Islamic Jerusalem is no ordinary place: its significancereaches far beyond its physical stones. It is sacred place for people of threereligions; Muslims, Christian and Jews.For Christians there is Church of Holy Sepulcher that is mainpilgrimage destination for millions of Christians worldwide who visit the emptytomb of Jesus and seek solace and redemption in prayer at the site.Jerusalem also contains the shrine of the Dome of Rock and the al-AqsaMosque on a plateau known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. Muslims visit the holysite all year round, but every Friday during the holy month of Ramadan,hundreds of thousands of Muslims come to pray at the mosque.For Jews there is Kotel (or Western wall) on which Holy Temple oncestood. Jewish people from all over the world visit this place to pray andconnect to their heritage, especially during the High Holidays.So during its turbulent history, the followers of all threemonotheistic religions made strenuous efforts to conquer the city by any meansand at any cost.
The era of Muslim rule in Islamic Jerusalem is long comparedto some other periods in the city’s history. It embraces two distinct phases,the first and the principal one being the Muslim conquest under the leadershipof Caliph “Umar bin al Khattab” (644CE). The second Muslim conquest of IslamicJerusalem was led by Sultan Salah al-Din (1193 CE).These two periods witnessed a history of both tolerance andtension towards non-Muslims, and specially Christians.
Caliph Umar liberatedthe Christians from the domination and persecution of Byzantine rule, andallowed Jews to return to the city after being expelled for nearly five hundredyears. The second conquest freed Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Christians and Jewsfrom the domination of the Latin Crusaders.The both rulers created a model atmosphere of tolerance andpeaceful coexistence among followers of different religions and enabledChristians and Jews to live side by side peacefully after centuries of tension.
Prior to the first Muslim conquest, Aelia (Islamic Jerusalem)was a largely Christian region ruled by the Byzantines. Most of its inhabitantshad converted to Christianity after the Emperor Constantine professed hisChristian faith in 312 CE. As time passed, Christian population in Aeliaincreased dramatically. The Christian consisted of both Arabs and Non Arabsfrom various places who differed in language, culture and civilization.
Thiscaused instability in Aelia Christian community. In the 5th centuryserious disagreements erupted between Monophysites and Byzantine emperor aboutthe coexistence of divine and human natures of Christ. Thus, at the time of Muslim conquest, the lives of theChristians of Aelia were rent by conflict, dispute and disagreement , accompanied by persecution for those who didnot conform to the particular beliefs of the imperial regime at that time.Muslims had been interested in Islamic Jerusalem since thetime of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Prophet himself had issued a number oftraditions (ahadith), in which he told his followers about the future conquestof Bayt al-Maqdis (Islamic Jerusalem). For instance, in a statement to ShaddadIbn Aws, one of his companions, he said:”Al-Sham will be conquered, and Bayt al-Maqdis will beconquered, and your sons will be the Imams there, if God wills.”And to another of his companions, Awf Ibn Malik, he predictedsix incidents that would occur before the last day:”O Awf, Count six things between now and judgment day. Firstis my death and second is conquest of Bayt al-Maqdis.
“The Prophet asserted the significance of Islamic Jerusalem tothe Muslims, despite the fact that whole area including Aelia was ruled byByzantines at that time. The Muslim state in Madinah was in its early stagesand Muslims were still relatively weak. But the significance of IslamicJerusalem was such that Muslims made it their sacred duty to bring holinessback to the region. The Prophet Muhammad began his mission in the early years ofthe seventh century CE. After him Abu Bakr understand his vision and after AbuBakr’s death, his successor, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab ‘ continued the project.As life in Aelia became more difficult, Sophronious informedhis people that he would surrender the walled city to the Muslims if the Caliphhad the name Umar. Patriarch also presented his terms that caliph would takecare of their holy places and religious freedom and in return they would payJizyah.Sophronious must have been delighted that caliph had acceptedhis offer to come to Aelia for the city’s surrender.
He invited Umar to pray inchurch at the hour of prayer. Sophronious considered the Muslims and the caliphto be protector of Aelia and its holy Places from the domination of Jews, whowere the enemies of Christians. He maintains that the conquest of Aelia led toan opportunity for Christians to contain the Jews, with the help of Muslims,through the concession granted to them in “Umar assurance of safety”.Soon after the arrival, Umar gave an assurance to theinhabitants of Aelia that guaranteed their security and religious freedom knownas “Umar assurance of safety”.
He wrote to the inhabitants of Islamic Jerusalem;”I guarantee for you the safety of your persons, properties,families, your crosses and your churches.You will not be taxed beyond your means, and whosoeverdecides to follow his people then he will be guaranteed safety and you pay thekharaj like the other cities of Palestine. “One of the guarantees in Umar’s Assurance was that Christianchurches would not be converted into dwellings or destroyed, and that therewould be no compulsion in regard to religious rights. Among the events thatdemonstrated his respect for places of worship belonging to other religion washis refusal to pray in church of the Holy sepulcher.Al-Kilani, a Jordanian scholar, quoting Balmer and Bezanit onUmar’s refusal to pray in church, says:”This noble action by Umar to prevent this church being takenby Muslim calls forth our admirations for this man. Despite the civilization wehave reached in the 19 th century, we will never imagine the nobility and thewonderful behavior Muslims had when they ruled Jerusalem. “Another event that shaped the relations between Muslims andChristians in Islamic Jerusalem was the handing over the keys to the Holysepulcher church by Patriarch Sophronious to caliph Umar.Christians inhabitants of the area wrote to the Muslims,saying:”O Muslims, we prefer you to the Byzantine, though they areof our own faith, because you keep faith with us and are more merciful to usand refrain from doing us injustice and your rule over us is better thantheirs, for they have robbed us of our goods and our homes.
“Umar Ibn al-Khattab valued the observance of the Islamicrequirement of just treatment of the people of Book more highly thanestablishing “Islamization” in the newly conquered territory. He provided a lastingframework for dignified coexistence between Christians and Muslims. He was themagnanimous leader indeed.However just over 450 years latter Islamic Jerusalem fell toCrusader army, followed by great slaughter and banishment of much of thesurviving population. Some historians maintain that reason for the launching offirst Crusade and a war against Muslims was that Pope Urban 2 repeatedly issuedcalls to Christians in Western Europe to go to the Jerusalem and rescue theChristian’s holy places and tomb of the Jesus from the hands of Muslims. Hemade false speeches that Muslims behavior to Christians is not just and at lasthis efforts bore fruit.
The Crusaders killed more than seventy thousand people inAl-Aqsa mosque, among them a large group of Muslim imams, religious scholars,devout men and ascetics, many of them had left their homeland to live near holyplaces.Ibn al Qalanisi reports;”The Franks stormed the town and gained possession of it. Anumber of the townsfolk fled to the sanctuary and a great host were killed. TheJews assembled in the synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads. Thesanctuary was surrendered to them on guarantee of safety on 22 Shaban / 14 Julyof this year, and they destroyed the shrines and the tombs of Prophet IbrahimAbraham.”Thus a new era began in history of Islamic Jerusalem, lasting88 years and bringing many changes.Yusuf Ibn Ayyub Salah-al-din known in western literature asSaladin. He was the grandson of Shadhi who was the master of citadel of TakritAfter his death, his position was given to Najm al-Din Ayyub.
As a child Salahal-din vigorously studied Quran that later followed by long hours of scholarlystudy. At young age of 14 Sala al-Din began to learn the art of fighting andsoon stood out among the troops of Nur al-Din (his uncle). Like his father wasvying with the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, and both were attempting to takeover Egypt after Nur ul-din suddens death in 1174 CE, leaving a 12 years oldson, al Salih. Salah al-Din asserted his right to succession in ground that alSalih would not be able to shoulder the burden of Kingship. So the followingyear Salah al-Din proclaimed himself Sultan of Egypt.
After his success inuniting Muslims under his leadership and in his administrative Reforms, Salahal-Din and his army proceeded towards Islamic Jerusalem. Islamic Jerusalemoccupied a very distinctive position in the mind of Salah al-Din. He said:”If God blesses us by enabling us to drive his enemies out ofIslamic Jerusalem, how fortunate and happy we are going to be! For the enemyhas controlled Islamic Jerusalem for ninety one years, during which time Goddid not accept any good deed from us.. At the same time the zeal of Muslimrulers to deliver it faded away. Time passed and so did many generations whilethe crusaders succeeded in rooting themselves strongly there.
“As Muslim army marched from South to Damascus they won anumber of victories over the crusaders but most important and decisive battlewas that of Hittin. This paved the way to Islamic Jerusalem. The walled city ofIslamic Jerusalem surrendered on 27 Rajab 1187 CE that was the same date onwhich Holy Prophet (PBUH) had been supernaturally transported from Makkah toIslamic Jerusalem. The region contained more than one hundred thousand peopleincluding Christian men, women and children. Salah al-din entered the city andfreed it from 88 years Crusader rule.
The Muslim treatment of Christians during Salah al-Din reignwas quite different from that of Caliph Umar Ibn-al Khattab in an earlycentury. The political state was also very different. In time of Umar there wasone Muslim State, with central government in Madinah controlling the whole ofthe State. In Salah al din’s day there was more than one Muslim Government.Some historians writing at the time reported that Salahal-Din relations with Christians in Egypt began uneasily and the deterioratedfurther. Churches in Egypt suffered extreme destruction, particularly afterSalah al-Din became wazir.
All wooden crosses on tops of basilica dome andchurches in Egypt were removed at Salah al-Din’s order. Churches with whiteexteriors were painted black. The ringing of bells was prohibited throughoutthe country and Christians were not allowed to pray in public. On Palm Sundaythe Christians were not allowed to hold their traditional procession in streetsof Egyptian towns and villages, or to cary olive branches and crosses.
Beginning of reign Salah al-Din promulgated harsh socialrestrictions on the dhimmis , ordering the Christians to wear clothes thatdistinguished them from Muslims and waist belts of different color, not to ridehorses or mules but only donkeys and notto drink alcohol in public. Coptic patriarch and priests suffered greatly inthe early years of Salah al-Din’s rule.The reason of such harsh behavior was that both Fatimid’s andDhimmis were strongly against him. He faced threats from Fatimid supporters,from the large number of Armenian soldiers who had held the positions ofAuthority and had been exempted from Jizyah tax and from Christians and Jewsactivities who had played a significant role in the disturbances and plotsagainst his new Government. Al Maqrizi reports that Armenians had fiercelyresisted Salah al-Din army in 1169 CE. That’s why Salah al-Din took harshmeasures to protect himself and his new reign.It is clear that unstable political and security situationwas the reason for harsh rules and regulations, as it was at the time of pactof Umar.
Salah al-Din’s restrictions compelled the Christians to submit to hisrule since they were his subjects and second would control them and restricttheir freedom. This would make it easier for him to assert to his authority andif the dhimmis breached the regulations they would be accountable to him. Salahal-Din also ordered Christians to obey the restrictions laid down in Pact ofUmar.The turning point came when Salah al-Din abandoned theseoppressive rules after four or five years. It was not a sign of weakness on hispart. The conspiracies had been suppressed and situation had calmed down. Salah al-Din was now a sole ruler ofEgypt, supported by the army that had accompanied his Uncle Shirkuh from alSham as well as by many Egyptians who had been opposed to Fatimid caliphate.
From the historical point of view it is event that Salahal-Din’s actions against the Christians in Egypt were in no way related to theCrusader occupation of Jerusalem, but were a direct response to the rebellionof local Christians against him. However after about five years, when the Salah al-Din haddeveloped more confidence in Christians, he allowed them become clerks in Armyand to hold higher position than before. They were also permitted to ridehorses and mules and to wear same garments and belts as Muslims.He displayed tolerance towards the dhimmis of Egypt. He gavegenerously to them and to dhimmis in the surrounding areas and allowed themcertain benefits. Egypt also witnessed a large building and renovation programsof Christian churches.
Later in Salah al-Din reign Christians were also able tocelebrate Palm Sunday and other festivals in the atmosphere of greaterreligious tolerance. Salah al-Din payed great importance on allowing thefreedom of religious practice on Christian places of worship. Salah al-Dintolerance extended towards the dhimmis peasants. Coptic Farmers, like all otherinhabitants, benefitted from justice and tolerance of Salah al-Din era.
The farmerswere grateful that their land was save from confiscation. Religious officialshad complete freedom from government interference when collecting the proceedsfrom farm belongings to the church and from the lands endowed to churches. Inshort Christians enjoyed the freedom of religion during Salah al-Din’s reign. Arnold said:”The native Christian certainly preferred the rule of theMuslims to that of Crusaders, and when Jerusalem fell finally and ever intohands of the Muslims, the Christian population of Palestine seems to havewelcomed the new masters and to have submitted quietly and contentedly to theirrule.
“It can be said that Salah al-Din was a model of chivalry. Hewas generous to his defeated enemies and kind to Crusader women and humane to capturedthe prisoners of high rank. Once he had taken Islamic Jerusalem, he opened thecity to pilgrims of all faiths. Salah al-Din was also a determined fighter anda good strategist.
His attitude towards Christians was vastly different fromthat of Crusaders to Muslims. Although he had the power to do so, Sala al-Dindid not kill thousands of them when he took Islamic Jerusalem, as the Crusadershad done to Muslims and Jews. His treatment of Christians and non-Muslims in IslamicJerusalem was characterized by tolerance, respect and generosity.