By: Dr. Sharif Abu Shammalah
CEO of al-Quds Foundation Malaysia
Since the Islamic conquest in 16 HD / 636 AD, the era of the Crusader occupation of Jerusalem (al-Quds) was one of the worst and hardest periods in the history of the city in general and al-Aqsa Mosque in particular.
The holy city continued under the Crusader occupation for 88 years (1099 – 1187), Muslims were forbidden to pray in al-Aqsa which was converted to headquarters for the invading Crusader forces coming from Europe.
The fleets of the Crusader armies sailed from Europe, motivated by the instigation of the clerics to liberate the Holy Sepulchre from the Muslims, but the economic objectives and colonial ambitions of the leaders of these campaigns were clearer than hiding those religious claims. The Crusader forces invaded the Islamic lands led by European princes and knights, exploiting the weakness state of Islamic states and emirates which were in civil wars competing each other.
After the fall down of many cities in the Levant ‘Sham’ and the establishment of the Crusader emirates, the Crusaders arrived to al-Quds, which was under the control of the Fatimid, and they imposed a siege on it for forty days until they managed to storm it in 492 AH / 1099 AD. According to the Crusader historians’ narrations; over three days, the Crusaders killed all those who were in the city, whether they were residents or just seeking the protection until the bodies filled its streets and alleys. Some sources estimated the death toll at 70 thousand until it became difficult to walk through the streets of the city.
During the Crusade horrific attacks on al-Quds city, thousands of residents resorted to al-Aqsa mosque seeking the protection because they believed the sanctity of the holy mosque would be prevention without killing them, but the Crusaders slaughtered them inside the mosque. There are many sources talked about these massacres, whether Islamic or Crusade; According to the Gesta Francorum, “…[the Crusaders] were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon [Al-Aqsa], where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles…” According to Raymond of Aguilers. Despite the horrible massacres that the people of Bait al-Maqdis have been subjected to in the streets and roads “But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon [Al-Aqsa], a place where religious services are ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies. The city was filled with corpses and blood. “. Fulcher of Chartres in his book “A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem” says: “others fled to the temples of the Lord and of Solomon. A great fight took place in the court and porch of the temples, where they were unable to escape from our gladiators. Many fled to the roof of the temple of Solomon, and were shot with arrows, so that they fell to the ground dead. In this temple almost ten thousand were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet colored to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared”. Fulcher of Chartres adds that the crusader commander, Tancred, plundered large amounts of gold, silver and precious stones from al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Muslim historian Ibn al-Atheer mentioned in the events of year 492 AH “The Crusaders killed more than seventy thousand at al-Aqsa Mosque, including a large group of Muslim imams, scholars, worshippers, and mystics who left their homes to live next to the holy mosque” He adds details of the value of the properties taken from al-Aqsa Mosque; from the Dome of the Rock a little more than forty silver candelabras, The price of each candelabra was three thousand and six hundred dirhams, they also took one hundred and fifty silver candelabras from the small candelabras and more than twenty golden candelabras. He concludes: They took away what could not be counted”
Crusaders used those who kept them alive to clean the streets of al-Quds city from the bodies as well as the yards of al-Aqsa Mosque. They began to reuse al-Aqsa Mosque, so they carried out several procedures aimed at changing the landmarks and the nature of al-Aqsa Mosque and turning it into Crusader facilities; such as:
- The Crusader King of Jerusalem, called ‘Baldwin’ turned al-Quds city into a Crusader kingdom after the occupation and moved his royal residence to al-Qibly Mosque.
- When the Crusader king moved to another place, al-Qibly Mosque was given to the Knights Templars who are distinguished by their cruelty and Crusader extremism. They changed its features and covered its decorations, divided it into rooms, halls and sections: a church, a residence, stores and an administrative headquarters.
- They turned the Dome of the Rock into a church, and called it “The Holy of Holies” after covering its internal Islamic features and symbols by images, statues and Christian symbols and they raised a huge golden cross over it.
- The Knights Templars turned al-Musalla al-Marwani (located in the south-eastern corner of al-Aqsa Mosque) into a stable for their horses, and they pierced its columns to tie their horses, and called it (Solomon’s Stables), which is adopted at the present time by many foreign references unlike the original name.
- The Dome of the Chain was turned into a church.
- They started to build a church in the courtyard of al-Aqsa Mosque and did not complete it.
- They turned the western part of the mosque into a warehouse for the weapons and supplies of the Crusader soldiers.
During the period of the Crusader Occupation, the priests used to cut parts from the rock of Bait al-Maqdis which is located in the Dome of the Rock and sell them to the pilgrims and visitors with their equivalent weight by gold to return these pieces to their country to gain the blessing as they claimed. So, some of their kings ordered to cover the rock by marble and surround it by a steel barrier to protect and keep it safe if this trade continues.
This painful situation remained throughout the era of the Crusader occupation of Bait al-Maqdis for nearly 90 years until the conquest of al-Quds when Sultan Salah al-Din and his Mujahideen liberated al-Aqsa Mosque in 583AH (1187AD).