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Saladin, the Western name for the ruler Salah al-Din ibn Ayyub, was the great Muslim general who confronted the Crusaders in the Near East. Born to a Kurdish family active in Syria, Saladin reestablished a Sunni regime in Egypt in 1171 by putting an end to the last Shiite Fatimid caliph there.

Saladin, now sultan of Egypt, returned to Syria and soon captured Damascus, Aleppo, and Mosul from other Muslim princes. From this strong Syrian base, he then turned against the Crusaders, decisively defeating them at the battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187. The victory at Hattin was followed by the easy recon quest of various Crusader lands and towns, above all the holy city of Jerusalem, which had been in Christian hands for 88 years. Saladin waited to take possession of the city until October 2, because the date corresponded with the anniversary of the Prophet's miraculous ascension to heaven, according to the Muslim calendar. In contrast to the Crusaders' bloodbath when they had taken Jerusalem, Saladin acted with great magnanimity to the Christian and Jewish residents. He forced the Franks to retreat to the coast of Syria and Palestine. In 1192 he signed a truce with Richard the Lionhearted. He died in the following year, but his descendants in the Ayyubid dynasty continued to rule in Egypt and Syria for several generations. Considered the model prince by Muslim admirers and Christian foes alike, Saladin has been memorialized in history and legend to the present day.