanced descriptions, it presents extremely skewed picture of what really happened. What’s even more frustrating, it leaves the reader with more questions than answers. For example, how come that Crusades came as such a surprise to the Arabs? If one is to trust the perspective presented by Maalouf, then it is very easy to draw the conclusion of Crusades being completely unprovoked and uncalled for. But the truth is that rapid expansion of Muslim empire encroached on primarily Christian territories and a backlash motivated by territorial, political and religious reasons should have been expected. Also, why were Crusades such a traumatic event, but much more brutal invasion and conquest of Arab core territories by Seljuk Turks, which took place only a couple of decades before, is hardly even mentioned by sources selected by the author? Last but not least, author overlooks completely the extremely complicated political situation in the region – the narrative describes strange alliances and pacts that on quite few occasions managed to over-bridge religious and ethnic differences, but there is no effort to properly explain them.
    So what to do with this book? It is absolutely worth reading and even deeper study. Hopefully it’s only the first attempt to bring Arabic point of view about this topic and more books based on Arabic sources will follow. But it cannot live on its own merits and needs to be put into proper context. I would definitely recommend Runciman’s classical trilogy and works about Byzantine Empire by John Norwich as a good starting point.

  4. says:

    Ever since I started reading, I have come across the stereotype of the "bloodthirsty Muslim". He is fearsome, duplicitous, utterly without mercy, fiercely intolerant of any other system of philosophy other than his own "barbarous" religion, which cuts off people's hands for stealing something as little as a piece of bread and gleefully stones unfortunates to death in the full view of the public. Also, Islam was said to be a religion which was spread "by the sword" - that is, through force, giving conquered people only two choices: death or conversion. With this was contrasted Christianity, the religion of love, which was spread through the proselytising activities of pure-hearted missionaries.

    It didn't take me long to come to my own conclusion that this was pure, unadulterated poppycock. History is written by the winners, always: and since the West had "won" the world, their version of history was the one which was in popular circulation. The actual truth is much more nuanced. In the story of human civilisation, there are no heroes or villains - only victims of the god of probability (since I don't believe in fate).

    The characterisation of the Muslim as a marauder had its start probably in the crusades, I think. In those days, when there was no separation of the Church and the State (which is still not there in many Islamic countries), any war for territorial supremacy was a religious war by default. So when the Frankish knights decided to "reclaim" the Middle East in the name of "Christendom", what actually transpired was pure, unadulterated land grabbing: and when the natives of the desert kingdoms resisted, soon they were fighting for "Islam" against the "Infidel".

    In this book, Amin Maalouf gives us a view of the crusades from the Arab side ("Arab" is a misnomer, though, because the Middle East was mix of Arabs, Turks, Greeks, Armenians et al). Here, the knights are not the honourable and chivalrous warriors we have seen in countless comic books, novels and movies: they are cruel, rapacious and battle-hardened fighting machines bent on murder and pillage. And they are intent on spreading their religion "through the sword" - though one can safely say they were interested only in conquest in the name of religion.

    The book is divided into six parts, describing the victories of the early crusades, the invasion and occupation, followed by the consolidation of Muslim power which ultimately threw out the Franks. They are titled (1) Invasion, (2) Occupation, (3) Riposte, (4) Victory, (5) Reprieve and (6) Expulsion. The first two parts describe how the fearsome European warriors rode roughshod over a divided Middle East at war with itself; the third part describes the rise of Islamic resistance under Imad al-Din Zangi, the ruler of Aleppo and Mosul; the fourth part details the consolidation of Islamic power under Zangi's son Nur al-Din, his vizier Shirukh, and his nephew, the redoubtable Saladin; in the fifth part, the brief resurgence of Frankish power after the death of Saladin is described; and in the last part, we see the Westerners finally driven out of a Middle east ravaged by the Mongols, by Mameluke Turks. The West's greatest misadventure had ended in defeat.

    The main takeaways I got from the book was:

    1. The original Frankish invaders were almost barbarians, compared to the Arabs. They thought nothing of massacring populations en-masse, and even indulged in cannibalism at times.

    2. The Arab world was a cauldron seething with internal discontent and internecine wars, and hardly the homogeneous "Islamic world" we think it was. And even the word Arab is a misnomer - as mentioned earlier, it was a potpourri of races and nationalities.

    3. Christians, Muslims and Jews lived under relative peace in the Middle East. There was no religious persecution (unless required politically). In fact, most of the Eastern Christians preferred living under the sultans to a rule by the Pope!

    4. During the war years, often Franks and Muslims forged alliances to fight against other Franks and Muslims. The wars were not strictly divided on religious lines.

    5. And finally - I have become a fan of Saladin, the humble conqueror. Such a sensitive, just and honest man.


    This is a fascinating book. The author narrates history for the layman as it should be narrated - like a story. Culled from multiple sources, Maalouf is careful to moderate his views and warn the reader of the possible bias of the writer. This is a political and religious history, with none of the author's politics thrown in - we are free to form our own conclusions.

    At the end, however, the question remains: after such a backlash in the Middle Ages, how did Europe emerge as the de facto leader of the world in the modern age, while the Islamic society stagnated?

    In the epilogue, Amin Malouf says that at the time of the crusades, the West was just waking up from the dark ages while the Arab world was flowering with literature and science. However, the centuries of war and oppression had the effect of dampening this blooming culture. It also made the Muslims suspicious of any new ideas or innovations, and prevented them from accepting anything from the West, while ironically, Europe was building on the ideas borrowed from Arabs.

    [T]hroughout the Crusades, the Arabs refused to open their own society to ideas from the West. And this, in all likelihood, was the most disastrous effect of the aggression of which they were the victims. For an invader, it makes sense to learn the language of the conquered people; for the latter, to learn the language of the conqueror seems a surrender of principle, even a betrayal.


    Although the epoch of the Crusades ignited a genuine economic and cultural revolution in Western Europe, in the Orient these holy wars led to long centuries of decadence and obscurantism. Assaulted from all quarters, the Muslim world turned in on itself. It became over-sensitive, defensive, intolerant, sterile—attitudes that grew steadily worse as world-wide evolution, a process from which the Muslim world felt excluded, continued. Henceforth progress was the embodiment of 'the other’. Modernism became alien.
    Such stagnation, coupled with the destruction of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, pushed the Middle East into a morass from which it has not emerged - expect for material wealth gained through petro-dollars in the oil-rich countries.

    Today, the Muslim world is caught in a time warp - In its collective psyche, it is still fighting the crusades, though the name of the war has changed. There may be justifications, but one can hardly blame the Arab on the street if he feels that he is being persecuted unjustly for sins of others.
    In a Muslim world under constant attack, it is impossible to prevent the emergence of a sense of persecution, which among certain fanatics takes the form of a dangerous obsession. The Turk Mehmet Ali Agca, who tried to shoot the pope on 13 May 1981, had expressed himself in a letter in these terms: I have decided to kill John Paul II, supreme commander of the Crusades. Beyond this individual act, it seems clear that the Arab East still sees the West as a natural enemy. Against that enemy, any hostile action—be it political, military, or based on oil—is considered no more than legitimate vengeance. And there can be no doubt that the schism between these two worlds dates from the Crusades, deeply felt by the Arabs, even today, as an act of rape.
    This, I feel, is the reason for most of the terrorism emanating from the Islamic world. Addressing its historical and psychological roots may be the only hope for long-term peace. But in a world currently filled with national leaders whose mentality is not much different from the rape-and-plunder mentality of the crusaders, this remains but a pipe-dream.

  5. says:

    I came to this book after reading several of Maalouf's fiction works. Even though it is a history book, it is very readable, and if it weren't for all the names, I would have thought I was reading a story. He draws the main figures of the Crusades as real people, not just objects of scholarly interest. I cried when Saladin died. Being an Arab myself, it was hard to shake the feeling of history repeating itself, but obviously the truth is more complex than that. What made the book important for me is the sense that these conflicts, the struggle for unity within the ummah, with "foreigners" ready to jump through the smallest chink in the armor, and with our own leaders and their various quirks and weaknesses -- none of these are anything new. The modern Middle East is just one chapter of a long history. That is much more realistic and reassuring story than the more simplistic version of history we inherit as Arab children -- that we were one long-lived, glorious empire until last century when everything came crashing down, all due of course to the fault of the evil West. Sorry folks, it's time to grow up.

    This book is very much a story of leaders and great people. The masses are there, when they're slaughtered or fleeing their homeland or, sometimes, valiantly resisting a siege. But you do not get much of a sense of how the average person lived. I would have liked to know more about normal people and their normal lives, but that would have made this book longer and probably more like a normal history book. There's a trade-off Maalouf made, for the sake of an easily digestible story. In any case, I can probably find what I'm looking for elsewhere.

  6. says:

    Recommended reading for an alternative look on the Crusades - just supported with copious quotes by Arab historians, no "Western" sources. Extremely interesting to see this clash of cultures from the "other" side - "our" extremely brutal fighters with little moral qualms, slaughtering everyone in their path in most brutal ways, the "early" Arabs being wholly unprepared and completely confused by so much religious zealotry. Especially the epilogue, linking this story to modern developments of the 1980s, 1990s makes it worth reading.

    Some notes:

    - Wonderful words used: "panegyrists", "quinquagenarian", "suzerainty" etc.

    - Franj medicine and judiciary, what a weird mess. Got a disease? Let's cut a cross into your scalp and pour salt on it. Oh, this kills you? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Then again, there's at least one review here that says the relevant quote is cut to make it seem more extreme, but the relevant link is dead and not on Google)

    - Saladin is portrayed as an extremely generous leader, someone who didn't slaughter or sell the population of a fallen city. However, was the generosity worth it? It made him look benevolent, and no plundering meant no income from the war. His pardoned enemies quickly regrouped, after his death his empire immediately fell apart, and the Franj regained some of their strength. On the other opposite, the concentrated brutality of the Mamluks was the force that after 200 years finally drove the Crusaders/Franj out of Near East.

    - The Sunni/Shia conflict features prominently - and it still features prominently in our times, virtually unchanged.

    - The sacking of the Assassin's library in Alamut makes me more sad than it logically should, so much unique knowledge lost (unlike the Library of Alexandria, which had copies of most of its content in other cities).

    - Straight out of Sun Tzu's "Art of War", there are at least 20 cases where group A corners group B, and group B fights so full of despair that group A is routed. See for example Zangi's siege of Damascus.

    - Most of the initial success of the First Crusade was more due to Muslim infighting, confusion, and political instability than due to any strategic or technical superiority (except for the Crusaders' full-body armor, which was worn only by the rich knights of the army).

    Recommended for: Those who'd like to take up a different perspective from time to time.

  7. says:

    My rating is 4.5 stars. The focus on the Arabs' point of view is very interesting and the author included an excellent epilogue connecting those medieval events with nowadays.

  8. says:

    I have refrained from rating this book, because I really don't know whether it's a good account of how the arabs saw the crusades or not. My trust in the author's objectivity got a serious dent today after reading one of the sources he used. Amin Maalouf renders an account of Frankish barbarianism in medicinal practice on p. 131-132. When I check this passage in the original account of Usama ibn Munqidh, there are at least two more examples of Frankish medicinal practice directly following the cited passage that are ommited by Maalouf, and that actually contain praise from Usama towards the Frankish knowledge of medicins. Maalouf misrepresented the source he used in this occasion to drive home a point he wants to make, which is unacceptable in a work that is so widespread and from the looks of what I read below so commonly praised.

    The ommited passages are to be found in Usama Ibn Munqidh. The Book of Contemplation. Islam and the crusades on p. 146.

    Crusader historian Thomas Madden's devastating critique

    another critical voice, equally mentioning the ommiting of the positive passages on Frankish medicine

  9. says:

    Not only did our troops not shrink from eating dead Turks and Saracens; they also ate dogs! Documentation of rampant cannibalism among the Franj comes from the Franj themselves, but the historical accounts from Arab witnesses are what makes this book so enjoyable: the cannibalism, the elective surgery by battle-axe, the trials-by-ordeal,all described by genteel observers shocked at the barbarism of the blond peril. The book covers a long period where many rulers come and go, but major figures like Nur ad-Din Zangi, Saladin and Baybars are presented in good detail, and there are many colorful digressions that fill in a picture of the times, among the major battles and changes in leadership. I especially enjoy the tone of anthropological distance from the historians quoted, as with Ibn al-Athir upon the unexpected death of Frederick Barbarossa, King of the Germans: His army dispersed, and thus did God spare the Muslims the maleficence of the Germans, who constitute a particularly numerous and tenacious species of Franj.

  10. says:

    For those in the West, the Crusades were a series of military expeditions that Western Christians launch against Muslims to reclaim the Holy Land, however for the Arabs and the rest of the Muslim world, the Crusades were a shocking event. “The Crusades through Arab Eyes” is a narrative history by Amin Maalouf to give Westerners a glimpse of how the Muslim world in general saw the Crusades as they were happening over two hundred year span.

    Maalouf starts his narrative in Anatolia with the beginning of the First Crusade from the perspective of the Seljuk Turk Kilij Arslan defending his kingdom against his neighbors then against what he believed to be “Franj” troops fighting for the Byzantine Empire. However as the Turk sultan was to learn as well as others, these Franj had different plans. Maalouf’s follows the progress of the First Crusade and the subsequent 200 years through the historical writings of Muslim chroniclers and how the Muslim world reacted throughout that period. The vast majority of the book is the history of the Muslim political and religious currents that interacted and reacted with the Franj, who were themselves divided into permanent residents and military adventurers that came and went.

    In the Epilogue besides looking at the long-term effects of the Crusaders on the Middle East, Maalouf highlights something that readers will noticed quickly and what I have already alluded to in this review. While the chroniclers were Arabs, the political and military leadership throughout the Crusader era were Turks or Kurds. During the roughly 200 years that the Crusades took place, the native Arabs watched and experienced the forces of two “foreigners” ruling over them which is a very impactful thought to keep in mind while reading this book.

    I first read sections of “The Crusades through Arab Eyes” in 2003 for a Middle East history class. Having now read it in full, I can say that seeing it without the Western romantic veneer or viewpoint brings the period into better focus. While not in-depth as some other books might be, this book gives the reader an easy to follow narrative overview of The Crusades “from the other side”.

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