Sultan of the Muslim Forces During the Crusadesby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Saladin is known as the most famous Muslim hero. He was the sultan (or leader)
of the Muslim forces during the Crusades-the military expeditions taken by the
Christians to recover the Holy Land from the Mohammedans. The best way to explain
the crusades and the leaders during them is by the phrase- there is no innocence,
only degrees of guilt. The Muslim leader Saladin was an example of this. He
fought against the Christians, but didn't behave without compassion.
Saladin was born in Mesopotamia (Iran) in 1138, but grew up in Syria. He was the son of the Kurdish chief, Ayyub. His uncle lived near them, and Saladin would often accompany him on his campaigns, for he was a lieutenant of Nur ad-Din, the sultan of Syria. His uncle later became vizier of Egypt after the death of the current vizier. Saladin followed after his uncle’s example, and became vizier of Egypt after the death of his uncle. He did not take immediate action, but instead waited until Nur ad-Din died, and proclaimed himself sultan of Egypt. This was called the Ayyubid dynasty, after Saladin’s father. He then took matters into his own hands and set to work on Egypt. "When Saladin, a Sunnite Moslem, conquered Egypt in 1175, a country where the Shi'ite Moslems had been in power, he is reported to have destroyed whole libraries and distributed the finer works to his victorious followers."1 After the destruction he improved the economy and military with the advice of his father.
Saladin was obsessed with Jihad, or holy war. He would study about it, talk about it, he would not be satisfied until the Jihad was carried out. He decided he was the one to do it. He also used Jihad as a motivator for the Muslims, a goal for them to believe in. After warring against other small Muslim states, Saladin was ready for Jihad. He worked on the military until he thought it was perfect. They nearly were. Without even having to deploy advanced military strategies, he beat back the Crusaders easily. He decided that military strategies were more easily replaced by uniting all of the unruly, self governed states. Using this tactic, he was very successful. He had a huge well trained army ready when he needed it. At last he was ready for war. He was ready to fight against the Latin crusaders as their military equal.
But alas, it ended up that Saladin had overestimated the crusaders’ armies. He won every battle easily. It took Saladin only 3 months to conquer all of the crusader cities in between himself and Jerusalem. After 88 years in Frankish rule, Jerusalem was once again taken by the Muslims. But Saladin didn’t want to be just another conqueror. He wanted to be a liberator. He didn’t loot any building, harm any of the citizens, and most importantly, didn’t harm any religious building, mosque, temple, etc. The people hailed him as their savior. After these few easily won battles, there were only a few cities still standing against him. One of these was Tyre. Tyre was a nearly invincible island fortress where refugees were fleeing to. Even the great Saladin could not take this city. He didn’t know that the crusaders would act so strongly after losing Jerusalem, but they did. They called for another crusade. This time they had hundreds of thousands of troops, led by the three most powerful kingdoms of the time: Holy Roman Empire, England, and France. Together they marched against Saladin.
Saladin knew that his only worry was Richard the Lionheart. Richard was a brilliant tactician who learned the art of war fighting against his own father. Saladin was forced to take up defense instead of always attacking. He stood against the three mighty empires until finally, two things happened. First, Richard was defeated, but not killed. This was very hard for him to accept. But Saladin was a kind man. He sent Richard fruit and snow from a mountain to cheer him up. Second, a treaty was signed. It stated that Jerusalem was to be controlled by the Muslims, but the Christians were allowed to come and go freely within the city, and live peacefully with everyone else. This was a fair compromise to both sides, so the treaty was accepted.
In the end Saladin got to carry out his Jihad and still come to peace with the Christians. But he was not always a good man. Some stories say that while at the Horns of Hattin, he controlled the only water source and would go out at night and pour water into the sand right in front of the crusaders who were crazy with thirst. He also had a personal vendetta against Reginald of Chatillon. He hated Reginald because of his actions against the Muslims; during a short lived treaty between the two warring parties, Reginald would still attack and carry out his own raids against Saladin. This made Saladin furious. He swore that he would kill that man with his own scimitar. At the battle of the Horns of Hattin, Reginald was captured, and sure enough, Saladin cut off his head with his own scimitar.
Saladin died right after the treaty was signed. He was used by God to create the temporary peace that was enjoyed between the Muslims and Christians. He was a fierce leader, tactician, and sometimes even a liberator. His subjects served with love and fear. Some say he was their savior. To others he was a brutal dictator. The Christians that he ruled over were oppressed by the Islamic tax but it allowed them small religious freedoms. Although it is said some crusaders would kill any armed Saracen they met, some say that Saladin did not. Instead he let them travel with him. In the end they followed him faithfully as well. But all things said and done, Saladin was unknowingly carrying out God’s plan.
1History of Libraries in the Western World, Michael H. Harris, Scarecrow:1995. page 82
“Saladin.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1987.
“Saladin.” Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge. Danbury, CT: Grolier Inc., 1991.
Age of Empires II: The Conquerors. Microsoft Inc., Ensemble Studies: Saladin Campaign. 2000