By William J. Hamblin
BYU Studies Quarterly, Vol.40:4 (2001)
Introduction: On July 4, 1187, the armies of Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria, surrounded thousands of Crusaders surmounting the Horns of Hattin near Tiberias in Galilee. Exhausted by heat, thirst, and days of marching and fighting, the Crusaders were forced to surrender. Thousands of the resulting prisoners were sold into slavery, but not all. While King Guy and the Frankish aristocrats who had led their followers to disaster were allowed for the most part to ransom themselves, the knights of Military Orders faced a different fate. After his triumphant victory, Saladin singled out the captive Templar and Hospitallers for execution.
Of course such atrocities by both sides were hardly uncommon during the Crusades; Richard Lionheart’s massacre of 2700 Arab prisoners – plus their wives and children – following his capture of Acre comes to mind. Yet Saladin’s treatment of the Templars and Hospitallers after the battle of Hattin stands in stark contrast to his generous treatment of prisoners captured later that year at Jerusalem, where Saladin paid the ransom for thousands of poor Christians and let them go free. What caused the particular enmity between Saladin and the Templars and Hospitallers? To understand this situation one must begin with examination of Muslim perspectives on monasticism in general.
Although pre-Islamic Arabia is often viewed with some justification as somewhat of a cultural backwater, the Arabs nonetheless had extensive contacts with both the Sassanid Persian and Byzantine empires through the contacts with Byzantium and especially through interaction with the Christianized Arab Ghassanid tribe, pagan Arabs first came into contact with christian monasticism. Arab poets make a few references to Christian monks one perhaps allegorical allusion describes a bedouin wandering lost in the desert by night, who sees in the distance the flickering light from the lamp of a monk reading in his cell and finds shelter with him.