chapter  3
10 Pages

Friend or foe: Islamic views of the military orders in the Latin East as drawn from Arabic sources KEVIN JAMES LEWIS (UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD)

When the concept of a monastic military order first emerged in Western Christendom in the first half of the twelfth century, it proved controversial among Latin Christian authors. The central issue was whether fighting and killing formed an appropriate vocation for Christians, and professed monks at that. This debate is well known to historians, but less well known is the Islamic view of the military orders, particularly in relation to their monastic vocation. It will be argued here on the basis of neglected Arabic evidence that Syrian Muslims had a better understanding of the monastic nature of the military orders than hitherto acknowledged. At the same time, Islamic scholars generally took a dim view of Christian monasticism. The awareness of contemporary Muslims that the military orders were monks gave the conflict between them a cultural and ideological flavour. The present chapter goes on to address an apparent paradox, namely why the military orders appear as close friends of Muslims in some contemporary Arabic sources, but the worst of the infidels in others. 1

It should be said that there already exists a limited body of scholarship on the Syro-Islamic Arabic depiction of the orders. One important if cursory work is R. Stephen Humphreys’s 2004 contribution to the second edition of Brill’s Encyclopaedia of Islam . 2 Humphreys observes that the Arabic terms for both the Hospitallers and the Templars, isbitāriyya and dāwiyya respectively, first occur in Ibn al-Qalānisī’s description of their involvement in a Frankish defeat near Bāniyās in April 1157 (Rabīʿ I AH 552). 3 Humphreys proposes that Ibn al-Qalānisī’s failure to elaborate these terms further probably means that they were already in common use among Syrian Muslims, adding that the very use of such terms must mean that Muslims had become aware that these orders were somehow different from other Franks. 4

Humphreys, together with Hein, rightly notes that the commonly used terms for the Hospitallers, isbitāriyya and isbitār , ‘are simply arabised forms of Latin hospitalis ’ or ‘perhaps [ . . . ] hospitalarius ’. 5 He proposes that the Hospitallers became semantically distinct from Franks more generally, only after they gained a military role in the 1130s and then expanded their power with such acquisitions as Crac des Chevaliers in the county of Tripoli in the 1140s. 6 As for the common term for Templars, dāwiyya or daywiyya , the etymology is less clear. Hitti sug-

translated from the Order’s original Latin title, Pauperes Commilitones Christi , or the Poor Soldiers of Christ. 7 Humphreys feels he ‘cannot accept’ this and instead suggests that it is an Arabic corruption of Latin dēvōtus or Old French devot , which he claims ‘accurately characterises [the Templars’] status and outlook, and may well have been the way in which they were described to the Muslims by local informants’. 8 Hillenbrand seems to accept Humphreys’s romance etymology, rather than Hitti’s Syriac etymology. 9 More recently, Weltecke has corroborated Humphreys’s hypothesis. She observes that the Syriac Orthodox Christian author Michael the Syrian transliterated the Arabic term dāwiyya as dawyh , when describing the Templars in his chronicle. 10 Furthermore, Michael explained the term as ‘belonging to God’, that is to say the same meaning as devotus / devot . 11 If dāwiyya was originally a Syriac word, then Michael would not have merely transliterated dāwiyya , but would have either written dōwē instead, or used dōwē in his explanation of the word’s meaning.