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The Crusades vs. Saladin, En garde!

 Michel Join-Lambert,  1455 painting of the Holy Land  (1958). Public Domain

Michel Join-Lambert, 1455 painting of the Holy Land (1958). Public Domain

Welcome to the Holy City of Jerusalem, home to 3 world religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Here you’ll find all kinds of important sacred sites, ranging from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa, to the Temple of Solomon - snug for whichever religion you stand! So come on out, and join the fun!”

Ah, “fun”,  if only that was the case. Despite being rich in ethnic and religious diversity, Jerusalem wasn’t always as harmonious as we'd imagine it to be. Here, we will be exploring the differences between the Christian rule of the Crusade and the Islamic rule of Saladin - in terms of  how the people of Jerusalem were treated, and how their own motives of vengeance, or religious mandate,  influenced their respective rule.


 Alphonse de Neuville, The  Four Leaders of the   First Crusade  (1095), year 1883, Public Domain              

Alphonse de Neuville, The Four Leaders of the First Crusade (1095), year 1883, Public Domain              

The Crusaders were Christendom's knights in shining armour, off to fight in a thrilling battle against Islamic conquest. Who are they and how’d they get to Jerusalem?

It all started when Islamic troops marched towards Christian soil shorty after the Prophet Mohammad's death. The Muslim armies didn’t seem like a big deal to the Christians at first - but that was until they were able to conquer most of their Christian lands 1, and downsize even the great Byzantine Empire itself.

Now that things started to get worrisome by the 11th Century, the Emperor of Constantinople called out for Christians in western Europe to defend their faith in the East. And thus, the Crusaders were born! In 1095 CE, Pope Urban II summoned thousands of men in the Council of Clermont, to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim Control, and to restore Jerusalem to Christian reign 2. And thus, the First Crusade began.

  1. Including the Asian Minor, Africa and Spain
  2. Or so they say...
“If you had been there, your feet would have been stained to the ankles in the blood of the slain”
— Fulcher of Chartres

The Crusaders weren’t exactly the nicest people to arrive in Jerusalem. It took 2 days of bloodshed and chaos for the Holy City to fall in their hands, Massacring Muslim and Jewish inhabitants in the process. While slaughtered corpses continue to fill the streets in Jerusalem, the Crusaders would invade private homes and sacred properties. By the 15th of June 1099, the stench of the deceased loomed over their victorious takeover

 Jews & Muslims were beheaded, stabbed, tortured and burned ( Via Giphy )

Jews & Muslims were beheaded, stabbed, tortured and burned (Via Giphy)

 You can't sit with us... (unless you're Christian).  Via ekristinanderson

You can't sit with us... (unless you're Christian). Via ekristinanderson

After what surmounted to be a successful coup d’état of Jerusalem, the Holy City fell into the hands of the Crusaders. The Crusaders weren’t exactly “welcoming” rulers, but they certainly were an exclusive group.1 They were like the popular “cool kids” that you couldn’t hang out with unless you were “hip and Christian”. The Jews and Muslims on the other hand, never got an RSVP to join in on the Crusaders’ hip “Christian” house party; instead, they were isolated from the Christian community.

  1. They enforced a “Roman Catholic ecclesiastical presence” and inaugurated a feudal system whereby the church was subordinate to the state
 Forced to work, or forced to convert?...none of them are any better.  Via

Forced to work, or forced to convert?...none of them are any better. Via

Meanwhile, Muslims were needed for agricultural work and slavery under the Christian rule of Jerusalem. To make matters worse, they had to pay taxes to authorities for being a minority in the city. However, if a Muslim were to convert to Christianity, he/she would automatically be exempted from tax, and unchained from slavery.

“Jews were only ever collateral targets of crusading”
— Tyerman, "Fighting for Christendom"
 Poor Jews... ( Via Sharegif )

Poor Jews... (Via Sharegif)

Jews on the other hand, had it going differently. It was particularly under the Christian rule that the Jews felt like discriminated outcasts 10 – in fact, it was not only in Jerusalem, but across all of Europe 4 . The first casualties of the Crusade were actually the Jewish communities in Rhineland, Germany, when thousands of Jews were reportedly massacred in 1096 CE 2 . The Crusaders did not specifically target against the Jews, nor did they view them as a threat to hold sufficient political power. However, the destructive ideology of the Crusade encouraged killings and persecutions of the Jews3 .

  1. There was a dismissive attitude in Christians to treat Jews as "muderers" of Christ, and to not view them as "human". Often times this discrimination leads to many persecutions,blood libels, and murder or larceny accusations on the Jews
  2. their properties not only destroyed, but survivors were also forcibly converted to Christianity
  3. They could be fired by religious hatred towards the Jews. It seems as though they viewed their enenies in the East to include their very own enemies at home - the Jews.
  4. Jewish Communities had it tough in Europe - but that's a different story to tell



Let's rewind back to Pope Urban II's speech at the Council of Claremont in 1095. Urban’s call to arms was essentially a call for vengeance , pleading to free the Holy city from the Muslims who were rumoured for persecuting the Christians in the East. Outraged by such claims, Urban emphasized the necessity to forcibly constrain the Muslims in Jerusalem, declaring that if the crusade were to be delayed they would be guilty of permitting them to “ravage the Kingdom of God”.

“Whoever for devotion alone, not to gain honour or money goes to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God can substitute this journey for all penance”
— Pope Urban II, 1905
 Pope Urban ii,  Artaud de Montor , The Catholic Publication Society of America, 1911, Public Domain

Pope Urban ii, Artaud de Montor, The Catholic Publication Society of America, 1911, Public Domain

You may be wondering, how could the holy Pope justify violence? Well, as God’s representative on earth, Pope Urban pretty much had the power to command violence – as long as it was an act of "Christian Liberation"8. In other words, Crusaders believed that the conquest of Jerusalem was God’s will - and their "miraculous" success of doing so reflects this divine providence 2. But what drawn countless followers to his appeal was how joining the Crusade was the ultimate penance of which one’s sins would be wiped clean 3. In other words, by wiping away the Jews and Muslims who “contaminated” their holy city, it would clean away their own tainted souls in the process.

  1. Christian Violence could mean Christian love in their perspective; by saving their fellow brothers and sister in the East, and to act out immediately by fighting off "God's enemies" on earth.
  2. Or could this possibly be a facade to hide their true intentions? to steal from the people of Jerusalem and bring it back for their families?. This could be a possible hidden motive, as countless of soldiers headed back to Europe once their goal was accomplished
  3. the 11th century was a sinful and violent time in Europe, so finding a one in a lifetime opportunity to atone for their actions, Urban received an overwhelming response from different corners of Europe, from all kinds ethnicities and social classes

SALADIN: War & (then) peace, quite literally

 Deviant art, by ~dashinvaine,  Salah ed-Din  (11 Mar 2011). Creative Commons.

Deviant art, by ~dashinvaine, Salah ed-Din (11 Mar 2011). Creative Commons.

Ah, you made it here, congrats! Now let's talk about the other conqueror, Salah ad-Din, or Saladin in the Western world. He was a great sultan, but a greater conqueror. With his je ne sais quoi personality, he managed to break stereotypes on political rule, winning hearts and sincere respect of all inhabitants of Jerusalem through not only his words, but his actions too. in 1187 CE, he successfully conquered Jerusalem without much difficulty as the Crusades withdrew from the war, freeing it from decades of rule of the Crusades. Under the previous rule of the Crusades, Muslims and Jews greatly suffered and to the point that they anticipated murder; however, under Saladin, all Christian and Jews were treated with utter respect, generosity and equality. In fact, throughout the whole of his reign, Saladin "would not permit anyone who visited him to leave without eating with him, or to ask for something without receiving it. Everyone who appeared before him was treated with honour”.  

“You shall not kill any person - for God has made life sacred - except in the course of justice”
— Quran, 17:33

Here’s the thing, the answer is both. If Islam means peace, why is there a need for a jihad? Well first of all, the definition is constantly misinterpreted by many, including Muslims - surprisingly. Jihad, in literal Arabic translation refers to ‘striving’; however, it  also refers to a “just war”, with justification that the religion and its people are under threat. Unlike the Crusades’ motive of vengeance, Saladin believed that the Muslims in Jerusalem were under the threat of the Crusaders, who were not only killing the people, but also destroying the religious monuments in the city. As for the political aspect, it is only common for the founder of the Ayubbid dynasty to aim for expansion of his rule and began his conquest in Syria and Egypt. Many even consider him as a "paragon of Muslim military virtue".

Was this war all blood and gore too?

 Said Tahsine,  Saladin and Guy de Lusignan after battle of Hattin in 1187  (1954). Public Domain.

Yes, there was war. And yes, there was some blood involved, but it was minimal, as the Crusades retreated from Jerusalem. Although he was in the middle of war, Saladin remained steadfast with his prayers. His faith was strong and highly regarded this Hadith 4 in the process by Prophet Muhammad during the war, "My God, my only resource is to turn to You and to rely on Your help and trust in Your goodness." He prayed day and night11, with confidence that God was by his side that on the day Saladin advanced towards Jerusalem, the Crusades had retreated; and thus, allowed them to enter Jerusalem with ease.

  1. a collection of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad which, with accounts of his daily practice (the Sunna), constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Koran.
  2. A coincidence or a miracle? Religion means putting your faith and hope in God. Faith is what drives someone to continue believing even in the darkest of times, as he/she will always find the light -the miracle, in the solace of God.
 Good on ya, Saladin. You did good!  Via Giphy

Good on ya, Saladin. You did good! Via Giphy

Saladin was fair and just, never turning away a soul in need - regardless of their race and religion. The Quran states that Jews and Christians are considered "people of the book" who should be respected and protected.  Everyday, he would attend to the many pleas received and was not clouded by personal judgment. When his nephew, Taqi ad-Din was accused, Saladin attended to the complaint even though he loved his nephew. This unprejudiced act of Saladin created a sense of justice, that seemed to be lost under the rule of the Crusades, as well as a harmonic atmosphere amongst the various religions and their practitioners.

“There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in GOD has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.”
— Quran, 2:256

As the Crusades were driven out of the city, Saladin did not despair when they took their "chariots of gold, carpet, and precious goods" along with them. Evidently, his main aim was to earn the respect of Christian Crusaders towards Muslims. All religions were allowed to practice their religion freely; a particularly important move that gave praise to Saladin as Muslims and Jews weren't allowed to do so under Crusade rule. He had great empathy for women and children and ordered the release of captivated husbands and fathers. For those whose men died while in captive, he "gave largely from his own private purse." A generous act, that eventually left him a poor man at the end of his life.

 Selfless, generous and courageous. Saladin was a true hero.  Via Giphy

Selfless, generous and courageous. Saladin was a true hero. Via Giphy


Jerusalem went through a roller coaster of events under the rule of two different religions. When the Crusaders came, it felt like that spine chilling climb up the highest peak of the ride, only to be dropped at full speed into the mortifying depths of mistreatment of the Non-Christians. As the Muslims and the Jews held tightly onto the railings of their religious beliefs that were threatened by the violence of the Crusaders, the ride succumbs into a slow tranquil whirl, only to find themselves looking into the break of dawn that was Saladin. We’ve come to the conclusion that although Saladin may have treated other religions in a manner more respectful than the Crusaders, we must emphasize that their actions are reflected by their motives - and who knows, maybe there’s more than what meets eye.

Looks like it's the end. Hope you enjoyed the read, but bye bye for now!! Via Giphy



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Besant, Walter. Jerusalem : the City of Herod and Saladin (1871). R. Bentley and son p400

Cook, David. Understanding Jihad (2015) University of California Press, p1-2

Frankopan, Peter, The First Crusade: The Call from the East. (2012) From ProQuest Ebook Central.

Frankopan, Peter. The First Crusade (2012) Harvard University Press

Gabrielli, Francesco. Saladin's character (Baha' ad-Din, 7-41) (1999) International Journal of Kurdish Studies, 13.1 p15

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Madden, Thomas F. The Real History of the Crusades. (2002) Crisis Magazine, Crisis 20: no. 4

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Rubenstein, Jay. Saladin and the Problem of the Counter-Crusade in the Middle Ages (2012) Historically Speaking Vol.13 No.5

Saeedpour, Vera Beaudin. The Legacy of Saladin (1999) International Journal of Kurdish Studies, 13.1 p43

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