Born: 1138 in Tikrit, Mesopotamia
Died: March 4, 1193 (at age 55) in Damascus, Syria
Nationality: Arabic
Famous For: Sultan of Egypt and Sham

Saladin was a great Muslim leader. He was an ideal warrior-king known for his generous nature to his enemies. He was the very first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. He also led the Muslim opposition in the Levant against European Crusaders.

A great military tactician that he was, he united and led the Muslims to recapture Jerusalem from the Christian Crusaders in 1187. Saladin was very successful and the more his success the more Muslims saw him as their natural leader.

Early Life

Saladin was born in 1138 to a Kurdish family of Armenian descent residing in Tikrit on the Tigris river. His father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub, served under Bihruz, the Seljuk administrator, as the Castellan of Tikrit. Saladin underwent initial military training under the command of Seljuk statesman and his uncle, Shirkuh.

He later joined his uncle’s staff who was then an important commander. In 1169, at 31 years of age, Saladin had been named vizier of the caliphate of Fatimid in Egypt. He was also the commander of Syrian troops in Egypt.

Leadership in the Military

Saladin abolished the Shi’ite caliphate in 1171 and announced Sunni Islam’s return. This is when he gained control of Egypt and later conquered Syria. While based in Damascus, Saladin worked hard to unite the Muslim regions which were disparate. In 1175, Saladin proclaimed himself King and the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad confirmed him as the sultan of Egypt and Syria.

During this period, Saladin was very ruthless and strict in maintaining power. He used tremendous political and military skill to ensure that he remained the unquestioned leader of the Arabs. By 1177, he had gathered a strong army and he felt that he was capable of taking on the crusaders.

Saladin and the Crusades

The crusaders had taken control of Jerusalem for approximately 88 years. Jerusalem’s sack and murders of all its inhabitants remained a painful memory to many Muslims. To add insult to injury, the Christians who currently occupied Jerusalem, under Raynald of Chatillon, frequently harassed Muslim pilgrims on their way to Medina and Mecca.

As such, in 1187, Saladin brought his great army to Jerusalem’s gates as well as at the Hattin battle. He attained a resounding victory at the Hattin battle on the 4th of July that year and Jerusalem surrendered on October 2. While retaking Jerusalem, Saladin and his soldiers behaved with civility unlike the western conquerors who murdered innocent civilians. His soldiers were not allowed to kill civilians nor rob or damage the city. Instead, he allowed the survivors to flee from the city.

Saladin and Richard the Lionheart

The victory at Hattin and the regain of Jerusalem ignited the Third Crusade. This Crusade saw the defeat of Saladin by King Richard I of England, popularly known as Richard the Lionheart, at the Arsuf battle in 1191. However, King Richard I was unable to recapture Jerusalem and eventually gave up, returning to Europe in 1193.

Richard and Saladin never met, though; Richard came to respect and admire Saladin through his dealings with Saladin’s younger brother. He recognized and appreciated his chivalry, honor and courage. Saladin, on the other hand, was generous and respected Richard the Lionheart.

Saladin’s Death

Shortly after Richard’s departure from the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Saladin fell ill. He died on March 4, 1193, of an unknown fever. Before his death, Saladin had donated all of his property to the poor. He gave his wealth to the extent that he had no money left even for his funeral. His burial was conducted in a simple mausoleum outside in Damascus.