On this day, July the 4th, in 1187, which was later to become America’s Independence Day and the day of my marriage anniversary, Salahuddin Ayyubi (ra) recaptured Jerusalem. It was called the Battle of Hattin, and it was the time of the Crusades. Salahuddin was vizier-sultan-caliph of Egypt, and he then extended his rule to Syria and other lands in Bilad-us-Shams. It reached as far as Mesopotamia (present-day Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey), Yemen, and the Hejaz in Saudi Arabia. For the first time in history, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was encircled by Muslim territory united under one ruler. And during his rule, the Holy City enjoyed relative peace for Muslim, Christian, and Jew alike.
You know Salahuddin had to be a good Muslim to accomplish this. And what attests to this fact is that his praises are sung not only among Muslims but also among Christians chroniclers. His story has been romanticized and re-romanticized. If you know nothing about him and don’t want to read the history books, check out the Hollywood blockbuster, Kingdom of Heaven. It’s actually surprisingly historically accurate. It will give you a glimpse, but only a glimpse, into this noble man’s character. He won the respect of many of his enemies and is a celebrated exemplar of chivalry all over the world.
Salahuddin is most known for his generosity, kindness, and mercy to friend and foe alike. Some of the infamous stories about his generosity involve Richard the Lionheart, his foe on the battlefield as the commander of the crusader forces. When Richard became feverishly ill, Salahuddin offered the services of his personal physician and sent fresh fruit with snow (to chill the fruit) as a treatment. When Richard lost his horse, Salahuddin sent him not one, but two to replace his. Salahuddin was a champion of evening the playing field and justice. Enemies through war, but friendly and respectful towards each other, the Muslim and Christian kings would never meet face to face, communicating only by letter and messenger. In the Treaty of Ramla in 1192, Richard and Salahuddin decided that Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands but would be open to Christian pilgrimages. Even before that though, upon the capture of Jerusalem, Salahuddin summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city. In times of war, he was extremely generous to enemy civilians, allowing them to go free with their lives and goods, an act of humanity that has rarely been given or reciprocated to Muslims by their enemies.
After capturing Jerusalem, Salahuddin installed a minbar in Al Aqsa Mosque that took 6 years to build. It was made of 16,000 pieces of intricately carved wood, and adorned with ivory and ebony. It was widely acknowledged as a pinnacle of Islamic art and design. Unfortunately though, on the morning of August 1969, a firebomb was set off in Al-Aqsa and a devastating blaze soon engulfed the building, severely damaging the interior and leaving the minbar in ashes. The minbar has been rebuilt, but it does not compare to the original. Fortunately, Salahuddin commissioned two other minbars to be built which are still in existence today. One is in the Masjid Al-Ibrahimi where the Prophet Abraham and some of his progeny (pbut) are buried in Hebron, the West Bank. Unfortunately, on February 25, 1994, this was also the site of a terrorist attack during the fajr prayer. An Israeli extremist opened fire on the worshippers during the overlapping religious holidays of Purim and Ramadan, and 29 worshippers were killed and 125 wounded. You can still see the bullet holes in the mosque today. But at least the mosque and minbar are still there today. Salahuddin’s other minbar is located at Masjid Al ‘Umawi (also known as The Umayyad Mosque, The Great Mosque of Damascus) in Damascus, Syria.
Salahuddin’s recapturing of Al-Quds started on the 25th of Rabi’ al Akhir, 583 A.H and culminized in the liberation of Bait Al-Maqdis (Masjid Al Aqsa) on the 27th of Rajab, 583 A.H. Salahuddin (ra) loved Islam. He sought knowledge and lived the sunnah, traveling to learn the Muwatta of Imam Malik (ra) from a scholar. He did so many things to encourage and enable people’s worship of the One. He established madrasas, invited the Jews and Christians back into Jerusalem, and abolished tolls that hindered pilgrims on their way to Mecca. On the 4th of March, in 1193, Salahuddin’s life on earth came to an end. Though he was the most powerful and successful Muslim ruler of his era, he died with only one gold piece and 47 silver pieces to his name. This was not even enough money to pay for his burial. He instead used his money to pay off others’ debts and give charity. This was Salahuddin, an example for all of us to learn from, may Allah be pleased with him. He lived the golden rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you. May we all—whether Muslim, Christian, or Jew—learn from his beautiful example in how to live the good life. Amin.