The Crusaders :
The commonwealth of Islam was devoting its attention to the educational and intellectual pursuits, on the one hand, while Christendom was consolidating its might to wipe off the entire Islamic world, on the other. Europe had been nourishing an intense hatred for Islam ever since the Arabs had taken their arms to the eastern possessions of the Byzantine empire. All the holy places of Christendom including the birth-place of Jesus Christ were under the Muslims. This afforded, by itself, a sufficient cause to Europe for breathing vengeance on Islam but the existence of powerful Islamic States and their continued inroads into the Christian countries did not give them the heart to covet the Muslim territories. However, the downfall of the Seljukid empire and the unsettled conditions in Asia Minor and Syria towards the end of the fifth century a.h. were in many respects calculated to favour the success of Europe. At the same time, the Christendom got a wandering preacher in the person of Peter the Hermit who distinguished himself by his fiery zeal and ability to carry away by his eloquence thousands of the poor Christians from one corner of Europe to another. Apart from these, numerous other factors, social and economic, contributed to surround the religious venture of the Crusaders with a hallow of romance tainted with avarice, ambition and lust.
The first eastward march of the Crusaders towards Syria commenced in 490 a.h. ; within two years the great cities of Edessa and Antioch and many fortresses were captured and by 492 a.h. the Christians had regained possession of Jerusalem itself. Within a few years the greater part of Palestine and the coast of Syria, Tortosa, Acre, Tripolis and Sidon fell into the hands of the Crusaders. "The Crusaders penetrated like a wedge between the old wood and the new", says Stanley Lane-Poole, "and for a while seemed to cleave the trunk of Mohammedan empire into splinters.” The capture of Jerusalem threw the fanatical horde of Crusaders into a frenzy which gave rein to their wildest passions: a savagery which their own writers are ashamed to confess, and unable to deny. Here is a graphic account of the massacre of Muslims after the fall of Jerusalem:
"So terrible, it is said, was the carnage which followed that the horses of the crusaders who rode up to the mosque of Omar were knee-deep in the stream of blood. Infants were seized by their feet and dashed against the walls or whirled over the battlements, while the Jews were all burnt alive in the synagogue."
"On the next day the horrors of that which had preceded it were deliberately repeated on a larger scale. Tancred had given a guarantee of safety to 300 captives. In spite of his indignant protest these were all brought out and killed; and a massacre followed in which the bodies of men, women and children were hacked and hewn until their fragments lay tossed together in heaps. The work of slaughter ended, the streets of the city were washed by Saracen prisoners."
The fall of Jerusalem marks the beginning of the decline of Islamic power and the increasing strength of the Christian West which was successful in due course in establishing four Latin Kingdoms of Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch and Tripoli in the territory bordering the eastern end of the Mediterranean from the Euphrates to Egypt, exposing the entire world of Islam to the danger of annihilation. The ambition of the warriors of the Cross ran so high that Reginald of Chatillon once expressed the desire to cross over to Arabia with the fell design of sacking Mecca and Madina and taking the corpse of the blessed Prophet out of his grave!' Never after the rising of the Apostates following the death of the Prophet had Islam been exposed to such a grave danger. The existence of Islam being at stake for the second time in its history, it had to take the field for a decisive battle with the Latin West.
The opening decades of the sixth century a. h. marked the dissension of the Islamic East. After the death of Malik Shah, the last great Seljukid ruler, civil war broke out among his successors and the empire split into many separate principalities. There was then no ruler who had the capacity to unify the forces of Islam in order to stand on the defensive against the increasing pressure from the north-west. Stanley Laue-Poole has rightly said that:
"It was a time of uncertainty and hesitation—of amazed attendance upon the dying struggles of a mighty empire; an interregnum of chaos until the new forces should have gathered their strength; in short, it was the precise moment when a successful invasion from Europe was possible."
Atabek lmad ud-din Zangi :
At this critical moment, when the despair of the Muslims was at its height, a lucky star rose in the eastern horizon. As it had happened earlier, Islam got a champion for its cause from an unexpected quarter, who appeared on the scene to save the situation. Lane-Poole writes:
"It was but necessary to preach the Jihad—the Holy War—and to show them a commander whose courage and military genius all must respect, and the Turkman chiefs and vassals would at once become a Church Militant with whom the Crusaders would have very seriously to reckon. The leader was found in Imad-ed-dln Zengy."
lmad ud-din Zangi was the son of one of the court chamberlains of Malik Shah. Sultan Mahmud conferred on him the government of Mosul along with the title of Atabek, the Tutor of the Princes. After consolidating his power in Syria and Iraq, lmad ud-din advanced against Edessa (Roha) which was one of the strongest,, fortresses held by the Crusaders, and formed the centre of their aggressive inroads into the neighbouring territories held by the Muslims. lmad ud-dln captured Edessa on the 6th of Jamadi ul-Akhir, 539 a. h. According to Arab historians it was the "conquest of conquests" for Edessa was regarded by the Christians as the "stoutest prop of the Latin Kingdom." The valley of the Euphratus was thus finally saved from the marauding excursions of the Crusaders. Shortly after achieving this brilliant victory, lmad ud-din was assassinated by a slave on the 5th of Rabi ut-Thani, 541 a. h. Thus perished one of the greatest heroes of Islam who had opened the way for a counter-attack on behalf of Islam against the Crusaders. However, the task left incomplete by the great Atabek was taken far ahead by his illustrious son, al-Maiik al-Adil Nur ud-din Zangi.
Al-Malik al-Adil Nur ud-din Zangi :
Nur ud-din Mahmud was now the Sultan of Aleppo on whom devolved the responsibility of the championship of Islam. The constant aim of his efforts was the expulsion of the Latin Christians from Syria and Palestine and to this object he remained faithful throughout his life. For him Jihad with the Crusaders was the greatest act of piety crowned with the Divine blessing. In 559 a. h. Nur ud-din Zangi captured Harim, a stronghold of the Crusaders in the north, after defeating the united armies of the Franks and the Greeks. It is related that ten thousand Christians were slain in this battle and innumerable Crusaders were taken prisoners along with the most of their chieftains, such as Bohemond, Prince of Antioch, Raymond of the court of Tripoli, Joscelin III, and the Greek general, Duke of Calamar. Soon after it the fortress of Banias (Caesarea Philippi) at the foot of Mount Hermon, felt before the arms of Nur ud-din, encircling the Crusaders from two sides. The significance of this political change has been described thus by Lane-Poole :
"The possession of the Nile by Nur-ed-din's general (Salah ud-dln) placed the Kingdom of Jerusalem as it were in a cleft stick, squeezed on both sides by armies controlled by the same power. The harbours of Demietta and Alexandria gave the Moslems the command of a fleet, and enabled them to cut off the communications of the Crusaders with Europe, stop the annual pilgrim ships and sieze their supplies."
Nur ud-dln had thus practically outmanoeuvered the Crusaders in Palestine but his greatest ambition was to drive them out of Jerusalem. This was, however, to be accomplished by Sala'h ud-dln but its foundation, was laid by the departing sovereign, Nur ud-din, who died in 569 a. h., in his fifty-sixth year, of a disease of quinsy. The news of the death of Nur ud-din, writes Lane-Poole, "fell like a thunderbolt among the Saracens."
Character of Nur ud-din :
Muslim historians describe Nur ud-din as a chivalrous, just and generous ruler, most tender-hearted, pious and high-minded, and a fearless warrior ready to expose himself in the front of every battle. True to his name 'Mahmud' he was acclaimed as one of the best of the kings; as the historians tell us, he was more capable and enlightened than his predecessors.
Ibn al-Jawzi who was a contemporary of Nur ud-din, writes of him in al-Muntaz.am:
"Nur ud-dln marched upon the enemy at the frontiers of his realm and succeeded in regaining more than 50 towns from the infidels. He led a life better than most of the kings and sultans. Peace and tranquillity reigned in his kingdom. There is, in fact, a lot to be said in his praise. He always considered himself as a subordinate of the Caliph at Baghdad. Before he died he abolished all oppressive and illegal imposts within his territories. He was extremely simple in his habits and loved the pious and scholars."
Another historian, Ibn Khallikan, who is known for his objective assessment of the characters and events says:
"He was a just and pious king, always eager to follow the observances prescribed by the Shariah and a generous patron of scholars in whom he took great interest. He was distinguished for his keen desire to take part in the Jehad; he spent his income on the pious foundations and welfare of the poor; and had set up educational institutions in all the principal cities of Syria. It is difficult to enumerate all of his qualities or the monuments by way of public works left by him."
Ibn al-Athir, the reputed historian and author of the Tarikh al-kamil) writes:
"I have studied the careers of the rulers of the past but excepting the first four Caliphs and Umar ibn Abdul Az!z there has been no prince so liberal and pious, law-abiding and just (as Nur ud-din)."
Ibn al-Athlr's testimony carries a special weight because he was in his fourteenth year when Nur ud-din died. He writes about the character and disposition of Nur ud-din as follows:
"He met his personal expenses from the property he had acquired out of the proceeds of his own share in the booty taken in war. He had set apart three shops situated in Hams which fetched an annual rent of 20 Dinars for meeting his household expenses. Once, when his wife complained to him that the income from the shops was insufficient, he dryly replied : 'I have nothing more to give you. Whatever else you see, I hold in sacred trust for the Muslims and I am no more than their trustee. I would not like to be consigned to Hell for your sake by spending anything on ourselves out of the public funds.'
He used to devote a greater part of his time after the nightfall in prayers. Belonging to the Hanafite school, he had studied jurisprudence and the Traditions but the narrow dogmatism was entirely foreign to his character.
"He was distinguished for his remarkable love for justice which could be seen, for example, in the fact that he had abolished all customs, dues and tithes throughout his vast kingdom comprising Egypt, Syria and Mosul. He was always eager to observe, in exact details, the disciplines and injunctions of the Shariah. Once he was summoned to appear before a court. He sent the word to the Cadi that no preferential treatment should be accorded to him when he appeared before the court as a defendant. Although he won the case against the plaintiff, he gave up his claim in favour of his opponent saying: 'I had already decided to do so, but I thought that perhaps my vanity wanted me to avoid attending the court of law. I, therefore, decided to appear before the court and now I give up what has now been decided in my favour.' He had set up a special tribunal known as Dar-ul-Adl (House of Justice) where he along with a Cadi, personally heard the cases to check arbitrariness on the part of high officials, princes, etc.
"On the battle-field he earned the admiration of everyone by his personal bravery. He always took two bows and quivers to the battle-field. Once somebody said to him: 'For God's sake, don't expose to danger your own self as well as Islam.' 'Who is Mahmud', retorted Nur ud-dln, 'that you speak thus of him? Who defended the country and Islam before me? Verily, there is no defender save Allah.'
"He held the scholars in high esteem and always stood up to receive them. He took keen interest in their affairs and patronised them with generous gifts but despite his humility and simplicity, he had such a commanding personality that the people were seized with fright in his presence. The fact is that it is not possible to relate all his qualities in the limited compass of this book."
Nur ud-dln had set his heart on the expulsion of the Crusaders from the holy land. He had also an unflinching faith in his mission and a firm conviction that he would ultimately succeed in his endeavour.
Nur ud-dln had to suffer a defeat at Hisn al-Akrad in 558 a. h., when he was taken unawares by the Christians. Soon thereafter he was making camp near Hams, a few miles from the enemy encampment. Some of his well-wishers counselled Nur ud-dln that it was not advisable to remain so near the enemy after suffering a defeat. Nur ud-dln, however, bade them to keep quiet and said : "I won't care for the enemy if I had only a thousand horses with me. By God, I would not go under a roof till I have taken revenge from the enemy." Even after the defeat Nur ud-dln continued with his generous grants to the learned, the poor and godly persons. When it was suggested to him that the amount earmarked for charitable purposes might be diverted for strengthening the forces at that critical juncture, Nur ud-dln replied angrily: “But I hope the succour of God only on account of their benedictions and prayers. The Holy Prophet has said that Allah causes sustenance and His help to come down on earth only for the sake of the poor and the oppressed, How can I desist from helping those who fight for me when I am fast asleep. And lo! they never miss their targets; yet, you want me to help those who fight only when they see me in their midst on the battle-field, and they often succeed or fail in their endeavours. The poor have a right to derive benefit from the public revenues and so how can I ask them to forgo what is due to them ?'"
Nur ud-din made preparations to avenge his defeat: he distributed large sums to his followers; sent letters to all the chiefs and governors for sending fresh levies; and, at the same time, requested the pious and devoted to pray for his success. His efforts created a new upsurge throughout his vast dominion to fight the Crusaders for the defence of Islam. Nur ud-din met the united armies of the Franks and the Greeks, and in one of the severest battles which took place under the walls of Harim, he achieved a splendid victory over his foes which gave him control over Harim and a few other fortresses.'
The unflinching faith of Nur ud-din can well be imagined by an incident reported by the historians. While he was laying a seige to Banias (Caesarea Philippi), his brother, Nusrat ud-din lost an eye. Nur ud-din, on meeting his brother, said : "If you only knew the divine reward for losing your eye, you would ardently desire to lose the other one too."
Saviours of Islamic Spirit By: Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi