Even before the Gulf War and the Iraq War, the Middle East has seen a lot of tension and conflicts. Here are three of battles that took place there well before the start of the Middle Ages:
1. The Battle for Mecca
Unlike Jesus or the Buddha, Muhammad founded a religion and a political party. As the leader of the early Islamic community in Mecca, Muhammad found himself at odds with his clan's pagan leaders. Facing annihilation, Muhammad and his followers fled Mecca for Medina in 622 CE.
Over the next eight years, the Muslims periodically engaged in bloody battles over Mecca (in one, the Prophet's uncle was partially eaten by the wife of a Meccan tribal leader).
However grand a general he was, Muhammad was an even better negotiator: In 630, the Muslims finally overtook Mecca via a treaty with tribal leaders. After almost a decade of casualties, nary a drop of blood was shed in the final battle for Islam's holiest city.
2. The Battle of Karbala (Which Has Nothing to do with Madonna)
Although the fighting lasted only a couple hours and the result was never really in question, the Battle of Karbala has come to symbolize the divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims - and, for many Muslims, represents the last stand of Islam's golden age.
After the Prophet Muhammad's death, the Islamic community was led by a succession of four "Rightly Guided" caliphs. By 680 CE, however, a ruthless and distinctly Wrongly Guided caliph named Yazid held court, and the Prophet's grandson Husayn set out to defeat him.
Husayn and just 72 followers (many of them young boys) met Yazid's massive army at Karbala, in present-day Iraq. And though Husayn and his supporters were slaughtered, the martyrdom is still remembered by Shia Muslims today with passion plays and public mourning.
3. The Crusades
Not content to let Muslims fight among themselves, Christian Europe decided to get into the act in 1095 CE. For the following two centuries, European Christians undertook eight major expeditions hoping to conquer Jerusalem and control Christ's tomb, the Holy Sepulcher (which seems like a lot of trouble - waging eight wars over a cave where Jesus spent three measly days). Armed with plenty of manpower, the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, but Saladin then reconquered it in 1187.
Long story made short, the back-and-forth kept on until everyone got tired and decided to postpone fighting over Jerusalem until the mid-20th century. Of course, the Crusades had a lasting effect on the therefore fairly peaceful relationship between the Islamic world and the Christian one, but they also deepened the divide between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, particularly when the Catholics decided to sack Constantinople during the fourth Crusade.
From mental_floss' book Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits, published in Neatorama with permission.
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