The Crusades: An Arab Perspective is a four-part documentary series telling the dramatic story of the crusades seen through Arab eyes, from the seizing of Jerusalem under Pope Urban II in 1099, to its recapture by Salah Ed-Din (also known as Saladin), Richard the Lionheart’s efforts to regain the city, and the end of the holy wars in 1291. Part one looked at the First Crusade and the conquest of Jerusalem. In part two, we explored the birth of the Muslim revival in the face of the crusades. And part three looks at the Battle of Hattin, Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade.
By 1164, almost seven decades had passed since the first crusaders arrived in the east. Their initial success had been crowned with the fall of the holy city of Jerusalem.
But within half a century, the Zengids, a Turkic dynasty ruling the northern Levant, took command of the Muslim revival and managed to recapture Edessa, the first crusader state founded in the east.
After this first big defeat for the crusaders, two powers set out to conquer Egypt in 1164. The troops of both, Nour Ed-Din Zengi and Amalric I, the crusader king of Jerusalem, fought for control of the Nile valley.
After years of struggle, Nour Ed-Din’s Kurdish general, Shirkuh, managed to expel the crusaders from Egypt.
With Nour Ed-Din now in control of Egypt, the dream of reconquering Jerusalem seemed very close. But the mission of liberating the holy city was soon passed on to his Kurdish deputy in Egypt, Salah Ed-Din, the Ayyubid, known in the west as Saladin, who had succeeded his uncle, Shirkuh, as vizier.
Salah Ed-Din declared Egypt’s loyalty to the Sunni Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, making it an integral part of the Zengid state. Now Egypt was large and strong enough to carry out Nour Ed-Din’s grand plan to expel the crusaders.
n 1174, both Nour Ed-Din and the king of Jerusalem died. When a succession issue arose after Nour Ed-Din’s passing, Salah Ed-Din set out from Egypt, heading for the Levant to eventually bring the Zengids under his command by force.
“There was no doubt that Salah Ed-Din was the legitimate heir of Nour Ed-Din’s mission. He came to Damascus specifically, even though he didn’t need to. He made it his capital because he wanted to realise Nour Ed-Din’s liberation plan,” says Ibrahim Baidoun, Islamic history professor at the Lebanese University.
Meanwhile, with King Baldwin IV, a leprous boy on the throne of Jerusalem, a struggle broke out among the nobility over who should be the regent. Raymond III, the count of Tripoli, took the prize and quickly signed a truce with Salah Ed-Din.
“Salah Ed-Din realised the time was not yet right to fight the crusaders, so he entered into a truce with Raymond, the count of Tripoli, for 10 years, 10 months and 10 days, as it was the custom back then. He started putting his internal house in order, in view of the tense political situation at the time. It required Salah Ed-Din to go into battle against small warring princes for 33 months,” says Qassem Abdu Qassem, head of the history department, Zaqaziq University.
For another eight years, Salah Ed-Din continued his efforts to reunite the territories of the Levant and Mesopotamia under his command. And when Aleppo finally surrendered, Salah Ed-Din became the mightiest ruler of the Muslim world – the Sultan of the Ayyubid state, a dynasty that ruled for another seven decades.
As the Muslim front was uniting, the King of Jerusalem faced problems controlling his vassals, who were endangering the truce with Salah Ed-Din.
Raynald of Chatilllon, who controlled Kerak Castle, allied with the Knights Templar, the most powerful and extreme of the crusader military orders. Their goal was to lay waste Islam’s most sacred sites – the Kaaba and the Prophet’s tomb in Hijaz.
“Salah Ed-Din was able to thwart this attempt and it was regarded as a major religious achievement for the Muslims. Someone had attacked the holy Muslim lands, and they were protected by Salah Ed-Din who was gaining in fame and glory,” says Mahmoud Imran, professor of European medieval history.
When King Baldwin IV died, the throne was passed to his sister. She married Guy of Lusignan who became King of Jerusalem in 1186.
The new king could not control his vassal nobles, who finally succeeded in destroying the kingdom’s truce with Salah Ed-Din by brutally attacking and looting a commercial caravan.
“Salah Ed-Din felt he had gathered enough troops, and that the time and military conditions were right, and the opposite was the case on the crusaders’ side. He thought it was the right time to start a war,” says Imran.
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