|Artist’s portrait of Salahuddin who unified
Arabs during the Crusades
A towering figure in Islamic and Middle Eastern history, Salahuddin (Saladin) Yusuf Ibn Ayyub is best known as the general who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the 12th century.
A Kurd, he was sent to Damascus during his childhood to complete his education, where he was trained in military techniques by his uncle Shirkuh, in the court of Nuruddin Zengi.
Salahuddin became the vizier of Egypt in 1169 and then took full control of the country in 1171. He later built the Citadel in Cairo. His conquest of Jerusalem in 1188 prompted the Third Crusade, led by Richard I (also known as Richard the Lionheart) of England.
Richard’s forces defeated Salahuddin in several battles, but could not retake Jerusalem. Salahuddin and Richard signed an armistice in 1192.
The Muslim general’s reputation as a chivalrous knight earned him respect and reverence even from his enemies.
Bahauddin Ibn Shaddad, a historian and Salahuddin biographer, wrote in 1189 of a Frankish woman who was searching for her missing three-month-old baby. It had been stolen from her camp and sold. The Franks, at war with the Muslims at the time, urged her to approach Salahuddin with her grievance. He used his own money to buy the child back.
Ibn Shaddad wrote: “He gave it to the mother and she took it; with tears streaming down her face, and hugged it to her breast. The people were watching her and weeping and I was standing amongst them. She suckled it for some time and then Salahuddin ordered a horse to be fetched for her and she went back to camp.”
Salahuddin is also known for his pivotal role in uniting the then divided Abbasid (Sunni – Baghdad) and Fatimid (Shia – Egypt) caliphates.
His legacy as a force for unity stretches to this day across the Middle East and into Europe. The “Salahuddin eagle” is seen as a symbol of Arab unity and features on the coats of arms of Egypt, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen.
The province in Iraq where he was born is now named after him, as is the university in Irbil.
Visitors to Damascus can view his statue at the entrance to the city’s citadel and visit his place of burial, the Umayyad Mosque in Old Damascus.