Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (1137/1138 – March 1193), better known in the Western world as Saladin, was the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A Muslim of Kurdish origin, Saladin led the Muslim opposition to the European Crusaders in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Hejaz, Yemen and other parts of North Africa.
Originally sent to Fatimid Egypt by his Zengid lord Nur ad-Din in 1163, Saladin climbed the ranks of the Fatimid government by virtue of his military successes against Crusader assaults on its territory and his personal closeness to the caliph al-Adid. When Saladin’s uncle Shirkuh died in 1169, al-Adid appointed Saladin vizier, a rare nomination of a Sunni Muslim to such an important position in the Shia Muslim-led caliphate. During his term as vizier Saladin began to undermine the Fatimid establishment, and following al-Adid’s death in 1171 he took over the government and realigned the country’s allegiance with the Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate. In the following years, he led forays against the Crusaders in Palestine, ordered the successful conquest of Yemen and staved off pro-Fatimid rebellions in Upper Egypt.
Not long after the death of Nur ad-Din in 1174, Saladin personally led the conquest of Syria, peacefully entering Damascus at the request of its governor. By mid-1175, Saladin had conquered Hama and Homs, inviting the animosity of his former Zengid lords, who had been the official rulers of Syria. Soon after, he defeated the Zengid army in battle and was thereafter proclaimed the “Sultan of Egypt and Syria” by the Abbasid caliph al-Mustadi. He made further conquests in northern Syria and Jazira, escaping two attempts on his life by the Assassins, before returning to Egypt in 1177 to address issues there. By 1182, Saladin completed the conquest of Syria after capturing Aleppo, but ultimately failed to take over the Zengid stronghold of Mosul.
Under Saladin’s personal leadership, the Ayyubid army defeated the Crusaders at the decisive Battle of Hattin in 1187, leading the way to the Muslims’ re-capture of Palestine from the Crusaders who had conquered it 88 years earlier. Though the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem would continue to exist for an extended period, its defeat at Hattin marked a turning point in its conflict with the Muslim powers of the region. In 1193 he died in Damascus, having given much of his wealth to his subjects. He is buried in a mausoleum adjacent to the Umayyad Mosque. Saladin has become a prominent figure in Muslim, Arab, Turkish and Kurdish culture.
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