The Fatimid Caliphate ( الفاطميون, al-Fāṭimīyūn) was a Shia Islamic caliphate, spanning a large area of North Africa, from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The Fatimids ruled across the Mediterranean coast of Africa and ultimately made Egypt the centre of the caliphate. At its height, the caliphate included in addition to Egypt varying areas of the Maghreb, Sudan, Sicily, the Levant, and Hijaz.
Since the death of the great prophet Muhammed, continuous battles have been fought between the Sunnis and the Shias with the Sunni caliphate capital traditionally located in Baghdad. This ideological and violent conflict paved the road for the Crusaders that were sent out to conquer Jerusalem, making it the capital of the Christian faith. The Venetians provided transportation. The Crusaders launched a determined offensive. Tripoli surrendered in 1109 and Beirut fell in 1110. Aleppo was besieged in 1111. Tyre succumbed in 1124. Today it is hard to understand how it could be possible to murder and rape in the name of God. This is exactly what the Crusaders did. Deluded by money and faith they became nothing less than butchers.
A string of ruthless and powerful leaders tried to control the institution of being Vizier and more or less overrun the Fatimid Caliphs in Cairo. All this made Egypt an easy target for the crusaders. After having ravaged Damietta 1118, the Crusaders finally conquered the last Fatimid stronghold in Palestine, Ascalon. The city fell in 1153 and the Crusaders could unchallenged start to rule Jerusalem for almost a centrury.
Nuruddin was the son of the Zenghi, an officer and a man of righteousness, fairness and piety. As so many during these times, Fatimid assassins murdered Zengi 1146. His son Nuruddin continued his father’s mission, and with the assistance of his excellent officers, all of northern Iraq, eastern Syria and eastern Anatolia came under their control. Damascus was added in 1154. It was finally time to deal with the Crusaders from Europe.
In 1165 both the Seljuks and the Crusaders appeared in Egypt but neither was able to establish a base. To control Egypt was the key to control Jerusalem and the Palestine. 1167 Shirkuh returned to Egypt with his nephew Salahuddin. When the appointed Vizier Shirkuh died 1169, Salahudin was appointed in his place.
After repelling numerous attacks by the Crusaders on Egypt, Salahudin in 1171, abolished the Fatimid Caliphate. The name of the Abbasid Caliph was inserted in the khutba. The Sunni vision of history, championed by the Turks, triumphed when the Fatimids finally went in to history books. A united orthodox Islam threw down the gauntlet to the invading Crusaders. It was time for Salahudin to carefully and persistently create a plan how the Islamic world could finally expel the Crusaders.
Salahudin would succeed because circumstances were in his favour, and ultimately, Divine Grace was thrown over Salahudin and not the Crusaders. Salahuddins generation not only recaptured Jerusalem, but also laid the foundation of an Islamic Empire in India and briefly contained the Crusader advance in Spain and North Africa. Arabia, Yemen, Iraq and eastern Anatolia were now added to Salahuddin’s domains.
The well-known historian Bahauddin writes: “This accursed Renaud was a great infidel and a very strong man. On one occasion, when there was a truce between the Muslims and the Franks, he treacherously attacked and carried off a caravan from Egypt that passed through his territory. He seized these people, put them to torture, threw them into pits and imprisoned some in dungeons. When the prisoners objected and pointed out that there was a truce between the two peoples, he remonstrated: “Ask your Muhammed to deliver you”. Salahuddin, when he heard these words, vowed to slay the infidel with his own hands.”
There were a string of battles, and during the battle of Montgisard, Salahuddin was inflicted a serious blow by the 16-year-old King Baldwin IV, seriously affected by leprosy. King Baldwin led an out-numbered Christian force, destroyed the invasion force, captured Saladin's baggage train and caused massive casualties to Salahuddin’s army. Only a fraction managed to flee to safety, and Saladin himself only avoided capture by escaping on a racing camel.
In July 1182, the Christian army under Baldwin IV stopped another full-scale invasion by Saladin, forcing him to withdraw across the Jordan with comparatively few Christian losses. In June the following year, 1183, the Christian army confronted yet another invasion on an even larger scale and again forced Saladin to withdraw — this time without even engaging in an all-out battle.
The blow did not act as a deterrent for Salahuddin. Instead it made him even more persistent. Slowly he created a new army with his iron will, and finally the luck would turn for the Crusaders.
The Frankisch Kingdom of Jerusalem was ruled by Sybilla and her husband Guy de Lusignan. Sybilla was the daughter of the previous king Amaury. When Salahuddin demanded retribution for Renaud’s crime against the caravan in Egypt, Lusignan refused. Salahuddin then had to show the iron fist. He sent his son Al Afdal who besieged Renault’s capital Karak, trying to smoke Renault out of his nest. With this news the Franks united and made their move towards Afdal.
Salahuddin had finally been given the moment he had waited for so long. Salahuddins previous defeats had also made him wise and patient. A trap had to be set to make sure the Crusaders entered the battle.
The citizens and garrison of Tiberius became the bait. The Countess of Tripoli became besieged in the citadel after the fall of the city on July 2, 1187. The Countess and Tiberius pleaded for help from the Christian army based at Sephorie, only some 15 miles to the west. But the Count of Tripoli managed to convince his peers that it was a trap and he advised against the Christian army to rescue Tiberius. Instead the leading Baron’s agreed to wait for Salahuddi’s force to come to them. But a twist of fate made the Grand Master of the Temple to secretly see King Guy after the council dispersed. The Grand Master convinced King Guy to advance against Salahuddin. The trap was finally set.
Salahuddin forced the Christian army to follow the northern track towards the springs of Turan. The south was already controlled by Salahuddins army. The intense heat and guerrilla tactics by Salahuddin, slowed the Christian army, and by noon the 3 July 1187, they had only advanced six miles. It was clearly impossible for them to reach Tiberius 9 miles away, before dawn. Instead of a natural halt at the springs of Turan, King Guy ordered the army against all reason, to advance further. Salhuddin was not late, and immediately his forces occupied Turan, causing further slowdown of the tired Christian army. When darkness fell, the Christian army was still six miles short of Tiberius. Without knowing, they were literally riding and walking towards their own death.
When dusk came Salhuddins forces had made bush-fires causing smoke to be carried by the wind straight towards the Christians. Half blind and almost dying of thirst many became easy targets from a storm of arrows. Instead of trying to charge, King Guy ordered the army to march towards Hattin, trying to cut off some of Salhuddin’s forces. The Christian cavalry tried to drive Salahuddin’s Saracen cavalry off, but in vain. The Christian morale finally broke out of thirst, smoke, and arrows.
The Count of Tripoli with his knights and Lord Reginald of Sidon eventually broke through the Salahuddin’s forces, charging east toward the Lake of Tiberius. In the wake of the cavalry the Christian infantry tried to follow up the slopes. The Saracens under the command of Salahuddin’s nephew broke before the heavy cavalry of Tripoli but regrouped and cut off the Christian infantry. They were all either slaughtered or taken captive.
Knights had lost their horses, and were now mainly fighting on foot. The Bishop of Acre was killed and a piece what they believed to be the holy cross, was lost. Yet King Guy in a last attempt with his knights, tried to close in on the clearly mounted and visible Salahuddin among his troops. This desperate act failed and King Guy and most of his barons were taken prisoner.
17 000 Christian soldiers died, were executed or taken prisoners. Around 3 000 Christian infantry escaped into the surrounding countryside. They took refuge in the castles and walled towns still in Christian hands.
1,200 knights and barons mustered for the battle. Only only four barons; Tripoli, Sidon, Edessa and Ibelin, escaped capture along with maybe 100 - 200 knights.
The devastating defeat of the combined Christian army at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187, was one of the most significant disasters in medieval military history. Christian casualties at the battle were so enormous that the defence of the rest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem became impossible, and so the defeat at Hattin led directly to the loss of the entire kingdom including Jerusalem itself.
Professor Nazeer Ahmed writes: “Salahuddin, in his magnanimity, made the most generous terms of surrender to the enemy. The Franks who wanted to reside in Palestine would be allowed to do so, as free men and women. Those who wanted to leave would be allowed to depart with their households and their belongings under full protection of the Sultan. The (Eastern Orthodox) Greeks and the Armenians were permitted to stay on with full rights of citizenship. When Sybilla, Queen of Jerusalem, was leaving the city, the Sultan was so moved by the hardship of her entourage that he ordered the imprisoned husbands and sons of the wailing women to be set free so that they might accompany their families. In many instances, the Sultan and his brother paid the ransom to free the prisoners. History has seldom seen such a contrast between the chivalry of a conquering hero like Salahuddin who treated his vanquished foes with generosity and compassion and the savage butchery of the Crusaders when they took Jerusalem in 1099.”
At last a peace treaty was concluded between Richard Lionheart and Salahuddin. Jerusalem would remain under the Sultan but would be open to pilgrims of all faiths. Freedom of worship would be guaranteed. The Franks would retain possession of a strip of land along the coast extending from Jaffa to Tyre but the bulk of Syria and Palestine would remain in Muslim hands.
When we look at our history we will be able to understand the present. Just like 1187, foreign and domestic forces are waging war against many Islamic states. Why have we not managed to learn from our own failed past?
References: History of Islam; Professor Ahmed Nazeer, Salahuddin (Saladin) and the Battle of Hittin.
English Historical Fiction Authors; The Battle of Hattin, July 4, 1187, Schrader Helena P