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By Dr. Mahmoud Esmail Sieny

He knew that through the application of Islam and its principles, miracles could be made.
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He knew that through the application of Islam and its principles, miracles could be made.

Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyubi: The Muslim Hero

“The answer to an ill-deed is an ill-deed or the like thereof. But whosoever pardoneth and amendeth his reward is with Allah. Surely, He does not love wrong doers.” (Al-Shura 42:40)

History tells us that when Sultan Salah Al-Din regained Jerusalem from the invading and ruthless Crusaders, who had ninety years earlier massacred and savagely treated its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants, he met a group of Latin Christian women who addressed him, “O Sultan! You see that we are leaving. Among us are mothers, wives, daughters or sisters to the soldiers in captivity with you. These men are our support in life, and if we lose them, we will lose everything. But if you leave them for our sake, you will be giving us back our lives.”

At this our hero Salah Al-Din smiled and he gave orders that the sons and husbands of those women were to be set free. He went even further and gave money to the women whose supporters were killed in the battle.

An irate French girl came up to the Sultan and said, “You murderer, you have killed my father, and captured both of my brothers, so there remains no one to support me!” Our hero calmly ordered that her brother be set free and then addressed her: “As for your father, he was killed in a war which he started himself and in which many innocent people were killed.” The French girl looked down full of shame and regret for her insolence with such an honorable man and with tears in her eyes, she said “Forgive me, sir! It was the bitterness of grief and the description given to us of your people and their cruelty in our country (that caused my insolence). But now I see that you are honorable enemies and I have not despaired of your forgiveness. May God curse the liars in our homeland who deceived us and depicted you as savage assassins who had desecrated our holy places. They exploited emotions (and sent us here i.e.) But when we came to know you, we could not see the truth in any of their claims.”

Sultan Salah Al-Din worked on three following principles in his rule which are extracted from above verse:

  • Aggression is to be met by equal resistance.
  • One should not exceed the limits in punishment.
  • To forgive and treat well the weakened or defeated enemy is better than revenge.

In fact, we are told that Salah Al-Din used to say, “It is better for one to err in forgiveness than be right in punishment.”

However, we should not forget that this was only one of many special qualities that adorned our hero’s character. For, he was a real embodiment of Islamic heroism. A well-known writer, Abul Hasan Al-Nadvi, puts this in the following words.

“A devout Muslim he was, the dominant notes of his character were an acute sense of justice, charitableness, tenderheartedness, patience and courage. Salah Al-Din’s secretary reports that our hero kept himself busy in the recollection of God.”

His achievements are miraculous. The times, when he was born were one of the worst times of Muslim era.

He was born of Kurdish parents in Takreet (in Iraq) in 1137 AD, Islamic world was at its worst state, politically and even morally. The sixth century of the Islamic era witnessed the impotence of Abbasside Caliphate and the Seljuk kingdom in the East and the collapse of the Fatimid Dynasty in the Western part. In the Fertile Crescent (Today’s Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq), the ruler of almost every small town made an independent state of his own and tried to expand his authority through fighting with the other neighboring city states. Besides almost all the major coastal towns on the East Mediterranean were captured and ruled by the Crusader invaders. Jerusalem (the claimed target of Crusaders) was of course already under foreign ruthless domination.

In brief, the picture was very dark indeed. It called for tremendous courage and selfless soul to take it out of its miserable state and take it to the old heights of forgotten Legacy. For, he was of an unflinching faith. He knew that through the application of Islam and its principles, miracles could be made. For, had not the early Muslims gone out of the deserts and captured the two greatest Empires on earth in their time? What were their arms with which they faced fighters, who were much superior in number, training and equipment? It was certainly their faith in Allah, devotion to justice and unity. These three things were then the goals which our hero tried to achieve in order to liberate Muslim lands from the Crusaders.

To Salah Al-Din, Jihad started from inside. He had to watch himself and his aides and soldiers to make sure that they behaved in compliance with Divine commandments in all spheres of life, spiritual, moral, and material. It is reported that prayers and devotion to Allah were the constant companions of our hero. Once an advisor of his suggested “Why do you not save the money you give in the charity to the poor and religious teachers and spend it in your war efforts?” He answered he could not do that because the prayers of those poor people were sure source of his strength in wars.

Ibn Shaddad (an intimate companion of our hero) reports:

“In faith and practice the Sultan was a devout Muslim, ever conforming to the tenets of the orthodox school of faith.” Our hero’s attitude to material luxury and gains is revealed in the fact that when he died he left nothing except one dinar and 47 dirhams. Nothing else did he leave by way of houses or goods, or villages or gardens or any personal property. He had not left even as much as that could suffice to defray his burial expenses. All this when he was the indisputable Sultan who ruled from Syria to Libya (including Palestine and Egypt) and when the smallest ruler of the time built himself the finest of palaces and possessed hundreds of slaves and heaps of jewels.

As for the acute sense of justice of our hero, it is enough to mention that he (the Sultan) did not object to go with one of his subjects to the Qadi (the judge). When he won the case he forgave the man and even gave him what he had claimed.


Taken with slight editorial modifications from

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