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One of the most prominent figures in Crusade history, Nur al-Din sought to promote Muslim unity and establish a united front against the Christian Crusaders. Throughout his life, Nur al-Din took control of Syria and Egypt and laid the foundations for Saladin to conquer Jerusalem in 1187. Let's take a closer look at this important individual and his biography!
The Crusades were a series of religious wars throughout the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries between Christians and Muslims; both sides wanted to control religious sites considered holy by both religions.
Nur al-Din was born in February 1118. He was the second son of Imad al-Din Zengi, a Turkish noble and ardent anti-crusader. Nur al-Din's father was assassinated in September 1146 by a Frankish enslaved person named Yarankash. Upon their father's death, Nur al-Din and his older brother Saif ad-Din Ghazi I divided their father's kingdom among themselves.
Nur al-Din took control of Aleppo, and Saif ad-Din Ghazi I took control of Mosul. The lands of the two brothers were divided by the Khabur River.
Nur al-Din is a common name for Muslim boys, meaning the "Light of the religion" in Arabic. In modern practice, the name is now more commonly used as a surname. Nur al-Din's full name: Nūr al-Dīn Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūd ibn ʿImād al-Dīn Zangī gives us an insight into his family tree because of the customs of the Arab naming system. Arabs can have up to four or more names, with the given name appearing first in the sequence. This is then often followed by the given name of their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
Did you know? Typically, Arab women do not take their partner's name after marriage but instead are informally referred to as their husband's family names.
Modern-day historian Tarih Dergisi discusses the struggle that Nur al-Din suffered against the Crusaders and, acknowledging historical events, reaches the conclusion that he became a strong opponent because of the invasions that he endured. Dergisi interprets Nur al-Din as a significant character in the conquest of Jerusalem, and one of the "most prominent leaders of the Turkish-Islamic world".
[Nur al-Din] became the most dangerous Muslim enemy of the Crusaders thereabouts. Nur al-Din Mahmud extending his dominance up to Egypt ensnared the Crusaders from both East and West. He paved the way for the conquest of Jerusalem.1
- Tarih Dergisi
After gaining control of Aleppo, Nur al-Din attacked the Principality of Antioch - a crusader state created during the First Crusade. He took control of numerous castles in northern Syria.
Whilst taking control of Antioch, there was an attempt by the Franks under Joscelin II to regain control of Edessa. In response to this attack, Nur al-Din executed the Armenian Christian population, enslaved the women and children of Edessa, and destroyed the city's fortification.
In 1147, Nur al-Din sought to unify the Muslim nations against the Crusaders by making alliances with northern Iraq and Syria. He signed a treaty with the ruler of Damascus, Mu'in ad-Din Unur. Nur al-Din married Mu'in ad-Din Unur's daughter, Ismat ad-Din Khatun, as means of strengthening ties.
The two rulers laid siege to the rebellious cities of Bosra and Salkhad before seizing the Antioch regions of Artah, Kafar, Latha, Bara, and Basarfut.
By 1148, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany led the Second Crusade in Syria. After failing to recover Edessa, the Crusaders attacked Damascus. With the help of Nur al-Din, Mu'in ad-Din Unur defeated the crusaders within only four days.
Taking advantage of the failure of the Crusades, Nur al-Din once again turned his attention to Antioch in 1149. Not wishing to attack Antioch itself, Nur al-Din focused his attention on territories east of the Orontes river. After capturing these territories, he iterated his authority over Syria by bathing in the Mediterranean. The following year, Nur al-Din defeated Joscelin II for the final time, with the latter dying in a prison in Aleppo in 1159.
It was Nur al-Din's ambition to unite the Muslim peoples between the Nile and the Euphrates. Nur al-Din wanted to do this to create a united front against the Crusaders. The map below shows the course of the Nile and the Euphrates.
Qutb al-Din Mawdud
In 1149, Qutb al-Din Mawdud became ruler of Mosul. Once instated, Qutb al-Din named Nur al-Din as the overlord of the region; this meant both Mosul and Aleppo were under the control of Nur al-Din. With Mosul and Aleppo under Nur al-Din's control, Damascus was the final piece in the jigsaw of Muslim unity.
Qutb al-Din Mawdud was the nephew of Nur al-Din. He was the grandson of Nur al-Din's father Imad ad-Din Zengi and received the territory of Homs upon his grandfather's death. He was instrumental in Nur al-Din's campaigns, helping him attack Antioch and divert the crusaders from Egypt in 1164.
Qutb al-Din Mawdud died in September 1170, designating his second son, Sayf-al-Din Ghazi II as his successor.
After the Second Crusade, Mu'in ad-Din Unur signed a treaty with the crusaders; when he died in 1149, the new ruler, Mujir ad-Din Abaq, respected the treaty. Nur al-Din tried several times to capture Damascus between 1150 and 1151, however, experienced little success.
Throughout the early 1150s, Damascus grew weaker under the rule of Mujir ad-Din Abaq. In 1154, Nur al-Din overthrew Mujir ad-Din Abaq and took control of the city; the entirety of Syria was now under his control.
Paving the way for the conquest of Jerusalem, Nur al-Din contributed to some of the most influential historical events in Egypt. Between the years 1163 to 1168, Nur ad-Din took military action in support of Shawar, he was later betrayed by Shawar so set out to end the Fatimid Caliph.
Here is a brief timeline outlining Nur al-Din's actions in Egypt:
|1163||Vizier of Egypt, Shawar ibn Mujir al-Sa'di was overthrown. He persuaded Nur al-Din to send an army to take control of the nation and restore Shawar to power.|
|1164||Nur al-Din's army, commanded by Shirkuh, was successful, restoring Shawar to power. After gaining power, however, Shawar double-crossed Nur al-Din and formed an alliance with Amalric, the king of Jerusalem.|
|1167||Realising that Egypt's vulnerable, Nur al-Din despatched an army of Turks, Bedouins, and Kurds to take control and remove the Fatimid caliph.|
|Understanding the threat that Nur al-Din posed to the Crusaders, Amalric mobilised an army of the kingdom of Jerusalem to support Shawar's defence of Egypt.|
|Winning a narrow military victory at Babain in March 1167, Shirkuh led his men to Alexandria, where the city had revolted against Shawar. Despite initially holding the city, Shirkuh was forced to return to Damascus and Shawar once again ruled in Cairo.|
|1168||In October 1168, Amalric invaded Egypt once again.|
|Shawar agreed to an alliance with Nur al-Din, with the pair defeating Amalric and the Crusaders.|
|Shawar was executed and Shirkuh was named vizier Egypt.|
Muslim high officials, particularly under Ottoman rule throughout Turkey.
After securing Damascus in 1154, Nur al-Din turned his attention toward Egypt. Let's explore several reasons why Nur al-Din wanted to take control of Egypt.
The Holy cities of Mecca and Medina were heavily reliant on Egypt for trade and commerce. The Holy cities traded with Egypt using the Red Sea, which connected Egypt and Mecca and Medina. Furthermore, Amalric also understood the wealth that Egypt possessed. During this time, the Crusaders were financially weak and were relentlessly asking for financial aid from Europe. By taking Egypt, Nur al-Din knew that he could financially cripple the Crusaders and prevent them from launching further military expeditions against the Muslim territories.
As we have previously discussed, the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina shared a Red Sea border with Egypt. If the Crusaders managed to take Egypt, they could launch an attack on Mecca and Medina and potentially bring an end to Islam.
Nur al-Din and his father Imad al-Din were very different people; Imad al-Din enjoyed alcohol and lavishness, whereas Nur al-Din did not drink and lived an incredibly pious life. Despite such differences, Nur al-Din sought to oust the Crusaders from Holy territories just like his father had.
In many ways, Nur al-Din was forced by circumstance to turn his attention toward Egypt. Throughout the early 1160s, Egypt had been ruled by a series of young Fatimid caliphs. Such leadership had made Egypt politically weak and vulnerable to invasion. Understanding the importance of Egypt and the perilousness of the situation, Nur al-Din was forced to intervene.
The Shia Dynasty which ruled over a section of North Africa from 910 to 1171 CE.
Nur al-Din's military endeavours in Egypt were led by Shirkuh, Saladin's uncle. Throughout these military expeditions, Saladin acted as one of Shirkuh's lieutenants. During the second campaign when Saladin managed to hold the besieged city of Alexandria from the Crusaders with a vastly inferior force.
Did you know? Saladin is the Western version of Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub!
Shirkuh died in 1169, with Saladin succeeding him as vizier, building a strong power base in Egypt. In 1171, the Fatimid Caliph died, with Saladin taking control and restoring the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad.
Saladin was now the ruler of Egypt and his power equalled that of Nur al-Din. The following three years saw very little correspondence between the pair, implying that Nur al-Din was aware of Saladin's growing influence. With a showdown inevitable, Nur al-Din died in 1174, leaving control of his lands to his 11-year-old son. Nur al-Din's death created a power vacuum that Saladin would exploit.
Throughout his reign, Nur al-Din utilised jihad sentiment to expand his power and territory in the region. Jihad was a fundamental tenet through which Nur al-Din could strengthen his position as a just and pious ruler who deserved the support of the people.
This term means 'striving' or 'struggling' in Arabic. The term refers to both the struggle against the enemies of Islam as well as the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin.
Nur al-Din established a propaganda campaign that sought to unify the Muslims against the Franks, founding several Madrasas.
An educational institution which specialises in Islamic religious teachings.
Nur al-Din restored and built mosques in Damascus. In most cases, older mosques in Damascus would not have minarets – towers that are used to call Muslims to prayer. Nur al-Din had minarets added to the Mosques. Towering over the landscape of Damascus, these minarets reiterated Islam dominance whilst also emphasising Nur-al Din's centre of jihadism. Nur al-Din's commitment to jihad is best demonstrated in the institutions he established. Let's look at an overview of changes under Nur al-Din.
Built forty-two madrasas (religious educational institutions), paying for half of these himself.
Implemented a fair tax system, abolishing heavy taxes over Egypt and Syria.
Built several bismaristans.
Extended a welfare system that brought children, widows, the poor, and the elderly under the protection of the state.
Built the Bismaristan Nur al-Din – one of the earliest institutions for developing Islamic medicine.
Implemented a justice system, holding court several times throughout the week.
Gave equal rights to Christians and non-Muslims living under his rule.
A historical hospital during the Islamic world.
An inn which had a centralised courtyard where travellers in the desert regions of North Africa and Asia would gather.
By 1170, Nur al-Din had successfully conquered Egypt and fulfilled his ambition of uniting the Muslim states. Shortly after this accomplishment, he contracted a fever. He later died on 15 May 1174 at the Citadel of Damascus, aged 56. Initially buried at the Citadel of Damascus, Nur al-Din was later reburied in the Nur al-Din Madrasa.
Whilst Nur al-Din had seized control in Egypt and Syria, it was only in 1185 – when Sultan Saladin brought both nations under one crown – that Nur al-Din's ambitions were truly accomplished.
Nur al-Din and Ismat married in 1147. This marriage was part of an agreement that supported the bilateral treaty with mu-in ad-Din Unur, Ismat's father.
Nur al-Din died, aged 56, on the 15th May 1174. His death took place in the Citadel of Damascus and was caused by health complications related to a peritonsillar abscess.
Nur ud-Din is just another spelling of Nur Al-Din. Nur ud-Din, second son of Imad ad-Din Zengi, was a member of the Turkomen Zengid dynasty.
Nur ad-Din took full control over Egypt during the beginning of 1169 towards the end of the Crusader invasion of Egypt. The last failed invasion of Egypt was led by Amalric and Manuel.
Saladin defeated other claimants to the title and took the title of Nur Al-Din after he died. Declaring himself vassal, Saladin took Egypt under his rule.
Nur al-Din is a common name for Muslim boys, meaning the Light of the religion in Arabic. In modern practice, the name is now more commonly used as a surname.
When was Nur Al-Din born?
What does Nur al-Din mean?
Light of the faith.
What was Nur Al-Din's main purpose upon taking power?
To defeat the crusaders.
Nur Al-Din engaged in his first military battle during the Siege of Edessa in 1144.
Aleppo, part of the Middle East made up Nur al-Din's centre of power.
The second Siege of Edessa by Nur Al-Din took place in 1148.
Fill in the blank.
Nur al-Din's main ally against the crusaders was ____.
Mu’in ad-Din Unur, governor of Damascus
Fill in the blanks.Nur Al-Din's wife was ____, they got married to ____.
Unur’s daughter Ismat ad-Din Khatun & to consolidate their alliance.
Nur Al-Din united both Aleppo and Mosul under his leadership in ____.
How did Nur Al-Din defeat the Second Crusade?
Formed a secret force.
When did Nur Al-Din die?
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