Paul E. Walker: Former Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Montreal
The most famous of the Muslim military heroes was Saladin. In the late 12th century he succeeded in uniting various parts of the Middle East and Mesopotamia and in overtaking the Christian armies of the early crusades through a combination of shrewd diplomacy and decisive attacks.
Saladin was born in Takrit, Mesopotamia (in modern Iraq) to a Kurdish family. As a youth, his pursuits tended more toward the religious and scholarly than toward the military, but this changed when he joined the staff of his uncle, a military commander. By age 31 Saladin became commander of the Syrian troops and vizier of Egypt.
In the following years, Saladin used his considerable talents to bring the Muslim territories of Syria, Egypt, northern Mesopotamia, and Palestine under his control. Then, in 1187, he launched a holy war against the armies of the European crusaders, who had conquered Jerusalem 88 years before. In contrast to the European conquest of Jerusalem, Saladin's capture of the city was far more civilized and less bloody.
By 1189 the crusaders occupied only three cities in the entire Middle East. Saladin's conquest sparked the Third Crusade, which was led by the famed military leader Richard I (the Lion-Hearted). The clash between these two great powers ended in a draw, but a treaty was drawn up that allowed Christians to visit holy sites in the area. Saladin died a peaceful death in Damascus in 1193.
Muslim sultan of Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, and the most famous of Muslim heroes. In wars against the Christian crusaders, he achieved final success with the disciplined capture of Jerusalem (Oct. 2, 1187), ending its 88-year occupation by the Franks. The great Christian counterattack of the Third Crusade was then stalemated by his military genius.
Saladin was born into a prominent Kurdish family. On the night of his birth, his... [continues]
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