The Life of Saladin, by Beha ed-Din

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The Life of Saladin, by Beha ed-Din

Postby dukes on Thu May 11, 2006 10:38 am

Saladin was the first Muslim ruler to unite the middle east, and so far the last. His domain extended from Egypt to Yemen, and endured until his death. More recently Syria’s Bashar al-Asad and Iraq’s Sadaam Hussein have claimed to inherit his mantle (ironically in Sadaam’s case, as Saladin was a Kurd), and Iran’s Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad is acting as if he too wants that title. Understanding Saladin (or more properly, Saleh ed-Din); the man and the era, can help provide some perspective to today’s political situation.

The “Life of Saladinâ€￾ was written in the twelfth century by Beha ed-Din, as an eyewitness account of the Sultan’s life and labors; it was translated into French in 1890 and subsequently into English, is published by Adam Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, and available through Amazon.

Saladin, perhaps best known for his struggles in the Third Crusade with Richard the Lionhearted, would probably prefer to be remembered for his stunning earlier success at the Battle of Hattin, where he crushed the Christian army and subsequently restored Jerusalem to Moslem rule after 95 years as the ‘Kingdom of Jerusalem’. Beha ed-Din joined the Sultan’s staff as a privy councilor shortly after Hattin, and was present during the siege of Acre and the battle of Tyre. While the narrative does read at times as a hagiography, the level of detail makes this book a suggested read for anybody interested in mid-eastern history and the Crusades.

During much of his reign, Saladin considered the Christian forces in the Levant to be an irritant rather than a force to be reckoned with, as he was more involved with the constant warfare from internal challenges to his authority. The arrival of Richard changed this, as the English King was the first military leader skilled enough to successfully challenge Saladin. Historians generally credit Richard with the win at Tyre, although neither side achieved all of their goals: Saladin left with his army intact, and Richard retained Tyre but went no further. After securing the port of Tyre Richard returned to England, expecting later Crusades to be able to use this city as the starting point back to Jerusalem. (This in fact was the goal of the Fourth Crusade, which never reached the Levant and instead ended with the Sack of Constantinople.) Saladin died shortly after Tyre, due to natural causes brought about from a lifetime in the field.

Military successes depend on political successes, and Saladin mastered both. To unify the region, he used a mixture of military prowess and political intrigue, fighting when necessary but preferring other means. The people understood that when he bested their local Emir that little would change, and that they would not be harmed and in fact would likely prosper from improved trade. According to Beha ed-Din his generosity was also well known – Saladin would keep none of the local treasure for himself when taking over but would distribute it to the people and those loyal to him. It was typical for Christian armies to slaughter all inhabitants of a captured town, leading to the obvious: the townspeople would fight furiously against Christians but lay down their arms to Saladin. (Reports of this behavior have been confirmed by western chronicles of the Crusades.)

Both Saladin and Richard saw their struggles as Holy War – they sought not riches but glory in the afterlife. Jerusalem was sacred ground to both – to the Christians as the land where Jesus walked and to the Moslems as an important part of the life of the Prophet. Both saw the other as infidels who were polluting the holy city. Both fought for God. The Moslems viewed the Christians as polytheistic heathen (because of the Christian Trinity), while Christians believed the Moslems to be defiling the holy land (because of their denial of Christ). A more complete explanation of the difference requires study of the social and religious structure of Medieval Europe and the role of the Vatican.

Saladin did not build a lasting empire. On his death in 1193 the forces that he had suppressed arose anew, and his sons were not able to command the same level of cooperation. Richard’s kingdom survived, but not in the Levant.
Christ you know it ain't easy,
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
They're gonna crucify me.

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Postby ChowMein on Sun Jun 18, 2006 11:44 am

Kingdom of Heaven (the film) protrayed Saladin very well ,I thought.
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Postby The Meromorph on Wed Jun 28, 2006 11:16 pm

This is highly informative about Saladin, less so about the book.
I'm not sure I know how good the book is, though I do know significantly more about Saladin than I did before. Even a simple assurance that you got all this from the book would probably make me want to buy it, but what I'd really like is commentary on how well the book presents the information, and on the writing style, rather than just telling me (I assume) a condensation of the book.
What we have here is well written and absorbing, I need you to sell me on the book or warn me off it, or tell me in what circumstances it would be the right Saladin book to read...

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Postby dukes on Thu Jun 29, 2006 5:52 pm

Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War; Malcolm Cameron Lyons & D.E.P. Jackson; Cambridge Press

Some books are easy reads, while others are definitely not. Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War falls into the second category, although to a student of Middle-Eastern History and in particular the Third Crusade it is a should-read. To a western reader the Muslim names - both people and places – will be confusing, but this well-researched publication of the Cambridge University Press is worth toughing out. It was published in 1982, placing it well ahead of the plethora of post-9/11 books, most of which should be regarded with skepticism.

Little contemporary writing is available to inform us of Saladin’s birth, except that his father, Ayyub, was a Kurd who about that time was Castellan of Takrit, in what is now Iraq, and a member of the Muslim warrior-administrator class; Saladin’s actual birthplace is obscure. Ayyub supported Zangi in his battles against the Christians, and eventually became an important personage in Damascus, when Saladin was apparently quite young. The authors trace Saladin’s personal development from his youth in Damascus, where the earliest writings place him, through his role as Vizier of Egypt, to become the only individual who has ever brought the Islamic world together, albeit for only a few years. He was not a ruler, but an administrator, responsible to the Caliph in Baghdad (who never completely trusted his motives), but ultimately powerful enough to marshal and wield the resources needed to achieve major victories (such as Hattin) and to confound the likes of Richard the Lionhearted.

How, or more precisely Why, did he do this? The authors don’t say Why, but lead the reader through the How of the career of this complex individual. They show that his faith and ambition led him to apply his administrative skills to demand allegiance (including military support) from the many small city-states that made up the Muslim world in the twelfth century, his power extending as far east as Yemen. Along the way he used a mix of religion, intrigue, coercion, and politics to bring together these disparate groups to a common cause. Saladin was also known for his generosity, which led the people of many small fortified cities to lay down their arms rather than fight, knowing that they would be spared. This should be contrasted to the Christian practice, documented by eastern and western observers, of major bloodshed when cities were captured.

After his death this web of allegiances quickly dissolved. The disaster of the Fourth Crusade, coming only ten years later, dampened the Vatican’s ardor for crusading and Saladin’s world subsequently was largely left alone. In the end, he was the victor because he denied continued Christian domination of Jerusalem – which was his stated goal.

Meticulous attention to detail informs the reader of such things as Saladin’s knowledge of the bloodlines of rival’s horses, much as today’s military leaders understand their opponent’s weaponry. As a youth he spent much time playing polo outside the Damascus city gates -- typical of a warrior-class upbringing – it was that practice that led contemporary western observers to comment that the professional Muslim fighters were the world’s preeminent horsemen, surpassing even the Bedouins in their ability to fight while mounted.

In 1193 Saladin died (Muslin year 589) in Damascus, shortly after the Siege of Acre and the stalemate against Richard at Tyre. The cause of death was not reported, but other commentators note that the symptoms described by Beha ed-Din were consistent with Typhoid Fever
But in the end, Saladin’s diplomatic maneuvering may have been as skillful as his generalship of the armies in the field; he proved himself more adept than Richard by negotiating the truce that retained Jerusalem – this is detailed by the authors. Saladin believed at the time of his death that the crusaders would ultimately return, but he could not have foreseen the conclusion of the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in the Sack of Constantinople and never reached the Holy Land.

This is not a book for the casual reader – there are many that are more accessible Nor is it a hagiography – it includes details that may make the reader cringe. But for a thorough and detailed understanding of scholarly research into a troubled time that may have direct precedent to ours this book should be part of the study process.




NOTE: This is a review of a different book than the one I reviewed above and earlier, although the subject is the same individual. The earlier work was from a member of Saladin's staff and an eyewitness to post-Hattin events; the later book was written by scholastics at Oxford using the historical method and a wide range of original documents (both Arabic and from the Crusaders, which were principally in French or Latin).
Christ you know it ain't easy,
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
They're gonna crucify me.

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Ballad of John and Yoko
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Postby The Meromorph on Thu Jun 29, 2006 6:20 pm

Now that review is just flat excellent. :) :fsm_rock:
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