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Early Islamic World: Biography


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When was Saladin born?

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Saladin was born Yusuf ibn Ayyub in 1137 in Tikrit, Iraq. His father was an officer in the army of the Seljuk leader Zangi. When young Yusuf was around seven years old his family moved to Lebanon where his father was in charge of a castle. Growing up, Yusuf likely studied a variety of subjects including Islam, mathematics, philosophy, and law. He also learned about being a soldier including how to use a bow and arrow, how to fight with a sword, and how to ride a horse into battle.

How did he get the name Saladin?

Although he was born Yusuf ibn Ayyub, once Saladin was a great warrior he earned the name Al-Malik An-Nasir Salah al-Din (which means "Mighty Defender, Righteousness of Faith"). The last part of his name, Salah al-Din, was shortened by westerners to "Saladin."

Early Career

Saladin began his military career around the age of 14 when he went to work for his uncle Shirkuh. Shirkuh was a high ranking officer in the army of the Muslim leader Nur al-Din. Saladin spent his time assisting Shirkuh and learning about battle and politics.

Gaining Power in Egypt

In 1169, Shirkuh and Saladin took their army to Egypt to help fight off the Crusaders from Europe. They were victorious. At that time the Islamic faction that controlled Egypt was the Fatimids. Shirkuh and Saladin remained in Egypt. They said they were going to help the Fatimids, but they really intended to take control. When Shirkuh died, Saladin took control of the army and soon became the Emir of Egypt.

Uniting Islam

When Saladin's leader, Nur al-Din, died in 1174, this left a gap in power in the Middle East. Many different Islamic groups began to fight for power. Saladin took his army to Damascus and claimed Nur al-Din's position. He spent the next 12 years battling other Islamic factions in order to unify the region. By 1186, Saladin was in control of the Muslim Empire. He then turned his sites on the Crusaders from Europe.

Fighting the Crusaders

The Crusaders were soldiers from Europe who fought to keep the Holy Land (especially Jerusalem) in the hands of Christians. Saladin wanted to remove the Crusaders from the Middle East and regain control of Jerusalem.

Battle of Hattin

Saladin decided to set a trap for the Crusader army. He first attacked the city of Tiberias knowing that the land between the Crusader army and Tiberias was a harsh and dry land. The Crusader army reacted as he had hoped and began to march to Tiberias. When the Crusaders grew tired and thirsty, Saladin sprung his trap and attacked the Crusader army with his full force. Saladin and his army soundly defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin. This opened the way for him to Jerusalem.

Capturing Jerusalem

In 1187, after defeating the Crusader army, Saladin marched to Jerusalem. His army surrounded the city and began to fire arrows and catapult rocks over the walls. Within a week, the city surrendered and Saladin marched in victorious. Over the next year, Saladin captured most of the Crusader castles in the region.

Defeat and Peace

When the Christians in Europe heard of the defeat of the Crusaders and the loss of Jerusalem, they mounted the Third Crusade under the leadership of King Richard the Lionheart. For the first time in his military career, Saladin suffered major defeats in battle at both Acre and Arsuf.

Despite their victories, the Crusaders soon wore down and realized they would not be able to take Jerusalem. Saladin and King Richard agreed to a truce. In 1192, they signed the Treaty of Jaffa which kept Jerusalem in the hands of the Muslims, but allowed for the safe passage of Christian pilgrims.


Saladin died of a fever on March 4, 1193, a few months after signing the treaty.

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