1137 – Mar. 4, 1193
by Brother Gerald del Campo
Salah ad-Din Yusuf, known as Saladin in the West, has gone down in history for recapturing Jerusalem from the Crusaders. And yet he did so much more. He was born in Iraq and was a Kurd. He began his military profession at a very youthful age, when he fought along side of the Fatimid rulers of Egypt against the Christian Crusaders occupying Palestine The Fatimid rulers were a decadent, self-indulgent bunch, and the real warrior class were the Kurds. Not only did Saladin drive back the Crusaders, but he took the offensive against them. Saladin recognized Egypt’s strategic value, and with the help of his Kurdish countrymen, he revived Egypt’s wealth and strictly controlled its land and naval forces.
Saladin went into battle against his Muslim rivals, and unlike other warriors of his time, he did not seek revenge on his enemies, nor did he care to confiscate their wealth. In fact, he once waited for a rival Caliph to die before sending his people out into exile. He invited the Egyptian people to live within the walls of the city, in areas that were previously occupied by Fatimid royal family. Saladin erected mosques, palaces, hospitals, and universities in Cairo, but build nothing for himself. A kind and sincere man, and well liked by Moslems and Christians. Some say that he even had a Jewish physician. When he fought Richard the Lionheart he arranged for his soldiers to carry ice down the mountain to ease the King’s discomfort when he was sick.
He had created his own brand of chivalry, and was admired by his enemies as well as his friends. He extended his authority into Syria and northern Mesopotamia. Shortly thereafter, several Muslim forces united under Saladin’s authority began to move against the Crusaders in a battle that he would fight for a decade. During those years he invaded Jerusalem (where he took over the stronghold in Acre in 1191) and Galilee. In 1192, a third Crusade was started to take Jerusalem back from the Moslems. Saladin completed a peace agreement with King Richard I of England. This permitted the reconstruction of the Crusader kingdom in Palestine, but left Jerusalem in Muslim hands.
Saladin died in Damascus in 1193. Legend says he had no personal possessions. But we believe he left us a sizable gift. A living and sincere example of courage, conviction, kindness, and princely virtue.