Crusader-Muslim relationships during the Crusades

ln the late eleventh century, when the first crusade arrived in the Middle East, the region was not predominantly Muslim. The population was divided between Greek and other eastern Christians, Jews, Muslims, and minority religious groups which did not fit precisely into any of the three great religions. 

The Muslims were not united against other religions and were not necessarlly anti-Frankish. The conflicts in this region were not fundamentally over religion; the key factor at stake was the need for land. What those who farmed this land and traded across it wanted from government were not so much rulers who followed their own religion as rulers who would keep the peace, so that they could carry on their agriculture and trade.

Although the peoples living in the Middle East were deeply religious, they did not live in homogenous religious groups. Even the armies that fought for the rulers of this region were of mixed religions and cultural backgrounds. The Franks -including the Templars and Hospitallers- employed native light cavalry archers known as turcopoles, who fought alongside their heavy cavalry. Within the orders of the Temple and Hospital, the turcopoles were sufficiently significant to have a brother-knight assigned as their commanding officer, the turcopolier.

The Frankish military leaders, including the Templars, had regular diplomatic ties with Muslims. The Arab-Syrian prince Usàmä ibn Munqidh called the Templars his friends and described how when he visited Jerusalem they allowed him to pray in one of their chapels at their headquarters in the former Aqsa mosque. This friendship, however, did not prevent the Templars of Gaza nearly killing Usämà in 1154 in an ambush. ln 1244 Emperor Frederick ll bitterly criticized the Franks of Outremer for abandoning his treaty with the sultan of Egypt in favour of an alliance with the ruler of Damascus, and accused the Templars of playing host to Muslims within their walls and allowing their guests to follow their religious practices—yet he himself had negotiated with the sultan of Egypt and made a peace treaty with him in 1229.

The Anglo-Welsh cleric Walter Map, writing in the 1180s or 1190s, claimed that a Muslim prince named Salius converted to Christianity and joined the Templars. Conversely, the Templars’ regulations indicate that disaffected Templars would join the Muslims, but any Templar who converted to Islam was expelled from the order. The Franks, including the Templars, remained distinctfrom their Muslim neighbours in their diet, as well as their religious practices: archaeological evidence from their houses shows that the Templars ate pork and bacon, and drank alcohol. Muslims and Christians worked with each other when it was to their advantage, but they remained separate.

This blog quotes under the rules of Fair Use a slightly abbreviated portion of pages 44 and 45 of The Knights Templar by Helen J. Nicholson ( 2021, Arc Humanities Press, Leeds, UK). Illustration: Crusader muslim encounter, source.

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