Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb

Born in 1137/38, Tikrīt, Mesopotamia
Died in March 4, 1193, Damascus

Biography

Better known in the Western world as Saladin, was the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A Muslim Commander whose etnicity is much debated, some historians say he has Turkic roots, others state he is Kurdish or Arab, Saladin led Islamic opposition against the EuropeanCrusaders in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria,Mesopotamia, Hejaz, Yemen, and parts of North Africa.

Originally sent to Fatimid Egypt with his uncle Shirkuh by their Zengid (Muslim Dynasty of Oghuz Turks) lord and teacher Nur ad-Din in 1163, Saladin climbed the ranks of the Fatimid government as a result of his military successes against Crusader assaults on its territory and his personal closeness to the caliph al-Adid. When Shirkuh died in 1169, al-Adid appointed Saladin vizier, a rare nomination of a Sunni Muslim to such an important position in the Shia Muslim-led caliphate. During his term as vizier, Saladin began to undermine the Fatimid establishment and following al-Adid’s death in 1171, he took over government and realigned the country’s allegiance with the Sunni Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate. In the following years, he led forays against the Crusaders in Palestine, ordered the successful conquest of Yemen and staved off pro-Fatimid rebellions in Upper Egypt.

Not long after the death of Nur ad-Din in 1174, Saladin personally led the conquest of Syria, peacefully entering Damascus at the request of its ruler. By mid-1175, Saladin had conquered Hama and Homs, inviting the animosity of his former Zengid lords, now based at Aleppo and Mosul, who had been the official rulers of Syria. Soon after, he defeated the Zengid army in battle and was thereafter proclaimed the “Sultan of Egypt and Syria” by the Abbasid caliph al-Mustadi. He made further conquests in northern Syria and Jazira and escaped two attempts on his life by the Assassins, before returning to Egypt in 1177 to deal with issues in Egypt. By 1182 Saladin completed the conquest of Syria after capturing Aleppo, but ultimately failed in taking over the Zengid stronghold of Mosul.

Under Saladin’s personal leadership, the Ayyubid army defeated the Crusaders at the decisive Battle of Hattin in 1187, leading the way to the Muslims’ re-capture of Palestine from the Crusaders who had conquered it 88 years earlier. Though the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem would continue to exist for an extended period, its defeat at Hattin marked a turning point in its conflict with the Muslim powers of the region. As a result of his achievements, Saladin has become a prominent figure in Islamic, Arab and Kurdish culture. His reportedly noble and chivalrous behavior was noted by Christian chroniclers, and despite being the nemesis of the Crusaders, he won the respect of many of them, including Richard the Lionheart who led the Third Crusade; rather than becoming a hated figure in Europe, Saladin became a celebrated example of the principles of chivalry. In 1193 he died in Damascus a relatively poor man, having given much of his wealth to his subjects. Saladin died on 4 March 1193, and was buried at the Umayyad Mosque, in Damascus, Syria.

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