Saladin and Jerusalem
Saladin stands out in Western accounts of the Middle Ages because his beliefs and actions reflected supposedly Christian characteristics: honesty, piety, magnanimity, and chivalry. Unlike many Muslim rulers, he was not cruel to his subordinates; Saladin believed deeply in the Koranic standard that all men are equal before the law. He set a high moral tone; for example, he distributed war proceeds carefully to help maintain discipline in the ranks. As an administrator, Saladin showed great vision. He altered the tax structure in Egypt and elsewhere to conform to Koranic instructions, and he supported higher education. It was his vision—together with luck and military skill—that enabled him to begin a quest for Muslim unification that would bear fruit many years later.
Saladin was born in 1138 in Tikrit, Mesopotamia (now modern-day Iraq). His formal name was Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub. Salah al-Din was an honorary title that translates as “Righteousness of Faith.” His father, Ayyub, and his uncle, Shirkuh, were both generals in the army of Zengi, the Muslim leader who captured the County of Edessa from the crusaders in 1144. When Zengi died in 1146, Saladin moved with his father and uncle to Damascus in Syria, the main city of Zengi’s empire. Zengi’s son, Nur-ad-din, had taken over Damascus after his father’s death, and Saladin began work for Nur-ad-din, following in the footsteps of his father and uncle.
The Muslim world was rent by religious differences. The Seljuk caliphate, ruled by Nur al-Din, was of the more liberal Sunni sect and had its seat of power in Baghdad. The Fatimid caliphate of Egypt, which had embraced the more orthodox Shict, was a volatile agglomeration with weak rulers. Like a splinter between them was the Latin Kingdom, a Christian stronghold along the eastern Mediterranean coast, ruled by a Frank, Amalric I. Nur al-Din believed that if Amalric were able to join forces with the Byzantine
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