Post-classical history



Baha’ al-Din Yusuf ibn Shaddad (1145–1234) was born and educated in Mosul. He worked as a teacher, and was also employed by the Zangid rulers of Mosul as an ambassador. Then in 1188 he was appointed qadi (judge) of the army by Saladin, in whose service he remained until Saladin’s death. He continued to work as an ambassador for the Ayyubids until two years before his own death. The extracts below are taken from his biography of Saladin, al-Nawadir al-Sultaniyya wa-l-Mahasin al-Yusufiyya(The Rare Qualities of the Sultan and the Merits of Yusuf [Saladin’s given name, which Baha’ al-Din shared]), coming from an opening section on Saladin’s virtues.

His creed was good and he was much mindful of God Almighty. He took his creed from proof by means of study with the leading men of religious learning and eminent jurisconsults. He understood of that what one needs to understand, such that, when disputation occurred in his presence, he could contribute excellent comments, even if they were not in the language of learned specialists. Consequently he gained a creed free from the defilement of anthropomorphism but his studies did not dig too deep to the extent of denying the divine attributes or misrepresentation. His creed followed the straight path, agreed with the canon of true discernment and was approved by the greatest of the ulema.

Saladin was just, gentle and merciful, a supporter of the weak against the strong. Every Monday and Thursday he used to sit to dispense justice in public session, attended by the jurisconsults, the Qadis and the doctors of religion. The door would be opened to litigants so that everyone, great and small, senile women and old men, might have access to him. That was his practice both at home and abroad. However, at all times he would accept petitions presented to him, to discover what injustices were reported to him. Every day he collected the petitions, and then used to sit with his clerk for a while, either at night or during the daytime, and minute each petition with whatever God put into his heart.

Saladin’s generosity was too public to need to be recorded and too famous to need to be recounted, and yet we will give an indication of it in general terms. He ruled all that he ruled and, when he died, in his treasure chest were found only forty-seven Nasiri dirhams of silver and a single Tyrian gold coin, the weight of which was unknown to me. He would give away whole provinces. […] In times of shortage he would be generous, just as he would in easy circumstances. The officials of the Royal Chest used to hide a certain amount of money from him, as a precaution in case some crisis surprised them, because they knew that, if he learnt of it, he would spend it.

Saladin was one of the great heroes, mighty in spirit, strong in courage and of great firmness, terrified of nothing […] I have never at all seen him consider the enemy too numerous nor exaggerate their strength. However, he was sometimes deep in thought and forward planning, dealing with all departments and arranging what was required for each without any onset of bad temper or anger.

Saladin was very diligent in and zealous for the Jihad. If anyone were to swear that, since his embarking on the Jihad, he had not expended a single dinar or dirham on anything but the Jihad or his support for it, he would be telling the truth and true in his oath. The Jihad, his love and passion for it, had taken a mighty hold on his heart and all his being, so much so that he talked of nothing else, thought of nothing but the means to pursue it, was concerned only with its manpower and had a fondness only for those who spoke of it and encouraged it. In his love for the Jihad on the path of God he shunned his womenfolk, his children, his homeland, his home and all his pleasures, and for this world he was content to dwell in the shade of his tent with the winds blowing through it left and right. […] We travelled in his service along the coast, making for Acre. […] He turned to me and said, ‘Shall I tell you something?’ ‘Of course,’ I said. He went on, ‘I have it in mind that, when God Almighty has enabled me to conquer the rest of the coast, I shall divide up my lands, make my testament, take my leave and set sail on this sea to [the Franks’] islands to pursue them there until there no longer remain on the face of the earth any who deny God – or die [in the attempt].’

On the plain of Acre I saw Saladin overcome by an extremely poor state of health on account of numerous boils which had appeared on his body from his waist to his knees, so that he was unable to sit down. […] Despite all, he rode from early morning till the noonday prayer, going the rounds of his battalions, and also from late afternoon until the sunset prayer, enduring the intense pain and the throbbing of the boils, while I expressed my amazement at that. He would say, ‘When I ride, the pain goes away, until I dismount.’ This is divine solicitude.

He was forbearing, forgiving and rarely angry. I was in attendance on him at Marj ‘Uyun before the Franks marched on Acre (may God facilitate its conquest). It was his custom to be out on horseback at the normal time for that, later to dismount for food to be served. He would eat with his staff, and then go to a personal tent to sleep. Later, when he awoke, he would pray and then relax in private, with me in attendance, when we would read a little Hadith or a little canon law.

One day I was on horseback in attendance on him face to face with the Franks when one of the forward pickets arrived with a woman in great distress, bitterly weeping and continually beating her breast. The man said, ‘This woman has come out from the Frankish lines and asked to be brought to you, so we have done so.’ The sultan ordered the dragoman to question her about her business. She said, ‘Muslim thieves entered my tent yesterday and stole my daughter. I spent all night until this morning pleading for help. I was told, “Their prince is a merciful man. We shall send you out to him to ask him for your daughter.” So they sent me to you, and only from you will I learn of my daughter.’ The sultan took pity on her. His tears flowed out and, prompted by his chivalry, he ordered someone to go to the army market to ask who had bought the little girl, to repay what had been given for her and bring her back, having heard something about her early that day. Hardly an hour had passed before the horseman arrived with the little girl over his shoulder. The moment the woman’s eye lighted upon her, she fell to the ground, besmirching her face with earth, while all around wept for what she had suffered. She was lifting her eyes to heaven, although we did not know what she was saying. Her daughter was handed to her, then she was taken off and restored to their camp.

These are some random remarks on the excellencies of his character and his noble qualities which I have limited myself to for fear of prolixity and wearying [the reader]. I have only recorded what I witnessed or what trustworthy sources told me which I have checked. […] However, this amount will suffice an intelligent person as evidence of the purity of these morals and qualities of his.

Source: Baha’ al-Din ibn Shaddad. (2001) The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin. Trans. D.S. Richards. Crusade Texts in Translation 7. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, pp. 18, 22–3, 25–30, 33 and 37–8.

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