The holy city of Jerusalem has been fought over for more than 3000 years - and is still being fought over today. Saladin, one of the greatest Muslim generals of all time, freed Jerusalem from the Christian crusaders and put it under Muslim rule and opened it for people from all religions to live and worship as they pleased.
Born in 1137 in Tikrit, Iraq, Saladin was raised in a Kurdish military family. He was the son of a Kurdish chief, Najm ad-Din Ayyub, and lived his life with a warrior mindset. The year after his birth, his family travelled to the city of Mosul in Iraq, and was given shelter by the ruler Imad ad-Din Zengi.
Saladin later grew up in Damascus, Syria, and is known to have had a vast knowledge of philosophy, religion, science and mathematics. He also knew a lot about Arabs, their history, culture, heritage, and Arabian horses. Apart from that, he was well-versed in poetry, especially ones written by Arab poet Abu Tammam.
Portrait of Saladin (1185)
When Ruler Imad ad-Din Zengi died, his son Nur ad-Din took over the throne and Saladin’s uncle, Asad ad-Din Shirkuh, served as a commander of the Zengid army. It was under his uncle’s supervision that he learnt military tactics and strategies. In 1164, the Zengid Dynasty waged a war against the crusader-Egyptian army that had attacked and captured the city of Bilbais. The army of the Zengids were partly led by Saladin’s uncle, while the other two sections were led by Saladin, and the Kurds, respectively. In this war, the young general played a significant role by defeating Hugh of Caesarea, the leader of the rival army.
In 1171, he gained control over Egypt and then Syria. After gaining control of Syria, Saladin united the differing Muslim regions into a unified force. He used immense political and military skill to remain the unquestioned leader of the Arabs. By 1177, he built up an army big enough to take on the crusaders. The crusaders had control of Jerusalem for many years. The murder of the inhabitants of Jerusalem remained a painful memory for the Muslims. The Christians living in Jerusalem under Raynald of Chatillon would harass Muslim pilgrims while they were on their way to Mecca and Madina. Because of this, Saladin brought his massive army in front of the gates of Jerusalem, starting the Battle of Hattin. The Muslim victory destroyed the Christian army and enabled him to recapture the city in 1187. Out of his kindness, Saladin allowed the survivors to flee the holy city.
Battle of Hattin (1187)
The retaking of Jerusalem gave Richard the Lionheart a reason to start a new crusade. In 1191, he arrived to Jerusalem defeating Saladin and his army in the opening battle. Saladin preserved Muslim control over Jerusalem by avoiding a new battle with the crusaders. Thus, Richard the Lionheart was not successful in the retaking of Jerusalem and he eventually returned to Europe. Saladin allowed Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem and posted soldiers for their safety. He commanded kindness upon his guests and enjoyed conferring with the Bishop of Jerusalem.
When Saladin Captured Jerusalem (1187)
In 1193, at the age of 55, Saladin died of yellow fever in Damascus, Syria. He had given his wealth to charity, except for one gold piece and forty-seven pieces of silver. Saladin’s reputation for generosity, religiosity, and mercy have been idealized by Muslims and his name was held in wide regard throughout Europe and by Muslims – a rare occurrence for Muslims in the medieval ages. He is the epitome of a Muslim leader, looked up to by many because of the peace and love he instilled upon Palestine.
Written By: Doaa Abulebbeh