Saladin - Salahuddin Ayyubi (Yusuf Salah al din ibn Ayyub) (Arabic:
صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب;
Kurdish: سهلاحهدین ئهیوبی Selah'edine Eyubi; c. 1137
- March 4, 1193), a
Sultan, known to Europeans as Saladin, especially medieval Europe, was the
founder of the Ayyubid
dynasty and the liberator of Jerusalem (Al-Quds)
from the third Crusade. His name means "righteousness of the faith."
Saladin is remarkable for having earned a reputation as a clement and
chivalrous warrior among Christians in medieval Europe. Though the record shows that he committed
his share of barbarous acts such as execution of prisoners, his cruelty was mild
compared to that of his Christian adversaries. Jews remember Saladin with
kindness because the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem ended Jewish exclusion from
that city. Because he liberated Jerusalem from foreign rule, Saladin became a
role model for modern Arab leaders who want to "liberate" Palestine from Jewish
rule, such as
Early life of Saladin
Saladin's father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub, a
and his family, were from Tovin, a Kurdish town in Northern Armenia, near
Georgia, where they were of some consequence. Najm ad-Din's friend, Bihruz, was
caught making love to the wife of the local emir and castrated and banished.
Bijruz migrated to Baghdad, and Najm ad-Din and his family accompanied him. The
Sultan or Caliph of Iraq recognized the talents of Bihruz as an administrator
and Najm ad-Din rose to power with him. Bihruz was given Tikrit, in Iraq as a
fiefdom and Najm ad-Din became the commander. He invited his brother Asad ad-Din
Shirkuh to join him. But Shirkuh, according to tradition, killed the commander
of the castle guard who had insulted the honor of a woman. Bihruz was enraged
and banished the brothers in 11187. In the same year, Najm ad Din's wife bore
him a son, Youssef (Joseph). Najm ad din and Shirkuh fled to Mosul. There theu
entered the service of Imad ad-Din Zengi (or Zenghi or Zengy), the Turkish ruler of Mosul, founder of the Zengid
dynasty. Zenghi would soon become famous as the Muslim who conquered Edessa from
the Christians in 1144. In 1139 Zenghi appointed Najm ad-Din as the commander of
his fortress in Baalbek, now in Lebanon. Zenghi's son, Nur al Din, became the ruler of Mosul.
Saladin was a scholarly youth, perhaps more interested in religious
than military studies, who also proved himself devoted to
In this period, the Arab and
empires had splintered and weakened. Chaos ruled much of the Middle East and
enabled both the Crusaders and the Mongols to make significant inroads. The
Christian conquests had provoked a Muslim reaction.
Saladin was sent to Damascus to finish his studies. Meanwhile, Zengy had died
and was replaced by Nur Al Din, who crushed the Second Crusade outside the walls
of Damascus in 1148.
Saladin becomes ruler of Egypt
When he grew up, Saladin entered the service of his uncle Shirkuh. In 1164
Shirkuh and Saladin briefly conquered Cairo from its
ruler Shawar. However they were forced to withdraw when Crusader forces came to
the aid of Shawar, who was continuously changing his loyalties. Shirkuh had led his troops south
to liberate Jerusalem from the Crusaders and became involved in a three way
fight with Amalric, King of Jerusalem and Shawar, Fatimid
(and then Seljuk for a time) Muslim ruler of Egypt. Shawar allied himself with
Amalric and then betrayed him, bringing the Crusader forces into Egypt. Again in
1167, Shirkuh and Saladin
advanced to Cairo, but the Crusaders were able to foil their ambitions.
Finally, in 1169, they attacked again as the Crusaders, now against the
Fatimids, were beseiging Cairo. Amalric I to retreated from the siege of Cairo with his
Crusader forces. Saladin apparently lured Shawar into an ambush and killed him
on January 18, 1169. Shirkuh was now ruler of Egypt himself.
Two months later he died however, possibly by poison. Nur al Din decided that it
was prudent to make the weak, scholarly and youthful nephew of Shirkuh rulter of
Egypt, as he would be a pliant subordinate. Thus Saladin came to power.
Saladin was now formally vizier to the last Fatimid Caliph, Al-Adid Leideinallah.
Saladin was initially obedient to Nur al Din, expunging the
rite from Egypt and restoring the the popular majority
rite in Egypt, thereby gaining the fidelity of the masses. Saladin turned Egypt into an Ayyubid power base. He installed many Kurds in key army positions and
rebuilt Cairo as a cosmopolitan city rather than an army garrison town or seat
of power. By 1174, Nur al Din, under repeated attacks from Crusaders, was
determined to crush the independent Saladin. He prepared for war against
Saladin, but he died on May 15, leaving his 11 year old son as heir. At the age
of 38, in 1175, Saladin controlled both Syria and Egypt. Saladin began
expanding his territories. By 1186, he held Damascus, Syria, Aleppo, and much of Iraq
as well as pushing into the Maghreb.
The Frankish rule in Jerusalem was never far from the mind of Saladin and the
Muslim world, if we believe the legends. Supposedly, Saladin said, "When Allah
gave me the land of Egypt, I was sure that he meant Palestine for me as well."
There was also a proverb relevant to his conquest of Aleppo, the 'gray castle" in
"The taking of the Gray Castle in the month of Safar announces the
conquest of al-Quds in the month of Rajab."
|"Artistic" (or imaginary) renderings of Saladin. It
is unknown if any likenesses of Saladin are veridical
representations based on actual observation
Saladin and the Crusaders
While Nur al Din was alive, Saladin thought it best to leave the Crusader
state as a safety buffer between Egypt and Syria. However, with the death of Nur
al Din, Saladin now controlled both Syria and Egypt, and the Crusader state was
in the way. It was not just an ideological or religious issue or an abstract
geopolitical concern, since Crusader armies were continually trying to expand
their rule and renegade Crusader rulers, especially Raynard, raided caravans, stole merchandise and
took captives for ransom.
Saladin's armies had a number of skirmishes with Crusaders. In 1177 he lost
the battle against Baldwin IV, the teen age leper king of Jerusalem, who
ambushed Saladin at Mont Gisard near modern Ramla with a tiny force that carried
a relic of the true cross.
In 1179 Baldwin attempted to build a fortress at "Jacob's Ford" a Jordan
River crossing just south of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) near what is
today "Gesher Bnot Ya'akov" in Israel. The Chastellet fortress would have
controlled a major pathway between the two halves of Saladin's empire. Saladin
first tried to buy off Baldwin with a huge bribe. When this failed, he besieged
Chastellet and dug a tunnel under it, mined and burned the fortress, killing 700
and taking about 800 captive. Baldwin, arriving from Tiberias, was too late to
save the fort.
The next year, Baldwin and Saladin signed a truce. However, Raynald, the
feudal lord of Kerak (South of Amman) in Transjordan, continued to harass Saladin
by land and sea. Raynald and Saladin had signed several truces, but according to
the accounts left to us, Raynald was continuously breaking them. Saladin mounted
an unsuccessful siege of Kerak in 1183. In 1185, Raynald ambushed a
pilgrimage caravan. According to one story, he kidnapped Saladin's sister and
held her for ransom.
In 1186 Saladin was busy attempting to pacify Mosul in Northern Iraq.
However, in 1187 he turned is attention to the Crusader "Kingdom of Jerusalem"
again. Guy of Lusignan had succeeded to the throne of Jerusalem following the
death of Baldwin IV and of Baldwin V. He was opposed by Raymond of Tripoli, who
held Tiberias. Raymond invited Saladin to Tiberias. Saladin invaded Palestine
and camped near "Karnei Hittin" (the horns of Hattin). He beseiged Tiberias,
hoping to lure the Christians, camped at Zippori (Sephoris) into battle.
Guy and Raymond reconciled. The Christian armies, bringing with them a relic
of the true cross, fell for the obvious trap and were slaughtered at the Horns
of Hittin. Guy and Raynald were captured, Raymond escaped, though he later died
of pleurisy. Saladin killed Raynald, as he had betrayed trust and was therefore
not a worthy king, but spared Guy. The Templars and Hospitaller knights who did
not convert to Islam were slaughtered, Saladin's fabled clemency
"Saladin ordered that they should be beheaded, choosing to have them dead
rather than in prison. With him was a whole band of scholars and sufis and a
certain number of devout men and ascetics, each begged to be allowed to kill
one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his
face joyful, was sitting on his dais, the unbelievers showed black despair"
Thomas, Crusades The Illustrated History. Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan, 2005, quoting Imad Al Din, secretary to Saladin)
Guy was imprisoned and other survivors were held for ransom.
In rapid succession, Saladin conquered Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon,
Beirut, and Ascalon (Ashkelon). On October 2, 1187, Saladin conquered Jerusalem.
His reputation for clemency may stem from his sparing of Christians in that
city, unlike the Christian conquerors, who had slaughtered and expelled the
Muslims. He also allowed clerics to remove the very considerable treasury of the
church, though this went a bit beyond the provisions of the treaty.
The arrival of Richard the Lionhearted (Richard I, Coeur de Lion) and Philip
of France in the Third Crusade, stopped the advance of Saladin and saved a part
of the coast of Palestine for the Crusaders. On September 7, 1191, King Richard
defeated Saladin at the battle of Arsuf. Richard began an attack on Jerusalem,
but was forced to return to England in order to deal with the machinations of
his brother, John. He therefore signed a peace treaty with Saladin, under which
Christian pilgrims would be allowed to visit Jerusalem and church property would
Conquests of Saladin
The map shows the extent of the conquests of Saladin. Click here for a larger
map of the Conquests of Saladin.
Death of Saladin
Saladin died of a protracted fever and the effects of the usual incompetent
medieval ministrations on March 4, 1193, at Damascus. He called his standard
bearer, according to legend, and said:
(Reston, James, Warriors of God,
Faber and Faber 2001, p 317)
You, who have borne my banner in the wars, carry now the banner of my
deth. And let it be a vile rag which you shall bear through all Damascus
upon a lance and proclaim, 'Lo at his death the King of the East could take
nothing with him save this cloth only.'
Supposedly Saladin had given most
of his money away for charity, as was discovered after his death. He had founded
numerous universities and hospitals, none of which were to be named for him. He
was buried first in the citadel, and then about two years later in an impressive mausoleum in the garden beside the Umayyad Mosque in
Damascus, Syria. Engraved on his tomb were the words: "Almighty God! Let his
soul be acceptable to thee and open to him the gates of Paradise, that being the
last conquest for which he hoped."
In the 19th century, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany donated a
new marble sarcophagus to the mausoleum.
Legacy of Saladin
Saladin was an extraordinary general, scholar and personality in his own
right. In the West, his reputation was magnified by two circumstances. He was
the first real contact that Europeans had with a representative of superior
Muslim civilization. Compared to the semi-barbarous, venal, cruel, superstitious
and quarrelsome European knights, Saladin really loomed larger than life.
Saladin was also an enemy who had beaten the Europeans and the status of this
enemy had to be commensurate with the size of the defeat.
In the Muslim world he was gratefully remembered as the liberator of
Jerusalem from the Crusaders. Paradoxically, he became a hero of Arab
nationalists, though he was a Kurd and not an Arab. Arab leaders and dictators
such as Saddam Hussein,
Yasser Arafat and Hafez Assad tried to compare themselves with him and set
him up as their role model. The eagle of Salah al Din became the symbol of the
Egyptian, Iraqi, and Palestinian revolutions. The
Saladin became the Messiah of
James Reston III wrote:
Until this day Saladin remains a preeminent hero of the Islamic world. It
was he who united the Arabs, who defeated the Crusaders in epic battles, who
recaptured Jerusalem, and who threw the European invaders out of Arab lands.
In the seemingly endless struggle of modern-day Arabs to reassert the
essentially Arab nature of Palestine, Saladin lives, vibrantly, as a symbol
of hope and as the stuff of myth. In Damascus or Cairo, Amman or East
Jerusalem, one can easily fall into lengthy conversations about Saladin, for
these ancient moments are central to the Arab sensibility and their ideology
of liberation. On the bars of the small, dimly lit cell in the Old Cirty of
Jerusalem where Saladin lived humbly after his grand conquests is the
insription, "Allah, Muhammad, Saladin." God, prophet, liberator. Such is
Saladin's relation to the Muslim God.
The Arab world, it seems, is forever waiting for another Saladin. At Friday
prayer, from Aleppo to Cairo to Baghdad, it is not unusual to hear the plea for
one like him to come and liberate Jerusalem. His total victory over the
Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin is held up today as the everlasting symbol of
Arab triumph over Western interference. In Damascus, near the entrance to the
central Souq al Hamadiya, a heroic equestrian statue of Saladin graces the main
plaza of the city. When protests take places, as they did recently over the
renewed negotiations between Israel and Syria about disputed lands, the gathering
places is Saladin's heroic statue. In the office of the late president of Syria,
Hafez Assad, an epic painting of the Battle of Hattin covered an entire wall,
and Assad was fond of taking Western visitors over to it, as if to say that
just as another Saladin will someday come again, so someday there will be a
second battle of Hattin....
But it is not only for his military prowess that Saladin is venerated. He
is also remembered for his humility, his compassion, his mysticism, his
piety and his restraint.
(Reston, James, Warriors of God,
Faber and Faber 2001, p xiv-xv)
Salah al Din or Saladin has given his name to numerous places as well as to
groups such as the Salah al Din Brigades (also called Nasser Salah al Din),
which are the armed wing of the
Popular Resistance Committees.
November 14, 2008
Beha ed Din, The Life of Saladin, London: Committee of the Palestine
Exploration Fund, 1897.
Madden, Thomas, Crusades - The Illustrated History. Ann Arbor: University of
Regan, Geoffrey, Saladin and the Fall of Jerusalem, London, Croom, Helm,
Reston, James, Warriors of God, Faber and Faber 2001.
Saladin (Salah al-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub) and his Cairo
Soufan, Saira W.
The Magnanimity of
Salah al Din
Synonyms and alternate spellings: Salahuddin, Salah al Din, Salah
Salah ad Din Yusuf bin Ayyub