Months before the movie Kingdom of Heaven was to be released, critics lined up to lament how this big-budget film about the Crusades would set back Muslim-Christian relations, leading to a Muslim or Christian backlash, depending on whom you read. But it's not as if this movie is raising an issue long since dead. The question is not if the Crusades are a live memory for Muslims, but why? And how do Christians who minister to Muslims deal with this sad historical fact?

Warren Larson is director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University, Columbia, South Carolina. An associate professor of Islam with expertise in Muslim fundamentalism, the Canadian-born Larson was a church-planting missionary in the Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, from 1969 to 1991. (The small church he and his wife worked in remains active in the 99.9 percent Muslim city of Dera Ghazi Khan.)

Today Larson travels widely in the Muslim world. Stan Guthrie, ct's senior associate news editor and author of Missions in the Third Millennium, interviewed him.

The First Crusade began nearly a millennium ago, and yet we often hear that Muslims think about those terrible events as if they happened yesterday. Why?

It's a perception of ongoing Western imperialism. There's a long history of unsuccessful encounters. The Crusades are in there, but also the fact that the Muslims were booted out of Spain in 1492. That's also very bitter for them. And then there was colonialism. Nine-tenths of the Muslim world was under colonialism. They connect all this—including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and other things going on in the Middle East.

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June 2005

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