In the year 637 the armies of Islam lead by the Caliph Umar conquered the city of Jerusalem, the center of the Christian world and a magnet for Christian pilgrims. The city’s Muslim masters exhibited a certain level of religious tolerance. No new churches were to be built and crosses could not be publicly displayed outside church buildings, but the pilgrims were allowed to continue their treks to the holiest shrines of Christendom (the pilgrims were charged a toll for access). For the next 462 years, it would be ruled by Muslims, with religious freedom for minorities protected according to the Treaty of Umar.
Umar immediately set about making the city an important Muslim landmark. He cleared the area of the Temple Mount, where Muhammad ascended to heaven from. The Christians had used the area as a garbage dump to offend the Jews, and Umar and his army (along with some Jews) personally cleaned it and built a mosque – Masjid al-Aqsa – there.
Throughout the remainder of Umar’s caliphate and into the Umayyad Empire’s reign over the city, Jerusalem became a major center of religious pilgrimage and trade. The Dome of the Rock was added to complement Masjid al-Aqsa in 691. Numerous other mosques and public institutions were soon established throughout the city.
The Treaty of Umar allowed the Christians of Jerusalem religious freedom, as is dictated in the Quran. This was one of the first and most significant guarantees of religious freedom in history. One of Umar’s guides in Jerusalem was a Jew named Kaab al-Ahbar. Umar further allowed Jews to worship on the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall, while the Byzantines banned them from such activities.
Then, in the latter part of the 11th century, the Turks swarmed westward out of Central Asia overrunning all that lay in their path. Jerusalem fell to them in 1076. The atmosphere of tolerance practiced by the followers of Omar was replaced by vicious attacks on the Christian pilgrims and on their sacred shrines in the Holy City.
Pope Urban II called a conference at the city of Clermont, France in 1095, concluding the eight days of deliberation with one of history’s most influential speeches. Mounting a lofty scaffold, the Pope exhorted the assembled multitude to wrest the Holy Land from the hands of the Infidel and assured them that God would absolve them from any sin associated with the venture. His words fell on receptive ears as the crowd responded with cries of “It is the will of God!”, “It is the will of God!”.
The nobility of Europe raised an army of thousands that made its way through various routes and with much mishap to Constantinople. Unfortunately, many of these crusaders could not wait until they met the Muslims on the field of battle to demonstrate their religious zeal. As they progressed through Europe many Jewish communities became the target of their wrath and thousands were massacred.
The Siege of Jerusalem took place from June 7 to July 15, 1099 during the First Crusade. The climax of the First Crusade, the successful siege saw the Crusaders seize the city from the Fatimid Caliphate and laid the foundations for the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Although conquerors committing atrocities against the inhabitants of cities taken by storm after a siege was the norm in Medieval warfare, the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem likely exceeded even these standards.
Many Muslims sought shelter in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Temple Mount area generally. According to the Gesta Francorum, speaking only of the Temple Mount area, “…[our men] were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles…”
According to Raymond of Aguilers, also writing solely of the Temple Mount area, ” in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.” Writing about the Temple Mount area alone Fulcher of Chartres, who was not an eyewitness to the Jerusalem siege because he had stayed with Baldwin in Edessa at the time, says: “In this temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared”.
The eyewitness Gesta Francorum states that some people were spared. Its anonymous author wrote, “When the pagans had been overcome, our men seized great numbers, both men and women, either killing them or keeping them captive, as they wished.” Later the same source writes, “[Our leaders] also ordered all the Saracen dead to be cast outside because of the great stench, since the whole city was filled with their corpses; and so the living Saracens dragged the dead before the exits of the gates and arranged them in heaps, as if they were houses. No one ever saw or heard of such slaughter of pagan people, for funeral pyres were formed from them like pyramids, and no one knows their number except God alone.
Jews had fought side-by-side with Muslim soldiers to defend the city, and as the Crusaders breached the outer walls, the Jews of the city retreated to their synagogue to “prepare for death”. According to the Muslim chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi, “The Jews assembled in their synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads.”
The Siege of Jerusalem was a siege on the city of Jerusalem that lasted from September 20 to October 2, 1187, when Balian of Ibelin surrendered the city to Saladin. Citizens wishing to leave paid a ransom. The defeat of Jerusalem signaled the end of the first Kingdom of Jerusalem. Europe responded in 1189 by launching the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionheart, Philip Augustus, and Frederick Barbarossa separately.
Negotiations were carried out between Saladin and Balian, through the mediation of Yusuf Batit, one of the Eastern Orthodox clergy, who had been largely suppressed under Latin Christian rule and knew that they would have more freedoms if the city were returned to the Muslims. Saladin preferred to take the city without bloodshed and offered generous terms, but those inside refused to leave their holy city, vowing to destroy it in a fight to the death rather than see it handed over peacefully. Thus the siege began.
On Balian’s orders the Crusaders surrendered the city to Saladin’s army on October 2. The take-over of the city was relatively peaceful especially in contrast to the Crusader siege of the city in 1099. Balian paid 30,000 dinars for freeing 7000 of those unable to pay from the treasury of the city. The Native Christians were allowed to remain in the city while those of Crusader origin were allowed to leave Jerusalem for other lands along with their goods through a safe passage via Akko by paying a ransom of 10 dinars. The wealthy including the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Heraclius left with treasure-laden wagons and relics from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Crusaders took the ornaments and treasures of their churches with them. The wealthy and the Crusaders didn’t bother to ransom the poor who were unable to pay leaving them to be ransomed into slavery.
Saladin’s brother, Al-Adil was moved by the sight and asked Saladin for 1000 of them as reward of his services. Saladin granted his wish and Al-Adil immediately released them all. Heraclius upon seeing asked Saladin for some slaves to liberate. He was granted 700 while Balian was granted 500 and all of them were freed by them. All the aged people who could not pay the ransom were freed by orders of Saladin and allowed to leave the city. He then proceeded to free 1000 more captives upon request of Muzaffar al-Din Ibn Ali Kuchuk who claimed they were from his hometown of Urfa. In order to control the departing population he ordered the gates of the city to be closed. At each gate of the city a commander was placed who checked the movement of the Crusaders and made sure only those who paid the ransom left the city.
The grand masters of the Templars and Hospitallers were approached to donate money for the release of the poor Crusaders. However they refused and a riot almost erupted after which they were forced to donate the money. Saladin then assigned some of his officers the job to ensure safe arrival of the Crusaders in Christian lands. On Saladin’s orders, the ransomed inhabitants marched away in three columns accompanied by 50 cavalrymen of Saladin’s army.
After surrendering of the city, the Church of the Holy Sephulcre was ordered to be closed for 3 days by Saladin for figuring out what would be done with it. Some of his advisers told him to destroy the Church in order to end all Christian interest in Jerusalem. Saladin rejected the destruction of the church saying that he had no intention to discourage the Christian pilgrimages to the site and it was reopened after three days on his orders. The Orthodox Christians and Jacobites were allowed to remain and to worship as they chose.
The Copts who were barred from entering Jerusalem by the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem as they were considered heretics and atheists, were allowed to enter the city without paying any fees by Saladin as he considered them his subjects. The Coptic places of worship that were earlier taken over by the Crusaders were returned to the Coptic priests. The Copts were also allowed to visit The Church of the Holy Sephulcre and other Christian sites. The Abyssinian Christians were allowed to visit the holy places of Jerusalem without paying any fees.
The Byzantine emperor, Isaac Angelus sent a message to Saladin congratulating him on taking the city, requesting him to convert all the churches in the city back to the Orthodox church and all Christian ceremonies to be performed according to the Greek Orthodox liturgy. His request was granted however the rights of other sects were preserved.