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Salah Ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub
Salah Ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (Rightousness of the Faithful, Joseph son of Jacob), known in the West as Saladdin, was born in 1137 or 1138 in what is now Takrit, Iraq to a prominent Kurdish family. (This indicates that the region of the Kurds probably extended much further south than it does now.) No sooner was Saladdin born than the family began a journey to Allepo in what is now Syria. Saladdin's father joined his brother as a member of the Turkish military government of the northern Syria.
Saladdin's childhood gave no indication of his talents as a general and a ruler. His early interests were in religious study. When Saladdin came of age he joined the military staff of his uncle who was commanding the forces of Turkish forces in the area.
The Turkish military forces were trying to keep Crusader forces under Amalric I from Jerusalem from capturing Egypt. When Saladdin's uncle died the command of the Syrian Turkish forces fell to Saladdin, who also gained control of Egypt. Egypt was predominantly Sunni, but the previous ruling family of Egypt had been Shi'ia. Saladdin acquisition of power returned the governance of Egypt to Sunni control. He also became the ruler of Syria rather than merely the commander of its army.
Saladdin's childhood religiousness was not lost. As an adult he was noted for his morality, as an individual as well as his fairness and efficiency as a ruler. He, more than any other ruler of his time, was noted for his chivalrous treatment of enemies. But he was the commander which re-established Muslim power in the face of Crusader forces in the region. He emphsized the concept of jihad, the Muslim equivalent of crusade, a holy war.
His military efficiency and the mistakes of the leaders of the crusader forces led to the defeat of the crusader army from Jerusalem in July of 1187. Jerusalem itself surrendered in early October of 1187, thus ending 88 years of crusader control. But the crusader movement was not ended. Despite the loss of Jerusalem crusaders retained control of several cities and a thin strip of coast. Moreover new crusades were raised in Europe which re-invigorated the crusader cause. But the new crusades could only hold on to the retained crusader territories and were not able to recapture Jerusalem. This maintenance of Muslim control of Jerusalem was largely due to the military skills of Saladdin which entailed his leadership of his forces in the field. This life of a field commander proved too severe for his constitution and he died in March of 1193 at about 55 years of age. His governance was so righteous that his personal wealth was not sufficient to cover the cost of his burial.
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