Salah al-Din Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb
Better known in the Western world as Saladin, was the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A Muslim Commander whose etnicity is much debated, some historians say he has Turkic roots, others state he is Kurdish or Arab. Salah al-Din led Islamic opposition against the European Crusaders in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Hejaz, Yemen, and parts of North Africa.
‘If God blesses us by enabling us to drive His enemies out of Jerusalem, how fortunate and happy we would be! For Jerusalem has been controlled by the enemy for ninety-one years, during which time God has received nothing from us here in the way of adoration.’
Place of birth
Originally sent to Fatimid Egypt with his uncle Shirkuh by their Zengid (Muslim Dynasty of Oghuz Turks) lord and teacher Nur ad-Din in 1163, Saladin climbed the ranks of the Fatimid government as a result of his military successes against Crusader assaults on its territory and his personal closeness to the caliph al-Adid.When Shirkuh died in 1169, al-Adid appointed Saladin vizier, a rare nomination of a Sunni Muslim to such an important position in the Shia Muslim-led caliphate. During his term as vizier, Saladin began to undermine the Fatimid establishment and following al-Adid’s death in 1171, he took over government and realigned the country’s allegiance with the Sunni Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate. In the following years, he led forays against the Crusaders in Palestine, ordered the successful conquest of Yemen and staved off pro-Fatimid rebellions in Upper Egypt.
Wars against Crusaders
Under Salah al-Din’s personal leadership, the Ayyubid army defeated the Crusaders at the decisive Battle of Hattin in 1187, leading the way to the Muslims’ re-capture of Palestine from the Crusaders who had conquered it 88 years earlier. Though the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem would continue to exist for an extended period, its defeat at Hattin marked a turning point in its conflict with the Muslim powers of the region. As a result of his achievements, Saladin has become a prominent figure in Islamic, Arab and Kurdish culture. His reportedly noble and chivalrous behavior was noted by Christian chroniclers, and despite being the nemesis of the Crusaders, he won the respect of many of them, including Richard the Lionheart who led the Third Crusade; rather than becoming a hated figure in Europe, Saladin became a celebrated example of the principles of chivalry.
The Crusade itself was long and exhausting, and, despite the obvious, though at times impulsive, military genius of Richard I the Lion-Heart, it achieved almost nothing. Therein lies the greatest but often unrecognized achievement of Salah al-Din. With tired and unwilling feudal levies, committed to fight only a limited season each year, his indomitable will enabled him to fight the greatest champions of Christendom to a draw.
The crusaders retained little more than a precarious foothold on the Levantine coast, and when King Richard left the Middle East in October 1192, the battle was over. Saladin withdrew to his capital at Damascus.
Place of death
Soon, the long campaigning seasons and the endless hours in the battle caught up with him, and he died In 1193 he died in Damascus on 4 March. Buried at the Umayyad Mosque, in Damascus, Syria.
While his relatives were already scrambling for pieces of the empire, his friends found that the most powerful and most generous ruler in the Muslim world had not left enough money to pay for his grave. Saladin’s family continued to rule over Egypt and neighbouring lands as the Ayyubid dynasty, which succumbed to the Mamluks in 1250.