Saladin was one of Egypt and Syria’s greatest Sultan and most celebrated Muslim heroes.

Saladin was known for his great military prowess and for defeating the Crusader states during the Battle of Hattin in 1187. He founded the Ayyubid dynasty of Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Mecca Hejaz.

By unifying the Muslims from Egypt to Arabia, he destroyed the states of the Latin East and successfully prevented the Third Crusade. He also captured Jerusalem and ended nine decades of Frank occupation.

Saladin is known in both Christian and Muslim history for his merciful nature and chivalry. As the Muslim leader during the crusades, his legendary character has been told in stories in various cultures. In the fourteenth century, an epic about his life existed.

The famous writer Dante also wrote about him as one of the virtuous pagan souls in Limbo. In popular film and literature, Saladin is depicted as a man of honor and reason.

Who Was Saladin?

Saladin (pronounced sa-la-DEEN) is the son of Ayub, a Kurdish mercenary. He was born in 1147 in Tikrit, Iraq with the name Yusuf ibn Ayyub (Yusuf son of Ayyub) but later assumed the name of Salahud din ayubi. He was born into a prominent Kurdish Sunni military family who had originated in the village of Ajdanakan near central Armenia. His father was the governor of Baalbek.

When he was just seven years old, his family moved to Lebanon where his father managed a castle. For ten years, Saladin studied Sunni theology under the court of Syrian ruler Nur ad-Din. Saladin would pray five times a day with an imam who would lead him in prayer. In the absence of the imam, he would pray behind a devout researcher. Saladin never missed a prayer in his life except for three days before his death when he had slipped into a coma.

Growing up, Saladin was a skilled horseman and polo player although he had more interest in religious studies than military training. According to his biographers, Saladin was educated on Almagest, arithmetic, Euclid, and law but he was mostly interested in Qur’an. He also possessed knowledge of the history of the Arabs, genealogies, as well as the bloodline of Arabian horses. Saladin can speak both Kurdish and Arabic.

His career in the military began when he was 14 and joined his Uncle Shirkuh’s campaign to conquered Egypt in 1169 CE. Shirkuh was a military commander under Nur ad-Din. He considers his uncle his most influential teacher. His uncle died two months later after conquering Egypt.

After his uncle’s death, Saladin at the age of 31 was appointed commander of the Syrian troops in Egypt. He was also appointed adviser to the Shi’ite caliph in Cario. During this time, Saladin gave up wine and other forms of pleasure. He also made a vow to deliver the Holy Land from the Franks.

His rise to power was largely attributed to his family’s clan and his emerging talents. Saladin’s position further increased when in 1171, he defeated the Shi’i Fatimid caliphate and proclaimed a return to Sunni Islam in Egypt.

Saladin was successful in managing the economy of Egypt. He reorganized military forces and avoided conflict with Nur ad-Din, his lord. He waited until Nur ad-Din’s death to take serious military actions. After Nur ad-Din’s death in 1174, he assumed the title of Sultan in Egypt. It was this title he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

Saladin never became a caliph since that position was more ceremonial. Caliphs were the religious leaders among Muslims, the Sultan managed every political aspect of the state. In his lifetime, Saladin became both the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, however, he didn’t become part of the caliphate who resided in Constantinople. Despite not being a caliph, Saladin was able to build a dynasty across the Muslim world. His dynasty was only dismantled in the Middle Ages by the Ottomans.

During his reign, a secret brotherhood called the “assassins” tried to kill Saladin several times. Saladin’s army marched to their headquarters and threatened to destroy their fortress if they wouldn’t stop. Saladin was married to Ismat Ad-Din Khatun. He had two siblings Al-Adil I and Turan Shah. Saladin children names were: Al-Afdal Ibn Salah Ad-Din, Al-Aziz Uthman, Al-Zahir Ghazi, and Ishaq Ibn Salah Al-Din

In the next years, he would commission successful conquests of Yemen, led forays against Crusaders in Palestine, and staved off rebellions in Upper Egypt, thus beginning the Ayyubid dynasty. Using his power and wealth, Saladin moved to Syria with an army and claimed regency on behalf of the young son of his former suzerain. He abandoned this claim soon from 1174 until 1186 when he started uniting all Muslim territories of Syria.

Saladin fought with his fellow Muslims in order to combine all territory under a single Saladin empire and religious banner. At the same time, he also fought with the Christian armies. It was clear that Saladin’s primary aim was to eliminate Christian control and influence in the Middle East. He accomplished this through the skillful use of military force and diplomacy. His strategies were simple and he only took battles he knew he’ll win. His legacy of uniting Muslims is known to this day.

As a devout Muslim, one of his political policies was to spread the religion wherever he could. During his reign, Saladin constructed many mosques and colleges. His effective leadership inspired many new generations of Islamic soldiers to fight and die for his cause.

The Salahuddin eagle symbolizes Arab unity and it can be found in the coats of arms of Egypt, Yemen, Palestine, and Iraq. At the height of his power, his control spanned from Egypt, Syria, Upper Mesopotamia, Western Arabia, Nubia, and North Africa.

Soon he was known as the most generous and virtuous ruler in the land. He was a natural leader who favored propaganda rather than brute force. Saladin’s reputation as a chivalrous sultan earned respect even from his enemies. In 1189, a Frankish woman who had her baby stolen and sold approached Saladin. He used his money to buy the child and give it back to its mother. This was during a time when the Franks were at war with the Muslims.

What Does Saladin Mean?

The name Saladin is a Western name and he was actually born with the name Salah al-Din ibn Ayyub. Saladin is one of the few Muslims that had a westernized version of his name.
His other name “Al-Malik An-Nasir Salah ad-Din” is an honorific epithet that means “mighty defender, the righteousness of the faith”. Saladin is also known as a Waliullh which means the friend of God for Sunni Muslims.

Saladin and the Crusaders

Saladin and the Crusades were powerful symbols during their time in the Middle East. Their stories represent Arab unity and its victory against the west. The Crusaders were soldiers from Europe who fought to keep the holy land in the hand of Christians.

Saladin was the Crusader’s greatest foe. A Muslim warrior and Egyptian Sultan Saldin possessed great military skills that allowed him to defeat the Crusaders in the 12th century. He fought with the Crusaders for a very long time and gained victory and took the holy land away from European powers.

The first crusade started in 1099 when the crusaders captured Jerusalem and massacred the inhabitants. When the second crusade started, Saladin was already a young man. He saw how European knights seized Jerusalem and established it as a European kingdom. When he became a Sultan, he knew he had to take the holy land back.

For years, the Saladin crusades army was at war against each other. In 1187 under Saladin’s command, the Ayyubid army defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattlin. He won a grand victory by defeating Guy of Lusignan and Reginald of Chatillon. Guy of Lusignan’s life was spared but Reginald was executed.

During the Battle of Hattin, Saladin set a trap for the Crusader army. He attacked the city of Tiberias in order to draw out the Crusaders into marching into the dry land. When the Crusaders were thirsty and tired, Saladin attacked with his full force. Saladin crossed the Jordan river from Karak and deployed 500 skirmishers to the weakened army.

Saladin’s victory against the Crusaders gave him control of Palestine, including the city of Jerusalem whom the Crusaders have conquered for 88 years. It was a significant loss for the Crusaders. Despite his reputation as a fierce and great Sultan, he was a scholar and wise politician. He was known for treating Christians and Jews with kindness compared to how Crusaders treated Muslims.

According to historical records, Saladin waited until October 2 to conquer the city as the date corresponded with the anniversary of Christ’s ascension to heaven based on the Muslim calendar.

He asked for ransom from rich European families who lived in his territory but didn’t take money from poor European families. When he took control over Jerusalem, he allowed Christians to exit with their possessions and even welcomed pilgrims. Saladin earned respect for demonstrating fairness and mercy towards his enemies. Unlike the crusader who slaughtered people when they took Jerusalem, Saladin allowed the inhabitants of the city to leave in peace.

He was as courageous as he was sympathetic. Yet, Saladin wasn’t stupid. In the wake of Saladin’s victory, Imad ad-Din Saladin’s companion wrote how Saladin sought out all captured Templars. He made sure they were executed instead of ransomed as they pose a threat if they were to let go. Because of his unparalleled wisdom and brilliance, he is one of the few Muslims that has been immortalized in European writing.

The defeat at the Battle of Hatin started the Third Crusade as many Christians called for it. In 1189, several European leaders tried to reconquer the holy land from Saladin. It was largely financed by England and called it “Saldin tithe”.

The Crusaders were mainly under the leadership of King Richard of England. The King prepared supplies and used ships to deliver their troops. When Richard arrived in the countryside, Saladin has stripped the land from food. He also poisoned the wells. Due to conflict with the German and French armies, the Christian forces became weak. However, they were successful in capturing the cities of Jaffa and Acra. They failed to capture Jerusalem which was the goal of the crusade.

In 1191, Saladin’s army met with King Richard I of England at the Battle of Arsuf. Both Saladin and Richard I of England had mutual respect for each other as much as a military rivalry. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get to Jerusalem, King Richard settled for a treaty with Saladin.

Stories have been told of Saladin’s good deeds. When Richard was wounded, Saladin offered the services of his personal physician. When Richard lost his horse, Saladin also sent him replacements. Richard has offered his sister for marriage to Saladin’s brother.

In 1192, a treaty was made by both leaders called the Treaty of Ramla. The treaty allowed the city to stay in Muslim hands but it stated that the city would be open to Christian pilgrimages.

How Did Saladin Change The Middle East

Saladin’s victory and control of the Holy Land started the Islamic Empire that would reshape the world. It improved the relationship between West Asia and Europe.

Saladin’s war strategy was a combination of warfare and diplomacy. He made everyone believe that it was only him who could win a holy war against the Christians who formed the Latin States and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Through the ages, Saladin remained an inspiration for many Muslims. Rulers have capitalized on Saladin’s reputation for their success. In modern Iraq, a governorate and university are named after him.

Although many scholars believe that Saladin achievements were refashioned to create the image of tradition and power, for the Islamic world, Saladin is a Muslim hero who overcame infidels and heretics. He became the symbol of Arab unity, independence, and courage. His might and wisdom will influence many secularists including Gamal Nasser, Hafez Assad, and even Saddam Hussein.

How Did Saladin Die?

Saladin died of a fever on March 4, 1193, in Damascus. He was 57 years old during the time. At that moment, his house was worth 47 dirhams and one dinar. He had no other land or properties since he gave away all his wealth to his subjects. In his life, Saladin was known to spend his money on Saqda (philanthropy).

After his death, his descendants would continue to rule Egypt and Syria for several generations. He was buried in a mausoleum near the Umayyad Mosque. It is now a popular attraction in Syria. Emperor Willhelm II of Germany donated two marble sarcophagus to the mausoleum. Saladin was not placed in it. Instead, Saladin’s body was placed in the wooden sarcophagus.

The death of Saladin also led Pope Innocent III to inaugurate the Fourth Crusade, however, they weren’t able to defeat the empire Saladin has already established. Saladin’s legacy will last hundreds of years after his death. He became the most famous Muslim in Western culture after the Prophet Muhammad.

Romanticized histories of the crusades written during New Imperialism began to rehabilitate Saladin’s image. His chivalry and honor were praised. Writer Harold Lamb has described Saladin as a brilliant and honorable leader. Saladin’s influence was so great that in the 1200s European parents have named their kids Saladin.

Summary

  • Saladin was Egypt and Syria’s greatest Sultan. He was known for defeating the Crusaders and taking control of Jerusalem in 1187.
  • Saladin founded the Ayyubid dynasty by unifying the Muslims from Egypt to Arabia.
  • Saladin was born into a prominent Kurdish Sunni military family who had originated in the village of Ajdanakan near central Armenia.
  • Saladin became both the Sultan of Egypt and Syria. However, he didn’t become part of the caliphate who resided in Constantinople.
  • In 1192, the Treaty of Ramla was established. The treaty allowed the city to stay in Muslim hands but it stated that the city would be open to Christian pilgrimages
  • Saladin was born with the name Yusuf ibn Ayyub. The name “Al-Malik An-NasirSalah ad-Din” is an honorific epithet that means “mighty defender, the righteousness of the faith”.
  • Despite his reputation as a fierce and great Sultan, he was a scholar and wise politician. He was known for treating Christians and Jews with kindness.
  • Saladin died of a fever on March 4, 1193, in Damascus. He was 57 years old during the time.
  • Saladin’s legacy will last hundreds of years after his death. He will become the most famous Muslim in Western culture after the Prophet Muhammad.

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