Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Newcomers to Jerusalem

front of a reliquary altar cross c.1170
This is 12th century Syrian raconteur Usama Ibn Munquid talking about newly arrived pilgrims from Europe and their problematic attitudes to matters of faith in the Middle East.

Everyone who is a fresh emigrant from the Frankish lands is ruder in character than those who have become acclimatised and have had long associations with Muslims. Here is an illustration of their rude character.
Whenever I visited Jerusalem I always entered the Aqsa mosque, which was occupied by the Templars (al-dawiyyah), who were my friends, would evacuate the little adjoining mosque so that I might pray in it.  One day I entered this mosque, repeated the first formula, ‘Allah is great,’ and stood up in the act of praying, upon which one of the Franks rushed on me, caught hold of me and turned my face eastwards saying, ‘This is the way thou shouldst pray!’ A group of Templars hastened to him, seized him and repelled him from me.  I resumed my prayer.  This same man, while the others were otherwise busy, rushed once more on me and turned my faced eastwards saying, ‘This is the way thou shouldst pray!’ The Templars again came in and expelled him.  They apologised to me saying, ‘This is a stranger who has only recently arrived from the land of the Franks and he has never before seen anyone praying except eastwards.’ Thereupon I said to myself ‘I have heard enough of prayer.’ So I went out and have ever been surprised at the conduct of this devil of a man and, at the change in the colour of his face, his trembling and his sentiment at the sight of one praying towards the qiblah. (the direction of the Ka’bah in the holy city, Mecca).

I saw one of the Franks come to Al-Amnir Mu in-al-Din (may Allah’s mercy rest upon his soul!) When he was in the Dome of the rock and say to him, ‘Dost thou want to see God as a child?’ Mu in-al-Din said, ‘Yes.’ The Frank walked ahead of us until he showed us the picture of Mary with Christ (may peace be upon him!) as an infant in her lap.  He then said, ‘This is God as a child.’ But Allah is exalted far above what the infidels say about him!

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