First appeared at Islamic Study. It is republished with the author’s kind permission.
Both Christians and Muslims admire Saladin.
Saladin’s traits and virtues were purely a reflection of the teachings of his faith.
He defeated the Crusaders, known to Muslims as the Franks, and recaptured Jerusalem in 1187.
The experience of the Crusaders with the Muslims demonstrates that Muslims and Christians are in no civilization clash, but rather in civilization bondage.
In 1099 Jerusalem had fallen to the First Crusaders slaughtering its Christian, Muslim and Jewish inhabitants, after promising them safety, but did not spare the lives of children, women or elderly. The Latin Kingdom formed in the following year lasted until Saladin destroyed King Guy’s army at the Horns of Hettin in 1187 and shortly after recovered Jerusalem.
In stark contrast to the Crusades 88 years earlier, Saladin, adhering to the teachings of Islam, did not slaughter the city’s Christian inhabitants. Saladin’s noble act won him the respect of his opponents and many more people throughout the world. King Richard I of England, better known as Richard the Lion heart, who led the Third Crusade in 1189 to recover the Holy City, met Saladin in a conflict that was to be celebrated in later chivalric romances.
Although the Crusaders failed in their purpose, Richard the Lion heart gained Saladin’s lifelong respect as a worthy opponent. Saladin’s generosity and sense of honor in negotiating the peace treaty that ended the Crusade won him the lasting admiration and gratitude of the Christian world.
Saladin’s Birth and Lineage
Saladin was born in Tikrite (a city on the Tigris River), Iraq in 1137. His family was of Kurdish ancestry. The Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, al Mustarshid, had appointed his father Ayyub, an earnest Muslim, skilled in administration and diplomacy, as the governor of the town.
Childhood and Education
Saladin received his early childhood education in Baalbek and Damascus, Syria. In 1143, when Saladin was six years old, Sultan Zengi of Musel appointed his father Ayyub as the governor of Baalbek. Sultan Zengi defeated the Crusaders south of Aleppo in 1130 and in 1144 recovered the city of Edessa. When Zengi died in 1146, his son Nur al Din succeeded him. Nur al-Din was a respected devout leader.
After few years, Nur al Din appointed Ayyub as the Head of Damascus Militia. Ayyub’s younger brother, Shirkuh, who was an officer, was promoted to a senior command in the military establishment in Aleppo.
Saladin grew up at the center stage where political decisions regarding the Crusades were made. His cultural and religious education was typical of the environments surrounding Baalbek and Damascus. Like his young peers, Saladin learned Arabic, poetry, the formal prayers and memorized what was required of him to memories of the Quran and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Saladin in His Early Adulthood
The expectation of life in the Middle Ages was short and the youth were given responsibilities of manhood at an early age. Saladin was fourteen years old when he got married. He was then sent to his uncle Shirkuh in Aleppo on a career that would lead to his becoming one of Nur al Din’s emirs.
The devout Nur al-Din soon became a great mentor for the young Saladin. Sultan Nur al-Din, who succeeded his father Zengi in 1146, respected scholars and endured knowledge and turned Syria into a large intellectual center. He built and funded schools and hospitals. In the presence of a scholar the Sultan was known to rise to his feet as a sign of respect and invite him to sit next to him. He promoted the divine values of Islam and governed in the light of the Quran.
Nur al-Din set up the Court of Appeals over which he presided in person to deal with administrative injustices. Saladin regularly attended the Court of Appeals as a student and to be associated with his master, Nur al-Din. In this Court, Saladin learned to appreciate the wisdom and justice of the Islamic law as it applied to the injustices and criminals.
Nur al Din was the first Muslim ruler who saw that the Jihad against the invading Crusaders could only be successful if Muslim states were united, and soon begun implementing this unity.
Such was the man who, next to his own father, Saladin respected more than any others. Even though there were differences between Nur al-Din and Saladin over certain policies in Egypt, one thing was sure, he never ceased to follow Nur al-Din’s example uniting his people, implementing the divine systems of Islam and keeping nothing for himself.
Saladin in His Adulthood
Saladin, who learned his military lessons in Nur al-Din’s militia at the hands of his uncle Shirkuh, soon began to stand out among Nur al-Din’s leaders. In 1164, at the age of 26 he was an assistant to his uncle Shirkuh in an expedition to rescue Egypt from an invasion by Amalric, king of Jerusalem. Saladin made a lasting impression on his peers during this expedition.
In 1169 Saladin with his uncle Shirkuh was on another expedition to Egypt to defend it against yet another Crusader attack. Later, he was able to rule Cairo and defeat the Fatimid who ruled Egypt.
Saladin borrowed the idea of building intellectual centers from his father Ayyub and master Nur al-Din, who had earlier turned Syria into a large intellectual center. In twelve years Saladin united Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, the Western parts of the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen under the Ayyubid Dynasty.
Saladin used diplomacy and the administrative skills in piecing together this badly divided region. Saladin’s scope of vision was that he gave each situation its due attention and weight, and he never broke a bridge of diplomacy or peace initiative with his opponents.
The power or wealth he acquired never spoiled him. Power and position did not mean anything to him. Despite his advisor’s request to keep some of the revenues he received from Egypt and Syria, he never kept any of it. When he died, his wealth was only few dinars.