ISLAM AND EUROPEAN PIRACY


The European Crusades, begun in 1095 and ending in 1272, brought in violent contact Western Europe and the Near Middle East. In the mid-twelfth century a Muslim noble, Usmah Ibn Munqidh, wrote down some of his observation.


I entered the service of the just King Nur ad Din - God have mercy on him! - and he wrote to al-Malik as-Salih asking him to send my household and my sons out to me; they were in Egypt, under his patronage. Al-Malik as Salih wrote back that he was unable to comply because he feared that they might fall into Frankish hands. He invited me instead to return to Egypt myself: 'You know,' he wrote, 'how strong the friendship is between us. If you have reason to mistrust the Palace, you could go to Mecca, and I would send you the appointment to the governorship of Aswan and the means to combat the Abyssinians. Aswan is on the frontier of the Islamic empire. I would send your household and your sons to you there.' I spoke to Nur ad-Din about this, and asked his advice, which was that he would certainly not choose to return to Egypt once he had extricated himself. 'Life is too short!' he said. 'It would be better if I sent to the Frankish King for a safe-conduct for your family, and gave them an escort to bring them here safely.' This he did - God have mercy on him! - and the Frankish King gave him his cross, which ensures the bearer's safety by land and sea. I sent it by a young save of mine, together with letters to al-Malik as-Salih from Nur ad-Din and myself. My family were dispatched for Damietta on a ship of the vizier's private fleet, under his protection and provided with everything they might need.
At Damietta they transferred to a Frankish ship and set sail, but when they neared Acre, where the Frankish King was - God punish him for his sins - he sent out a boatload of men to break up the ship with hatchets before the eyes of my family, while he rode down to the beach and claimed everything that came ashore as booty. My young slave swam ashore with the safe-conduct, and said: 'My Lord King, is not this your safe-conduct?' 'Indeed it is,' he replied, 'But surely it is a Muslim custom that when a ship is wrecked close to land the local people pillage it?' 'So you are going to make us your captives?' 'Certainly not.' He had my family escorted to a house, and the women searched. Everything they had was taken; the ship had been loaded with women's trinkets, clothes, jewels, swords and other arms, and gold and silver to the value of 30,000 dinar. The King took it all, and then handed five hundred dinar back to them and said: 'Make your arrangements to continue your journey with this money.' And there were fifty of them altogether!
At the time I was with Nur ad-Din in the realm of King Mas'ud, at Ru'ban and Kaisun; compared with the safety of my sons, mu brother and our women,, the loss of the rest meant little to me, except for my books. There had been 4,000 fine volumes on board, and their destruction has been a cruel loss to me for the rest of my life.



Source: Franceso Gabriell, Arab Historians of the Crusades (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1964).

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