Both divine messages of Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad came after humanity on earth had been thousands, tens of thousands or, maybe, hundreds of thousands years old.
Throughout those years, previous divine messages were sent down to guide people the straight path. However, in the course of time, the sole straight path was substituted by several crooked, twisted ways and the moderate way of life was changed into an animalistic, barbaric one. Such a savage shift was most reflected in war as the apex of the human conflict.
Thus, the human conflicts, especially wars, marked hideous, inhuman practices, like killing, plunder, spoil, tribute, capture and other perverse practices centuries before the birth of Jesus and Muhammad.
So, neither the so-called “Christianity” nor the final message of Islam brought by Prophet Muhammad introduced killing, plunder, spoil, tribute or capture simply because such practices preceded those two faiths.
However, are the heavenly messages not supposed to refine the human practices, behaviors and traditions?
Did Christianity and Islam manage to do that, especially when it comes to the war practices which were prevalent when they came? Or did they follow or even aggravate such practices?
Let’s seek the truth about that in the Christian scriptures and ancient history and the Islamic scriptures.
Killing, Plunder, Spoil, Tribute and Capture in Christianity
Despite the prohibition of killing and enslavement in Christianity, we notice that Christianity approves killing, plunder, spoil, tribute and capture according to the Bible, including the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as the history of early Christianity.
Accordingly, Christianity has not refined the war practices. It rather followed such practices and even added to their barbarism and savagery.
The Old Testament
Killing, Plunder, Spoil and Capture in the Old Testament
The Old Testament approves killing men, capturing women and children as well as plunder, burning and destruction. For example, we read:
“And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. And they slew the kings of Midian besides the rest of those who were slain, namely: Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian. Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword. And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captive, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle and all their flocks and all their goods. And they burned all their cities wherein they dwelt and all their goodly strongholds with fire. And they took all the spoil and all the prey, both of men and of beasts. And they brought the captives and the prey and the spoil unto Moses and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan near Jericho.” (Numbers 31:7-12)
Killing Captives in the Old Testament
Not only does the Old Testament approve capturing women and children, but it also approves killing them and men, not to mention plunder, burning, destruction and mutilation. For example, we read:
“When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai. But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.” (Joshua 8:24-29)
About the approval of killing captives, we read in the Old Testament: “If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.” (Deuteronomy 32:41-42)
Moreover, the Old Testament orders killing men, women and children even if they are still babies, not to mention cows, sheep, camels and donkeys. For example, we read:
“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15:3)
Tribute and Enslavement in the Old Testament
When the Old Testament does not order massacring other peoples, it rather commands the Children of Israel to enslave them and put them to tribute. For example, we read:
“And they drove not out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer, but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day and serve under tribute.” (Joshua 16:10)
We also read: “Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel waxed strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, but did not utterly drive them out.” (Joshua 17:13)
We further read: “When you advance to a city to fight against it, you shall [first] offer it terms of peace. If that city accepts your terms of peace and opens its gates to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall lay siege to it. When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike down all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and everything that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. That is what you shall do to all the cities that are very far away from you, which are not among the cities of these nations nearby [which you are to dispossess]. Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they will not teach you to act in accordance with all the detestable practices which they have done [in worship and service] for their gods, and in this way cause you to sin against the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 20:10-18)
The New Testament
Killing in the New Testament
The New Testament quotes Jesus as confirming that he did not come for peace but with a sword. For example, we read: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to part asunder a man from his father, and a daughter from her mother, and a newly married wife from her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes will be they of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)
Besides, the New Testament quotes Jesus as commanding his followers to slay those who refuse to believe in him. For example, we read: “As for my enemies who don’t want me as their king, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” (Luke 19:27)
Tribute in the New Testament
The New Testament quotes Jesus as approving tribute. We read:
Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked. “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:15-21)
The History of Early Christianity
Not to mention the modern Christianity, the history of early Christianity abounds in many instances of killing, plunder, spoil, tribute and capture since its dawn as follows:
Massacre of Thessalonica (390 A.D.)
The Massacre of Thessalonica was an atrocity carried out under the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (Theodosius the Great) who declared the Nicene Trinitarian Christianity to be the only legitimate imperial religion in 380 A.D.
This massacre was carried out in 390 A.D. against the inhabitants of Thessalonica who had risen in revolt against the Roman Empire.
The army units sent to Thessalonica acted as if they had captured a hostile city and massacred several thousands of its inhabitants, including men, women, and children.
Church historian Theodoretus puts the figure at about 7,000, saying:
“The anger of the Emperor rose to the highest pitch, and he gratified his vindictive desire for vengeance by unsheathing the sword most unjustly and tyrannically against all, slaying the innocent and guilty alike. It is said seven thousand perished without any forms of law, and without even having judicial sentence passed upon them; but that, like ears of wheat in the time of harvest, they were alike cut down.” (Theodoretus, Ecclesiastical History 5.17)
Massacre of Aleppo (961 A.D.)
On the 18th of December 961 A.D., the Byzantines reached Aleppo under the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas’ command. They had a huge army which surpassed the Hamdanid army in terms of personnel and ordnance. So, the latter was defeated, and then Aleppo was besieged and then stormed.
The Christian Byzantines carried out an appalling massacre and several atrocities. So, they put Aleppo’s people to the sword and set fire to houses, mosques, trees, plants, and landmarks, including markets and palaces, like Sayf Ad-Dawla’s palace. They also captured thousands of Muslims and ruined Aleppo.
About Nikephoros’ atrocities, Ibn Kathir related: “He reached Aleppo in command of two hundred thousand soldiers in 351 A.H. So, he attacked it. As a result, its ruler Sayf Ad-Dawla was put to flight. Thus, Nikephoros stormed it and killed uncountable numbers of its people, including men and women. He also ruined Sayf Ad-Dawla’s house, which was Aleppo’s most distinctive landmark, and plundered its property and harvests and disunited it… He would kill the Muslim fighters in every place he stormed…” (Al-Bidayah Wa An-Nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Cairo, 1932 A.D.)
Blinding the Bulgarian Captives (1014 A.D.)
After Basil II (Basileios II) had won the Battle of Kleidion (in July 1014) and captured 15.000 prisoners, he blinded 99 of every 100 men, leaving one one-eyed man in each cohort to lead the rest back to their ruler. Samuel was physically struck down by the dreadful apparition of his blinded army and died two days later, on 6 October 1014, after suffering a stroke. That is why Basil II is called the “Bulgar-Slayer”.
Blinding Emperor Romanus IV (1072 A.D.)
The Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV raided the northern Levant, and attacked, plundered and massacred the people of Manbij. Then, Sultan Alp Arslan confronted him and clinched a surprise, unexpected victory over him.
However, Sultan Alp Arslan sought to negotiate a peace agreement and armistice, but Romanus IV decisively rejected any peace agreement or armistice.
Then, the Battle of Manzikert took place between Muslims and Christians under Romanus IV’s command. Muslims managed to defeat and even capture Romanus IV, whom they brought to Sultan Alp Arslan. Thereupon, the following historic conversation took place between the two leaders:
Alp Arslan scolded: “Woe to you! Did I not ask you for an armistice?” Romanus IV replied: “Stop scolding me!” Alp Arslan wondered: “What would you do if you defeated me?” Romanus IV answered: “All offenses!” Alp Arslan then asked: “What do you hope and expect me to do?” Romanus IV said: “You will kill or disgrace me in your country. The third expectation is very unlikely. It is pardon and the acceptance of ransom.” Then, the Sultan stated: “I resolved to do nothing but that (the third expectation).”
Then, Romanus IV ransomed himself with one million and five hundred thousand dinars and the release of all Muslim captives in his country.
So, the Sultan freed him and gave him such provisions and money which were enough for his journey back to home. (Ad-Dhahabi, Siyar Alam An-Nubla, Ar-Risalah Press 18/416)
It is ironic that the Christian Byzantines did to their Christian Emperor Romanus IV what the Muslim Sultan Alp Arslan did not do. Had he remained in custody with Muslims, he would have had a better fate.
When Romanus IV returned to Constantinople, he was dethroned, blinded and exiled to Prote. Shortly, he died as a result of the brutal blinding.
Massacres of Jerusalem (1099 A.D.)
During the First Crusade, Crusaders stormed Jerusalem on the 15th of July 1099 A.D. They massacred all inhabitants of Jerusalem, including men, women and children. For a whole week, they desecrated the holy city, where they kept killing everybody and ruining everything.
In the courtyards of Al Aqsa mosque only, about seventy thousand Muslims were killed.
According to Tyerman, Muslims were indiscriminately killed, and Jews who had taken refuge in their synagogue died when it was burnt down by the Crusaders. Tancred’s prisoners in the mosque were slaughtered. (Tyerman, Christopher (2006). God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-02387-0.)
It is worth noting that Jerusalem was seized by Muslims four times. In the four times, Muslims did not carry out the appalling atrocities Crusaders did.
In the first time, in late April 637 A.D., Jerusalem was conquered by Omar ibn Al-Khattab, who concluded with its inhabitants a peace agreement, better known as “Pact of Umar”, by virtue of which Omar them with security for themselves as well as their property, churches and crosses.
In the second time, decades after the First Crusade, Salah Ad-Din Al-Ayoubi (Saladin), restored Jerusalem on the 2nd of October 1187 A.D. Then, he accepted reasonable ransom from its inhabitants and allowed those who were not willing to pay to leave Jerusalem unscathed.
In the third time, several years after the Sixth Crusade, King Al-Nasser Dawood restored Jerusalem on the 7th of December 1239 A.D. He fought and drove out the Crusaders and provided civilians with security.
In the fourth time, King Najm Ad-Din Ayoub restored Jerusalem in 1244 A.D. Then, he gave two thousand Egyptian dinars as charity and ordered the reconstruction of its wall.
Massacre of Roman Catholic Inhabitants of Constantinople (1182 A.D.)
It is the massacre of the Western Roman Catholic inhabitants of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, better known as “Massacre of the Latins”.
In April 1182, it was carried out by the Eastern Orthodox population of the city. As a result, the Latin or Roman Catholic community, estimated at 60.000 to 80.000 people, was wiped out.
The Genoese and Pisan communities especially were decimated, and some 4,000 survivors were sold as slaves to the (Turkish) Sultanate of Rum.
The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic inhabitants viewed each other as schismatic.
After the Latin princess Maria of Antioch who acted as regent had been overthrown, Andronikos I Komnenos, who replaced her as a Byzantine emperor, allowed the Eastern Orthodox population to massacre the Roman Catholic inhabitants.
The ensuing massacre was indiscriminate: neither women nor children were spared, and Latin patients lying in hospital beds were murdered. Houses, churches, and charities were looted. Latin clergymen received special attention, and Cardinal John, the papal legate, was beheaded and his head was dragged through the streets at the tail of a dog.
(Nicol, Donald M. (1992). Byzantium and Venice: A Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations. Cambridge University Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-521-42894-1.)
Tearing Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos Apart (1185 A.D.)
Before becoming a Byzantine emperor, in 1141 A.D., Andronikos I Komnenos was taken captive by the Muslim Seljuq Turks and remained in their hands for a whole year. Muslims did not harm him though he was fighting against them.
When he was ransomed, he came back to Constantinople and subsequently became a Byzantine emperor.
When he was deposed as a Byzantine emperor, he was captured and handed him over to the city mob and for three days he was exposed to their fury and resentment, remaining for that period tied to a post and beaten. His right hand was cut off, his teeth and hair were pulled out, one of his eyes was gouged out, and, among many other sufferings, boiling water was thrown in his face.
At last he was led to the Hippodrome of Constantinople and hung by his feet between two pillars. Two Latin soldiers competed as to whose sword would penetrate his body more deeply, and he was, according to the representation of his death, torn apart. He died on September 12, 1185.
Massacre of Akko (Acre) (1191 A.D.)
Crusaders besieged Akko for more than three months until it surrendered on the 12th of July 1191 A.D. On the 20th of August in the same year, Crusaders carried out an appalling massacre at Tal Al-Ayadiyah, where they killed more than 3000 Muslim prisoners along with their wives and children.
Destruction of Constantinople (1204 A.D.)
In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, the Crusader armies stormed the city, burnt its public and private facilities and desecrated its churches.
While the ostensible objective of the Fourth Crusade was the occupation of Jerusalem through the invasion of Egypt, the Western Roman Catholic Crusaders occupied the Eastern Orthodox city of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, to use its wealth for the Crusade and unify all Christians under the banner of this crusade in the church’s name.
About what happened to Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, Sir Steven Runciman wrote:
“For nine centuries,” he goes on, “the great city had been the capital of Christian civilisation. It was filled with works of art that had survived from ancient Greece and with the masterpieces of its own exquisite craftsmen. The Venetians … seized treasures and carried them off to adorn … their town. But the Frenchmen and Flemings were filled with a lust for destruction. They rushed in a howling mob down the streets and through the houses, snatching up everything that glittered and destroying whatever they could not carry, pausing only to murder or to rape, or to break open the wine-cellars …. Neither monasteries nor churches nor libraries were spared. In Hagia Sophia itself, drunken soldiers could be seen tearing down the silken hangings and pulling the great silver iconostasis to pieces, while sacred books and icons were trampled under foot. While they drank merrily from the altar-vessels a prostitute set herself on the Patriarch’s throne and began to sing a ribald French song. Nuns were ravished in their convents. Palaces and hovels alike were entered and wrecked. Wounded women and children lay dying in the streets. For three days the ghastly scenes … continued, till the huge and beautiful city was a shambles. … When … order was restored, … citizens were tortured to make them reveal the goods that they had contrived to hide.”
(Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Cambridge 1966 , vol 3, p.123.)
It is noteworthy that, in comparison, when Sultan Mehmed II (Mehmed the Conqueror) conquered Constantinople in May 1453 A.D., he dispatched military units to guard the city landmarks, mainly churches so that no soldier would cause damage to it.
He personally went to Hagia Sofia Cathedral where so many inhabitants gathered and provided them with security for their lives and property.
The Holy Bible
Ecclesiastical History by Theodoretus
Al-Bidayah Wa An-Nihayah by Ibn Kathir
Siyar Alam An-Nubla by Adh-Dhahabi
A History of the Crusades by Steven Runciman
God’s War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman
Byzantium and Venice: A Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations by Donald Nicol