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There are two great names in the tangled and somewhat tedious story of Islam which stand out, deathless, from the crowd of sultans, viziers, and Moslem conquerors-the names of Haroun al Raschid and Saladin. The former has become the accepted type of a good and just despot; the latter is the Bayard of his religion, the knight and captain, king and magistrate, sans peur et sans reproche; whose enemies respected and trusted him as much as his own people loved him. His conquest of Jerusalem and overthrow of the Latin kingdom were but episodes, and from his point of view, not the most important episodes in his thirty years of war and victory. The History of Egypt, the History of Syria, the History of the Mohammedan faith, contain more pages filled with the achievements of Saladin than even the History of the Crusades. Everyone has read of the battle of Hattin; but of the healing of the great schism and the restoration of Egypt to orthodoxy-a step thought to be impossible and of the highest importance to Islam-very few know anything. Let us endeavor to present the history of this great man with some attempt to show the true proportions of his achievements in the eyes of the East, if not the West.
The expedition which was sent in reply was the first chance of distinction which young Yussuf had obtained. The army, commanded by his uncle Shirkoh, easily defeated Dargham and reinstated Shawer. Then followed the reluctance to keep the terms of the agreement which is so common in history; and when Shirkoh in return seized the city of Balbek and held it as security, Shawer sent to Amaury, King of Jerusalem, for succor. Amaury, the bravest if not the wisest of the Crusader kings, thinking that here was a chance of striking a double blow, readily acceded, and joining the Fatimite army forced Shirkoh to retire. It was, however, only in order to collect new forces. Next year he was back again. Alexandria was taken by his nephew, and held for three months against the combined forces of Christians and Fatimites. At last a peace was agreed upon: both Christians and Damascenes were to retire, each party to have a share in the revenues of Egypt. The first part of the contract was faithfully carried out; the second part neither Syrian nor Christian expected to be obeyed. And now the same ambition possessed the mind both of Amaury and of Nur-ed-Din. This was nothing less than the conquest of Egypt. Both perceived that the Fatimite power was gone. Both realized the fact that the country could easily be overrun. As for the Christian king, he had dreams of a splendid and luxurious capital, grander than his own narrow city set in the midst of the mountains; his knights, orientals now and fallen from the old western rudeness, looked on with envy at the luxuries of these weak Mohammedans; it would be a fine thing to transfer the capital of the Christian kingdom in the East to Cairo, leaving Jerusalem as a Christian Mecca, a city for the priests. And the Syrian sultan, for his part, would restore the unity of Islam, would unite Egypt with Syria, and by the strength of that union would destroy the Christian and recover the Holy Places. These were schemes worthy of statesman or of soldier. The only question was-how were they to be realized?
The point which Amaury failed to understand was this. He who moved first was bound to lose. For he would draw upon himself the other two. Amaury moved first. We cannot follow the Christian king on his disastrous attempt. It is sufficient to say that Shirkoh, after a brief struggle, remained master of the field and of Egypt, and that the fall of the Latin kingdom, thus rendered possible, was only delayed until the consolidation of the new power was complete.
Immediately after his final victory Shirkoh died, and was succeeded by his nephew Yussuf ibn Ayub, now called Salah-ed-Din (Shield of Religion), el Melek el Mansur (the Victorious King), and Emir el Jayush (Commander-in-chief of the Forces). The Fatimite caliph, not yet deposed, made him Grand Vizier. In other words this soldier of fortune was master of Egypt and of the Fatimite caliphate. More important still, if the King of Jerusalem understood the importance of the fact, he acknowledged himself to be the vassal of Nur-ed-Din, Sultan of Syria.
The first step taken by Saladin, a coup d'etat which restored Egypt to the orthodox sect, was the substitution of the Abbaside caliph's name for that of their own prince in the Friday prayers. This was done without the slightest opposition; contempt for the head of their religion could not be more effectually shown; Saladin therefore boldly proclaimed the name of the Baghdad caliph. It was received so quietly, as the Arab historian says, "that not a brace of goats butted over it." The last of the Fatimite caliphs died a few days after: it was one of those deaths, so frequent in history, which occur so exactly at the moment most convenient. Did Saladin order him to be bowstrung? Probably. Such an act would be regarded as perfectly legitimate and in accordance with the rules of the game.
How the victorious emir, on the death of Nur-ed-Din, succeeded in making himself master of Syria and succeeding his lord; how he carried on the war with the Christians unceasingly, would require in the telling volumes. Many volumes indeed have been devoted to this history. His two great achievements were the reunion of Islam and the destruction of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. The latter at least, he effectually accomplished. Western Europe was incapable of a second effort so great as that mighty wave of enthusiasm which won back the Holy Land and covered the plains of Asia Minor with the bones of Crusaders. Richard Coeur de Lion and Philip Augustus, Frederick II., the kings of Cyprus, the Knights of St. John, carried on the long, interminable struggle, but Jerusalem was lost.
Of the chivalry and honor of Saladin his biographers are never weary. When, for instance, the Christians took Jerusalem they slaughtered every soul in the place; their horses were knee-deep in blood. When Saladin took the city he suffered none to be slain; when there was no more money for ransom he suffered thousands to go free; to the weeping widows and fatherless girls he gave purses of money and suffered no outrage to be done to them. He divided them into three bands and assigned an escort to each company. And then was seen the strange spectacle, when the women and children grew fatigued, of the victors placing them on their horses and walking afoot, or even carrying the children in their arms. Again, why has no one painted that famous scene when Richard Coeur de Lion wanted no oaths, but instead gave his hand to Saladin in token of respect for his enemy and his own loyalty?
Such is the brief history of Saladin, a soldier first, always a soldier, spending his whole life on the battle-field; the perfect knight of the Mohammedans, fierce in fight, generous in victory, faithful to his word, true to his religion, of a larger heart and nobler soul than Coeur de Lion, the only antagonist who can be named with him; one of the few out of the countless millions of humanity, whose name lives and whose memory will never die; his life an example; his history a monument.
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