How did medieval Muslims see medieval Europeans

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

They lack warm humor; their bodies are tall, their characters coarse, their manners harsh, their understanding dull, and their tongues heavy. Their color is so extremely white that they look blue. Their skin is thin and their flesh rough Her eyes, too, are blue and matching her skin color; her hair is smooth and reddish because of the damp mist. Their religious beliefs lack steadfastness, due to the nature of the cold and the lack of warmth. The further north they go, the they are more stupid, coarse and primitive. " This is how the Arab historian and geographer al-Masudi writes about the peoples of Europe. More precisely about the Slavs, Franks and their neighbors. Al-Masudi lived in Baghdad in the 10th century and his remarks reflect the geographical ideas of his time. The Arab geographers divided the inhabited world into seven zones. This division had nothing to do with geographical reality, but it corresponded to the maps that were in circulation among the Greeks and later in the Arab-Islamic Middle Ages. Intellectual achievement as a differentiator About a hundred years after al-Masudi had written his comprehensive work on the history and geography of the known world, the judge Said Ibn Ahmad from the Andalusian city of Toledo wrote a book on the categories of peoples. The decisive characteristic for him was the intellectual achievements. Said ibn Ahmad divided the peoples into two groups: those who study science and those who would not have. The first group included the Indians, Persians, Chaldeans, Greeks, Byzantines, Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs and the Jews. In addition, the Andalusian judge emphasized the achievements of the Chinese and the Turks. These peoples make up the bulk of the treatise. What is left of humanity, Said Ibn Ahamd classified as northern and southern barbarians. Of the barbarians of the north, he wrote: "The other peoples of this group who have not cultivated the sciences are more like animals than humans. For those of them who are furthest north, between the last of the seven climates and the limits of the inhabited World, the excessive distance from the sun in relation to the zenith line makes the air cold and the sky cloudy. Their character is therefore cool, their humor primitive, their bellies are fat, their color is pale, their hair is long and stringy they suffer from sharpness of reason and clarity of intelligence, and they are overwhelmed by ignorance and apathy, lack of judgment and stupidity. " The Andalusian judge had almost no information about Europe and its people. It was similar with al-Masudi. Medieval Islamic historiography and geography, although extensive, offered their readers only sparse and unreliable material about Europe. Intolerance of the European rulers From this, not only the geographical ideas of the time and the existing knowledge can be read. It also shows the image that the Muslims of the Middle Ages made of themselves and of others. The Islamic countries were the center of the world for them. The civilized world stopped for them north of Andalusia. There were lively trade contacts with non-Islamic countries across the borders of belief. Muslim, Christian and Jewish traders from the Orient traveled to Byzantium, Italy, China, Southeast Asia and Black Africa. It is noticeable that Western Europe is missing in travelogues from the Islamic Middle Ages and as a trading partner. There are mutliple reasons for this. The goods that Western Europe had to offer were not very attractive to the Orient. The only products that sometimes appear in Islamic sources are weapons and slaves. Every now and then English wool. Another reason that prevented Muslims from traveling to Western Europe was the intolerance of the rulers and the population. The word had got around how it had fared Jews in medieval Europe. And it was also known from recaptured areas, Andalusia for example, that Muslims had to choose between conversion, exile or death. Permanent Islamic communities could never have emerged in Christian Europe. "The beauty of men is in their beard" Nevertheless, some intrepid people from the Orient ventured into dark Europe. One of them was Harun Ibn Yahya. Little is known about his life. He was held as a prisoner of war by the Byzantines in Constantinople. After his release, he traveled to Rome, probably in 886. In this city, ruled by a king named Bab - Pope - he was most alienated by the Romans' habit of shaving their beards: "I asked them why they shaved their beards and said to them: The beauty of men What purpose are you doing when you do this to yourself? They replied, Whoever does not shave his beard is not a true Christian, for when Simon and the apostles came to us they had no shoes, no sticks, but they were poor and weak when we were kings then, clad in brocade and sitting in golden seats. They called us to the Christian religion, but we did not answer them. We seized them and tormented them and shaved their heads and beards. And then, When the truth of their words appeared to us, we began to shave our beards to make up for the sin of shaving their beards. " Threat from the west Baghdad, August 1099. The Grand Qadi Abu Saad al-Harawi stands in the divan of the Abbasid caliph al-Mustazhir Billah. The judge of Damascus loudly presented his complaint. A few weeks earlier, the holy city of Jerusalem had fallen into the hands of the Crusaders. They were generally referred to as Franks by the Muslims. The intruders wreaked havoc among the residents, plundered houses and devastated mosques. Thousands of refugees came to Damascus. Al-Harawi took them on and asked the caliph in Baghdad for help. The Caliph expressed his deepest sympathy, and it stayed that way. Few Arabs were aware of the scale of the threat from the West at the start of the First Crusade. The crusades lasted 200 years. Apart from the military confrontation, this period meant an unprecedented opportunity for direct encounter between the Western and Islamic worlds. Amputation as a treatment Until then, direct contacts were mostly through Spain and Sicily. Now the Franks penetrated into the center of the Islamic world. A witness of this time was the Syrian knight Usama Ibn Munqidh (1095-1188), a contemporary of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin). He took part in battles against the Crusaders, but also experienced longer phases of the truce. Usama used this to get to know the Franks better. In his autobiographical memories, the Syrian knight gathered a wealth of experiences and anecdotes. Usama Ibn Munqidh repeatedly emphasized the "raw" and "animal-like" behavior of Europeans, but above all their lack of culture. One example is Franconian medicine. Stunned, he reported how a doctor treated the abscess on the leg of a knight: He simply had the leg cut off with a blow of an ax. Another example is the way they deal with women: "The Franks know neither a sense of honor nor jealousy. So it happens that a Franconian walks with his wife on the street and meets another man who takes the woman aside and is with her entertains while her husband stands to one side and waits for the woman to end their conversation. If it takes too long for him, he leaves her alone with her interlocutor and goes his way. Mona Naggar © Qantara.de 2005Qantara.de Dossier: Travel through the centuries and continents A thirst for adventure, thirst for knowledge or the exotic - all of these can be reasons for a trip to distant lands. Women and men have always set out for the Orient or Europe. One feels confirmed in his prejudices, the other discovers his love for the unknown. Go on a journey with us.