Islamic history is full of stories of brave generals who made great contributions to the glory of Islam. One such general was Salahuddin Ayubi who leads the list because his superior leadership did not only compensate for numerical inferiority and weapons, but also inspired troops to perform military feats of unimaginable courage. He was known as ‘Scourge of God’, ‘Retribution from the Lord’ and a noble foe to the European kings.

Born in Tikrit, Iraq, he was named Abul Muzaffar Yousaf ibn Ayub, surnamed Salahuddin and Saladin in the Western world. In 1167, he accompanied his uncle Shirkuh on an expedition to Egypt on the orders of the ruler of Mosul and Aleppo, Nurdin Zengi to help the ruler of Fatamid against the Crusaders attack. Salahuddin replaced his uncle as vizier of Egypt after his death. Later, he became Sultan of Egypt and Syria and there was a time when the Ayubi empire stretched from the mountains of Kurdistan to Libya. In 1071, the Seljuks defeated Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert and were also threatening Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire Alexious asked the kings of Europe for immediate assistance to prevent the fall of his empire. Forces were gathered on the orders of Pope and instead of helping the Byzantine emperor, the forces marched on to liberate the Holy City of Jerusalem from Muslims.

The Crusades signalled the opposition of the West to the superiority of Muslims. The aim was that the Holy Land must be recovered, and this message was propagated across Europe on behalf of the Pope. On July 13, 1099 after a week-long siege of the Holy city, it was captured by the Crusader armies. It happened exactly 462 years after Caliph Umar entered the city. This was the time when the Seljuk Empire had been broken into many small kingdoms and Muslims found themselves week against the Crusaders. A Turkish Emir, Imad al Din Zengi who was the ruler of Mosul, united Mosul and Aleppo into a state and challenged the Crusaders. This effort was continued by his son Nur al din Zengi who strived to unite Muslims.

After the death of Nur Din Zengi, Salahuddin became an independent ruler who annexed Syria and became the Sultan of Egypt, Hijaz, Yemen and Syria. Ayubi decided to liberate Jerusalem, the Holy City being his religious duty. However, in the meantime the Hashashin (Assassins) came to prominence who made two failed attempts on the life of Ayubi. Ayubi signed a peace accord with Knight Reynald of Jerusalem who violated the truce several times by killing Muslim pilgrims and looting caravans. In order to teach him a lesson and liberate the Holy City, Ayubi marched onto Jerusalem. The Crusader armies under Lusignan marched 20 kilometers to face Ayubi’s forces and camped at Hattin. The only water source in the area was blocked by Ayubi forces. After several days of skirmishes and intense fighting, Ayubi’s forces inflicted a terrible defeat onto the Crusaders.

In September 1187, Ayubi’s forces arrived on the outskirts of Jerusalem. After an assault for ten days, the city finally surrendered to his forces on October 2, 1187. The Holy City was liberated on 27th Rajab, the same day when Prophet (PBUH) led all the earlier prophets in prayers and from where (Al-Aqsa masjid) he ascended to heavens. With this conquest, the legend of Ayubi’s bravery soon spread throughout Europe. After the fall of Jerusalem, all the kings of Europe gathered their forces for the liberation of Jerusalem. The Crusaders besieged the town of Acre in the South of Palestine, and after siege of two years the town fell. This led to the (third crusade) battle of Arsouf in 1191 in which Ayubi’s forces faced setbacks. Despite initial setbacks, he denied the Crusaders entry into Jerusalem. Two attempts were made by Richard to enter the city but he failed and finally retreated. The third crusade ended in a failure and Richard signed a truce with Ayubi. Ayubi passed away on March 4, 1193 and after his death the Ayubi dynasty continued and ruled Syria and Egypt for decades. He was an excellent military general who was equally respected by his enemies. He was a man of firm faith in God which was his source of strength. He was humane and forgiving and displayed extreme magnanimity to the Christians and Jews after the capture of Jerusalem. The secret of his success was faith in God and love for his subjects; Ayubi distanced himself from wealth and died penniless.

The writer is a retired brigadier and freelance columnist.

Islamic history is full of stories of brave generals who made great contribu-tions to the glory of Islam.