Salah ad-Din Ayyub – known as Saladin in the west – is seen as one of Islam’s greatest military leaders. His achievement of unifying all factions in Islam in the Middle East is seen as a great feat and as what led to the eventual demise of the crusader states and the return of Islamic domination in the Middle East. This is because of there was a vast number sects who were looking out for their own interests rather than preservation of Islamic influence in the Middle East. However other factors have to be considered when discussing the fall of the crusader states, for example the lack of coherence between different crusading leaders.
In order to assess Saladin success in uniting the Islamic world, Muslim interrelations pre-Saladin needs to be evaluated. Schisms in Islam caused major rifts during the 12th century. There are two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shi’ite. Sunni faction of Islam has the largest following and is the most orthodox. They don’t believe that their leaders – caliphs – need to descendants of the Prophet Mohammed or chosen by God, rather they are important members of the community. During the 12th century the Sunni Muslims ruled most of northern Syria, with centre of Sunni authority in Baghdad. The second largest sect of Islam is the Shi’ite Muslims. These Muslims preferred their leaders to be descendants of Mohammed and their hub of power during the Crusades was Egypt.1 The period before Saladin’s reign was plagued with disunity between Muslim factions – even a common enemy was unable to unite Islam. This factor is portrayed by the many disagreements and civil wars that occurred internally within the Middle East. An example of this c occurred upon the death of Malik Shah I. The issue of inheritance ensured that the Seljuq Empire fell into chaos as emirs – regional governors – and Shah’s relatives’ waged war against each other in order to receive a portion of his land.2 Further conflict between Islamic leaders transpired upon Kilij Arslan’s attempt to widen his sphere of influence. In 1107 the Seljuq of Rum after successfully dismantling a crusader army he moved toward the east in an attempt to conquer Mosul. Here he was defeated by Mehmed I of Great Seljuq and died in an attempt to escape across the Khabur river.3 Malik Shah’s death left a major power vacuum in which some emirs looked to take to their advantage. Factionalism within the Seljuq Turks ensured that there was no effective leadership. This left the Middle East in a state of politically instability and left the Islamic world ripe for the picking.
The reason for Saladin’s implementation as a legend is because of the success he had in achieving Muslim unity – it could be argued he did this forcibly. Having been appointed as vizer in Egypt in 1169 he wasted no time in consolidating his hold on Egypt. He this achieved by removing those who opposed him in his court. For example he thwarted an attempt on his life by Mu’tamin al-Khilafa, who attempted to form a coup, with the support of the Franks, to overthrow Saladin. However a message was intercepted by Saladin’s intelligence chief and al-Khilafa was exterminated. In response to this there was an uprising of 50,000 men in which Saladin crushed with such an immense force he never again faced a military challenge in Cairo. Saladin awarded his father the regions of Alexandria and Damietta and Turan-Shah – his brother – was put in charge of the ports to the Red sea4 – this would be vital for imports. These actions were taken in an attempt to increase support from within the hierarchy of Egypt and reduce the power of those that opposed him. Saladin’s centralisation of power was vital to his success as it provided him with the manpower and resource he needed to unify the Middle East by force if necessary. It took years of war and negotiations before Saladin was able to coalesce the majority of