Friday, 4 September 2009

Salahuddin & Jerusalem

Mention Jerusalem and you’re sure to have most people up in arms, ready to fight with religious fervor and magnificent displays of zeal for a cause that most of them have no knowledge of, against crimes that they did not commit, against crimes that were not committed unto them. Sound preposterous? To a large extent it is. I’ve broken it up in sections to make for easier reading.

Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, with evidence of civilization dating back to around 3000 BC. According to Jewish tradition, the city was founded by Shem and Eber who were Abraham’s ancestors. According to the bible, Shem was one of the son’s of Noah (Nuh AS), the brother of Japheth. Later, in the time of Joshua (Youshaa AS), Jerusalem functioned independently and was occupied by the tribe of Benjamin until David (Daud AS) conquered the holy city and made it the capital of the united Kingdom of Israel circa 1000 BC according to biblical accounts [Joshua 18:28]. King David reigned until 970 BC, according to Hebrew scripture and was succeeded by his son Solomon (Sulaiman AS). According to Jewish accounts, Solomon went on to build the first holy temple on Mount Moriah as a religious centre for the Israelis. After Solomon’s passing in 930 BC, Jerusalem became subjected to many conquests, being captured by many including the Assyrians (722 BC), the Babylonians (586 BC), King Artaxerxes I of Persia (445 BC) and Antiochus III (198 BC). During these years, the original temple was destroyed and a second one rebuilt.

In 6 AD, the city was under Roman rule under Herod the Great and he devoted himself to developing and beautifying the city. The first Jewish-Roman war resulted in the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD and Jews were banned from the city under Emperor Hadrian’s rule. Five centuries later, the city remained under Roman, then Byzantine rule and Emperor Constantine l ensured the construction of Christian sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Jews remained banned from the city up until the 7th century when Persian forces took the city with the help of the Jews in 614 AD. The Romans however, managed to recapture the city in 629 AD, some 15 years later, with Byzantine Emperor Heraclius at the helm. In 638 AD, Islam was rising rapidly in the Middle East and the Caliphate or Islamic rulers conquered Jerusalem and allowed the Jews back into the city. The caliph at the time, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab signed a treaty with the Monophysite Christian Patriarch Sophronius, assuring him that the Christian holy places in Jerusalem would be protected under Muslim rule. The Dome of the Rock was later constructed in the late 7th century.


At the dawn of the 11th century, a great tragedy struck in Jerusalem which would have great consequences in the course of history and set Christians and Muslims on an irrevocable collision course. Jerusalem was ruled by an Egyptian king named Al-Hakim. In contemporary times, he is described as nothing short of a mad man. His erratic and eccentric behaviour led him to issue strange, arbitrary laws like the prohibition of eating grapes and watercress. He also forbade fisherman from catching, selling or eating any fish that had no scales and ordered the execution of all dogs and cats in the country. In 1014 AD, he ordered women not to go out and that shoemakers not make women’s shoes as they were not necessary. He also allegedly conspired to steal the bodies of the Prophet Muhammed SAW and his companions in order to draw the Muslim world’s attention to Egypt; but the plan was foiled when his men were exposed when the residents of Medina learned of their plot.

Al-Hakim’s tyranny was evident from the many officials he had killed during his reign, some by his own hand. But his biggest offence came in 1009 AD when he broke tradition and ordered the holiest church in Christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to be burnt to the ground. For 200 years, all Christian holy places were respected and protected by Muslim rulers. No one understood why he did it…Christians, Jews and Muslims alike were mystified. The repercussions of this act would change the course of history. It sent shivers of horror, anxiety and terror throughout Christendom. In a way, Al-Hakim was the one exception that proved the rule for Christians (of which they spoken about for years), that Muslims were intolerant, heretics and barbarians who could not be expected to abide by the rules of civilisation.

The fact the Al-Hakim’s successor re-built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1048 AD with Byzantine help did not eradicate the blotch that had been permanently etched in the relationship between Christians and Muslims. By that time, there was a perception that things weren’t going well in the Holy Land. In Europe, Anti-Muslim sentiment grew and by 1095 AD, the situation reached boiling point. Pope Urban II spent most of that year rallying and imploring his feudal lords to unite in a campaign of bloodshed. His speech to the soldiers and knights declared that Jerusalem was being governed by a “vile race” and that Christ commanded them to crusade and exterminate them from the land. He was one of the original founders of the concept of war because “God wills it”.


When the Crusaders struck in 1097, it so happened that the Arab empire was fragmented and at its weakest; vulnerable and broken into feuding kingdoms and paltry dynasties. The great Muslim rulers of the time had already died and these Crusaders from the western world were an unexpected enemy. It was unexpected and unprecedented and the Muslims didn’t know who they were and had no idea that there was an extraordinary surge of religious fanaticism coming from Western Europe. History is haunted by days of incomprehensible horror, one of the darkest days being the 15th of July 1099 AD, when the Crusaders entered Jerusalem and a massacre in the name of Christ ensued. They slaughtered every Muslim, Jew and Christian alike, whom they considered to be foreigners. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, hundreds of worshippers were butchered mercilessly. The Crusaders wrote to the Pope an account of this:

If you want to know what was done to the enemies we found in the city, know this: Our men rode in the blood of the Saracens up to the knees of their horses…we have mingled blood with flowing tears and there is no room left in us for pity

With the first Crusade over, from the 100 000 men that campaigned, most of them returned to Europe and the job of occupying and governing Jerusalem and its surrounding areas was left to the 20 000 that remained behind. To secure their occupation, the intruders built elaborate castles and fortresses, like the Crac de Chevalier in Syria, designed to keep them safe. But instead of the merriment and festivity that was expected to occur behind their castle walls, the occupants lived in constant fear and paranoia. They were constantly on their guard against attacks by the local peasantry and those working in the castles.


For 100 years, the Crusaders made treaties and broke them and engaged in sporadic fighting with the Arabs. The situation reached a turning point and restitution came one day in the form of one of Islam’s most respected and celebrated figures. His name was Yusuf Ibn Ayyub, also known as Salahuddin or Saladin to the western world. Born in Tikrit in Iraq, Salahuddin was a Kurdish Muslim General with the military. He was successful where others weren’t and in addition to his intelligence and robust physique, he was a great inspirer of his military followers whose respect and loyalty stayed with him.

In 1187 AD, Salahuddin amassed an army of 12 000 mounted warriors and lured the Crusaders out of Jerusalem onto a plain between two hills called the “Horns of Hattin”. On the evening of the 3rd of July, after a long march, the Crusaders camped on the hillside severely dehydrated and lacking water. As dawn approached, Salahuddin’s men set fire to the tall grass, the flames and intense heat surrounded the enemy. Panic set in and the Crusaders were consumed by the flames, leaving them totally decimated. Three months later, Salahuddin proceeded to Jerusalem where he took the city. Those who wished to leave could and those who wished to stay could worship freely. Salahuddin leveled no retaliation against the Christians which shocked and surprised many in the West, earning him great respect and status amongst them. Once Jerusalem was captured, Salahuddin summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city.

The Battle of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem inspired a Third Crusade which was financed by Richard I of England although all attempts by Richard to re-take Jerusalem failed. Ironically though, both Richard and Salahuddin developed a friendship of sorts, based on mutual chivalrous respect and rivalry. Although the two kings never met face to face, they sent each other gifts. When Richard lost his horse at the Battle of Arsuf, Salahuddin sent him two replacements. When Richard became ill, Salahuddin offered the services of his personal physician. This eventually resulted in the Treaty of Ramla, where both kings came to an agreement that Jerusalem would remain under Muslim rule but would be open to the Christians.

Not long after Richard's departure to England, Salahuddin died on the 4th of March 1193 AD in Damascus. Since he had given most of his money away to charity, there was not enough money to pay for his funeral and so he was buried in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany donated a marble sarcophagus to mark his burial site seven centuries later but to not disturb his body and as a mark of respect, he was never placed in it.

Salahuddin was known for his mercy and just character. Once during a battle at Kerak, a Christian wedding was underway in one of the towers that was under attack by Salahuddin’s men. Salahuddin ordered his men to attack the entire fortress except for the tower in which the wedding took place. In April 1191 AD, a Christian woman approached Salahuddin, anguished that her 3 month old baby had been stolen and sold on the market. Salahuddin used his own money, bought the child and reunited it with its mother and then ordered a horse to take them back to their camp. His character won him the praise of the entire Muslim and Western worlds. King Richard I praised him as a great Prince, and the people in Europe came to respect and revere him as one of Islam’s greatest men.


After Salahuddin passed away, his legacy continued and there was a huge investment in the development and construction of religious places of worship, houses, hostels and public bathes etc. However in 1244 AD, the Kharezmian Tartars sacked Jerusalem, drove out the Jews and demolishing the Christian population. The Mamluks then ruled Jerusalem from 1250 AD – 1517 AD although they were subjected to many clashes with the Crusaders and Mongols.

In 1517 AD, the Ottoman Turks took the city and remained in control for 400 years. Under the Ottoman rule of Sulieman the Magnificent, the city enjoyed a period of peace and renewal with innovation and construction to improve the city’s infrastructure. In 1836, then ruler Ibrahim Pasha allowed the Jewish residents to restore four major synagogues. The volume of Christian pilgrims also increased significantly under Ottoman rule. In 1917, the British Army captured the city and the population of the city rose with two-thirds being Jews and on third Arab (Muslims and Christians). Many skirmishes broke out in 1920 and 1929 against British rule.

In 1948 war broke out as Israel declared its independence and the displacement of Arab and Jewish populations ensued. Many residents were expelled or taken prisoner. A number of catastrophic events have taken place since then. The fight for land continues till today with hostilities waged in every direction. In my opinion, the war has nothing to do with religion and is driven purely by a political agenda. They fight for a myriad of reasons, sparked and fueled by political aims and retaliatory tactics, with religion as a mask to hide their hideous objectives. They fight for land that none has any claim to. Most of them don’t even know why they fight. It’s a sad state of affairs, especially considering that the land can never belong to any one person or people, it belongs to The Almighty God. And most of us believe in God. The situation remains futile.


  1. Hi,
    i just visited your blog, its really wonderful. If we work together, we have a wonderful opportunity for you to make money with your blog. If you are interested please do reply. I will be happy to explain. Its a lot of fun and its not a lot of work either. So please do reply.

  2. The crime is that politics and differences have always been more important than similarities. Jerusalem is the classic example of a city loved by so many peoples who have been unable to share it.

    And it's the little people who always suffered the most profoundly.

  3. I love reading your should podcast!

  4. Al Hakim was a real toss but i'm pretty sure it was Raynald of Chatillon who wanted to desecrate Medinah (Luckily his men were thwarted just a few miles away by Salahudeen Ayubis forces.

    Your first paragraph has this Kingdom of Heaven bit to it right?

    One thing we need to note about Salahudeen is that before he conquered Jerusalem - he united the Muslims and increased spirituality before going into combat. We often forget that we need to be righteous, even in war. We often neglest rules of engagement, which is worrying.

    great post though :)
    keep it up chica

  5. Zephyr Girl - Thanks for visiting.

    LL - It's so true. The masses end up paying for the political objectives and greed of the elite few.

    Edge - You're welcome :)

    honestwaffle - Thanks :D

    MJ - No, the first part is not from Kingdom of Heaven, but I can see why you'd think so.
    And again, No, it wasn't Raynald de Chatillon who got to Medina.

    It was Al-Hakim who sent a few men, under the leadership of Abu al-Fatuh to steal the bodies as he had already built a mausoleum for them. He wanted the worlds attention to be on Egypt. But they were caught out by the residents of Medina who then wanted to kill them. Abu al-Fatuh then decided never to carry out such a task, even if Al-Hakim ordered his execution.

    Raynald de Chatillon didn't actually make it to Medina or Makkah although he came close. He rallied up and down the Red sea creating havoc with his piracy. Al-Adil I's army captured his men a few miles from Medina but he had escaped to Moab. He threatened to steal the bodies so that Muslims could make their pilgrimage to Christian lands.

  6. i see

    thanks for the clarification. :)

  7. JazakAllah for the education :)

    As for the fighting; oppression can never last forever. True justice will be established, and those who did wrong will be called to account for what they've done - on the Day of perfect justice.

    Whenever you hear about all these atrocities being committed, and how they are covered up, politicised, and ignored by the mainstream media - you just need to remember that that Day of justice is coming; and people will see the reality of things then, and the wrongdoers will get what's coming to them - with no chance to go back and change what they've done.

  8. JazakAllah for the education :)

    As for the fighting; oppression can never last forever. True justice will be established, and those who did wrong will be called to account for what they've done - on the Day of perfect justice.

    Whenever you hear about all these atrocities being committed, and how they are covered up, politicised, and ignored by the mainstream media - you just need to remember that that Day of justice is coming; and people will see the reality of things then, and the wrongdoers will get what's coming to them - with no chance to go back and change what they've done.

  9. MJ - :P

    Dreamlife - I think any form of oppression cannot continue into eternity. For centuries, Empires have risen and fallen.