Christianity and Islam are among the world’s most dominant religions today. Though constant battles emerge between both religions’ adherents throughout various regions of the world, both religions ironically share a number of historical and theoretical similarities. One major similarity is that both religions are Abrahamic, which means that they trace their origins to Abraham, who is first presented in the Judaic Torah, then the Christian Bible, and lastly the Islamic Quran. Another major similarity is that both religions originated in the Middle East, each with a distinctive prophet: for Christianity, the prophet was Jesus; for Islam, the prophet was Muhammad. A third major similarity is that both religions exerted a powerful influence on culture and politics, as many people found their respective prophets’ teachings appealing and converted accordingly. Due to the religions’ strong similarities and subsequent influences, both Christianity and Islam strongly affected the causes and effects of the Crusades, otherwise known as the “Holy Wars.”
Christianity emerged over 2,000 years ago during the Roman Empire. Jesus of Nazareth, who Christians consider God in the flesh, spearheaded the Christianity movement. During his lifetime, he frequently gave sermons and helped others, spending time with some of the lowliest members of society. Though Roman authorities eventually crucified him, he arose from the grave three days later, according to Christian tradition. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and the savior predicted in the Jewish Torah. Christianity appealed to numerous people because of its accessibility to everyone; the religion eventually rose to dominate the Roman Empire in the centuries following Jesus’ crucifixion: “Christianity’s rise to dominance in the Roman Empire during the first four centuries C.E. is the pivotal development in Western History and profoundly influenced the later direction of world history” (Novak, 2001). The “later direction” of world history would include the Crusades, which began a few centuries after the founding of Islam.
Islam’s origins can be traced to the prophet Muhammad, a “towering figure of culture and politics, a man who achieved the extraordinary: uniting disparate Arab tribes into a more cohesive whole” (Margoliouth, 2006). Several events in Muhammad’s life were critical to the foundation of Islam. One of the first major events that influenced Muhammad occurred in 610 A.D., wherein Allah revealed himself to Muhammad in a revelation. Mohammed began to publicly preach in 613 A.D.: “In about 613 Muhammad received the revelation that begins ‘Rise and warn.’ He began to preach publicly, a first step toward injecting religious ideas into the actualities of social and political life” (Lapidus, 2002). Similarly to Christianity, Islam appealed to those who had only a marginal place in society: “the first converts were rootless migrants, poor men, members of weak clans, and the younger sons of strong clans—those people most dissatisfied with the changing moral and social climate of Mecca” (Lapidus, 2002). However, the increased following also augmented the divide between new Muslims and established pagans, forcing Muhammad to flee from Mecca to Medina, a second major event that established the start of the lunar calendar, which Islam uses to this day: “Muhammad and his followers made the journey to Medina—the most dramatic event in Muslim history. The community of Islam originated at that moment; the Muslim calendar dates the year 622 as the year 1” (Lapidus, 2002). The third and final event in Muhammad’s life that solidified Islam’s foundation was Muhammad’s return to and “triumph over Mecca” in 630 (Lapidus, 2002). From this time onward, Islam, similarly to Christianity, continued to gain followers around the world.
By the time of the Crusades, or the “Holy Wars,” various sects of Christianity and Islam had become so influential that multiple governments waged literal war against many of these believers. These wars took place “not only in the Levant and throughout the eastern Mediterranean region, but also along the Baltic shoreline, in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Poland, Hungary and the Balkans, and even within Western Europe” (Simon & Riley-Smith, 2013). In other words, these wars occurred in the very lands where the religions had been founded, particularly the “eastern Mediterranean region.” The conflict between the Muslims and the Christians can be viewed as one of the principal causes of the Crusades: “The Crusades began as a result of a Muslim conquest of Christian territories” (Madden 2005). Specifically, “Muslim conquerors who swept through all of Christian North Africa also crossed the straits of Gibraltar and established their rule over Spain. By the eighth century, Muslim expeditionary forces were crossing the Pyrenees and marching into the heart of Catholic Europe” (Madden, 2005). These Crusades continued for centuries, and the most damaging effect of these Crusades was the concept of religious warfare, which still continues to dominate much of the world today.
Christianity and Islam both emerged within the past two millennia, and both religions have had a profound effect on the course of world history and politics. Ironically, both religions share a number of similarities, including common geographical origins, monotheistic beliefs, divine prophets, and devout followers. Despite these similarities, both religions were pitted against one another mere centuries after their inception, and the subsequent Crusades occurred for centuries. The division between Christianity and Islam remains one of the most significant causes and effects of the Crusades, and holy wars continue to rage today, on both national and international levels.
- Lapidus, I. (2002). A History of Islamic Societies. (2nd ed.) New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Madden, T. (2005). The New Concise History of the Crusades. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
- Margoliouth, D. (2006). Mohammed and the Rise of Islam. New York, New York: Cosimo, Inc.
- Novak, R. (2001). Christianity and the Roman Empire. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International.
- Simon, J. & Riley-Smith, C. (2013). The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. New York, New York: Columbia University Press.