Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known in the west as Saladin, was a practicing Kurdish Muslim of the Sunni sect. Saladin played a defining role in reuniting the Muslim ummah (population), and recapturing the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was conquered by the Franks in 1099, in what they claimed to be a crusade. Saladin’s heroic victory in the Battle of Hattin was the key to returning the religion of Islam to the Holy Land. Saladin was renowned for his chivalrous, honorable, pious and generous ways, and was respected by those who waged war against him, and undoubtedly a notable figure and role model of Muslim’s, present and past. At the height of his power, Saladin ruled Yemen, Mesopotamia, Persia, The Hejaz (Saudi region of Mecca and Medina), and was the Sultan of both Syria and Egypt.
Coming of Christian Rule:
Saladin was born into a Muslim empire, whose prized jewel, the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, otherwise known as Jerusalem, was under the rule of Christendom. Pope Urban II launched a bloody crusade against Judaism and Islam in the later period of the 11th century to unite the states of the constantly disputing Christian Kingdom. In doing so, Pope Urban II summoned a bloody war that would claim the number of a disastrous amount of men, leading to a further four crusades.
The absolute disunity of the Muslim people made it rather effortlessly for the Christian army to steal the home of Abrahamic religions from very tolerant Muslim rulers. After the occupation, both Muslim and Jewish men, women and children were slaughtered, with their choice of religion being the reason. The soil of the Kingdom which was walked on by Muhammad and Jesus was now flooded with the blood of civilians, in the barbaric execution of the innocent.
Birth of a Sultan:
On the day of his birth, Saladin’s father and uncle were banished from their town of residence. Shirkuh, Saladin’s uncle, was approached by a woman who had been mistreated by a male guard. In a rage, Shirkuh confronted the guard, and eventually used the guard’s halberd to impale him, leaving him deceased. Appalled by Shirkuh’s actions, the eunuch, Bihruz, Najm al-Din’s former friend, had them banished. From Tikrit, the two brothers made their way to Mosul in Mesopotamia, with them came the future liberator of the Islamic Empire, Saladin.
In Mosul, Nur al-Din Zengy was already making efforts to tie the warring sects of Islam. Neighboring states would compete, and in doing so, create minor disputes that left them foes. The worst of the civil misunderstandings was that of the Sunni sect and the Shiite sect. For years, the two sects had been at each others throats, warring over the succession of Ali, the Fourth Rightly Guided Caliph. This disunity in the Muslim Empire was the cause of the occupation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem by Christian forces.
Zengy saw the experience of the newly arrived brothers, and so appointed Najm al-Din as the commander of the fortress in Ba’albek (modern day Lebanon), and his brother Shikruh, was put in command of one of Zengy’s military forces.
In 1144, Edessa, the first of the Crusader states to be captured, was also the first to fall back into the rightful hands of Muslim rule. This move by the Muslim state came as a surprise to the Christian people, and ultimately, the second crusade was called. In 1146, Zengy died, and was not able to witness the victory of the Muslim state. Nur al-Din, Zengy’s successor, and predecessor of Saladin as Sultan of Syria, played a defining role as one of the commanders of the Muslim forces that overran the threatening Crusader force.
In 1163, Nur al-Din saw a window of opportunity in taking a considerably large step in further uniting the segregated, yet powerful, Muslim Empire. Saladin, now twenty-six years of age, was sent to accompany his uncle Shirkuh, in conquering the state of Egypt, under Fatamite (Shiite sect) rule. After just weeks of conquering Egypt, Shirkuh and Saladin were forced out due to reinforcements from the Crusaders, whom were ready to destroy any attempts made at reuniting the Muslim Empire, knowing that a unified Muslim population would leave them with no match, and Jerusalem would undoubtedly fall under rule of its rightful owners.
Six years later, and on the fifth attempt, Shirkuh and Saladin conquered Egypt, bringing the two powerhouses of the Muslim Empire, Egypt and Syria, under united rule. Two months after proclaiming himself King of Egypt, Shirkuh’s life came to an abrupt end, and Saladin succeeded Shirkuh, as ordered by Nur al-Din. Saladin proceeded to slowly, but steadily, deteriorate the Shiite population, replacing it with Sunni belief. This would bring Egypt and Syria into a stronger unity; one that would withhold and deter Christian forces.
As years past, and consecutive crusader forces failed in disuniting Egypt from Damascus, the bond between Saladin and Nur al-Din became increasingly apprehensive. It came to a point when, in 1174, Nur al-Din gathered an army to forcefully reclaim Egypt from the rule of Saladin. Shortly afterwards, before any action could be taken, Nur al-Din’s life was ended. His rule was past on to his eleven-year-old son. A year later, Saladin led his army to Syria, capturing it and proclaiming himself Sultan of both Egypt and Syria. The Arabs were at last consolidating their unity, bringing forth a force capable of surpassing the Christian grip on Jerusalem. The Caliph of Baghdad took the final step in uniting the force; Saladin was recognized as Emperor of Syria and Egypt in 1175. In 1183, Saladin proceeded to conquer the final lone fief in Aleppo. Despite being a military stronghold, the capturing of this fief was symbolic of Saladin’s dominance. Three years later in 1186, Saladin took Mosul, and had succeeded in completing Zengy’s aim of uniting the Muslim’s.
It was now that the Muslims were complete in unity, and the defeat of the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin a short time earlier, as well as the fall of the highly impenetrable Edessa, gave the Muslims confidence to push forward. Rather than internal schemes and external disunities, the Latin kingdom had to depend on its own military skill, and keep its composure in order to keep Jerusalem under its rule.
Battle of Hattin:
Lead up to the battle:
It was in 1187 that Saladin called the Jihad, the ‘Holy War’ – the war in the name of God Almighty. His messengers spread throughout the Land, reaching the four corners of the Islamic Empire, calling upon father’s, son’s and husband’s of all willing to give their life in defense of their religion. The messengers spread to Mesopotamian, Jazira, Diyar-Bekr
Saladin’s military expertise led him to besiege the fortress of Tiberius in order to attract the forces of King Guy; it would provide Saladin with a greater chance of victory if the two sides met on the field of battle, rather than Saladin’s army besieging well fortified Christian defense. On July 2nd, two days before the battle, Saladin besieged Tiberius, Raymond’s fortress. Saladin was offered a bribe in order to keep Tiberius under Christian rule, but Saladin refused. That same day, Saladin caused the fall of Tiberius. Eschiva, Raymond’s wife, sought refuge within the walls of the citadel. This was Saladin’s bait. News came to Saladin of King Guy’s departure from the defense of Sephoria.
The events of the battle:
After uniting the very much divided Muslim State and conquering Mosul in 1186, Saladin’s forces, the Ayyubids, met the combined power of Guy of Lusignan, Raymond III of Tripoli, Gerard de Rideford, Balian of Ibelin and Raynald of Chatillon.
On July 3rd, a day of extreme heat, the forces of Christendom departed Sephoria; their destination being Tiberius. Raymond, most senior and experienced of the knights, led the force, along with his Hospitaller knights. King Guy as well as the General’s Bodyguards and Royal Batillion marched as the heart of the army, and Balian of Ibelin, as well as Raynold of Chatillon, marched as the rear of the army along with the Templar knights.
Six miles from Sephoria, the Christian force came by a spring at the village of Turan. The severely dehydrated force needed to quench their need of water, and were able to do so, swarming, rather greedily, around the spring. Tiberius remained a further 9 miles from the spring of Turan, and only the second half of the day remained. The conditions of the day, as well as the many other factors would make it a foolish choice for King Guy to carry on toward Tiberius. Previous instances saw the progression of 8 miles of a Frankish army in not half, but a full day of marching, in whilst being harassed by the foe.
Reynald of Chatillon convinced King Guy to continue towards Tiberius and meet Saladin’s forces, despite Balian’s insisting not to. In the confusion and fatigue of the heat, King Guy chose to press on that same afternoon.
After taking Tiberius and being informed of King Guy’s falsehood in taking the bait, Saladin swiftly moved toward the battlefield of Hattin. The wings of Saladin’s army, the larger part of his cavalry, moved around the Christian force and routed them. This military move would seal the victory for the Saracens, and prevent any attempted retreat. It also cut off the water supply of the spring of Turan from the Christians. The Christians failed to even attempt breaking through Saladin’s maneuver, and pushed further in to the trap. As expected, the forces of Christendom were constantly harassed from all sides, and eventually brought to a standstill. They had no source of water, were completely surrounded, were forced to camp in a land plagued by tarantulas, and were under constant fear of harassment. The Christians were undoubtedly miserable, spiritless and demoralized; they were aware that they would be meeting their graves soon.
The last night of the demoralized Christian force was not an honorable one. The forces of Saladin crept ever so closely to the vulnerable tents of the Christians, pelting them with arrows, only after torching a large part of the land in order to further weaken the already frail Christian force. The fumes made it harder to breathe for the dehydrated, demoralized forces of Christianity; their doom was imminent.
The following morning on Saturday the 4th of July 1187, the Battle of Hattin took place. The Christian forces, in desperate need of water, awoke to a thick black cloud of smoke. In this state of desperation, four Christian knights approached Saladin and asked why he waited to end the lives of the mentally deceased Christian force. Saladin awaited the rise of the sun; it would shine into the face of the Christian soldiers as they approached the lake. Once again, Saladin commanded his troops to engulf a large block of dried grass, sending blinding fumes unto the camp. The Christians were now surrounded and blinded by fumes.
In a desperate search for refuge from their position, the leading unit of the army formed a wedge and made their way up the northern horn. From there, they could see the wondrous beauty of the Sea of Galilee, but in their way stood a swarming force of Saracens, teasing them with the water. Saladin saw the division of the Crusaders and swiftly on the rear of the Hospitallers.
Other Saracens harassed the rear guard of the battalion. The Templars responded with charges of their own. Slowly, the Christian force was pushed in toward the True Cross, and was being squeezed in by their enemies. Raymond, along with his Hospitallers, charged down from the hill in order to support the disintegrating Christian force. As the knights galloped in, the Muslim force parted, allowing the charge to move in to the middle, and closed around the knights; the encircling was complete. The battle was over, and the blood-spilling begun. The fall of King Guy’s tent spelt total victory for Saladin’s forces of Islam.
The Muslim army, however, gave way for Raymond and a few of his lueitannts to gallop away from the slaughtering. However, Saladin took Reynold of Chatillon, King Guy, as well as a large amount of Hospitaller and Templar knight’s as prisoners.
As Saladin sat amongst his tribal leaders, surrounded by his armies apricot flags, his two prisoners, Reynold of Chatillon and King Guy were brought before him, both parched and in desperate need of water. King Guy feared for his life, but Reynold the arrogant was emotionless. Saladin welcomed the King to sit beside him, and so he did, with Reynold following suit. At the nod of his Saladin was brought a golden cup of sherbet flavored with rose water. According to Islamic custom, a capturer who offers his prisoners water or food must spare him. After quenching his thirst, the King passed the cup to Reynold. Saladin had not offered him the water directly, and so the custom did not apply. Saladin informed Reynold that that would be the last drink Reynold would ever taste.
Reynold was responsible for capturing a rich Muslim caravan on the road of pilgrimage, he captured Saladins sister, disrespected Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, raided holy sites on the Red Sea, threatened Mecca and Medina and broke several truces made with the Muslims. Saladin twice swore to kill Reynold with his own hands.
The extent of Reynold’s arrogance is astounding. After being asked by Saladin himself, what he’d do if Saladin was his prisoner, he responded by saying “So help me God, I would cut off your head”. Ironically, it was he who would be decapitated that same day.
After collecting himself and welcoming the return of his soldiers after their victory, Saladin returned to Reynold. Saladin’s final offer to Chatillon, to spare his life, requested he submitted to Allah and accepted Islam. After refusing, Saladin withdrew his crescent sword and severed Chatillons arm. Guards moved in and beheaded the tyrant, ending his life, once and for all.
Afterwards, King Guy was brought to Saladin, shivering in fear after seeing the dreadful sight of Chatillons execution. Saladin comforted the King, and bade him to rise after dropping to his knees in preparation for his execution. “It is not the practice of Kings to kill Kings, he (Chatillon) was no King, and he overstepped his limits.” Saladin’s wisdom was respected by his foes.
After ridding the people from Chatillon for good, it was time for Saladin to deal with the prisoners. A large part of the Christian soldiers were sent to Damascus where they were sold for 3 dinars.
The Templar and Hospitaller knights, however, suffered a different fate. After awarding fifty dinars for each knight captured, each and every one of these religiously dedicated knights was executed. Gerard de Ridefort, the Mastermind of the cult, was spared; he would be a highly priced coin in ransom. The True Cross brought by the Crusaders was carried through the streets of Damascus, turned upside down to highlight Muslim victory. The Muslims were not degrading the Christians; Jesus Christ was, and still is a revered Prophet in Islam. The Muslims did, however, signify the extent at which they attained victory.
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