Saladin and Richard the Lion-Heart are the most famous names of the Crusades, and finally we’re getting to their stories. We met Richard via his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine; now we meet Saladin through Zengi’s successor Nur ad-Din. First, why were so many of these leaders named Something ad-Din? This name is a Laqab, a descriptive surname parallel to “the Lion-Heart” or “the Good.” Din means Faith in Arabic; Nur ad-Din was the Light of the Faith, while Salah ad-Din was the Righteous of the Faith. Their given name, used at home by Mom, is usually forgotten (Saladin’s childhood name was Yusuf).
During the Second Crusade period, Zengi’s son Nur ad-Din ruled Aleppo and Edessa. He married the princess of Damascus, Ismat ad-Din (Purity of the Faith) Khatun (“princess” in Turkic). Damascus hovered between alliances with Turks and Crusaders, depending who seemed stronger, but eventually its ruler died and Nur ad-Din absorbed it. He appointed the former Governor of Tikrit Ayyub to be its ruler under his authority. Ayyub’s brother was one of Nur ad-Din’s field generals.
All we can say about Ayyub’s family background is that it’s the same mix that produced Nur ad-Din: Turkic, Kurdish, Arab, probably intermarried until it didn’t matter. Their tribal name is in Kurdish, but it means “nomads,” so the root ancestry could be the Arabs who brought herds of goats to the valley of the Tigris River, back in the 8th century. Ayyub is “Job” in Arabic, while his brother always went by a Kurdish name.
Ayyub’s son Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub went into active military service. Nur ad-Din was ambitious to extend his father Zengi’s project: unifying the former Caliphate by conquest, including the jewel in the crown: Egypt. Remember Cairo was built by Shi’ites who aggressively sent missionaries into Persian and Arab lands to agitate against Turkish rule (since Turks were by no possible pretense descended from Mohammed’s tribe).
So Nur ad-Din sent General Shirkuh (“Mountain Lion” in Kurdish) and his nephew Salah ad-Din down to Egypt. The Fatimid dynasty was so weakened that the teenage Caliph had no real control, and the viziers were playing out power games. One vizier thought allying with Nur ad-Din would return him to power, and it did, but Shirkuh and nephew Saladin stayed on in Cairo. Saladin actually befriended the weak Caliph and, ultimately, Saladin was appointed Vizier to the Ismaili Shi’ite Caliph!
When the Caliph died in 1171, Saladin saw no reason to continue the charade. He abolished the office and appointed himself Sultan. For Egypt, it was just another regime change; most Egyptians were still Christians, and the Muslims were still mostly Sunni. The big question was whether Saladin’s new dynasty would rule well or not. Saladin’s descendants are known as the Ayyubids, not the Saladinids, because “ibn Ayyub” was in both his name and his son’s. Arab/Egyptian tradition names each individual as Himself son of Father son of Grandfather (the Town/Region Resident).
I have a whole small book about Egyptian Christians under Ayyubid rule! As soon as I get the Third Crusade out of the way, we’ll talk about it!