This is a very telling story from an excellent book – Islam’s War Against the Crusaders – in which the story of a medieval Muslim writer, Usama of Shaizar is referenced. He once visited Jerusalem. And he went in to the Al-Aqsa mosque to pray. Well, it had once been a mosque – and is today of course – but in the crusader period it had become the headquarters of the Templars. It was known as the Temple of Solomon and underwent some major modifications at that time – not least the walling up of the minbar.
Usama described the Templars as ‘friends of mine’ and there doesn’t seem to have been any problem with him popping in to pray. But as he knelt towards Mecca, a Frankish visitor – who was not a Templar – flew in to a rage and made him face in what he saw as a Christian direction. The Templars took exception to this rough handling of their guest and told the Frank off – but as soon as their backs were turned, he did it again!
The Templars laid in to the guy and apologising to Usama, they explained ‘he is a foreigner who has just arrived from his homeland in the north and he has never seen anyone pray facing any other direction than east’.