Leading Muslim resistance to European encroachment in Palestine was General Saladin. He came from a wealthy family in northern Iraq. As a teenager he joined the staff of his uncle, a high officer in the Egyptian army and when his uncle died Saladin succeeded him. After consolidating his power he declared a holy war against the Christians who, at the time, controlled most of Palestine. In July 1187, high in the mountains above the Sea of Galilee, he defeated the Christian forces and systematically began winning back the country for Islam. When complete, Saladin's campaign had pushed the Christians back until they were confined to three coastal cities.
Though Saladin at times could be very cruel, he was also most generous with his enemies. When King Richard I of England came down with a fever, Saladin sent him peaches, pears and ice from the top of Mount Hermon, 100 miles away. He once gave permission to a Crusader to get his family out of the threatened Jerusalem. His only condition was that the soldier not stay to fight. When the Crusader reached the city the outnumbered defenders persuaded him to take charge of the city's defense. Embarrassed, he sought release from his oath to Saladin. The courteous general understood and also gave the family safe passage to the coast.
After a lifetime of campaigning Saladin left an empire stretching hundreds of miles north from Egypt, but died almost penniless at 55, weary of his exertions and without enough money to even purchase a grave.
Copyright 2002 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, LLC