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The Magnanimity of Salah al Din

  by Saira W. Soufan

Upon the capture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders descendants, the Latins, who

were in control of Jerusalem, Salah al Din al Ayyubi treated the citizens of Jerusalem with

respect and dignity greater than was expected for in those times. 


When the Crusaders had advanced upon the walled city in 1099, rape, pillage, and

murder were commonplace.  Richard the Lionhearted, the head of the Crusaders army,

received his nickname for the wholehearted aggressive tactics he employed during the

capture of the Islamic held areas during the infamous Crusades.  Jews & Muslims were not

able to live within Jerusalem at that time.  Men and old people were executed, women

raped or dispelled from the city.


On the contrary, Salah al Din al Ayyubi displayed great magnanimity.

During the first few days of Salah al Din’s capture of Jerusalem an account by Ernoul the

squire of Balian of Ibelin, the Latin leader who negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem to

Salah al Din.  The leaders of Jerusalem, including the Patriarch Heraclius and Balian of

Ibelin, discussed their military options after realizing they could no longer hold the city

against Salah al Din’s attack in 1187 a.D.  The citizens and army sergeants of Jerusalem

put forth a proposal to launch a massive attack on the opposing forces thereby ‘dying

honorably in defense of the city.’  The patriarch rejected this proposal claiming that if all the

men died, the women and children would be left and most certainly converted to Islam by

the Muslim forces.  Patriarch Heraclius advised that the city should be surrendered then the

Latins would later seek help from Europe in order to dispel the Muslims.  They then

dispatched Balian to negotiate with Salah al Din.  During the talks, Salah al Din’s army had

already managed to raise a their flag on the main wall of the city.  “Why are you

surrendering?  We have already captured it,” asked Salah al Din of Balian.  However, the

Latin forces regrouped and succeeded in driving the Muslim forces away from the sector

they had just occupied.  Salah al Din was so angered by this that he refused to settle with

Balian and instead asked him to return the following day.  Fear gripped the population of

the city when Balian returned without a truce.  The citizens, then crowded into churches to

pray and confess their sins, beating themselves with stones, begging for God’s mercy.

Balian again approached Salah al Din and asked for a general amnesty in return for the

surrender, but was again refused.  Balian then threatened that the Latins would fight to the

death, burn their houses, destroy the Dome of the Rock, uproot the Rock, and kill all of the

thousands of Muslim religious prisoners, (also killing the women and children of the

prisoners).  Salah al Din then met with his commanders and told them that this was the

moment to capture the city without further bloodshed.  An agreement was reached between

Salah al Din and the Latins according to which they were granted safe conduct to leave the

city, provided that each paid a departure tax.  All those who paid their tax within forty days

were allowed to leave the city.


The city was finally surrendered on Friday October 1187 a.d. which was also the

anniversary of al-Mi’raj the 27th of Rajab.  Salah al Din immediately released all of the

religious prisoners who numbered close to 3,000.  The Latins meanwhile began to prepare

for their departure and sell property and possessions to native Christians and merchants in

Salah al Din’s army.  The church elders, led by the Patriarch Heraclius, proceeded to strip

the gold, silver, and treasures from their churches.  Imad al Din reported to Salah al Din

that the amount of treasure carried away by the departing Latins valued at 200,000 dinars

and that the safe conduct agreement was for themselves and their own property, not that of

the churches.  Salah al Din replied, ”If we interpret the treaty (now) against their interest,

they will accuse us of treachery, as though they are unaware of the real meaning of the

treaty.  Let us deal with them according to the wording of the treaty so they may not accuse

the believers of breaking the covenant.  Instead, they will talk of the favors that we have

bestowed upon them.”   Some of the grand masters of the sects, Templar and Hospitaller,

refused to contribute towards the taxes of some of their older and poorer parishioners. 

Salah al Din sent his guard throughout the city to announce that all old people who could

not afford to pay the tax would be able to leave without incident.  He then proceeded to

release thousands of slaves at the requests of the patriarch, Balian and his own brother, Al

Malik al Adil.  Salah al Din also allowed many common and noble women to leave without

payment; amongst them were Queen Sibyl & her entourage, the widow of Renaud of

Chatillon, a Byzantine princess living a monastic life in Jerusalem.  Salah al Din then

proceeded to release 1,500 Armenians, also without paying tax.


During the departure of the refugees, Salah al Din assigned each group 50 of his

officers to ensure their safe arrival in territories held by Christians.  One eye witness gave

the officers credit for their humane treatment of the refugees, noting that these officers,

“who could not endure the suffering of the refugees, ordered their squires to dismount and

set older Christians upon their steeds.  Some of the officers even carried Christian children

in their arms (during the journey).”


During the whole takeover of the holy city, rape, pillage, torture, and unjust treatments

were outlawed and not allowed by Salah al Din as he claimed this was un-Islamic and not

seemly behavior from Muslims, war or not.  Religious freedom was tolerated, enabling

Christians, Muslims, and Jews to live side by side under the rule of Salah al Din, until the

British incited revolt in 1916.




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