Saladin was a hero in the Middle East (1137-1193). Founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. He is recognized as the hero who took Jerusalem back from the Christians. However, as we will see, he was not a jihadist who resolutely fought against Christianity for the sake of Islam.

Saladin’s Life

 Saladin was born into a military family in Tikrit, Iraq. His father served in the Zengid dynasty. Saladin himself went on to serve the Zengid dynasty.

 At the end of the 11th century, Pope Urbanus II proposed the First Crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims. This was successful, and Jerusalem came under Christian rule; the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established in 1099. In 1164, Saladin was sent on an expedition to Egypt under the Zengid dynasty. Egypt was under the rule of the Fatimid dynasty. However, the Fatimid dynasty was in decline due to the First Crusade and other factors.

 Saladin established strongholds in Egypt. The Kingdom of Jerusalem army joined in this power struggle. In 1167, Saladin succeeded in defeating the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1169, Saladin assumed the position of military commander and vizier in Egypt and assumed real power.

 In 1171, Saladin abolished the Fatimid dynasty and founded the Ayyub dynasty. He abolished the previously recognized Shia sect and recognized the Sunni sect. Furthermore, in 1174, he entered Damascus, Syria, which was his home country, and annexed part of Syria to Egypt.

 Recapture of Jerusalem

 Saladin sought to retake Jerusalem for jihad, and in 1187, he defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin and succeeded in retaking Jerusalem. He also conquered the surrounding areas.

 The fall of Jerusalem had a great impact on Europe. Therefore, the Third Crusade was proposed and set out for Jerusalem. King Richard I of England and others joined it.

 The battle between Saladin and Richard I has long been understood as a holy battle between Muslim jihadists and Western Christian holy warriors. It has been understood as if it were a splendid clash between two world religions or two worlds or civilizations.
However, the actual battle between the two was not such a simple dichotomy. At the time, Saladin was planning to expand into Lepanto. Richard I prevented this. Richard I also planned to take Jerusalem back and march on Syria and Egypt. First, Richard did his best to conquer Jerusalem. Saladin, on the other hand, did not intend to overthrow Richard I, but to defend Jerusalem. To do so, Saladin chose to fight a war of attrition.

 Richard I had made it difficult for Saladin’s army, but he was unable to win Saladin. Saladin kept the door open for negotiations while continuing the war of attrition. In actual combat, he sometimes showed generosity to the European soldiers in the spirit of chivalry. He also sent his brother as an envoy to Richard, presenting him with camels, ice, fruit, and tents. Richard welcomed these gifts and gave gifts to Saladin in return. The envoys and gifts passed back and forth between the two sides. Both sides maintained these exchanges even as they fought. Finally, in 1192, the two sides reached a peace treaty.

 This treaty left the Kingdom of Jerusalem without territories such as Tripoli and Antioch, but it continued to exist in coastal cities. Christians were allowed to make pilgrimages to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and other Christian sites. Thus, the threat of the Third Crusade disappeared.

 In 1193, Saladin died of illness. His military service for the Sunni sect of Islam earned him the Arabic name “Salah ad-Dinn”. This means “honor of piety”. Saladin is the European appellation.

 Saladin’s Perception

 After his death, Saladin’s image was formed as follows due to the above-mentioned tactics. In contemporaneous Arabic chronicles and biographies, Saladin was portrayed as a holy warrior. While he was depicted as fighting for Islam, he was also emphasized for his mercy and generosity to European prisoners of war. In medieval Western literature, Saladin was not portrayed as a totally incompatible enemy. Rather, he was portrayed as the embodiment of chivalry, showing generosity and benevolence even toward Christians. Saladin was associated with reconciliation rather than confrontation between Western Christianity and Middle Eastern Islam.

 In modern times, however, Saladin’s image is used in the context of a clash of civilizations and religions. Or, during the period of decolonization, it was used as a symbol of resistance to European colonialism and the unity of the Arab world in that effort.


Recommended or Selected References

Toshimichi Matsuda, Saladin : The Retaking of JERUSALEM, Yamakawa Shuppansha, 2015

Tsugitaka Sato, Saladin, the “Hero” of Islam: The Man Who Fought the Crusaders, Kodansha, 2011

Anthony Bale (ed.), The Cambridge companion to the literature of the Crusades, Cambridge University Press, 2019