Selahaddin Eyyubi

Who Was Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi?

Salahuddin Ayyubi, commonly known in the West as Saladin, was a 12th-century Muslim military leader and statesman. He is best known for his role in the defense of the Islamic states against the Crusaders and his recapture of Jerusalem in 1187. Saladin was born in Tikrit, Iraq, in 1137, and he became the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

Saladin’s most famous military achievement was the Battle of Hattin in 1187, where his forces decisively defeated the Crusader army led by King Guy of Jerusalem. Following this victory, Saladin captured Jerusalem, a city that had been in Christian hands for nearly 100 years. Despite the intense religious conflicts of the time, Saladin was known for his chivalry and respect for his adversaries.

Alongside his uncle Shirkuh, a general of the Zengid dynasty, Saladin was sent to Egypt under the Fatimid Caliphate in 1164, on the orders of Nur ad-Din. With their original purpose being to help restore Shawar as the vizier to the teenage Fatimid caliph al-Adid, a power struggle ensued between Shirkuh and Shawar after the latter was reinstated. Saladin, meanwhile, climbed the ranks of the Fatimid government by virtue of his military successes against Crusader assaults as well as his personal closeness to al-Adid.

Zangi did not offer long resistance. He was unpopular with his subjects and wished to return to his Sinjar, the city he governed previously. An exchange was negotiated where Zangi would hand over Aleppo to Saladin in return for the restoration of his control of Sinjar, Nusaybin, and Raqqa. Zangi would hold these territories as Saladin’s vassals in terms of military service. On 12 June, Aleppo was formally placed in Ayyubid hands. The people of Aleppo had not known about these negotiations and were taken by surprise when Saladin’s standard was hoisted over the citadel.

Two emirs, including an old friend of Saladin, Izz ad-Din Jurduk, welcomed and pledged their service to him. Saladin replaced the Hanafi courts with Shafi’i administration, despite a promise that he would not interfere in the religious leadership of the city. Although he was short of money, Saladin also allowed the departing Zangi to take all the stores of the citadel that he could travel with and to sell the remainder which Saladin purchased himself.

In spite of his earlier hesitation to go through with the exchange, he had no doubts about his success, stating that Aleppo was “the key to the lands” and “this city is the eye of Syria and the citadel is its pupil”. For Saladin, the capture of the city marked the end of over eight years of waiting since he told Farrukh-Shah that “we have only to do the milking and Aleppo will be ours”.

After Shawar was assassinated and Shirkuh died in 1169, al-Adid appointed Saladin as vizier. During his tenure, Saladin, a Sunni Muslim, began to undermine the Fatimid establishment; following al-Adid’s death in 1171, he abolished the Cairo-based Isma’ili Shia Muslim Fatimid Caliphate and realigned Egypt with the Baghdad-based Sunni Abbasid Caliphate.

In the wake of Nur ad-Din’s death, Saladin faced a difficult decision; he could move his army against the Crusaders from Egypt or wait until invited by as-Salih in Syria to come to his aid and launch a war from there. He could also take it upon himself to annex Syria before it could possibly fall into the hands of a rival, but he feared that attacking a land that formerly belonged to his master forbidden in the Islamic principles in which he believe could portray him as hypocritical, thus making him unsuitable for leading the war against the Crusaders. Saladin saw that in order to acquire Syria, he needed either an invitation from as-Salih or to warn him that potential anarchy could give rise to danger from the Crusaders.

Saladin’s life and accomplishments have been romanticized in both Western and Islamic literature. His reputation as a noble and virtuous leader endures, and he is remembered as a symbol of unity and resistance in the face of external threats. The story of Saladin and the Crusades is an important chapter in the history of the Middle East and the interaction between the Islamic and Christian worlds during the medieval period.

Saladin died in 1193, and after his death, his sons struggled to maintain the unity of the Ayyubid Empire. Despite internal conflicts, the Ayyubid dynasty continued to play a significant role in the region for several decades.

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