Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923
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Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923

Luigi Berto

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Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923

Luigi Berto

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This book examines the status that rulers of one faith conferred onto their subjects belonging to a different one, how the rulers handled relationships with them, and the interactions between subjects of the Muslim and Christian religions.

The chronological arc of this volume spans from the first conquests by the Arabs in the Near East in the 630s to the exchange between Turkey and Greece, in 1923, of the Orthodox Christians and Muslims residing in their territories. Through organized topics, Berto analyzes both similarities and differences in Christian and Muslim lands and emphasizes how coexistences and conflicts took directions that were not always inevitable. Primary sources are used to examine the mentality of those who composed them and of their audiences. In doing so, the book considers the nuances and all the features of the multifaceted experiences of Christian subjects under Muslim rule and of Muslim subjects under Christian rule.

Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross is the ideal resource for upper-level undergraduates, postgraduates, and scholars interested in the relationships between Christians and Muslims, religious minorities, and the Near East and the Mediterranean from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century.

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World History

Prohibitions, laws, and justice

Treatment after the conquest

If the inhabitants of a city refused to surrender immediately but instead put up a fierce defense, then the Old Testament recommends killing all the men and selling the women and children into slavery. Both Muslims and Christians followed this line of conduct, and there was no shortage of episodes in which the civilian population was massacred after a city had been taken by storm. In the case of the faithful of Christ, such events occurred especially when the city or the territory was considered sacred. The most famous case occurred after the conquest of Jerusalem in July 1099. Even the Christian chroniclers provide accounts with extremely macabre details of the slaughters carried out on that occasion against the Muslims and the Jews of that city. The indiscriminate killing of Muslim civilians was hardly limited to the western Christians. According to the daughter of the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus, her compatriots showed great cruelty against the Turks, going so far as to throw newborn Turkish babies into pots of boiling water. Though they are not comparable to those accounts, descriptions of the executions of Christian prisoners carried out after the conquest of a city or in the wake of a victory on the field of battle are not completely unknown in Muslim writings. This happened, for instance, a number of times during the conquest of Sicily in the ninth century, whose inhabitants, unlike the peoples of the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula, had put up a very firm resistance against their attackers. Once Constantinople was taken in 1453, the Turkish Sultan Muhammad II gave free rein to his troops for the next several days.
If, instead, cities surrendered after putting up a fight for a certain period of time, the inhabitants were customarily asked to swear fealty, pay a tribute, and accept the presence of a garrison and a governor. If the conquered populace showed a ready willingness to collaborate and not many troops were available, the command was left to a local leader. The Normans of southern Italy adopted this strategy on many occasions over the course of their campaigns in Sicily and Tunisia. The Muslims did much the same at the beginning of their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. In exchange, they guaranteed the protection of persons and property, administrative and judicial autonomy, and freedom of worship and movement. In 1085, the king of Castile and LeĂłn showed himself to be generous toward the faithful of Allah in Toledo, bestowing upon them a large sum of money to be used to purchase foodstuffs and seeds and allowing them continue to use the main mosque of the city, which had previously been the cathedral of Toledo. In the centuries that followed, in many cases, Andalusian Muslims were required to reside outside the city walls for a year. In Seville, in 1248, the Moors had their lives spared, although they had put up a lengthy and stubborn defense before finally surrendering, but they were required to leave the city and choose some other place nearby to settle or to move to the Maghreb.
Given their symbolic importance, religious buildings were also subjected to treatment that depended on the nature of the conquest. The Muslims immediately transformed the most important churches of the cities that had refused to surrender into mosques. This fate befell the cathedral of Palermo, as well as Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, one of the most significant symbols of the grandeur of the Byzantine Empire. In order to legitimize the conversion of the church into a mosque, Ottoman authors later invented the story that Al-Khidr, the mysterious character who, in the Koran, imparts knowledge of God to Moses, had actually inspired the construction of the famous dome of Hagia Sophia. In the seventeenth century, the long war to capture Crete and the island’s capital so inflamed the Ottomans’ rage that they destroyed many of the religious buildings there and transformed the rest into either mosques or government edifices. Worried about the fact that many Christians had abandoned Crete, the governor of the island later ordered that they be allowed to have a church of lesser importance. Because the territories the faithful of Christ took from the Muslims had once belonged to them, that act symbolized the re-appropriation of the lost sacred space and the definitive victory over the infidels who had taken possession of Christian land. After the conquest of Palermo in 1071, the Normans immediately re-consecrated the main mosque of Palermo, while in Jerusalem, at the end of the eleventh century, they transformed all the Islamic buildings into churches, including those that had not been churches.
In places that had been occupied without much difficulty and that were characterized by a high number of inhabitants of the other faith, the speed with which the process of converting the most important buildings of worship belonging to the others unfolded was dependent on the dynamics playing out between the subjugated and their conquerors. Even though Thessaloniki had only been taken by the Ottomans after a lengthy and challenging siege in 1430, the transformation of the most important churches into mosques proceeded at a proportional rate to the slow increase of the Islamic population, and therefore it really began to take root only in the middle of the sixteenth century. Some fifty or so years after the occupation of Damascus, the Arabs demolished the church of St. John in order to enlarge the main mosque. In spite of the promise of the king of Castile and León made to the Muslim population of the city in 1085, when he left Toledo, the city’s zealous archbishop retransformed the most important Islamic religious building in Toledo back into a cathedral, with the queen’s approval. In contrast, the incredible beauty of the mosque of Cordoba preserved it from destruction when the Christians conquered that city.
Once they had consolidated their conquests, the Muslims followed the precept of the Koran, which called for attributing the status of dhimmis to their Christian and Jewish subjects, dhimmi means literally the ‘people of the pact,’ thus guaranteeing them freedom of worship and protection of their persons and their property. As a sign of their subjugation, male dhimmis aged approximately ten and up were required to pay a tax known as the jizyah, the amount of which varied depending on the income (three categories were created); usually ecclesiastics were exempted from it. In their turn, the Christian rulers imposed a similar tax on their Muslim subjects, and although they did consider them to be second-class citizens, they nevertheless deemed them to be legitimate subjects. On various occasions, they declared that even though those subjects did not follow a good religion, it was still wrong to rob Muslims or deprive them of their property by force. Anyone who dared to do such a thing was required to pay twice the value of what they had stolen. Believers in Islam were considered property of the sovereign and classed as servi regis, an ambiguous definition that placed them in a condition between servitude and slavery. They were therefore under the special protection of the king, and there were clearly established penalties for those who attacked them. What is more, they were not subject to the justice of the lords of the lands in which they lived, and they could not therefore be arrested, tortured, and sentenced to death without the sovereign’s consent.


With the increase in the number of Muslims in conquered territories between the eighth and the ninth centuries, there progressively began to emerge a determination to impose upon the dhimmis an ever lengthening list of limitations and prohibitions, which, along with the requirement that they pay the jizyah, clearly underscored the inferiority of Christian subjects and the desire to keep the members of the two communities separated, both physically and culturally. The insistence on the particular detail that the dhimmis must always be easily identified, especially in public places, can be explained by the fear that they might contaminate Muslim spaces and rituals. For that same reason, the sale and consumption of pork and alcoholic beverages, prohibited by the Koran, were also forbidden, as was the public display of anything that referred to the Christian religion (for instance, praying, ringing bells, and displaying crosses). Linked to that set of prohibitions was the law against teaching the Koran to their children, because it was feared that the faithful of Christ might distort and corrupt the words of Allah. There was also a strong determination to limit the number of Christian subjects, and it was therefore forbidden to proselytize, to erect new religious buildings, or to repair the ones that had fallen into disrepair. Aside from pointing out the inferiority of Christians, the prohibitions against owning weapons and using horses were also signs of the fear that the numerous Christian communities might organize dangerous revolts and make alliances with the enemies of the believers in Allah.
It is worthy of note that, in order to give that legislation greater legitimacy, it was backdated and presented as the well-established project of one of the earliest successors to Muhammad, the caliph Umar (634–44). There exist a variety of versions of those prohibitions. The most significant ones are as follows:
We shall not build, in our cities or in their neighborhood, new monasteries, churches, convents, or monks’ cells, nor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims.
We shall keep our gates wide open for passersby and travelers. We shall give board and lodging to all Muslims who pass our way for three days.
We shall not give shelter in our churches or in our dwellings to any spy, nor hide him from the Muslims.
We shall not teach the Koran to our children.
We shall not manifest our religion publicly nor convert anyone to it. We shall not prevent any of our kin from entering Islam if they wish it.
We shall show respect toward the Muslims, and we shall rise from our seats when they wish to sit.
We shall not seek to resemble the Muslims by imitating any of their garments, the qalansuwa, the turban, footwear, or the parting of the hair. We shall not speak as they do, nor shall we adopt their kunyas.
We shall not mount on saddles, nor shall we gird swords nor bear any kind of arms nor carry them on our persons.
We shall not engrave Arabic inscriptions on our seals.
We shall not sell fermented drinks.
We shall clip the fronts of our heads.
We shall always dress in the same way wherever we may be, and we shall bind the zunar round our waists
We shall not display our crosses or our books in the roads or markets of the Muslims. We shall use only clappers in our churches very softly. We shall not raise our voices when following our dead. We shall not show lights on any of the roads of the Muslims or in their markets. We shall not bury our dead near the Muslims.
We shall not take slaves who have been allotted to Muslims.
We shall not build houses overtopping the houses of the Muslims.
Some jurists added other rules and specified certain points. Around the year 800, one of them wrote to the caliph reminding him that, ‘The Christians were allowed to live in the cities and conduct their trade there, but they were required to abstain from all actions that might insult the faithful of Islam, that is to say, selling pork and wine.’ Alongside the prohibition against ever displaying the cross, he added that if ever such a display were to occur, then the cross in question must be destroyed. As for the prohibition against using horses, he specified that only humble donkeys could be ridden, and that they must be mounted sidesaddle, with both legs on one side (in other words, riding like women). The humbler jobs, such as cleaning latrines and collecting garbage, moreover, could only be done by those subjects. The jurist urged the ruler to apply these measures to the very letter and also to ensure that no one in his court should take advantage of his kindness and violate these rules.
The dhimmis, another jurist emphasizes, must neither attack nor twist the words of the Koran nor state that Muhammad had uttered falsehoods or attempt to separate Muslims from their faith. Nor were they allowed to approach a Muslim woman with intentions of having sexual intercourse or marrying her. Moreover, he recommended that Christians abstain from drinking wine in public. In order to avoid possible contaminations (some Muslims considered any object that had been touched by a Christian as impure), he went so far as to suggest not buying any type of meat from dhimmi butchers, advocated expelling them from the markets of the faithful of Allah and urged his people not to eat food prepared by Christians for their religious festivities and not to accept gifts from them on those occasions. In order to strengthen these prohibitions, it was pointed out that on Judgment Day, everyone would be judged similarly to the people they resembled. Prohibitions also concerned public baths, very popular in the Mediterranean basin with the faithful of all religions. According to a collection of Islamic laws, non-Muslims were required to wear a ring around their necks when they entered those baths. Caliph Al-H ¯akim (d. 1021), in contrast, at first ordered them to wear a cross and later ordered the faithful of each religion to frequent only baths used by their own coreligionists and also that the baths of dhimmis should be marked with a clearly visible symbol. Once Andalusia was subjugated toward the end of the eleventh century, the Almoravids presented themselves as the true messengers of Allah and imposed upon their non-Muslim subjects a series of prohibitions much harsher than those previously in effect.
Those discriminations also involved the purely economic sphere. Some legal experts, in fact, stated that dhimmi merchants had to pay a tax on their merchandise double that paid by the faithful of Islam. Some discriminatory rules were also created in the Ottoman era. Not wanting to have Christian neighbors, in the eighteenth century, an inhabitant of Aleppo obtained a verdict from the local Muslim religious leader concerning the fact that the faithful of Allah could force a Christian to sell his house to a Muslim if the Christian practiced his religious rituals in a Muslim quarter. In Sofia, in the early modern era, for instance, this very thing happened to a number of Christians who owned a home in a Muslim district because they had prayed aloud.
Not even in Christian realms was it immediately felt necessary to impose upon their Muslim subjects the obligation of making their diversity and inferiority immediately visible and keeping them separate from the faithful of Christ. That need was initially expressed by the churchmen though they never produced legislation comparable to that of the pact of Umar. The earliest instance of this kind of prohibitions can be found in the proceedings of a council held in 1120 in the kingdom of Jerusalem. On that occasion, the Muslims were ordered not to wear Frankish garb, which was a reference to European Christians, evidently in order to make those Muslims immediately recognizable and thus prevent any intimacy between members of the two faiths.
In 1215, Pope Innocent III, a legal expert and a pontiff forcefully engaged in the struggle to defend Christianity from enemies foreign and domestic, made sure to include a number of articles concerning the Jews and the Muslims residing in Christian lands in the final proceedings of the meeting held in Rome among all the principal ecclesiastical leaders. Driven by a desire to protect the physical and spiritual safety of the faithful of Christ as well as to provide a clear line of conduct for non-Christians, the pontiff expanded and fine-tuned the decisions issued the previous century in the Holy Land concerning the importance of ensuring that they were made immediately recognizable, in order to forestall eventual illicit relations between the faithful of different religions. Moreover, he established a barrier between Christians and non-Christians during the Holy Week, the most important period of the year for Christians, with the excuse that non-Christians mocked it (implicitly emphasizing that, by so doing, they contaminated those festivities).
In some provinces, Jews and Saracens distinguished themselves from Christians by the different ways they dressed; but in other areas such unbridled confusion had emerged that there were no visible distinctions. It therefore sometimes happened that, by pure mishap, male Christians might have congress with Jewish or Saracen women, or that Jewish or Saracen men could dally with Christian women. To keep such deplorable unions from relying upon the excuse of innocent error, due to their clothing, we hereby decree that these people, of either sex, in all Christian provinces and for all time, must distinguish themselves in public by their style of dress from the rest of the population, as was ordered, for that matter, by Moses.
In the days of lamentations and on Passion Sunday they must not dare to appear in public, given the fact that some of them on these days feel no shame in walking around dressed up more elaborately than usual and mock the Christians, who in commemoration of the holy passion of their Lord display all the signs of their mourning. We therefore forbid most severely that they dare to dance in joy making mockery of the Redeemer.
Some sixty years later, a council added that the Muslims were not to be allowed to engage in the public call to prayer, while in 1280, the bishop of Lleida (Catalonia) specified that anyone who visited the public baths with Muslims would be excommunicated.
In spite of the threats of the ecclesiastics, those laws were not put into effect by Christian sovereigns, especially those who ruled over substantial numbers of Muslim subjects; in certain zones under their dominion, they sometimes represented the majority of their inhabitants. The rulers of those areas had no desire whatsoever to give any cause for discontentment to subjects who were productive and had only recently been incorporated into their reign. In this connection, it is worth pointing out that we see the first requirements that the Muslim subjects wear distinctive markers around 1255 in the legislation of Castile, but no such requirement in the body of laws of Aragon, which included the recently conquered region of Valencia, characterized for many years by a considerable presence of Muslims. In conjunction with a progressive decline in the number of Muslim subjects, prohibitions began to appear in secular legislation. Not only were orders issued requiring Moors to make themselves immediately identifiable, they were also forbidden to show off their wealth. In Seville in 1252, the faithful of Allah were forbidden to wear garments colored white, red, and green or to wear white or golden shoes. A few years later, it was added that they had to wear long beards as demanded by their religion. Again, with a view to keeping Muslims from trying to pass for Christians, we start to see prohibitions in city legislation against Moors having Christian names.
Other prohibitions were aimed at separating the faithful of the two religions, in particular during Christ...

Table des matiĂšres

Normes de citation pour Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923

APA 6 Citation

Berto, L. A. (2020). Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923 (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)

Chicago Citation

Berto, Luigi Andrea. (2020) 2020. Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

Berto, L. A. (2020) Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Berto, Luigi Andrea. Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.