Salah al-Din Yusuf bin Ayub or Saladin as he is popularly known was born in 1137 AD and was of Kurdish descent. The meaning of his Arabic name is “righteousness of the faith” As a child Saladin was a scholar who studied the Koran as well as poetry and his scholarly ways would continue through his life even when the thoughts of Holy War -”Jihad” consumed his focus.
At the young age of fourteen, he entered into the service of his uncle Nur ed-Din another great and respected Arab warrior. Another mentor of the young Saladin was the Saracen chief Zenghi who in 1144 overthrew the city of Edessa, an outpost of Western world for many years prior because of its proximity to Antioch. Saladin learned his military lessons well and soon began to stand out among Nur ed-Din’s forces. In several campaigns between the years of 1164 and 1169 C.E. he had made a lasting impression on his peers.
In 1169 Saladin served with another uncle named Shirkuh as second to the commander in chief of the Syrian army. Shirkuh died only two months after Saladin received his new position. Despite his humble position and due to the fact that he held little regard for the Fatimid ruler of Cairo, Saladin turned Egypt into an Ayyubid powerhouse. He used many Kurds in important positions in his army and in no time he had improved the Egyptian economy and trained an army ready to take on the Frankish Crusaders.
In just two years Saladin suppressed the rulers for which he had little regard and thus united Egypt with the Abbasid Caliphate. When Nur ed-Din died in 1174, Saladin began his expansion of territories. In just twelve years he had Damascus, Syria, Alleppo, Mawsil and Iraq. After a three-month battle he captured Jerusalem in 1187 at the Battle of Hattin.
In February of 1193 Saladin rode out to meet some pilgrims returning from Mecca. That evening he became bed ridden due to pain and fever and in a number of days fell into a coma from which he never returned. Saladin died March 3rd 1193 at the age of 55.
According to The French Writer Rene Grousse:
“It is equally true that his generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in Frankish Syria than in the lands of Islam”
Renee Grousse – The Epic of the Crusades – Orion Press 1970 – Translated from the French by Noel Lindsay