Kurdish inspiration of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers in tolerance and coexistence: The Sultan Saladin, or Sallah–Din Ayyubi (1137 – 1193)

SaladinMainSaladin, a Kurd originally from the northeast of Kurdistan, established an empire extending from Egypt to the northwest of the Kurdistan Diyarbech/Dirabekir region, to North Africa and Yemen. Thomas Asbridge writes: “Saladin came to this volatile, lethal environment as an isolated outsider – a Sunni Kurd in a Shia world – backed by limited military and financial resources. Few can have expected him to prevail.”[i]

The above map available from Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Chicago, retrieved Sept. 23, 2018.

A Jewish intellectual and philosopher, contemporary to Saladin, Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon or Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) was the Saladin court physician. Also, the archbishop of Tyre, known as the historian William of Tyr, knew Saladin as an adversary from the theater of war. Both men admired Saladin for his intellect, leadership, generosity, and tolerance. Saladin’s own court historian, Baha’ al-Din Ibn Shaddad, after Saladin’s death, said: “Never since the time of first khalifs had Islam suffered such a blow.”[ii] Later generations of admiring philosophers, literary artists and historians, just to name a few, included: 13th century (1200 +) Viennese chronicler and poet, Jans der Enikel, author of world history; Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321); Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375); the leading French Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire (1694 –1778); German writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729 – 1781); the English romantic era writer, Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832); Charles J.  Rosebault, whose 1930 book, entitled “Saladin, prince of chivalry,” perfectly summarized the qualities of character distinguishing Saladin. The English historian, essayist Alfred Duggan, brought another perspective to the understanding of Saladin in his explorations of his relation and confrontations with legendary English King, Richard Lionheart (2016). Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun and Professor of religion, brings a very sober interpretation of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim relations during Saladin’s reign in her book “Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths” (2011). The author of a 2015 biography of Saladin, John Man, described him thus: “It was Saladin’s virtues – his generosity, his magnanimity – that captured the European imagination more than his fighting skills.”[iii]


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