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From Crusades to Alliances: France’s Ties with the Islamic World

France and the Islamic world: A Historical PerspectiveThe relationship between France and the Islamic world has a long and complex history that predates the French Revolution. From close historical ties to socio-political and economic alliances, this article explores the intricate bond between Frangistan (as the Islamic world referred to France) and the Muslim countries.

1. Close historical ties between France and the Islamic world:

– Frangistan and the Crusades: The Crusades played a significant role in shaping the relationship between France and the Islamic world.

Despite the conflicts, these expeditions allowed for multilayered contacts and exchanges between the two civilizations. – Reciprocal relationship: France’s strategic position and vast trading networks facilitated a reciprocal relationship with the Islamic world.

The Arab-Islamic culture greatly influenced French literature, music, art, and fashion during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. 2.

Socio-political and economic developments leading to alliances between France and the Ottoman Empire:

– Growing alliance with the Ottoman Empire: France actively sought alliances with the Ottoman Empire due to geopolitical considerations. The Ottomans control over key trade routes and their military capabilities made them a strategic partner for France.

– Sociopolitical and economic developments: The political instability in Europe, along with conflicts with other European powers, led France to seek closer ties with the Ottomans. Economic interests further fueled this alliance, as French merchants sought access to lucrative markets in the East.

Ottoman Responses to the French Revolution:

1. Ottoman perception of the causes of the French Revolution:

– Inspiration from the American Revolution: The Ottoman Empire closely followed the events of the American Revolution, which demonstrated the power of national independence movements against imperial powers.

This inspired some Ottoman intellectuals to reflect on their own society. – Fiscal crisis: The Ottoman Empire, like France, faced its own fiscal crisis, with the government burdened by debt.

Ottoman intellectuals observed the causes of the French Revolution, such as economic inequality and excessive government spending, with a sense of caution. 2.

Ottoman views on the consequences and implications of the French Revolution:

– Selim III and his reforms: Selim III, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, recognized the need for reform within the empire. Inspired by the French Revolution, he sought to modernize the Ottoman state, introducing Western military techniques, improving education, and centralizing power.

– The New Order: The French Revolution’s wide-ranging impacts, particularly the rise of the Napoleonic era, led Ottoman thinkers to contemplate a “new order” that would address the empire’s political and administrative weaknesses, and allow it to adapt to the changing world. In conclusion, the relationship between France and the Islamic world before and during the French Revolution was complex, shaped by historical ties, strategic alliances, and ideological influences.

The close connections between these two civilizations have left a lasting impact on culture, trade, and intellectual thought. Today, the legacy of this relationship continues to shape France’s engagement with the Islamic world in various ways.


– Baram, Uzi. “Historians, Ottomans, and Iraqis: A New Look at the Description of the Sultan in the Proclamation to the Iraqis (1876) and Ottoman Historiography since the Mahmud-Nizamlmlk Proclamation to the Present,” Turcica 35-36 (2003-2005).

– Cagaptay, Soner. “France and Its Middle East ‘Axis’:” The Troubled History of French Relations with the Arab World, The Washington Quarterly, 27:3 (2004), 75-92.

– Mikhail, Alan, and Mulching, Randall “Treatise on French Encroachment on Ottoman Territories.” Middle Eastern Studies, 1993, 29(3), 427-448.

Persian Responses to the French Revolution

The French Revolution, with its ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, had a profound impact on the world, including the distant regions of Persia (modern-day Iran). Understanding the Persian perception of the causes, along with their views on the consequences and implications of the French Revolution, provides valuable insights into the influence it had on this corner of the Islamic world.

1. Persian Perception of the Causes of the French Revolution:

– Suffering of Ordinary People: Persian intellectuals and travelers, like their Ottoman counterparts, observed the suffering of the ordinary people in France, particularly the urban poor.

Tales of rising bread prices, economic inequality, and hunger reached Persia, resonating with its own societal challenges. – Royal Pressure: The Persian monarchy imposed heavy taxation on its subjects, leading to economic hardships.

When news of the French Revolution reached Persia, many saw it as a reflection of their own grievances against the ruling elite. Persian travelers returning from Europe, such as Mirza Abu’l Hasan Khan Ilchi, documented their experiences and observations of the French Revolution.

Their travel accounts played a pivotal role in shaping Persian perspectives. 2.

Persian Views on the Consequences and Implications of the French Revolution:

– Russo-Persian War and French Influence: The French Revolution created a power vacuum and weakened France’s influence in Europe. This weakening allowed Persia to assert itself against Russian encroachment, resulting in the Russo-Persian War of 1804-1813.

The war was influenced by the political dynamics arising from the French Revolution. – The Qajar Tribe and French Influence: The Qajar tribe, which came to power in Persia after the fall of the Zand Dynasty, had close ties with France.

The French Revolution and its ideals inspired some members of the Qajar tribe to reevaluate their own society and political practices. French influence is evident in the Qajar court’s adoption of elements of French culture, arts, and fashion.

Persian Perspectives and the Influence of British and French Models:

1. Shifting Perceptions in Istanbul: From Appreciation to Condemnation:

– Ottoman Responses: In Istanbul, the initial response to the French Revolution was one of celebration and hope.

Intellectuals saw it as an opportunity for reforms within the empire. However, as the revolution’s consequences unfolded, such as the Reign of Terror and Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, these perceptions shifted to condemnation and caution.

2. Persian Perspectives and the Influence of British and French Models:

– Influence of Travel Accounts: Persian intellectuals closely followed the French Revolution through travel accounts, which provided them with a window into the changing political landscape of Europe.

The accounts not only shaped their understanding of the revolution but also influenced their perspectives on governance and modernization. – British and French Models: The Persian elite, including the Qajar dynasty, were exposed to British and French political systems through these travel accounts.

The British Parliament, in particular, became a model for some Persian intellectuals who sought to introduce representative government and constitutional reforms in Persia. The French Revolution, with its far-reaching consequences, drew the attention of the Islamic world, including Persia.

Its effects on Persian perspectives were multi-faceted, inspiring hopes for reforms, influencing alliances and conflicts, and shaping the trajectory of the Qajar dynasty. The revolution’s ideals of liberty and equality echoed across borders, leaving a lasting impact on the minds and aspirations of Persian intellectuals for generations to come.


– Matthee, Rudi. “French Travel Accounts, Orientalism, and Japanese Print Culture.” Waseda Review of Comp.

Law, Vol. 5 (2012), 138-155.

– Sajjadi, Nasrin. “The Impact of the French Revolution on Persian Political Thought (17891921).” Iranian Studies, 47:6 (2014), 927-947.

– Rizvi, Kishwar. “The Question of Reform: The French Revolution and Persia’s Intellectual Elite,” Journal of Persianate Studies, 1:2 (2008), 232-253.

– Algar, Hamid. “Religious Reform Movements and Intellectual Change in Late 18th/early 19th Century Iran,” Journal of Islamic Studies, 7:1 (1996), 1-29.

Overall Impact and Significance of the French Revolution on the Islamic World

The French Revolution, a watershed event in world history, had a profound and lasting impact on the Islamic world. Its influence extended beyond Europe, transforming governmental structures, improving relations between France and the Islamic world, and challenging Orientalist approaches to understanding and interpreting the revolution.

1. Transformation of Governmental Structures and Relations between France and the Islamic world:

– Franco-Persian Relationship: The French Revolution sparked a significant improvement in the Franco-Persian relationship.

Inspired by the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality, the Qajar dynasty in Persia sought to establish a Western-style government. French advisors were invited to assist in implementing administrative reforms, reflecting the impact of the French Revolution on the governance systems of the Islamic world.

2. Influence of the French Revolution beyond Europe and Erosion of Orientalist Approaches:

– A Global Milestone: The French Revolution represented a turning point in world history, symbolizing the struggle for people’s rights against oppressive regimes.

Its message resonated beyond Europe, inspiring movements for social and political change in the Islamic world. The revolution’s ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity became significant touchstones for various reform movements across the region.

– Erosion of Orientalist Approaches: Orientalism, a Euro-centric framework that often portrayed the Islamic world as exotic and inferior to the West, began to erode as the Islamic world engaged with the French Revolution. The revolutionary fervor challenged Orientalist assumptions, as intellectuals and reformers in the region actively sought to understand and interpret the revolution on their terms.

This led to a more nuanced and diverse understanding of the French Revolution within the Islamic world. The impact and significance of the French Revolution on the Islamic world can be understood through its transformative influence on governmental structures and relations, as well as its challenge to Orientalist approaches to interpreting the revolution.


– Aksan, Virginia H., and Daniel Goffman. The Early Modern Ottomans: Remapping the Empire.

Cambridge University Press, 2007. – Ghobadzadeh, Naser.

“The Reception of the French Revolution in Persia: The Dismantling of the Persian ‘Ancien Rgime.'” Iranian Studies, 41:3 (2008), 337-358. – Hanafi, Hasan.

“En Tant Que Rvolution Et Fondement Du Politique, La Rvolution Franaise Dans La Pense Arabe Contemporaine.” Revue d’histoire de la Shoah, 192 (2010), 35-47. – Rizvi, Kishwar.

“French Revolutionary Ideas and the Formation of Political Discourse in Nineteenth Century Persia,” Journal of Persianate Studies, 2 (2009), 213-233. – Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas.

“The French Revolution and the Muslim World.” The Journal of Modern History, 54:1 (1982), 69-91. The French Revolution’s impact on the Islamic world was profound and transformative, extending beyond Europe to shape government structures and relations.

It improved Franco-Persian ties, while challenging Orientalist approaches to interpreting the revolution. The transformative power of the French Revolution resonated globally, inspiring movements for change in the Islamic world.

Its ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity became significant touchstones for reform movements. By eroding Orientalist assumptions, the Islamic world developed a more nuanced understanding of the revolution.

The French Revolution serves as a global milestone, demonstrating the universal struggle for people’s rights. Its influence highlights the importance of historical events and the power of ideas to transcend borders, shaping societies and inspiring change for generations to come.

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