1137 – 1193 Muslim warrior and sultan
Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi , more commonly known as Saladin, was one of the most famous warriors of the Middle Ages. He became a hero to the Muslim people for recapturing the holy city of Jerusalem from the Christian crusaders in 1187 . He was beloved by Muslims for his humility and generosity, and he was respected by Christians for the fair and humane ways in which he treated them.
Born to a prominent Kurdish family from Armenia, Saladin began his military career as a security officer under the powerful leader Nur al-Din . With his family's influence and his own talents, Saladin quickly rose through the ranks. He distinguished himself in three successful military campaigns and soon became commander of the Syrian army in Egypt. He became vizier of the Fatimid caliphate, but he vanquished the unpopular Fatimids in 1171 to found the Ayyubid dynasty. Saladin established himself as sole ruler of Egypt and replaced the Shi'i faith of the Fatimids with Sunni Islam.
When Nur al-Din died in 1174 , Saladin returned to Syria to take control of the government. He met opposition from Nur al-Din's descendants, but he defeated them and unified the Muslim territories of Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia under his rule. Muslims viewed him as a firm but generous ruler who combined military force with diplomatic skill. Saladin encouraged devotion to Islam, establishing madrasahs (religious schools) and mosques and supporting scholarly work.
In 1187 Saladin turned his attention to the Christian crusaders who had invaded the Holy Land for a second time. He declared a jihad against them and won his first great victory that year in the Battle of Hittin in Palestine. Within a few months, Saladin and his army had conquered most of the crusaders' territory in the Middle East. His crowning achievement came when he recaptured the city of Jerusalem, which had been under Christian control for almost a century.
Shocked by the loss of Jerusalem, the Christians began the Third Crusade. This time, Saladin had less success. Although the Christians never again captured Jerusalem, repeated crusader attacks eventually weakened Saladin's army. He lost several battles to Richard I the Lionhearted, the king of England, and finally signed a truce with Richard in 1192 . Saladin died soon afterward. Although he failed to fully drive the crusaders out of the Holy Land, he won lasting admiration from Muslims for his recovery of Jerusalem. He also impressed the Europeans with his intelligence, courage, and virtue. While the Christians who conquered Jerusalem massacred huge numbers of Muslims, Saladin's troops practiced restraint and behaved courteously toward their prisoners of war. See also Crusades; Fatimid Dynasty; Great Britain; Jerusalem.