In August 1099, Abu -Sa’ad al-Harawi, a judge from Damascus, burst into the presence of the caliph in Baghdad, and berated him and his dignitaries for living in luxury while their fellow Muslims in Syria and Palestine were dying at the hands of Frankish invaders. With this episode, Amin Maalouf begins his exhilarating narrative history of two centuries of wars that, nearly a millennium later, continue to shape relations between the Arab world and the West.
The first major victory of the Frankish Crusaders, or Franj as they were known, was the sack of Jerusalem in 1099. After two days of bloodshed, not a single Muslim was left alive within the city walls; even the Oriental Christians were tortured to make them reveal the whereabouts of the True Cross. Yet it would take another 50 years for the Arab East to mobilise itself against the invader. The Muslim world was ruled by a loose coalition of princes and caliphs whose interests were often contradictory, with some even siding with the invaders. Maalouf describes the dreadful fall of city after city – Antioch, which was betrayed by one of its inhabitants; the siege of Tripoli, and the destruction of its priceless library; and the atrocities committed by the Franj at Ma‘arra in Turkey. He gives brilliant portraits of the Arab rulers, from Nur al-Din, the Saint- King, who began the first united defence of Muslim nations, to Saladin, the reluctant leader who first defeated the Crusaders.
Amin Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist, award winning novelist (The Rock of Tanios received the Prix Goncourt) and member of the Académie française. In a new introduction Malise Ruthven, a journalist and expert on Islamicism, reveals how the Crusades continue to affect relations between the West and the Arab world centuries later. He also praises the way Maalouf ‘uses his sources deftly, teasing out details, whether blood-curdling or morally inspiring, that bring this complex and often confusing story alive’. An invaluable chronology provides a list of key events at a glance, from the emigration of the Prophet Muhammadin 622 CE to the capture of Acre in 1291, ending 200 years of Frankish presence in the Orient.