11 May 2006

Reading List

Saladin: The Politics of Holy War

Malcolm Cameron Lyons and D. E. P. Jackson

This biography uses Arabic correspondence to paint a more comprehensive picture of this interesting leader in a much more balanced manner than most of the eulogizing that has been done over the centuries by people more interested in making political points than in the truth.

The truth is that Saladin was a medieval Islamic politician. Big surprise, right? As such, he spent the vast majority of his time in power at war with other Muslims for reasons of pure personal greed. He justified his attacks in terms of wanting to unify Islam in order to properly fight Holy War against the Franks. Sounds like some folks that make the evening news these days. Nothing new under the sun, etc.

The chivalrous behavior was entirely fictional, and in his correspondence Saladin boasts over and over of murdering prisoners, even those who surrendered under terms of quarter. After Hattin, he murdered Reynald of Chatillon with his own hands, which shocked even members of his court. All captured Templars and Hospitalars he ransomed from their captors (at 50 dirhams a knight) and as entertainment, had court poets, scribes, and religious men butcher them inexpertly. Some hired people to kill their assigned Franks to avoid embarrassment. The rest of the prisoners were sold into slavery, and the flood of slaves glutted the market in Damascus. After taking Jerusalem, no less than 15,000 people who could not afford a ransom were sold into slavery. This was perhaps a sixth of the population of the city. On another occasion, he refused to ransom some 3,000 Muslim captives from King Richard I of England.

He was a piss-poor administrator. He was perpetually broke as a result of his habit of giving away revenues and lands to anyone who could bring fighting men under his banner. He attracted recruits in great numbers due to his generosity and as a result, had to continually conquer more land to be able to pay them. Circular, isn’t it? He had difficulties paying for fortifications and naval construction consistently.

Saladin also was keen to make political hay by strictly enforcing dhimmi laws in his conquered domains. In fact, in Aleppo he tried to reinstate regulations requiring Christians and Jews to wear distinctive clothing, but dropped this requirement after a number of them were murdered by mobs. On the other hand, he was satirized by his enemies as a patron of prostitutes. There is no good evidence of this in his case, but his nephew wrote several letters graphically describing orgies.

The book is a bit of a slow read, with Arabic names that I could barely keep straight. But if you want to discuss Saladin, you really can’t avoid reading it if you want to understand your topic. It might come as a shock to those with a Kingdom of Heaven level understanding of the Crusades, but anyone who actually has some knowledge of the topic will find few surprises and many details.


Anonymous Irving Karchmar said...

Greetings of Peace:
As an avid reader, may I commend to you my book, Master of the Jinn: A Sufi Novel, a mystical adventure tale on the Sufi path of Love. You can view the book and read reviews and an excerpt at http://www.masterofthejinn.com

Many Blessings,

4:59 PM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

I will admit to knowing nothing about Sufism. However, the current book I'm slogging through has writings from Amir Khusrau, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, and Shah Aladihlawi Wali-Allah. Is there anyone else in particular I should be reading?

8:03 PM  

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