An open letter on the present day refugee situation posted on the website

On the OSMTH-org website the following message on the refugee situation was posted:

"1 September 2015, Jerusalem

Dear leaders of the world and people of good conscience,

I write to you from Jerusalem to address the very serious refugee situation affecting countries across the Middle East and now Europe. I myself am a refugee, as well as a bishop. Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps. The last weeks have seen not only an increase in the numbers of these refugees, but also an increase in tragic outcomes for many. This is a shameful situation, and one which the international community cannot ignore. It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict. Frustration and fear lead them to risk their lives and their life-savings in search of safe havens where they can live and raise families in peace. We must remember that these are not “waves” or “masses” or “hordes”—these are human beings who deserve dignity and respect. As a refugee and as Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, I have two messages for world leaders:
  1. I believe it is the responsibility of the world community, including the European Union, to have a clear policy to accept the stranger among us. “Welcoming the Stranger,” a set of affirmations from faith leaders developed in collaboration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is a good place to begin and a good model to follow. Most major religious traditions in the world advocate welcoming the stranger, showing hospitality to all. In Matthew 25 Jesus says the nations of the world will be judged by how they treat the poor, the hungry, the immigrant: “‘And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
  2. All political leaders are responsible for this current refugee crisis, either directly or indirectly. This is the result of a global system, not merely a local crisis. The international community has not helped solve the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Economic and political interests have taken priority over peacemaking and dialogue. Our region has become so chaotic that it opens the door to extremists and terrorists; our people are becoming desperate. The Middle East needs justice and peace, not only to end the flow of refugees, but so that displaced people can return to their homes in dignity, and live in free democratic states. My words may be strong. They may be direct. But this humanitarian crisis requires even stronger actions. These people, our brothers and sisters, are crying: “Who will welcome us? Where is justice?” God hears the cries of the poor, the oppressed, and the refugee. I pray that soon, political leaders and policy makers in the Global North will also hear their cries. This will begin when leaders approach refugee communities not merely as problems to be solved, but as fellow children of God deserving accompaniment, dignity, and human rights.
For this reason, I urge all world leaders and people of good conscience to act quickly, for the sake of the humanity we share.

Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land"

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Christian worship in the 13th and 14th century Muslim Holy Land

The expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land in 1291 did not end Arab relations with Western European Christians. Western monks, most notably the Franciscans, continued to live among the Muslims in the Holy Land. The nature of the relations of the Franciscans with the Mamluks serves as an interesting counterpoint to earlier Arab views on the Military Orders.

Franciscan tradition maintains that in 1219 St Francis himself obtained permission from the Sultan Al-Salih Isma'il (1245-1249) for the Franciscans to be allowed to worship unmolested in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Franciscans are also said to have been used by the Sultan as ambassadors to Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254). Throughout the late thirteenth century, as the Mamluks were driving the Crusaders from the Holy Land, Franciscans apparently remained on relatively good terms with the Arabs and were afforded special treatment by the Sultans.

After the fall of Acre in 1291, Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292), a Franciscan, begged permission from the Sultan al-Ashaf for Latin monks to be allowed to remain in Jerusalem. The Sultan granted this request of the Pope and bade him send some clergy, monks, and men of peace to Jerusalem. So the Pope chose some discreet, learned, and faithful friars from his own order. With the help of a judicious payment in 1300 of 32.000 ducats from Rupert of Sicily, the Franciscans were given the Cenacle (also known as the upper room) on Mount Zion as their headquarters, as well as chapels in other Holy places in Jerusalem. This presence of the Franciscans in Jerusalem was thus permitted by the Mamluks before it was officially authorized by pope Clement VI in 1342, when he established the Franciscans as "Caretakers of the Holy Land (Terrae Sanctae Custodis), a position they still maintain.

Thus, within a few decades of the fall of the Crusader kingdom and the expulsion of the Military Orders, the Mamluks were permitting Western monks to visit, worship and remain in the Holy Land. But of course, the Templars and Hospitallers were not included in this new policy of toleration. Arab opposition to the Military Orders was thus clearly not simply antagonism towards Christianity or monasticism. Rather, their fourteenth century patronage of the Franciscans, described as "men of peace", perhaps in specific distinction to the military functions of the Templars and  Hospitallers,indicates that the Arabs were willing to accommodate peaceful Western monastic activities in the Holy Land. (....)

In light of the preceding two centuries of invasions and warfare and the Mamluk fear of a possible renewal of crusades in the early fourteenth century, the overall Mamluk policy toward a continued western monastic presence in the Holy Land was remarkably enlightened. Some contemporaneous European policies showed much less tolerance towards Jews and Muslims in Spain and other parts of Europe.

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies. Illustration Mount Zion, Jerusalem (source)

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Changing Templar significance in Muslim eyes in the 12th century Holy Land

During the early phases of Nur al-Din's and Saladin's rise to power, the Military Orders were apparently not viewed as a special threat. In the latter half of the twelfth century Arab sources recognize the military orders as distinct groups among the Franks.

These sources demonstrate some understanding of the internal organization of the Military Orders. They correctly note that the warrior monks are called "brothers" (Latin fratres = Arabic ikhwa), live in a monastic house (Latin domus = Arabic bayt), and have a special relationship with the pope. But the Orders are not perceived differently than other Frankish soldiers and nobles.

The nature of Arab views of the orders during this period is reflected in the treatment of captive knights,  which can be contrasted with Saladin's later treatment of the knights of the Orders after the battle of Hattin (July 1187) (...). On June 18, 1157, the Grand Master of the Templars Bertrand of Blanchefort was captured by Nur al-Din, along with eightyseven knights near Banyas. He and his knights were held to ransom like any other Frankish warriors and were released in May 1159 through intervention of Manuel, emperor of Byzantium. Two decades later in 1179, the situation was still much the same. (....) For this study it is important to note that in 1179, a mere eight years before the battle of Hattin, Saladin was still willing to release the Templar Grand Master for an appropriate ransom.

In the later decade of Saladin's life, the countercrusade accelerated rapidly, with Saladin escalating his jihad and triumphing against the Crusaders. By the 1180s the Orders were increasingly viewed as a serious threat to Islam for three reasons: their military prowess, their intransigence in making peace and their spiritual pollution of Muslim holy places, specifically Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies.Illustration Battle of Hattin (source)

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Spiritual devotion, the greatest threat of the Knights Templar

The muslim perspective of the intransigence of the Military Orders is best reflected in the writings of Abu al-Hasan Ali bin Abi Bakr al-Harawi (ca 1145-1215), a courtier, military theorist, and propagandist in the service of Saladin.

A noted scholar and traveler, al-Harawi seems to have served as a type of secret agent for Saladin. As a part of ongoing military reforms, Saladin ordered the preparation of at least three manuals on statecraft and warfare, one of which was written by al-Harawi, entitled al-Harawi's Discussion on the Strategems of War.

Al-Harawis's manual offers some interesting insights into Muslim prejudices concerning the Crusaders. In describing the Latin clergy, Al-Harawi wrote:
[The Sultan] should not neglect to write to the clergy [concerning surrender] .... For they have little religious sentiment and are capable of treachery and disloyalty. They desire the things of this world and are indifferent to the things of the next. [They are] irresponsible, thoughtless, petty,  and covetuous, .... being concerned with rank and status among kings and nobles. [They] have a permissive religious judgment regarding their own [actions].
 On the other hand, al-Harawi's view on the Hospitallers and Templars is quite different:
[The Sultan] should beware of the [Hospitaller and Templar] monks, .... for he can not achieve his goals through them. For they have great fervor in religion, paying no attention to the [things of this] world. He can not prevent them from interfering in [political] affairs. I have investigated them extensively and have found nothing which contradicts this.
In other words, the Military Orders were a threat not only because of their military strength but because of their absolute spiritual devotion to their cause as well. And that devotion, when it entailed the destruction of Islam, represented an unacceptable threat to Muslims in the age of Saladin.

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies. Illustration Saladin (source)

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Christian monastic presence and influence in the pre-crusade Muslim world

monastery of Dair Abu Maqar (source)
Since the earliest days of Islam, monasticism was a protected institution of a protected religious minority. This protected status of Christianity and monasticism in early Islamic society is emphasized by the important roles some Christians played under islamic rule.

Under the Caliphs the literary and scholarly skills of Christian monks were highly prized, with many monks serving as clerks and even
high ministers. The most famous is perhaps the great defender of icons John of Damascus (655-750), who was originally a prominent minister for the Umayyads at Damascus before taking orders and retiring to Mar Saba near Bethlehem, where his cell is still exhibited to visitors. Christians such as Hunayn ibn Ishaq (Johannitius) were the leaders of the famous translation academy Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) at Baghdad in the ninth century

Somewhat paradoxically, Coptic monasticism in Egypt flourished under Islam and may have reached its height in the tenth century. This was because under earlier Byzantine rule, Coptic monasticism was suppressed as heretical, whereas it was tolerated by the Muslims. Although there were certainly attacks against monks and monasteries by Arabs, these tended to be incidents of brigandage or extortion by corrupt officials rather than formal government policy. Throughout the Middle Ages, relations between the Egyptian government and the Coptic monks generally remained good. For example, the late thirteenth century Egyptian Mamluk sultan Bbaybars 1 (noted for his pursuit of Jihad or holy war against the crusaders) was a guest of the monks at a monastery of Dair Abu Maqar (Saint Macarius) while traveling in Wadi Habib.

Thus, despite minority status and intermittent persecutions, Orthodox, Syriac, Coptic and Nestorian monasticism all survived in Islamic lands up to the period of the crusades. Based on the Qur'an, the traditional islamic interpretation was that monasticism was a well intentioned human institution whose advocates did not always live up to its principles. It was not, however, revealed by God. This was the prevailing Arab attitude towards monasticism at the beginning of the crusades

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies.

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The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Templar predecessor?

Recently, I stumbled on the following article on Wikipedia, regarding the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This blog quotes freely from this article.

"The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Latin: Ordo Equestris Sancti Sepulcri Hierosolymitani, OESSH), also known as the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, is a Roman Catholic papal order of knighthood, which was founded as the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre. It traces its roots to Duke Godfrey of Bouillon, "Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre", leader of the First Crusade and first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.[1] It was recognised in 1113 by a Papal Bull by Pope Paschal II.[2]

The order’s early members included not only the Regular Canons (Fratres) but also the Secular Canons (Confratres) and the Sergentes. The latter were armed knights chosen from the crusader troops for their qualities of valour and dedication; they vowed to obey Augustinian Rule of poverty and obedience and undertook specifically to defend the Holy Sepulchre and the holy places, under the command of the King of Jerusalem.

After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the right to create new Knights was the prerogative of the representative of the highest Catholic authority in the Holy Land: the Fransiscan Custos of the Holy Land.

In 1496, Pope Alexander VI ordained that the office of Grand Master would be vested in the papacy. In 1847, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem was re-established by Pope Pius IX and the order was reorginised. From 1949, Cardinals have been Grand Masters and the Pope remains Sovereign of the order, which thus enjoys the protection of the Holy See. Its headquarters is at Palazzo Della Rovere in Rome, close to the Vatican City.[3]

Pilgrimages to the Holy Land were a common if dangerous practice from shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus to throughout the Middle Ages. Numerous detailed commentaries have survived as evidence of this early Christian devotion. While there were many places the pious visited during their travels, the one most cherished was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, first constructed by Constantine the Great in the 4th century AD.

Tradition maintains that long before the Crusades, a form of knighthood was bestowed upon worthy men at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The history of the chivalric Order of the Holy Sepulchre runs common and parallel to that of the religious Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre, the Order continuing after the Canons Regular ceased to exist at the end of the 15th century."

The date of establishement of this order and the information in several sources that suggest that the knights that were later to found the Order of the Knights Templar were in a way related to the canons (or may well have been, at a time, canons themselves), suggests that this order may have been the predecessor of the Templar Order. A predecessor that, it seems, continued to exists, uninterrupted, for nine centuries now.

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