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The Conqueror of Jerusalem: Salah ad-Din

posted on: Apr 17, 2021

“I have become so great as I am because I have won men’s hearts by gentleness and kindliness.” Salah ed-Din

Salah ed-Din el Ayyubi is a legend among legends in our history. His life from beginning to end set an example that many attempted to follow in vein. This serves as a small research into the events of interest that led Saladin to become the great leader he was.

Early Life

Salah ad-Din ibn Yousef Ayyub was the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty and the first to hold the title of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Saladin led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. He was originally sent to Fatimid Egypt in 1164 alongside his uncle Shirkuh, a general of the Zengid army, on the orders of their lord Nur ad-Din to help restore Shawar as vizier of the teenage Fatimid caliph al-Adid. He climbed the ranks of the Fatimid government under his military successes against Crusader assaults against its territory. After Shawar was assassinated and Shirkuh died in 1169, al-Adid appointed Saladin vizier. Afterward, Saladin began to undermine the Fatimid establishment and, following al-Adid’s death in 1171, he abolished the Fatimid Caliphate and realigned the country’s allegiance with the Sunni, Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate.

Saladin was born in Tikrit in modern-day Iraq. In 1132, the defeated army of Imad ad-Din Zengi, the ruler of Mosul, found their retreat blocked by the Tigris River opposite the fortress of Tikrit, where Saladin’s father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub served as the warden. Ayyub provided ferries for the army and gave them refuge in Tikrit. In 1137, the governor of that region banished Ayyub. Saladin was born on the same night that his family left Tikrit. In 1139, Ayyub and his family moved to Mosul, where Imad ad-Din Zengi acknowledged his debt and appointed Ayyub commander of his fortress in Baalbek. Saladin, who now lived in Damascus, was reported to have a particular fondness for the city, In addition to Islam, Saladin knew the genealogies, biographies, and histories of the Arabs, as well as the bloodlines of Arabian horses. He spoke Kurdish and Arabic.

“European merchants supply the best weaponry, contributing to their own defeat.” Salah ed-Din

Expansion: The Battle of Hattin


Saladin’s military career began under the tutelage of his uncle Asad al-Din Shirkuh, a prominent military commander under Nur ad-Din, the Zengid emir of Damascus and Aleppo and the most influential teacher of Saladin. In 1163, the vizier to the Fatimid caliph al-Adid, Shawar, had been driven out of Egypt by his rival Dirgham, a member of the powerful Banu Ruzzaik tribe. He asked for military backing from Nur ad-Din, who complied and, in 1164, sent Shirkuh to aid Shawar in his expedition against Dirgham. Saladin, at age 26, went along with them. After the sacking of Bilbais, the Crusader-Egyptian force and Shirkuh’s army were to engage in the Battle of al-Babein. Saladin played a significant role, commanding the right-wing of the Zengid army, while a wing of Kurds commanded the left, and Shirkuh stationed in the center. Afterward, he participated in the power struggle of Egypt and became the vizier of Egypt. After the death of the Fatimid leader, Saladin replaced him and declared the Ayyubid dynasty to overtake the Fatimid. He leads an expansion all over the Muslim world where he promised each emir he met that with their support, they care to retake the holy land from the Crusaders.

The Battle of Hattin

His expansion attracted the attention of Guy of Lusignan, who became the King of Jerusalem at the time. Reymond III of Tripoli was obligated by treaties to keep the peace between himself the Muslims. However, he raided some of the Muslim Caravans causing Saladin to wage war against him. Guy reacted by raising his forces to support Reymond III. After the mobilization of both armies, they found themselves on the Horns of Hattin. On July 3, the Frankish army started towards Tiberias, harassed by Muslim archers. They passed the Springs of Turan, which were entirely insufficient to provide the soldiers with water. At midday, Raymond of Tripoli decided that the forces would not reach Tiberias by nightfall, and he and Guy agreed to change the course of the march and veer to the direction of the Springs of Kafr Hattin. From that point, they could march down to Tiberias the following day. The Muslims positioned themselves between the Frankish army and the water so that the Franks had to pitch camp overnight. Due to the demoralization and dehydration the Crusaders suffered, they lost the battle against Saladin. As a result, the Crusader States were unable to wage war against Saladin

“I warn you against shedding blood, indulging in it and making a habit of it, for blood never sleeps.” Salah ed-Din

The Siege of Jerusalem

After Saladin’s success against the crusaders, he turned his attention towards the Holy capital. He laid siege on the city from September 20 to October 2, 1187, when Balian of Ibelin surrendered the city to Saladin. There many negotiations about the release of the crusaders and the surrender of Jerusalem. In the end, on Balian’s orders, the Crusaders surrendered the city to Saladin’s army on October 2. The take-over of the city was relatively peaceful in contrast to the Crusader siege of Jerusalem in 1099. Balian paid 30,000 dinars for freeing 7,000 of those unable to pay from the treasury of the city. The large golden Christian cross, placed over the Dome of the Rock by the Crusaders, was pulled down. All Muslim prisoners of war were released by Saladin.


After the surrender of the city, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was ordered to be closed for three days by Saladin while he considered what to do with it. Some of his advisers told him to destroy the Church to end all Christian interests in Jerusalem. Most of his advisers, however, told him to spare the Church, saying that Christian pilgrimages would continue anyway because of the sanctity of the place and also reminded him of the Caliph Umar, who allowed the Church to remain in Christian hands after conquering the city. Saladin ultimately decided not to destroy the church. It is here that we see how the approach of a great leader, in addition to his humanity and faith, that led tens of thousands to follow his lead to the creation of a new world. It is unfortunate that nowadays, we lack the traits and interests that resulted in the creation of a great leader. We only pray that one day we will return to our path of wisdom to find our place once again in this world.

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