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tower of light

April 2017

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tower of light

Excerpts from the book "The Crusades Through Arab Eyes"

As told by Baha al-Din, Saladin's Chief Secretary:

One day when Salah al-Din was tired and was trying to rest, one of his mamluks came to him and handed him a paper to sign. “I am exhausted”, said the sultan, “come back in an hour.” But the man insisted. He fairly stuck the page in Salah al-Din’s face, saying, “Let the master sign!” The sultan replied, “But I have no inkwell here.” He was seated at the entrance to his tent, and the mamluk remarked that there was an inkwell inside. “There is an inkwell, at the back of the tent”, he cried, which meant, in effect, that he was ordering Salah al-Din to go and get the inkwell himself, no less. The sultan turned, saw the inkwell, and said, “By God, you’re right.” He reached back, bracing himself with his left hand, and grasped the inkwell in his right. Then he signed the paper.

—Quoted in Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, Chapter 10: The Tears of Saladin

One day, in the midst of our campaign against the Franj, Salah al-Din summoned his close companions. In his hand was a letter he had just finished reading, and when he tried to speak, he broke down. Seeing him in this state, we were unable to hold back our own tears, even though we did not know what was the matter. Finally, his voice chocked with tears, he said, “Taqi al-Din, my nephew, is dead.” Then his warm tears began to flow again, as did ours. When I regained my composure I said to him, “Let us not forget the campaign in which we are engaged, and let us ask God to forgive us for having abandoned ourselves to this grief.” Salah al-Din agreed. “Yes”, he said, “may God forgive me! May God forgive me!” He repeated these words several times, and then he added, “Let no one know what has happened!” Then he had rose water brought to wash his eyes.

Once, when I was riding at the sultan’s side against the Franj, and army scout came to us with a sobbing woman beating her breast. “She came from the Franj camp”, the scount explained, “and wants to see the master. We brought her here.” Salah al-Din asked his interpreter to question her. She said: “Yesterday some Muslim thieves entered my tent and stole my little girl. I cried all night, and our commanders told me: the king of the Muslims is merciful; we will let you go to him and you can ask for your daughter back. Thus have I come, and I place all my hopes in you.” Salah al-Din was touched, and tears came to his eyes. He sent someone to the slave market to look for the girl, and less than an hour later a horseman arrived bearing the child on his shoulders. As soon as she saw them, the girl’s mother threw herself to the ground and smeared her face with sand. All those present wept with emotion. She looked heavenward and began to mutter incomprehensible words. Thus was her daughter returned to her, and she was escorted back to the camp of the Franj.

On Saladin's carefree (reckless?) attitude towards money:

His treasurers always kept a certain sum hidden away for emergencies, for they knew that if the master learned of the existence of this reserve, he would spend it immediately. In spite of this precaution, when the sultan died the state treasury contained no more than an ingot of Tyre gold and forty-seven dirhams of silver.

On his appearance and overall personality:

Those who knew Saladin say little about his physical appearance: he was small and frail, with a short, neat beard. They prefer to speak of his pensive and somewhat melancholy face, which would suddenly light up with a comforting smile that would put anyone talking to him at ease. He was always affable with visitors, insisting that they stay to eat, treating them with full honors, even if they were infidels, and satisfying all their requests. He could not bear to let someone who had come to him depart disappointed, and there were those who did not hesitate to take advantage of his quality. Once day, during a truce with the Franj, the “Brins”, lord of Antioch, arrived unexpectedly at Saladin’s tent and asked him to return a district that the sultan had taken four years earlier. And he agreed!

On Saladin's retaking of Jerusalem:

Saladin had conquered Jerusalem not to amass gold, and still less to seek vengeance. His prime objective, as he himself explained, was to do his duty before his God and his faith. His victory was have liberated the holy city from the yokes of the invaders—without a bloodbath, destruction, or hatred. His reward was to be able to bow down and pray in places where no Muslim would have been able to pray had it not been for him.

Saladin's reply to Richard the Lionheart regarding Ascalon:

You will tell the king that as far as Ascalon is concerned, I shall not give way. As for his plan to spend the winter in this country, I think that it is inevitable, for he knows full well that the land that he has seized will be taken from him the moment he departs. Does he really want to spend the winter here, two months distant from his family and his country, while he is still young and strong enough to enjoy the pleasures of life? For my part, I could spend the winter, the summer, and then another winter and another summer here, for I am in my own land, among my children and relatives, who care for me, and I have one army for the summer and another for the winter. I am an old man, who no longer indulges in the pleasures of existence. So I shall wait, until God grants one of us victory.


Really interesting to read, thanks!
I am amused at the last part of the last section!