Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
THE RISE OF AN INSTITUTION
Arabic-Islamic sources written between the ninth and the fifteenth century approximately cover the history of the papacy from the early beginnings of the Roman patriarchate to the council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-44). However, none of the above-mentioned scholars gives a coherent overview on the history of the papacy. The individual records on the papacy are fragmentary as is the case with most medieval records on phenomena that are separated from the respective observer by a distance defined in terms of time, space, language, religion, and, in the widest sense, of cultural heritage. If one compares Latin-Christian records on the caliphate, from the earliest references of the eighth century to its description by Guillelmus Adae in the fourteenth century, it is possible to reconstruct an equally rich and multifaceted picture, which, however, is also made up of various fragments of much more limited content.227 A reader of medieval Arabic-Islamic works of scholarship is confronted neither with a lack of information nor with a lack of curiosity for the papal office—on the contrary. The later works of Ibn Khaldun, al-Qalqashandi, and al-Maqrizi in particular, prove that data about the papacy was accumulated over the centuries, enabling later generations to provide a fuller definition and a brief, albeit incomplete outline of its history.
Direct encounters between the seventh and the late ninth century were practically left undocumented, for two main reasons. On the one hand, Arabic-Islamic genres of literature dealing with the non-Islamic world had not been sufficiently developed yet. On the other hand, existing relations with the papacy mainly    
involved Muslim raiders not necessarily apt at producing historiographical records. The earliest records date from the ninth century, draw on data provided by eastern Christians, and focus on the late antique patriarch of Rome. From around the same time onwards, various informants situated in the border zones connecting the Latin-Christian with the Arabic-Islamic orbit—i.e. Byzantium, al-Andalus, Sicily, and Hungary, began transmitting information about the contemporary papacy that was more up to date, including fresh definitions and observations concerning the pope, his Roman environment, and his function within Latin Christendom. Latin-Christian expansionism of the eleventh to fifteenth centuries finally established the papacy as one of the leading representatives of the northern Christian world. Consequently, it was now repeatedly treated in Arabic-Islamic historiography and other genres, especially in the late Ayyubid and Mamluk Middle East, less in the Muslim West.228
Arabic-Islamic records on the papacy cannot generally be classified as polemic. The pope does not constitute a regular target of Muslim theologians and polemicists who ignore him more often than not. Muslim specialists on religious history, such as Ibn Hazm (d. 456/1064) and al-Shahrastani (d. 548/1153), do not even mention the bishop of Rome although they deal with the history of the early church in detail.229 Anti-Christian polemicists and apologists such as Abu 'Isa al-Warraq (9 th cent.) and the anonymous al-Imam al-Qurtubi (13th cent.) equally ignore him.230 Only the Hanbali theologian and jurisconsult Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) categorizes the pope among those ‘going astray’ (al-dalal) who are capable of diabolical miracles (khawariq shaytaniyya)?-31 In another context, he mentions the pope among those who base their authority on direct contact with God, and explains that nobody has the right to consider himself the mouthpiece of God. Whoever claimed such a thing, was a liar,232 the pope a hypocrite (al-munafiq) among others.233 Historiographers, in turn, mainly used polemical vocabulary when they were dealing with events of the crusading period. Abu Shama (d. 665/1268) and al-Dhahabi (d. 748/1348 or 753/1352) cite a letter written by Saladin in 586/1190-91 who, commenting on the pope’s ability to mobilize Christians against Muslims, calls him ‘the damned one’ (al-maliin/ al-lacin).234 Al-Dhahabi and al-'Umari use Arabic terms related to the concept of tyranny, which also has a religious connotation, in the sense that it is opposed to ‘islam’, i.e. submission to God. The former defines the pope as ‘the tyrant (taghiya) known as the pope, may God damn him’, while the latter defines him as the ‘great tyrant’ (taghut), who resides in Rome, a high-density area of ‘venerators of the  
cross’ (ibadal-salib).23^ One should consider, however, that descriptive passages of neutral and explanatory character are much more frequent. All polemical statements date from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, i.e. from a period when the pope was a driving force behind the crusading movement. This leads us to an analysis of the effects of Latin-Christian expansionism on the production of Arabic-Islamic records on medieval Western Europe.
235 al-'Umari, masalik al-absar, ed./trans. Schiaparelli, pp. 306—7 (AR), p. 312 (IT).
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