Salahuddin’s Birth and Lineage
Salahuddin was born in Tikrit (a city on the Tigris River), Iraq in 1137, of Kurdish ancestry. The Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, al Mustarshid, had appointed his father Ayyub, skilled in administration and diplomacy, as the governor of the town.
Childhood and Education
Salahuddin received his early childhood education in Baalbek and Damascus, Syria. In 1143, when Salahuddin was six years old, Sultan Zengi of Musel appointed his father Ayyub as the governor of Baalbek. 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. Salahuddin grew up where political decisions regarding the Crusades were made. His cultural and religious education was typical of the environments surrounding Baalbek and Damascus. Like his peers, Salahuddin learned Arabic, poetry, the formal prayers and memorisation of the Quran and the Hadith.
Salahuddin in Early Adulthood
In the Middle Ages the youth were given responsibilities of manhood early. He was sent to his uncle Shirkuh in Aleppo on a career that would lead him to become one of Nur al Din’s emirs. The devout Nur al-Din soon became a mentor for the young Salahuddin. He built and funded schools and hospitals. He promoted the divine values of Islam and governed in the light of the Quran.
Nur al-Din set up the Court of Appeals. Salahuddin regularly attended the Court of Appeals as a student. Salahuddin learned to appreciate the wisdom and justice of the Islamic law. Nur al Din was the first Muslim ruler who saw the need for Muslim states to be united. Salahuddin respected him tremendously and followed Nur al-Din’s example in uniting the ummah.
Salahuddin in His Adulthood
Salahuddin, 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. Salahuddin made a lasting impression on his peers during this expedition.
Salahuddin used diplomacy and the administrative skills in piecing together this badly divided region. Salahuddin’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.
The Decisive Battle of Hettin
In return for an attack made by the Crusaders of the Kerak on Muslim pilgrims in 1187, Salahuddin moved his army to northern Palestine and defeated the much larger Crusader army in the decisive battle of Hettin (July 4, 1187). Three months after this battle, Salahuddin captured Jerusalem., Salahuddin did not loot, murder or seek revenge for the Muslims. He spared the lives of 100,000 Christians and allowed Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem after it’s fall. In this benevolent act, Salahuddin was simply emulating Prophet Muhammad when the Prophet re-entered his birth-city of Makkah, with ten thousand people. There was no bloodshed.
Recapturing Jerusalem shocked the West, and as such it brought about the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lion heart, King of England in 1189. Salahuddin’s army checked the massive Frankish armies and weakened them in a war of attrition on the land of Palestine. It was during this period Richard negotiated peace with Salahuddin. Third Crusade army was exhausted. It was Salahuddin’s generosity in this treaty, which ended the Crusades and established his legendery status.. .
Magnanimity and Benevolence at Work
Some of the stories that help the reader to understand why Salahuddin became a legendary figure in the Western world follow:
a- Preventing a Bloodbath
After capturing Jerusalem in October 1187, Salahuddin’s act in signing the peace treaty and saving Christian blood was indeed a pious act. He not only spared the lives of 100,000 Christians, but also guaranteed their safe departure along with their property and belongings. They were given forty days to prepare for departure. In this way eighty four thousand of them left the city in perfect safety. What is important to understand is that Salahuddin was in a position to seek revenge for his people. However he did not , because his faith taught him to be merciful and forgiving.
b- Foregoing ransom
Part of the condition of the surrender of Jerusalem, was that each Christian pays her or his ransom. Thousands of Christians, mainly women, were not able to pay their ransom.Al-Adel, Salahuddin’s brother, Geukburi, Salahuddin’s brother-in law and Salahuddin instead paid their ransom out of their own pockets.
This act was done in spite of the fact that there were some rich Christians such as the Patriarch, Heraclius and Madame la Patriarchesse of Jerusalem. Salahuddin was advised to confiscate that wealth to use it as ransom for the poor Christians. He refused to go back on his word. He allowed the wealthy Christians to depart with all their wealth intact.
c- Excellence Beyond Justice
During the forty days respite that was given to the Westerners to leave Jerusalem, several Christian women approached Salahuddin asking for their missing men. They had no one to look after them. Salahuddin ordered his soldiers to find their missing guardians, and/or given compensation if they were killed.
This act is one of the many. Having a Muslim paying a ransom to a family of a soldier killed fighting other Muslims is excellence beyond justice
d- “Victory Is Changing the Hearts of Your Opponents by Gentleness and Kindness.”- Salahuddin
In September 1192, during the siege of Acre,when Richard fell sick, Salahuddin sent him his own physician to treat him. Along with this health care, he frequently sent him ice to cool down his fever and plum fruits that were necessary for his recovery.
e- Pure Chivalry
During an offense made by Richard against a Muslim squadron Richard’s horse was killed and he was down on the ground. Salahuddin sent him two mounts so that he would not be at a disadvantage.
f- Returning a child
During the siege of Acre, a Christian woman came to Salahuddin’s camp weeping and wailing insisting that her child was snatched away by his soldiers. He himself returned the child to his mother and had them mount on the back of a mare to be returned safely to their camp.
g- Libert of faith
During the siege of Acre several soldiers were captured. Among them was an old man who was so old that he was toothless and could hardly walk. Salahuddin asked him why he was there. The old man said that he wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Salahuddin provided a horse for him and had him escorted to Jerusalem to fulfill his dream.
Salahuddin was an honorable leader. His character and charitable deeds demonstrates that Muslims were no “infidels”. The Crusaders discovered that Muslims had values they consider Christian. Saladan’s chivalry became the source of many plays and used in literature.
Today, we need leaders like Salahuddin more than ever. He died aged 57, March 4, 1193.His estate was only 47 dirhems and one dinar. He left no real estate or assets or anything that could be inherited. May Allah honor him in the Hereafter, lighten his grave, and raise his rank in Paradise. Amen.