Post-classical history

Outremer: Muslim Population

A sizable component of the subjected, indigenous population of Outremer, and the one most affected by the period of Frankish rule inaugurated by the First Crusade (1096-1099).

Muslims probably formed a majority in most parts of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem (alongside large numbers of Eastern Christians and smaller numbers of Jews), but they remained a minority in the northern Frankish states, where Christians of various denominations (Melkites, Syrian Orthodox, and Armenians) were more numerous. The majority of the settled Muslim population (usually referred to as “Saracens” by the Franks) of southern Syria and Palestine seems to have been Sunni in faith, with Shi‘ite, Druze, and Nusayri communities in the north. Nomadic Arabs (Bedouin) and Turcoman tribes inhabited the fringes of the cultivated area, especially in Transjordan, the northern Banyas region, the coastal plain south of Gaza, and the frontiers of the county of Edessa.

Our knowledge of the conditions of Muslims under Frankish rule, especially of those residing in the northern states, is scanty. Very little surviving evidence is of local origin (whether Muslim or Frankish), and contemporaneous Muslim historiography written outside the Frankish states hardly supplements it. A typical example of this state of affairs may be found in Ibn al-Athir’s chronicle: the reconquest of Edessa by Zangi in 1144 is glorified in flowery language, its fall to Baldwin of Boulogne forty-six years earlier is almost completely ignored, and almost nothing is written about its Muslim inhabitants in between those two landmarks.

Muslims were reduced from a dominant class to subordinates of the lowest rank in Outremer, after having lost most of their elite in the course of the crusader conquest. During the period of Frankish expansion (1098-1124) many Muslims, some of whom were survivors of the massacres committed by the crusading forces in conquered cities such as Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey), Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘mān, Jerusalem, Caesarea (mod. Har Qesari, Israel), and Tortosa (mod. Tartûs, Syria), fled from their homes. Others were subjected to captivity and enslavement.

In cities that capitulated on terms, such as Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel), Tripoli (mod. Trâblous, Lebanon), Sidon (mod. Saïda, Lebanon), Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon), and Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel), the Muslim elite preferred exile in neighboring countries to life under Frankish rule. Ramla, Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel), Tiberias (mod. Teverya, Israel), and some other settlements were abandoned by their Muslim inhabitants out of fear of anticipated Frankish attacks. Some local forces, such as the Banû Munqidh of Shaizar and the Banû ‘Ammār of Tripoli, offered the advancing crusaders safe passage through their lands and negotiated for truce in hope of retaining their lands and their autonomy from larger Muslim entities.

After the initial conquest, with greater stability and economic development, Muslims gradually returned to cities they had left, with the exception of Jerusalem, where non- Christians were not allowed to settle. The larger Muslim communities that recovered seem to have been in the northern cities: Beirut and Sidon in the kingdom of Jerusalem, Jabala (mod. Jabalah, Syria) in the county of Tripoli, and Gibelet (mod. Jubail, Lebanon) and Laodikeia (mod. Al- Lâdhiqiyah, Syria) in the principality of Antioch.

Like the members of other communities in Outremer, Muslims were free to live according to the tenets and rules of their religion. Some of the larger mosques had been confiscated and converted into churches serving the Latin rite, but most other mosques, in cities and in the countryside, remained in Muslim possession. In some places Muslims were also occasionally allowed to pray in sections of former mosques. Despite the destruction of the centers of Islamic scholarship in Jerusalem, and possibly also in Ascalon, local qâdis (judges), prayer leaders, preachers, and rural shaykhs, some of them versed in Islamic tradition, provided spiritual leadership, an example of resistance, and an autonomous Muslim judicial system.

In Frankish courts that dealt with criminal law and with cases involving mixed parties, Muslims (like members of the other religious denominations) could take oaths on their own holy scriptures. However, in the Court of the Market (Fr. Cour de la Fonde), where intercommunal quarrels and civil law issues were settled, they were clearly discriminated against: only Franks and Eastern Christians could function as jurors, and the attitude toward Muslims was particularly severe. All Muslims were subject to the payment of the degrading, and not negligible, capitatio (poll tax). They were supposed to wear different clothing, could not witness in cases involving Latins (except in certain specified matters), did not serve in the Frankish armies, and did not participate in the public life of the Latin kingdom. Urban Muslims were legally considered free men, unless captured and reduced to slavery (as happened to many, either during warfare or in Frankish raids) or—in some particular and rare circumstances—to serf-dom, as suggested by a few documents from the northern principalities. There were Muslim physicians and merchants (whose contacts with the European mercantile communities were limited), proprietors of lands and houses, but very few clerks and scribes: Arabic-speaking Christians held the majority of those administrative positions. On the whole, Muslims filled a relatively marginal role in town life.

Bedouins enjoyed a special legal status. They were under royal jurisdiction and owed the Crown payment for pasture rights. Villagers, Muslim and Eastern Christian alike, became villeins (serfs) of their Frankish lords and were not allowed to leave their estates without the permission of their lords. Many documents deal with fugitive villeins and with the sale or gift of individual villeins (or rather, of their tenure and dues). It seems fair to say that the status of Muslim villagers under the Franks was no worse than that of their coreligionists in neighboring Muslim lands, and may even have been better. Unlike the city dwellers, they were left more or less untouched by the conquest itself. Rural institutions, such as the position of rafs (village headman), who acted as intermediary between villagers and their lord, remained unaffected. In the mountains of Lebanon in the county of Tripoli the rafs was even regarded as a local chieftain. Even though the rafs was not chosen by the Frankish lord, he received formal confirmation and took some form of oath.

The treatment of Muslim villagers varied from one region to another. In 1184 Ibn Jubayr, a pious Muslim traveler from North Africa, noted sorrowfully that in the region of Tyre Muslim peasants were pleased with life under the rule of their Christian masters and had no incentive to rebel. They admitted that taxation (levied in kind) was reasonable and no labor services were imposed; the Franks refrained from interference in their personal property and affairs. Taxation in the region east of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) was significantly more burdensome, at least for a period. According to testimony predating that of Ibn Jubayr’s by thirty years and quoted by Diyā’ al-Dīn al-Maqdisī (1173-1245), Muslim villagers in the Nablus region paid a quadruple tax and endured the harsh conduct of their master. Some of them, followers of a local preacher of the Hanbalī school of law, chose an atypical course of action by emigrating to Muslim- ruled Damascus. Their organized, religiously motivated rejection of Frankish rule may be counted among the conquered population’s few expressions of active resistance.

For the most part Muslims under Frankish rule did not play a significant role in the countercrusades. Their initial reaction to the conquest, as represented mainly by refugee poets—who had most probably misinterpreted the scope, longevity, and religious nature of the threat posed by the cru- sades—was shock and lamentation. There were individual acts of violence against Frankish lords and two locally instigated revolts, in the Nablus area in 1113 and in southern Transjordan in 1144. Otherwise, only rarely did locals participate in jihād (holy war) against the Franks, even when warfare was initiated and carried out by the rulers and armies of Damascus, Mosul, and Aleppo.

Frankish legislation set out to separate the Frankish and Muslim communities, outlawing sexual contact between them, forbidding Muslims to wear Frankish clothing, and forbidding Franks to consult Muslim physicians (who were thought to be more qualified than those of European origin). Yet on a day-to-day basis, Muslims and Franks would meet in the marketplace and the bathhouse, in mixed caravans, and on the same ships. Franks and Muslims regularly crossed each other’s territories, even in periods of heightened tension, for the sake of commerce, family visits, study, and even hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Latins and non-Christians associated in the popular cults of local shrines such as the tombs of the patriarchs in Hebron and the crypt of St. John the Baptist in Sebastea. Members of the elite of both sides interacted with each other while negotiating truces or trade agreements, on hunting trips and mutual visits, and as prisoners of war.

Arabic sources show that while Muslims were willing to concede Frankish determination and courage in battle, they despised their coarse manners, sexual mores, unfaithfulness, legal system, medical ignorance, and, most of all, of course, their Christian faith. References to the Franks are usually accompanied by derogatory phrases, such as kuffār (“unbelievers”), mushrikün (“idol worshippers”), and mulhidün (“heretics”), and by curses. Muslims showed no inclination to adopt the culture of their conquerors, and only very few men, in either camp, had a command of both Arabic and European languages.

The problematic nature of the relationship between conquered and conquerors and the frequent fighting were undoubtedly key factors that contributed to mutual contempt. It is also possible that the absence of a true intellectual elite, both among the Franks who came to the East and among the Muslims who remained behind in the conquered land, minimized intercultural dialogue.

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