Islamic Achievements: Crusades Gain

Mia Squires
Dr. Kelley
REL: God & Violence
8th December 2016

Islamic Achievements: Crusades Gain

Emperor Alexius I asked for aid from Pope Urban II (1088–1099) to fight against Islamic invasion. Pope Urban II response was calling on the Knights Templar, the Christian Army of the Crusades, through a speech at the Council of Clermont on 27th November 1095 (Schalager). The Knights Templars were originally formed for the protection of Christian traders and the expansion of Christian territories. Pope Urban II’s speech created campaigns against Islam which in turn brought Europe out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance Age (1).

The Crusade incursions brought Islam to the world and the beginning of Muslims converting to Christianity. These campaigns began the Islamization, “to bring into a state of harmony or conformity with the principles and teaching of Islam” (Islamization). It also brought a new way of living and thinking to Europe. The assaults on Islam created a complex problem – Christian’s dislikes of the Islamic faith and Islam’s hatred of Christianity. These campaigns created a western view of Islam nurtured by unfamiliarity, religious fanaticism, and Biblical exegesis. This brought an unwillingness to recognize Islamic accomplishments, then and now. At the same time, makes the observable achievements appealing and appalling to the European Christians. This complexity is seen in the various historical literature and how it is taught. A good example of this disparaging is at the beginning of Carra de Vaux’s chapter ‘Astronomy and Mathematics,’ in Legacy of Islam, but he changed the language to praise by the end. It reads,

The Arabs have achieved great things in science; they taught the use of ciphers (sc. Arabic numerals), although they did not invent them, and thus became the founders of the arithmetic of every day; they made algebra an exact science and developed it considerably and laid the foundations of analytical geometry; they were indisputably the founders of plane and spherical trigonometry which, properly speaking, did not exist among the Greeks. In astronomy, they made a number of valuable observations (Vaux, 376).

Let us return to Islam intellectual development to further understand this.

Al Ma’mum, the Abbassid Khalif, in the 9th century founded Bayt el Hikmah, “the House of Wisdom” (Lyons) it is where the Translation Movement from Greek, Indian, and Syriac began. This movement allowed the Arabic scholars to expand on or develop new areas of art, astronomy, commerce, literature, music, and philosophical ideas, to name few.

Art & Architecture

To talk about Islamic art, one should include architecture. Islamic architecture is art in of itself, from the arches to minarets to the painted colors. There was patronage that expanded from the courts to the mercantile elites in the arts. The representations of people, animals, and whole narratives were possible because of new techniques and supplies from the Orient. The expansion and refinement of the technique of silver inlaying allowed metals to be detailed and jeweled.

This affected Christian art during and after the Crusades, the arches seen in cathedrals are from the Arabic. The murals that are etched carved, inlaid and painted all came from techniques developed and enhanced from the Arab world.

Conventional academic wisdom attributes these changes in Islamic art to an expanded patronage made more sophisticated through international trade, through the industrialization of the manufacture of paper with all sorts of important ramifications for all the arts, and through new techniques, especially in ceramics and metalwork, developed first in northeastern Iran and around Baghdad (Graber).


Orient astronomers had been world leaders in astronomy for thousands of years before the Islamic conquests in the 600s AD. They concluded that the earth was round and orbited around the sun. Astronomers knew the size of the earth and that the moon circled it. They understood lunar and solar eclipses. The only thing that perplexed them was that if the earth circled the sun, they “should see parallax from the earth’s motion relative to the stars…. Therefore, either the earth really didn’t go around the sun, or the stars were so far away that the parallax was too small to see” (Carra).

Around 500 AD, Arya Bhatia, an Indian astronomer claimed that the earth rotated on its axis to make day and night. About 900 AD, Al-Razi, an Arabic scientist, continued Arya Bhatia’s work to show that the sun was bigger than the earth and the moon was smaller than the earth. Just before 1100 AD, Al-Ghazali could demonstrate what caused lunar and solar eclipses again (Carra). In 1260 AD, another Islamic astronomer, Al-Tusi, figured out that the Milky Way has hundreds of stars, but thought they must be minuscule (Carra).

With these ideas, the Crusades took back to Europe where Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Galileo Galilei expanded on the Arabic astronomy. Because of this, we knew that the earth does rotate on an axis, that the sun is larger than the Earth, and the Milky Way is made of billions of stars and is 100,000 light years away.

Commerce and Seafaring

The central location of Arabic lands to the trading routes played a vital role in commerce. They had the Grecians to the north, the Orient/India to the east, and Eygpt to the southwest. This position allowed trade of mercantile and intellectual properties to be gained, traded, or sold or bought. This allowed Al Ma’mum, the Abbassid Khalif, to build the Bayt el Hikmah. The trade also allowed the Arabic people to learn, enhance, and develop on the Greek philosophy to Egyptians seafaring.

The effects on the development of European commerce and economy can be seen to this day, through the banking and credit systems used. Eagerness for travel and exploration brought a development of elaborate, well-defined maps and books as guides for Asia. Christian practitioners studied how to cure or treat a disease and how to perform surgical operations from Muslim and Jewish physicians. Chronologists discovered a new understanding of the extent and diversity of Asia, and they communicated the same to the others. Trade led to a development of cities and urbanization, the growth of the middle class, travels and exchange of ideas and cash.

During the Crusades, Muslims had a close, though an opposed relationship with the various European governments. Unlike Christians, Muslims have not considered Crusades as a unique and separate event and found no difference between Crusades on the one hand and their occasional struggles against other disbelieving enemies. During Crusades, European kings managed to continue their dominance in peace and contact their countries toward development and progress. Also, because of newly-emerged relations with the Islamic world, they began to translate Muslims scientific books and established the movement of translations in Europe. Though Crusades lasted entirely for 200 years, more than three-quarters of this period passed in peace. In these long peaceful intervals, Europeans had enough time to become familiar with the Islamic civilization and enjoy its economic briskness (Nicolle).


The intellectual accomplishments of European scholars during the twelfth and thirteenth century, comprised of duplicating Islamic education. As seen above, how Islamic scholars the Grecian, Orient, and Egyptian trade by taking text and translating it to adapting or developing new philosophies and technology. Then taken by the Knights of the Crusades, who too took these and developed new technology and ideas. This concept of taking and building upon continues to this day – from wars to religious schisms.

Very nice.  It’s really a wonderful topic.  I imagine that you feel like you have just hit the tip of the iceberg with this.  It got me thinking differently about the Crusades.  Dr. Kelley

Works Cited

de Vaux, Carra. “Astronomy and Mathematics.” Legacy of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1945. Print.

Graber, Oleg. “The Crusades and the Development of Islamic Art.” The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2001. Print.

Carr, K. E. Islamic Astronomy. Quatr, Accessed November 2016.

“Islamization.” Dictionary, 2016. Web. 8 Oct. 2016.

Lyons, Johnathan. The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009.

Nicolle, David. “The impact of the Crusades on the Mediterranean and beyond.” Essential Histories: The Crusades. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2001. Print.

Schalager, Neil. “Alexius I Comnenus.” The Crusades: Biography. Detroit: UXL, 2003. PDF.

1) I used the Legacy of Islam as my base of information. Other information is indicated by in-text citations.

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