Holy Land, or holylands, refers to a large area which spans across modern-day countries of Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The place is referred to as Holy Land because of its immense religious significance in all the three major Abrahamic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
This significance is primarily because of the fact that Jerusalem has historically been associated with important events in all the three religions. In medieval ages, a number of wars were fought between Muslims and Christians over the control of the holylands. These conflicts are collectively termed the Crusades.
Holylands in Judaism
The earliest declaration of the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea as holylands was in the religious texts of Judaism. According to the Old Testament, the holylands were promised to the Jews as their rightful place by God.
Jewish claim to the holylands is considered a part of the covenant between God and his chosen people, the Jews. The importance of the Holy Land is based on the Jewish belief that Solomon built the First Temple in Jerusalem and that the city was also the site of Issac’s binding. Jews believe that the region has immense spiritual significance.
Holylands in Christianity
The Holy Land is immensely significant in Christianity as well because Jesus was born in Jerusalem, had his ministry established in the city and was later tried and crucified there. Since Jesus is the Son of God in Christianity, Christians hold his birthplace and the place of his crucifixion as holy sites.
It was owing to this that when the Christian Crusaders were able to gain the control of Jerusalem for a certain period of time, pilgrims from all over Christendom began to pour into the city. In fact, the famed Orders of Knights Templars was created to guard these pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.
Holylands in Islam
The third Abrahamic religion, Islam, also lays a lot of importance with the city of Jerusalem and considers it a holy site. Muslims believe that the faithful were previously required to turn to the Jerusalem city when offering their prayers and it was only later with the advent of Islam that the direction was change to Makkah.
According to certain verses in Quran, Muhammad experienced ascent to heavens and a visit to the Jerusalem city during a miraculous journey one night. During medieval ages, Jerusalem was first occupied by Muslim Arabs who wrested away the region’s control from the Byzantine Empire. This was followed by Crusades and eventually, the city was conquered by Seljuk Turks who ousted the Arabs from the region.
Holylands as Jerusalem
Religiously and historically, a large area is considered part of the Holy Land in the three Abrahamic religions. Each religion has various traditions defining the Holy Land but nearly all three agree on it being inclusive of modern-day Palestine, Israel and Jordan.
Despite such a large area being considered the Holy Land, the actual significance of the area in each religion is associated specifically with the city of Jerusalem.
Jews revere the city for being the site of Solomon’s Temple and Isaac’s binding, Christians revere it for being the birthplace of Jesus and Christianity, and Muslims revere it as the second most holy city after Makkah. So the actual holiness of the Holy Land is because of the city of Jerusalem.
Muslim Control of Holylands
At the beginning of the Middle Ages, the control of the Holylands was in the hands of the Byzantine Empire. When Islam rose in Arabia, the Byzantine Empire was already on its decline.
In 638, Muslims were able to gain control of the city of Jerusalem after having defeated Byzantine armies in previous battles. From 638 to 1072, the control of the Holylands passed through Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid dynasties.
In 1072, the control of the city was wrested away from Arabs by the Great Seljuk Empire.
Seljuk Control of Holylands
Under the Seljuk Empire, the conditions of the Christian subjects in Jerusalem was far better. During the Seljuk rule, pilgrims from non-Muslim faiths were allowed to come to the holylands and visit the holy sites.
Reconstruction of certain holy sites was also allowed. However, portions of Seljuk troops would also harass the arriving pilgrims and Christian merchants travelling to the holylands and were not given a peaceful way to pass. This prompted the First Crusade.
The First Crusade was undertaken by the united armies of different European Kingdoms on the call of Pope Urban II, who sought to help the Byzantine Empire.
The Byzantine Empire was facing the threat of the Seljuk Empire at this time. The countries in Christendom joined hands to create a huge army which then marched on the Seljuk-controlled cities which were formerly under Byzantine control.
These included the regions of Holy Land, such as Jerusalem city. In 1099, the Crusaders fought the Seljuk Muslims controlling Jerusalem and defeating them and gained control of the city.
Saladin and Holylands
In 1187, Saladin gained the control of Jerusalem and the holylands after successfully defeating the army of the Latin states. In response to his conquest, the Pope issued a decree for a Third Crusade.
Although a large number of troops were mustered by different European Kingdoms in response, the Third Crusade failed to make any significant difference to the Muslim control of the holylands. In late medieval ages, the control of Jerusalem fell to Mamluks, Tartars and then again to the Ayyubid of Egypt.
Holylands refer to an area stretched between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, spanning over modern-day Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria.
Historically, the Holy Land has been of immense religious significance for the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For this reason, the control of the Holy Land, especially that of Jerusalem, has been a major point of contention between the three religions.
During the medieval ages, Christendom launched a number of Crusades to defeat Muslim invaders of Jerusalem and gain back the city. Throughout the medieval era, the control swung back and forth between Christians and Muslims.