October 2: Saladin and the Jews

Saladin_2After nearly a century of Christian Crusader control of Jerusalem, Saladin conquered the city on this date in 1187, after a month of siege. Christian lives were spared; there was no mass killing.  Although the Third Crusade (1189–1192) would be inspired by European determination to reconquer the city, Jerusalem would remain in Moslem hands for centuries. Saladin (Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub), of Kurdish origin and a strict Sunni, was the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, with a kingdom that encompassed Kurdistan, Yemen, and Mesopotamia (Iraq). His court included Maimonides, the great Jewish religious authority, as a royal physician. There were three prominent Jewish sects in Egypt: Rabbanites, Karaites, and Samaritans, all considered to be dhimmi, “protected people,” tolerated by the Muslim majority but disarmed and made to pay tribute.

“My duties to the Sultan [Saladin’s son] are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning, and when he or any of his children or concubines are indisposed, I cannot leave Cairo but must stay during most of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one or two of the officers fall sick and I must attend to their healing. Hence, as a rule, every day, early in the morning, I go to Cairo and, even if nothing unusual happens there, I do not return to Fostat until the afternoon. Then I am famished but I find the antechambers filled with people, both Jews and Gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and policemen, friends and enemies – a mixed multitude who await the time of my return.”—Maimonides

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