Desktop version

Home arrow Geography

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>


The mental barriers held in esteem by scholars who espoused the traditional approach to Arabic-Islamic records on medieval Western Europe did of course exist. In this context, Islam certainly played a role, but not necessarily in the extreme way advocated by the proponents of the traditional explanatory model.

Regardless of their regional origin, medieval Muslims certainly looked to the Middle East for cultural orientation. Bernard Lewis already made this point when he compared the Latin-Christian focus on Jerusalem—a city outside the latter’s sphere of political influence more often than not, with the Muslims’ focus on Mecca—a city that has not ceased to be under Muslim control since the rise of Islam.[1] Because Islam had its origins in the Middle East, the Middle Eastern heartlands of Islam remained an important reference point and travel destination for western Muslims, and could orient their line of sight away from their immediate Christian neighbours. Although it is necessary to differentiate between individual authors, regions, and contexts of writing, there can be no doubt that this Middle Eastern orientation constitutes a fundamental link between all scholars defined as Arabic-Islamic in the course of this study. It influenced their geographic outlook and a large proportion of the religious, historical, sociopolitical, and linguistic heritage preserved, reproduced, and cultivated by these authors.

Consequently, the Latin-Christian world often epitomized religious and cultural alterity. Arabic-Islamic theological literature polemicizes against the Christian understanding of the divine. Juridical literature regularly defines the Latin-Christian sphere as an ‘abode of war’ (dar al-harb) or ‘abode of unbelief’ (dar al-kufr).[2] [3] Historiographical works that describe military confrontations with a Latin-Christian adversary heap curses on the ‘enemies of God’ (ada’ Allah)? Geographers and ethnographers reproduce ancient theories of climate to explain the ‘retarded’ development of northern peoples[4] [5] and assert that the latter lacked the divine guidance enjoyed by Muslims. 5 The descriptions of distant regions and their export products are often tinged with exoticism.[6] Personal statements by individual authors occasionally reveal a lack of understanding, e.g. concerning regular Latin- Christian pogroms against Jews,[7] the reconcilability of Christian principles of non-violence and violent action,[8] or certain medicinal and juridical practices.[9] Arabic-Islamic scholars also highlighted the Latin-Christian sphere’s alterity by pointing to social practices or modes of organization that did not exist in the contemporary Islamic world, e.g. papal excommunication and compulsory monogamy,[10] certain offices and methods of electing authorities,[11] [12] [13] [14] or the system of communal rule.12 Geo- and ethnographic works in particular clearly distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims for the sole reason that they are organized according to ethnonyms or toponyms. This system of classification automatically created an ‘Other’, but used a terminology that was neither religious nor polemic, but ethnic.

Considering the large number of differences, normative irreconcilabilities, and actual clashes between both spheres, polemics are not as frequent as one might have expected. They can be set against a much larger number of passages that describe this ‘Latin-Christian Other’ in an essentially neutral or, in some instances, friendly terminology. 13 The occasional Arabic-Islamic author even displays an understanding of the reasons why Latin Christians retaliated against Muslim aggression in a specific contextTh Most polemics were directed against Christians regarded as aggressors, not against Christians as such, especially not against loyal and tax-paying Christian subjects under Muslim rule. Thus, hate and resulting polemics directed against the Christian Other are not basic features of Arabic- Islamic scholarly writing on the Latin West, but a phenomenon characteristic of passages that deal with normative or physical antagonism.

Occasionally, Arabic-Islamic scholars also detected similar or parallel phenomena. They had no qualms to use Islamic terminology to define the pope as the

Christian ‘caliph’ or ‘imam’/5 They acknowledged that the office of the admiral existed in both cultural spheres.16 Religious practices such as fasting were understood as part of the religious orbit of Muslims and Christians.17 They conceded that most peoples were governed by authoritarian decrees and divine lawsd8 They even pointed to shared values such as fighting for the honour of one’s religion/9 the ideal of non-violence and forgiveness/0 as well as a common interest in scientific investigation and philosophical thought/1

Betimes, they even gave expression to admiration and respect. They appreciated the architecture and infrastructure of the illustrious city of Rome,22 praised the grandeur of Roman architecture in al-Andalus/3 and asserted that the ancient Roman Empire constituted one of the most important polities in world history/4 They lauded Orosius for his reliability/5 paid their respects to the eminent scholar Isidore of Seville,26 cited ‘experts of the Latin language’,27 and credited certain Visigothic rulers with good moral conduct, piety, and wisdom/8 They believed that the early medieval Frankish realm was well organized and free of internal strife29 and commented favourably on Italian maritime cities interested in friendly commercial relations.зо They acknowledged the crusaders’ fighting capacities as well as the sophistication of their siege machinery/1 They were aware of the inner- Christian power and prestige of certain rulers and peoples and even bestowed honorary titles upon the latter, naming the Germans ‘Tatars of the Franks’ and the Catalans ‘Arabs of the Franks’/2

Thus, mental barriers did exist and found expression repeatedly in Arabic- Islamic scholarship. Notwithstanding, Latin-Christian societies and their members were not only subject to ‘othering’ in religious terms, but were often simply [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32]

regarded as alternative manifestations of human life and its social and political organization.

  • [1] Lewis, Discovery (1982/2001), pp. 8—9.
  • [2] E.g. Ibn Hazm, al-muhalla, vol. 9, ed. al-Dimashqi, mas ala 1636, p. 157; vol. 11, mas ala 2198,p. 199.
  • [3] E.g. Ibn Hayyan, al-muqtabis II-1, ed. Makkl, trans. Corriente and Makkl, fol. 102a, AH 197,p. 136 (AR), pp. 51—2 (ES).
  • [4] al-Mas'udi, al-tanbih, ed. de Goeje, pp. 23—4; Said al-Andalusi, tabaqat al-umam, ed. Shaykhu, pp. 8-9.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 9. 3 Cf. Ibn Sa'id, al-jughrafiya, ed. al-'Arabi, p. 200, on polar bears.
  • [6] 7 al-Qarafi, al-ajwiba al-fakhira, ed. al-Shahawi, p. 25; cf. Fritsch, Islam (1930), p. 149.
  • [7] 8 al-Qarafi, al-ajwiba al-fakhira, ed. al-Shahawi, pp. 148-9; cf. Kedar, Crusade (1998), pp. 97-8.
  • [8] 9 Usama b. Munqidh, al-itibar, ed. Hitti, pp. 132-4 (Frankish medicine), pp. 138-9 (juridicalpractice); al-Qazwini, athar, ed. Wustenfeld, p. 410 (juridical practice), trans. Jacob, Berichte (1927),
  • [9] pp. 21-2.
  • [10] al-Bakri, al-masalik, ed. van Leeuwen and Ferre, § 1527, p. 911.
  • [11] Ibn Sa'id, al-jughrafiya, ed. al-'Arabi, p. 193; Ibn Wasil, mufarrij, ed. Rabi' and 'AshUr, vol. 4,AH 626, pp. 250-1; Ibn KhaldUn, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 1, p. 292.
  • [12] al-'Umari, Condizioni, ed./trans. Amari, pp. 8-9.
  • [13] Already noted by Munzel, Feinde (1994), p. 269.
  • [14] Ibn KhaldUn, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 6, pp. 578-9, asserts that the crusade againstal-Mahdiyya in 792/1390 had been provoked by constant raids against the Christian coasts executedby the people of Bejaia.
  • [15] E.g. Abu Hamid, tuhfa, ed. Ferrand, p. 194; Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir, tashrif al-ayyam, ed. Amari(BAS), p. 341 (AR); Ibn Wasil, mufarrij, ed. Rabi' and 'Ashur, vol. 4, AH 626, p. 248; Abu l-Fida’,taqwim, ed. Reinaud and de Slane, p. 209; al-Qalqashandi, subh alasha, ed. Ibrahim, vol. 8, p. 42.
  • [16] Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 1, p. 312.
  • [17] al-Bakri, al-masalik, ed. van Leeuwen and Ferre, § 808, p. 480.
  • [18] Sa id al-Andalusi, tabaqatal-umam, ed. Shaykhu, p. 9: ‘siyasa mulukiyya tadbutuhum wa-namusilahi yamlikuhum’.
  • [19] Saladin, as quoted by Abu Shama, al-rawdatayn, ed./trans. de Meynard (RHC hist. or. 4),pp. 429-30.
  • [20] al-Qarafi, al-ajwiba al-fakhira, ed. al-Shahawi, pp. 148-9; al-Ghazali, ihya, ed. Tabbana, vol. 4,p. 70.
  • [21] Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 1, pp. 629, 633.
  • [22] See the sources compiled by Simone and Mandala, L’immagine (2002).
  • [23] See the beginning of Chapter 2.2.1. for references.
  • [24] Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 2, pp. 232-3, 235.
  • [25] Ibid., vol. 2, p. 234.
  • [26] 26 Ibn Juljul, tabaqat al-atibba ed. Sayyid, p. 41; al-'Udhri, tarsi al-akhbar, ed. al-Ahwani, p. 98.
  • [27] al-Bakri, al-masalik, ed. van Leeuwen and Ferre, § 1513, p. 902.
  • [28] al-'Udhri, tarsi al-akhbar, ed. al-Ahwani, p. 98; Ibn Hayyan, al-muqtabis V, ed. Chalmeta andCorriente, p. 275; Ibn al-Athir, al-kamil, ed. Tornberg, vol. 4, AH 92, p. 443 (Leiden), p. 560 (Beirut).
  • [29] al-Mas'udi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 910, p. 145 (AR), p. 343 (FR).
  • [30] Ibn Hawqal, rnrat al-ard, ed. Kramers, pp. 202-3.
  • [31] Usama b. Munqidh, al-itibar, ed. Hitti, p. 132; Ibn Shaddad, al-nawadir, ed. al-Shayyal,pp. 211, 213-14.
  • [32] al-'Umari, Condizioni, ed./trans. Amari, pp. 3, 9.
<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics