The Crusades: An Arab Perspective

A dramatic 4-part documentary series on the Crusades seen through Arab eyes

The Crusades: An Arab Perspective is a four-part documentary series telling the dramatic story of the Crusades seen through Arab eyes, from the seizing of Jerusalem under Pope Urban II in 1099, to its recapture by Salah ad-Din (also known as Saladin), Richard the Lionheart’s efforts to regain the city, and the end of the holy wars in 1291.

Episode 1 | Shock: The First Crusade and the Conquest of Jerusalem

Episode 1 | Shock: The First Crusade and the Conquest of Jerusalem

This first episode delves into the background to the holy wars and the First Crusade’s conquest of Jerusalem, a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The Crusades are the epitome of “holy war”. Yet the roots of this 200-year conflict lay not just in religion, but also in the economic condition of medieval Europe.

Around the time of the Crusades, Europe experienced several droughts which made people lose faith in everything.
– Antoine Domit, history professor at the Lebanese University

A struggle between church and state was taking place in Europe: Who would rule over the people of Europe, the pope or the king?

After centuries of European domination, largely through the armies of imperial Rome, the Mediterranean basin had fallen firmly under Muslim control. So the Muslims surrounded Europe, from Spain in the west to the eastern Mediterranean in the east.

For Europeans, the east is ‘A Thousand and One Nights’. It represents wealth, beautiful clothing, young concubines, thriving public life, songs and culture.
– Elias al-Kattar, history professor at the Lebanese University

While the Muslim east lived in prosperity, Europe had slipped into relative poverty and conflict.

Medieval western society was a feudal society, which meant that you had the aristocracy in charge of a large amount of people that had no land possessions.
– Jan Vandeburie, of the School of History, University of Kent

Ishaaq Abaid, history professor at Ain Shams University, explains that “only one percent of people who had the titles of ‘count’, ‘duke’ or ‘baron’, owned all the agricultural lands. Ninety-nine percent of the European population were called serfs and worked on these lands.”

Most Europeans in the 11th century lived in poverty and were struggling to survive, while war and conflict among knights were part of everyday life.

Episode 2 | Revival: The Muslim Response to the Crusades

Episode 2 | Revival: The Muslim Response to the Crusades

The second episode of ‘The Crusades: An Arab Perspective’ explores the birth of the Muslim revival in the face of the Crusades.

By the early 12th century, the crusades had successfully captured not only the holy city of Jerusalem but huge swaths of the Muslim Levant. Islam’s third holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque, was in the hands of the crusaders.

The Muslim world, a mighty power for the previous four centuries, was shocked by the Christian annexation of large parts of their empire.

With Jerusalem under their control, the crusaders began to build a new system of rule in the lands they had captured.

They expelled many of its original inhabitants, including Muslims, Jews, and eastern Christians, and began to fill Jerusalem with settlers arriving from Western Europe.

Those people were slaves and vassals and had no rights at all in Europe. When they came to us, their whole life changed when they became landowners. Their social status changed and so did the demographic and social class structure.
– Afaf Sabra, professor of history, Al-Azhar University

Furthermore, the commanders of the First Crusade, lesser knights from Europe, began to style themselves monarchs in the lands they conquered.

In July 1100, Baldwin of Boulogne, one of the leaders of the First Crusade, was crowned Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem.

With the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the county of Edessa and the Principality of Antioch, expansion into the Arab lands became easier. The new colonial leaders began expanding their realm very easily.
– Qassem Abdu Qassem, head of the history department, Zaqaziq University

Episode 3 | Unification: Saladin and the Fall of Jerusalem

Episode 3 | Unification: Saladin and the Fall of Jerusalem

In this third episode we’ll explore how Salah Ed-Din unified the Muslim states and recaptured the holy city of Jerusalem from the crusaders.

By 1164, almost seven decades had passed since the first crusaders arrived in the east. Their initial success had been crowned with the fall of the holy city of Jerusalem.

But within half a century, the Zengids, a Turkic dynasty ruling the northern Levant, took command of the Muslim revival and managed to recapture Edessa, the first crusader state founded in the east.

After this first big defeat for the crusaders, two powers set out to conquer Egypt in 1164. The troops of both, Nour Ed-Din Zengi and Amalric I, the crusader king of Jerusalem, fought for control of the Nile valley.

After years of struggle, Nour Ed-Din’s Kurdish general, Shirkuh, managed to expel the crusaders from Egypt.

With Nour Ed-Din now in control of Egypt, the dream of reconquering Jerusalem seemed very close. But the mission of liberating the holy city was soon passed on to his Kurdish deputy in Egypt, Salah Ed-Din, the Ayyubid, known in the west as Saladin, who had succeeded his uncle, Shirkuh, as vizier.

Salah Ed-Din declared Egypt’s loyalty to the Sunni Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, making it an integral part of the Zengid state. Now Egypt was large and strong enough to carry out Nour Ed-Din’s grand plan to expel the crusaders.

In 1174, both Nour Ed-Din and the king of Jerusalem died. When a succession issue arose after Nour Ed-Din’s passing, Salah Ed-Din set out from Egypt, heading for the Levant to eventually bring the Zengids under his command by force.

There was no doubt that Salah Ed-Din was the legitimate heir of Nour Ed-Din’s mission. He came to Damascus specifically, even though he didn’t need to. He made it his capital because he wanted to realise Nour Ed-Din’s liberation plan.
– Ibrahim Baidoun, Islamic history professor at the Lebanese University

Meanwhile, with King Baldwin IV, a leprous boy on the throne of Jerusalem, a struggle broke out among the nobility over who should be the regent. Raymond III, the count of Tripoli, took the prize and quickly signed a truce with Salah Ed-Din.

Salah Ed-Din realised the time was not yet right to fight the crusaders, so he entered into a truce with Raymond, the count of Tripoli, for 10 years, 10 months and 10 days, as it was the custom back then. He started putting his internal house in order, in view of the tense political situation at the time. It required Salah Ed-Din to go into battle against small warring princes for 33 months.
– Qassem Abdu Qassem, head of the history department, Zaqaziq University

For another eight years, Salah Ed-Din continued his efforts to reunite the territories of the Levant and Mesopotamia under his command. And when Aleppo finally surrendered, Salah Ed-Din became the mightiest ruler of the Muslim world – the Sultan of the Ayyubid state, a dynasty that ruled for another seven decades.

As the Muslim front was uniting, the King of Jerusalem faced problems controlling his vassals, who were endangering the truce with Salah Ed-Din.

Raynald of Chatilllon, who controlled Kerak Castle, allied with the Knights Templar, the most powerful and extreme of the crusader military orders. Their goal was to lay waste Islam’s most sacred sites – the Kaaba and the Prophet’s tomb in Hijaz.

Salah Ed-Din was able to thwart this attempt and it was regarded as a major religious achievement for the Muslims. Someone had attacked the holy Muslim lands, and they were protected by Salah Ed-Din who was gaining in fame and glory.
– Mahmoud Imran, professor of European medieval history

When King Baldwin IV died, the throne was passed to his sister. She married Guy of Lusignan who became King of Jerusalem in 1186.

The new king could not control his vassal nobles, who finally succeeded in destroying the kingdom’s truce with Salah Ed-Din by brutally attacking and looting a commercial caravan.

Salah Ed-Din felt he had gathered enough troops, and that the time and military conditions were right, and the opposite was the case on the crusaders’ side. He thought it was the right time to start a war.
– Mahmoud Imran, professor of European medieval history

Episode 4 | Liberation: Acre and the End of the Crusades

Episode 4 | Liberation: Acre and the End of the Crusades

From the Third Crusade to the siege of Acre: How the crusader presence in the Holy Land was brought to an end.

In 1193, Salah Ed-Din Al-Ayoubi, known in the west as Saladin, fell ill and died, leaving the Ayyubid dynasty in disarray. Six years earlier, he had defeated the Christian forces in the Battle of Hattin and opened the way to the liberation of Jerusalem.

The successors of Salah Ed-Din ruled over Egypt, the Levant and Iraq. But they failed miserably, unlike the founder of their family. Salah Ed-Din had gained his legitimacy, and that of his state, by embracing the project of defending the Islamic nation and its sanctities against crusaders. His successors relied on a policy of reaction. They never took positive action, relying instead on peace initiatives
– Qassem Abdu Qassem, head of history at Zaqaziq University

The First Crusade, a century earlier, had succeeded in establishing four Christian enclaves in the Levant and, above all, in the capture of Jerusalem. The Second and Third Crusades, each led by powerful and famous European monarchs, had ended in abject failure.

By the end of the 12th century, after 100 years of Muslim fightback, the territory under crusader control was reduced to a tiny coastal strip in the Levant. The crusaders were forced to adapt and revise their targets.

Pope Innocent III called for a crusade to atone for the failure of the Third Crusade, but the campaign could not secure a means of transport
– Qassem Abdu Qassem, head of history at Zaqaziq University

The main army hired the Venetians in 1202 to ship them to the east. They couldn’t afford to pay the Venetians the fee that they had agreed
– Christopher Tyerman, professor of the history of the crusades, of Hertford College, Oxford

So instead of heading towards Palestine and Egypt, the crusaders landed in Constantinople in 1204 – and sacked it.

In 1218, the crusaders finally found their way to the Nile Delta. The armies of the Fifth Crusade landed in Egypt and captured the port of Damietta. For three years, the crusaders made no move to advance southwards towards Cairo. But when they finally did, their move would prove disastrous.

This went down in history as a failed crusade due to the flooding of the Nile and the fact that the crusaders had no clue what happens to Egypt during the flood season, how hard it would be for the horses to move on such wet land. All these reasons caused the crusade to fail and achieve absolutely nothing
– Afaf Sabra, professor of history, Al-Azhar University

Meanwhile, the three Ayyubid brothers were engaged in deep infighting. And one of them, Al-Kamel, the ruler of Egypt, took an infamous decision. He decided to seek an alliance with the Holy Roman emperor, Fredrick II. Fredrick helped Al-Kamel and, in return, was given the keys to Jerusalem in 1229. This came to be known as the Sixth Crusade.

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The Crusades: An Arab Perspective
  • Info
  • Release date2016
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Unknown
  • Production companyNew Media