(MENAFN - Arab News) October 2 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Al-Quds from foreigners and its return to Arabs. On this occasion, many refer to the important role of Salahuddin Ayyubi in this historic event in the relations between the East and the West, namely between the Arabs and the Europeans. As both Arabs and non-Arabs alike remember the biography of Salahuddin, he is seen as an exceptional historical character. While characters of history often become the subject of the heated debates, Salahuddin has become a historic symbol of great leadership. He has also become the target of continuous attempts to hijack his identity in order to portray him with a new (exclusive) religious or national identity. He is a Muslim first and foremost among Muslims, an Arab in the view of Arabs and a Kurdish among the Kurds, especially during the rise of the Kurdish movement.
The competitive debate of defining the identity of Salahuddin is not limited to Muslims, Arabs, and Kurds; rather, it expands to the Europeans, with some Europeans deeming it improbable for a hero with a rank as high as that of Salahuddin to be of pure Arab or Eastern origin. Based on such views, shortly after his death, untenable accounts were spread claiming him to be the son of a European lady who settled in Egypt and gave birth to him there. Some of these tales and accounts have even been mentioned in the book by Joseph Schacht & C. Bosworth titled The Legacy of Islam.
Many find it common among those communities who suffer from frequent defeats and military deficiencies, such as the Arabs, to remember great figures from history such as Salahuddin. Some recollect these memories because they compensate for what they may suffer from nowadays. Others search through the pages of current and past history for a more logical and realistic reason other than to escape a bitter reality. Those who seek an exit from a humiliating national status must first search for the secret behind the shift from profound victories to shameful failures. This requires looking for useful lessons from the historic experiences of Arabs and others in order to facilitate the emergence from status of continuous failure to a true state of security and sovereignty.
In this context, admiration of Salahuddin is common, with many frequently praising and commending his biography, and yearning for the days of Hattin and Ain Jalout. Many Arabs have come to seek a new Salahuddin, a figure to help them rid of worsening security challenges. But is the admiration of Salahuddin - by Arabs and non-Arabs alike - based solely on his military capabilities, or are there other aspects of his personality that have led many to honor and revere his character? As much as Salahuddin was an exceptional military leader, he was also a chivalrous warrior of high caliber and style. The difference between the two is great. For instance, while Attila, Genghis Khan and Gen. William Sherman are all considered to be successful military leaders who led their armies to great victorious conquests and major defeats of their enemies, their biographies lack signs of chivalrous and knightly qualities. Rather, their legacies include torture of their enemies and the destruction of historic and prosperous civilization.
We in the Arab region today suffer from a dual deficit - a lack of both the successful criteria needed for strategic leadership and qualities of chivalry and gallantry. Perhaps what we are witnessing today - primitive and hollow reactions to provocations aimed at Arabs as well as the growing violations of their rights and independence - confirms this worsening deficit. Moreover, perhaps these primitive actions, which lack strategic dimensions and ethics, also explain the growing nostalgia about Salahuddin who is considered to be among the greatest military leaders in history. Despite recognition of such military might, it is his gallantry and chivalry that is considered among many to be more important than his military capabilities.
The avoidance of intolerance is among the most important qualities that distinguish the chivalrous qualities of Salahuddin. This quality is evident particularly during the battles of liberation of the Palestinian territories. When he captured Jerusalem, Salahuddin did not choose to torture the city's European population, but rather allowed them to leave safely upon meeting one condition of paying a monetary tribute, or Jizyah. For the poor who were unable to pay the full amount of the tribute, Salahuddin responded positively to the request by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to exclude one thousand of them from payment. Taking into consideration the mighty religious status of the Patriarch, Salahuddin even allowed for more than one thousand poor people - especially women and children - to leave without paying. Furthermore, when the Arabs fully captured Jerusalem, they followed in the footsteps of Salahuddin in maintaining the places of worship for non-Muslims and allowing Christian pilgrims to perform pilgrimage to the holy city.
In addition to what we already know about the events during the siege of Jerusalem and other Palestinian cities, the biography of Salahuddin, written by both Arabs and non-Arabs, contains numerous accounts and stories, all of which stress his religious tolerance and confirm relationships of mutual respect he developed with princes and the Crusaders, especially Richard the Lionheart. Some stories even reveal that Salahuddin sent experts to help the Lionheart reclaim power after he returned to his country and discovered a conspiracy to prevent him from the throne.
These accounts give way to some historians and writers to suspect or argue that Salahuddin was willing to abandon his religion. One tale claims that he converted to Christianity a few hours before his death, while another states that he was willing to convert to Christianity had it not been for the contempt of European princes for the poor as stated in the book of some European historians in the 13th century. However, these novels were referring to Salahuddin as a military leader, not as a knight or warrior. As a military leader, he defended his people and defeated his enemies, but as a knight, he did not allow grudges and hatred affect the course of battles that he waged. In fact, Salahuddin had deep faith of his religion; such faith played a large role in his desire to study religious doctrine and theology. He carried such interest until he became governor, and committed himself to embracing religious scholars and encouraging them. By then, many revered his religious faith, deep respect for other religions, and desire to establish peace and avoid aggression with people and their rulers. Undoubtedly, the Islam Salahuddin adhered to was that of mercy and grace, not revenge and close-mindedness.
This quality of mercy, which is among the deepest and most distinct qualities of chivalry, is also among the special qualities of Salahuddin. He refrained from retaliating against numerous European princes such as Balian, who led the battle to defend Jerusalem and Guy of Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem. Even though they lost in battle against him and swore not to return to fight him in return for being pardoned, they repeatedly broke their promises and returned to fight against him; however, Salahuddin would re-forgive them and treat them with dignity.
Moreover, Salahuddin's character included attributes of generosity and justice. In many of the historic battles in which he was victorious, he ordered the commanders to distribute the cattle and spoils during the trips, refusing to keep anything for himself. After his victory in the battle of Tel Sultan against Saif-Al Din Zengi, Salahuddin went even further by ordering the distribution of aid and assistance among prisoners who had lost everything. At the time of his death, Salahuddin had not left anything for his heirs except for a few pieces of gold and silver whose value was insufficient to cover his funeral costs as he had distributed all his possessions among the poor and needy prior to his death.
Indeed, Salahuddin the military commander was victorious over his enemies, but Salahuddin the knight and chivalrous warrior allowed them to achieve victory over themselves leading many of these enemies to look to the Arabs with appreciation and fairness. As the admiration of the historic commander spread to European communities, despite these communities being the root of the Crusades, respect and admiration of the Arabs and their beliefs also intensified. It was thought in England during the 12th century that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who sacrificed his life in defense of his moral and religious principles, is of Arab origin. Some accounts of this story explain the secret behind Beckett' greatness: His mother was an Arab princess who bequeathed some of the qualities of Salahuddin.
In conclusion, the anniversary of Oct. 2 offers numerous beneficial lessons. We draw these lessons not only from history or geography, but also from the history of Arabs themselves. These are lessons that confirm that the difference between religious and national intolerance and commitment resemble the differences between the situation in year 1187 and current times.