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Islamic Jerusalem: “We Will Drive the Jews into the Sea” – 2 of 3


The following is the second instalment of a three-part series of posts on the subject of “Islamic Jerusalem”, written by our latest associate author, Dr J. Hashmi.

Click here to read the first instalment (parts 1-3).

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Parts 4 and 5 are presented below.

Part 4: The Crusades [A.D. 1095 – 1250]

Part 4a: Crusaders Capture Jerusalem

The powerful Eastern Roman Empire had initiated hostilities with the fledgling Islamic state in A.D. 630 at the Battle of Tabouk. It seems that the Byzantines foresaw the emergence of a great power that would become its main territorial rival, and tried to snuff it out early on. By A.D. 1095, however, the scales of power had shifted dramatically, and the Islamic empire had diminished the Eastern Roman Empire to a meager fraction of its original size. The once great Christian empire was on the verge of utter collapse, and so Pope Urban II issued a plea for help from the Western Roman Empire. Thus began the Crusades, a bloody series of wars between Muslims and Christians. Within four years, Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders, and it was then that the age of coexistence between Jews, Christians, and Muslims of that region came to a crashing halt. The official website of the Jewish Agency for Israel narrates:

In 1099 the Crusaders besieged Jerusalem and, in one of history’s strange ironies, the “City of Peace” was once again involved in war and bloodshed. The Christian soldiers, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, scaled the city walls and massacred the inhabitants — Jews and Muslims alike. In order to repopulate the city, the Crusaders transferred Christian Arab tribes from Transjordan and settled them in the former Jewish quarter.

Jerusalem became the capital of the Crusader kingdom and thrived because of the concentration of all the government and church bodies there. Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims visited the city every year, thus adding to its growth and prosperity. But the Jews were still for the most part banned, as during the previous Christian period.


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Part 4b: Saladin Recaptures Jerusalem

The Muslim world was scandalized by the barbarity of the Crusaders; stories of cannibalism and blood orgies were reported by both Muslim and Christian chroniclers. The call to Jihad (holy war) was issued. But it took two hundred years for the city of Jerusalem to be re-conquered. It was the legendary Saladin (Salah al-Din) who fulfilled this task. Like his predecessor Caliph Umar, Saladin entered Jerusalem in a bloodless conquest; the city surrendered to him without a fight. The Christian inhabitants expected to be slaughtered by their Muslim conquerors, as vengeance for the bloody massacre of Jerusalem’s Muslims some eighty-eight years ago by the Crusader conquerors. But Saladin granted the Christians generous terms, and wronged not a soul:

Eighty-eight years later, Crusader Jerusalem was besieged by the Muslim army commanded by Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin). The besieged Jerusalemites trembled for fear that the Muslims would make them pay for the slaughter of their people. But the sultan was made of different stuff. He was humane, generous, sensitive, merciful toward the weak, honest, skillful in statesmanship, and courageous in war. In short, the image of Saladin the infidel matched the ideal of the Christian knight. Saladin set generous terms of surrender, and no Christian was killed…The Church of the Holy Sepulchre…was reopened and Christian worship restored. The image of the generous enemy, the unbeliever who demonstrated the Christian spirit more than the Christians themselves, kindled the imagination of the Europeans.

(City of Stone, by Meron Benvenisti, p.15)

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Part 4c: Saladin’s Magnanimity

Saladin allowed the Eastern Christians to stay in Jerusalem, and he was merciful on the Western Crusaders as well, allowing them to leave for a pittance ransom, much of which he paid from his own coffers. These Crusaders were escorted to safety by Saladin’s own guards. Arguably in contravention to the treaty hammered out with Saladin, the Crusaders stripped the churches of gold and silver on their way out:

They [the Crusaders] stripped the ornaments from their churches, carrying with them vases of gold and silver and silk- and gold-embroidered curtains as well as church treasures. The Patriarch Heraclius collected and carried away gold plating, gold and silver jewelry, and other artifacts from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Note: This is the official website of Fordham University: the Jesuit University of New York.

Saladin’s own secretaries protested that he was being too generous to the Crusaders, but Saladin refused to take action against the Christians:

Imad al-Din was amazed at the amount of treasure that had been carried away by the departing Latins [Crusaders]. He reports having told Salah al-Din that these treasures could be valued at 200,000 dinars. He reminded him that his agreement with the Latins was for safe conduct (arnan) for themselves and their own property, but not for that of the churches, and he counseled that such treasures should not be left in Latin hands. But Salah al-Din rejected his proposal:

“If we interpret the treaty [now] against their interest, they will accuse us of treachery…Let us deal with them according to the wording of the treaty so they may not accuse the believers of breaking the covenant. Instead, they will talk of the favours that we have bestowed upon them.”

Certainly Salah al-Din’s magnanimity towards the Latins contrasts sharply with the attitude of the victorious Crusaders in 1099.


These Christians were escorted to safety:

Salah al-Din assigned each group fifty of his officers to ensure their safe arrival in territories held by the Christians. One chronicler gives Salah al-Din’s officers credit for their humane treatment of the refugees, noting that these officers, “who could not endure the suffering of the refugees, ordered their squires to dismount and set aged Christians upon their steeds. Some of them even carried Christian children in their arms.”


When the Crusaders had conquered Jerusalem, they had ransacked and destroyed the mosques; yet, Saladin preserved and refurnished the churches. Additionally, he even allowed the Byzantine patriarch to directly rule the churches of Jerusalem:

Salah al-Din allowed them to pray freely in their churches, and he handed over control of Christian affairs to the Byzantine patriarch…When the Byzantine emperor received the news of Salah al-Din’s victory in Jerusalem, he asked him to restore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Greek Orthodox Christians, a request that Salah al-Din granted.


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Part 4d: Saladin Reverses the Ban on Jews

Just as Caliph Umar had reversed the Christian ban on Jewish settlement, so too did Saladin allow the Jews to return. During the next few years, Jerusalem shifted between Muslim and Christian control: each time the Christians conquered the city, the Jews were expelled, and restored when the Muslims re-conquered it:

When the Muslims, under Saladin, recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, the Jews enjoyed a short period of resettlement in Jerusalem. But with Saladin’s death, the city remained without any stable authority and was shuttled back and forth between Christians and Muslims.


A useful aside:

It is interest to note here that, as far as Palestine is concerned, the right of Jews to “return” to live in this small area of land was accepted by all successive Muslim rulers from the Muslim conquest to the end of the nineteenth century, when Zionist settlement there became entangled in European weltpolitik*. Gibb and Bowen relate how, when the Jews of Europe “learned of the paradisiacal life awaiting them in Turkey” and many of them set out for Palestine, it was not the Muslims who objected but the [Christian] Franciscans of Jerusalem, “who talked the Pope into forbidding the Venetians to carry Jewish passengers to the Holy Land.” This was not the first time Jerusalem Christians tried to prevail on Muslim rulers to ban Jews from living in the city. A similar attempt was made first when the second Caliph, Omar, entered Jerusalem at the time of its conquest by the Muslim army in the seventh century, and again when Salah ad-Din [Saladin] drove out the Crusaders in the twelfth. On both of these occasions, the Christian patriarch of the city tried to persuade the Muslim conquerors to prevent Jews from living in or (as in the latter case) returning to Jerusalem after they had been expelled from it by the Christians. Both Omar and Salah ad-Din refused to heed their pleas.

(Israel’s Place in the Middle East: A Pluralistic Perspective, by Nissim Rejwan, p.40)

*weltpolitik: translates to “world policy”, and refers to an aggressive foreign policy by which a country wishes to establish itself as a colonial world power

Note: Nissim Rejwan, the author of the above book, is a Jewish Israeli historian. He is currently a Research Fellow at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Rejwan’s book won the 1998 National Jewish Book Award for Israel Studies.

Nissim Rejwan writes: “Whenever the Crescent had hegemony, the lot of the Jews began to improve.” (as quoted by Daniel Pipes in his review of the book).

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Part 5: The Turks [A.D. 1250 – 1914]

Part 5a: The Mamluks

Saladin’s dynasty was succeeded by the Mamluks, who were Muslim Turks (emphasis is ours):

In 1250 a new Muslim force appeared on the scene, the Mamluks, who managed to establish themselves as rulers of Jerusalem for over 260 years. Jewish life in Jerusalem was somewhat freer under Mamluk rule than it had been with the Christians. The city remained poor but Jewish scholarship and learning thrived.


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Part 5b: The Ottoman Empire

The Ottomans, another group of Muslim Turks, succeeded the Mamluks:

Jerusalem came under the domination of the Ottoman Turks in 1517 when Sultan Selim I took it in a bloody battle with the Mamluks. His successor, Suleiman the Magnificent, left his mark on Jerusalem’s history by building the present-day wall around the Old City. The construction of the wall, which took five years, made a great impression on the Jews of the time and it remains as one of the dominant architectural features of the city to this day…


We read:

For nearly five centuries the Ottoman dynasty founded by Osman I (r.1280-1324) governed a vast Islamic empire…and embraced a medley of ethnic and religious minorities, including Jews and a variety of Christian communities. Ottoman rule generally improved the situation of Jews living in those areas previously controlled by the Byzantine Empire, under which the Jews suffered humiliation and servitude for centuries. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Jews fleeing the Inquisition and persecutions in Spain, Portugal, and other parts of Europe found refuge in the Ottoman realm…they (the Ottomans) granted their communities considerable autonomy in the conduct of their cultural and religious life.

(A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations, by Edward Kessler, p. 327)

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Part 5c: Jews Find Refuge in the Ottoman Empire

Israeli historian Nissim Rejwan writes:

Under Ottoman Islam, which by the beginning of the sixteenth century dominated Syria [including Palestine] and Eygpt, the conditions under which the Jews were permitted to live contrasted so strikingly with those imposed on their coreligionists in various parts of Christendom that the fifteenth century witnessed a large influx of European Jews into the [Ottoman] Sultan’s dominions. During the first half of that century, persecutions had occurred in Bohemia, Austria, and Poland, and, at about this time, two German rabbis who sought and secured refuge in the Ottoman Empire wrote a letter to their community extolling the beauties and advantages of their new home.

But it was the measures taken against the Jews in Spain, culminating in their expulsion in 1492, that gave the greatest momentum to this migration. The Jews who chose to settle in various parts of the [Ottoman] empire found their surroundings rather congenial, and they, in turn contributed greatly to the flowering of Ottoman civilization…Marranos, who in Christian Spain had embraced Christianity to escape persecution and death, abandoned their disguise and returned to Judaism. Istanbul soon came to harbor the largest Jewish community in the whole of Europe, while Salonika became a predominantly Jewish city. The degree of the Jews’ integration into the life of Ottoman Islam was such, indeed, that two notable non-Jewish students of modern Islam found that there has been, in their words, “something sympathetic to the Jewish nature in the culture of Islam,” since “from the rise of the Caliphate till the abolition of the ghettos in Europe the most flourishing centers of Jewish life were to be found in Muslim countries: in Iraq during the Abbassid period, in Spain throughout the period of Moorish domination, and thereafter in the Ottoman Empire.”

…At the turn of the eighteenth century, the Jewish community in Jerusalem experienced a growth in numbers at an inordinate rate…According to a recent study by Tudor Parfitt, however, the startling increase in Jewish immigration to Jerusalem in the nineteenth century took place “not because the attraction of Jerusalem as the holy city grew, but because political and other factors made such immigration increasingly possible.”

…In nineteenth-century Palestine, he adds, such tolerance was “a consistent part of the relationship between the Ottoman authorities and the Jews.” He quotes European travelers as remarking on “the perfect religious freedom” that prevailed…One of these travelers, J. Wilson, is quoted as saying that “entire freedom of worship…is now accorded to [the Jews] and they are left to manage their own internal affairs without interference from any other quarter.”

(Israel’s Place in the Middle East: A Pluralistic Perspective, by Nissim Rejwan, p.40)

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›› Continue to final instalment (parts 6, 7 & 8 )

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  1. An-Nayjeree

    July 24, 2009 at 8:18 PM

    masha’allah! Once again, an informative read. I’m excited to see the rest!

  2. Chris Brennan

    July 25, 2009 at 1:29 AM

    …very well written and it is all absolutley consistent with other historical sources. If only in this modern day, we could all remember and practice the messages of love and respect that are present in all religions, in particular in the Jewish, Islamic and Christian religions….we would solve nearly all of mankind’s problems. As one author once said in the title of his book: respecting the other in the light of the One…..i.e. respecting other religions in the light of the One God.
    I am convinced that Turkey inside the EU, as a member of the EU is a super and vitally important event which must happen very , very soon.

  3. MR

    July 25, 2009 at 6:28 PM


  4. S.A.

    July 27, 2009 at 7:47 PM

    Assalamu ‘alaykum warahmatullah,

    Why did the Ottomans fight the Mamluks for Jerusalem? They were both Muslims, weren’t they?

    • MM Associates

      July 28, 2009 at 2:53 AM

      Wa alaykum as-salam, brother S.A.

      The Ottomans and Mamluks had a complex relationship. Initially, they had cordial relations. Sultan Bazyezid of the Ottomans would say that he hoped that “the two sultanates be as two souls in one body and two hands in one arm.” In about 1396, a Mamluk ambassador named Amir Tolu min Ali Shah finalized a treaty of mutual alliance and joint defense with the Ottomans.

      However, there was a complication of sorts. Tamerlane, a descendant of the Mongols, had invaded the region some time earlier, and established spheres of influence. When Tamerlane was busy with a war in India, the Ottomans used that time to strengthen their eastern border by annexing neighboring regions, including Tamerlane’s territory. Keep in mind that the Ottomans had to always deal with two borders, the West (Christian Europe) and the East. In order to focus their attention on the West, the Ottomans first had to make sure there would be no threat in the East. So this required consolidating those lands. For example, in the early 1400s, a clash was set between the Ottomans and Tamerlane.

      Now it just so happened that the Mamluk ruler died in 1399. This created disarray and instability in the Mamluk empire. In this time, the Ottomans occupied certain Mamluk vassal principalities. So it was not a direct attack on the Mamluks, but certainly was perceived as such by the Mamluks. The Mamluks subsequently rejected a request of the Ottomans for a renewed alliance against Tamerlane. The Mamluks said:

      “Now he [Bayezid] is ready to be our firend; but when our master al-Zahir Barkuk died, he marched against our land and took Malatya from us; he is not our friend. Let him defend hi sown land, and we will defend ours and our subjects.”

      Tamerlane then sacked both Ottoman and Mamluk territories. The Mamluk historian Ibn Tagribirdi criticized the Mamluks for not agreeing to the alliance with the Ottomans, for had they done that, they may have been able to have prevented the wrath of Tamerlane.

      In 1415, Sultan Mehmed I sent an ambassador to the Mamluks “to renew the friendly ties” between the two countries. The alliance was re-established.

      However, there were border states between the Ottomans and Mamluks, which remained a matter of contention. These border states remained under either Ottoman or Mamluk spheres of influence. The Mamluks for example wanted Karaman as a buffer state between them and the Ottomans, and so Karaman was usually a vassal state with a leader friendly to the Mamluks. The Ottomans countered this by installing a leader in Karaman who would be friendly to the Ottomans. The Mamluks responded by toppling this leader and installing Mehmud Beg in this buffer state. All of this back and forth led to increased tension and a “cold war” of sorts. Things boiled over when Mehmud Beg attacked Ottoman held territory. The Ottomans countered the Mamluk-Karaman axis by making Dulkadir their own vassal state. Again, cold war.

      However, another peace treaty was recognized by the two sides in 1437, cemented by a marriage between a Mamluk Sultan and Ottoman princess. Good relations ensued. In 1453, Ottomans conquered Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Some of the booty was sent in the form of a gift to the Mamluk Sultan.

      The Beg of Karaman feared the Ottoman’s surging glory after this conquest, and requested Mamluk “protection” against the Ottomans in 1455, complaining that the Ottomans treated the Greek Orthodox Christians too well. The Mamluks rebuffed the request and rejected the complaint. This was a time of cordial relations with the Ottomans. The Mamluk-Ottoman alliance was strengthened at this time by fear of a renewed Crusade.

      Ibrahim Beg replied to the Mamluk rebuff by capturing Mamluk’s spheres of influence. The Mamluks responded in force, and Ibrahim Beg was roundly defeated, although he was pardoned for his insubordination.

      The Mamluks and Ottomans remained on good terms for as long as the war was focused against Europe. When the Ottoman Sultan focused on bolstering his eastern border and annexed neighboring principalities (the Comneni Greek Kingdom of Trebizond and the Turkoman principality of Isfendiyar), the Mamluks felt threatened. In 1464, an Ottoman envoy to the Mamluks was sent with a message that was seen by the Mamluks as offensive. Furthermore, the Ottoman ambassador did not show the “proper” decorum and was almost put to death by the Mamluks.

      The Mamluk chronicler Ibn Ilyas cites this incident as “the cause for the outbreak of enmity between the Sultan of Egypt (the Mamluks) and the Ottomans.”

      Anyways, suffice to say, the border states between the two empires were the major reason for the cold war between the two, and is what eventually led to a direct confrontation. However, it should be noted that both sides were aware of the fact that they should not be fighting against each other, as they were both Muslims. This is abundantly clear from their writings and epistles to each other. Even in 1471, for example, we have a Mamluk epistle to the Ottoman sultan, which read as follows:

      The bonds of harmony and the cords of new beginnings between the Two Exalted Centers (the Ottoman capital Istanbul and the Mamluk capital Cairo) as existed in the old days and previous years, should remain this way forever and ever. The Two Sublime Powers (the Ottomans and Mamluks) and the heads of their states should keep the gates of correspondence open…so that peace between the two sultans is beneficial for the two worlds and a reason for their existence forever and ever.

      In 1485, however, the Ottomans attacked the Mamluk empire directly. The Ottoman Sultan justified his war against a Muslim sultanate by sending a fatwa from the ulema along with an envoy to the Mamluks. The fatwa argued that the Turkmans (on Mamluk territory bordering the Ottomans) had rebelled, committed brigandage, cut off the hajj and trade routes, and did not leave the province of Karaman in peace.

      The Ottoman-Mamluk wars thus began.

      So it was a complex history between the two empires, shuffling between times of peace–even alliance–and hostility (both cold and hot war).


      • S.A.

        August 1, 2009 at 10:08 AM

        Jazakumullahu khayr for the explanation.

        SubhanAllah. That’s quite complex and truly unfortunate. Makes you wonder what the world could have been like today if they had maintained proper Islamic ties.

  5. MM Associates

    July 28, 2009 at 1:47 AM

    In case anyone missed this part, I think it deserves to be repeated:

    One chronicler gives Salah al-Din’s officers credit for their humane treatment of the refugees, noting that these officers, “who could not endure the suffering of the refugees, ordered their squires to dismount and set aged Christians upon their steeds. Some of them even carried Christian children in their arms.”

    It is truly a wondrous image to think of Muslims carrying Christian children in their arms!


  6. Faraz Omar

    July 28, 2009 at 5:27 AM

    Well-researched article. i dont however like the way the sources were mentioned. Instead of having “Source” and linked, it would have been better if they were spelled out as to what the sources were. because sometimes i like printing out such articles n reading… so i’ve read it all but i don’t know what the sources were…. so i suppose my brain doesn’t classify that information as v credible because it doesn’t know the sources… :)

    And also missing was of course input of Muslim scholars. How far can I trust Israeli sources for accurate narrative of history… i dont know…

    please do not be offended. i really really liked ur piece and can’t wait for the final one… v valuable and im sure it will be v beneficial for refuting israelis…

    • MM Associates

      July 28, 2009 at 8:38 AM

      Wa alaykum as-salam, brother Faraz.

      Thank you for your valuable input. I agree with you that the source should be mentioned instead of just “source.” I will make the necessary updates.

      For the record, the only two websites I quoted above are (the official website for the Jewish Agency for Israel) and (official website of Fordham University: the Jesuit University of New York).

      Also, as a side note, I think we should recognize and appreciate the honesty and reliability of many of the Israeli New Historians. For example, Ian Pappé wrote a book entitled “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.”

      Truly Muslims need to ask themselves tough questions as to why Israel has a working system that could produce such a group that critically examines its own nation, whereas one cannot imagine such a thing in any Muslim country today. Likewise, Israeli human rights groups fight for the rights of Palestinians, whereas one cannot imagine such groups (i.e. Muslim groups fighting for the rights of Non-Muslims and minorities) existing in the current Muslim countries.

      Having said that, there is no doubt about the oppressive nature of Israeli state. It should also be noted that the Israeli government (i.e. Netanyahu) is trying to silence and sideline the New Historians. But the point here is that there *is* a single aspect of their society that we Muslims can recognize as commendable…which does not at all lessen the atrocities of the Israeli nation-state.

      My point in writing these articles was not at all to tell us Muslims that we are just great and don’t need to change anything. Rather, it was to show how we have a great history and we are not living up to it.


  7. Faraz Omar

    July 28, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    Likewise, Israeli human rights groups fight for the rights of Palestinians, whereas one cannot imagine such groups (i.e. Muslim groups fighting for the rights of Non-Muslims and minorities) existing in the current Muslim countries.

    Can u give me one example where non-Muslims are persecuted in a Muslim country.

  8. Faraz Omar

    July 28, 2009 at 10:30 AM

    And as for Israeli historians, I have every reason to be skeptical about their works. israel has decided to remove al-naqba and the history of it from arab textbooks… the name al-quds will also be removed … they r rewriting history.
    if there r some “good” historians or some “good” people calling for “rights” of Palestinians then good for them… we know how the end is going to be insha Allah…

    • MM Associates

      July 28, 2009 at 12:35 PM

      Wa alaykum as-salam, my beloved brother Faraz.

      May Allah [swt] reward you.

      And as for Israeli historians, I have every reason to be skeptical about their works. israel has decided to remove al-naqba and the history of it from arab textbooks… the name al-quds will also be removed … they r rewriting history.

      Brother, the entire controversy started when the New Historians recognized Al-Nakba, which garnered the chagrin of their coreligionist “Old” Historians.


      • Faraz Omar

        July 29, 2009 at 3:28 AM

        Wa alaykum as-salam, my beloved brother Faraz.

        Thank you and Jazaak Allah khair for ur kind and loving way of addressing me. Baarak Allah feek. may Allah bless u with good in this life and the next…

  9. murat

    September 2, 2009 at 4:41 AM

  10. Abdul Rashid Abdullah

    August 21, 2015 at 7:33 AM

    As-Salaamu Alaikum. Great series of articles. If I may offer one suggestion. Please use CE instead of AD. AD stands for Anno Domini, which means in the year of our Lord, with Lord being Jesus Christ. CE is common Era and is in wide use by many modern scholars now.

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