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Medieval Empires and the Culture of CompetitionLiterary Duels at Islamic and Christian Courts$
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Samuel England

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474425223

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474425223.001.0001

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The Sovereign and the Foreign: Creating Saladin in Arabic Literature of the Counter-Crusade

The Sovereign and the Foreign: Creating Saladin in Arabic Literature of the Counter-Crusade

(p.67) 2 The Sovereign and the Foreign: Creating Saladin in Arabic Literature of the Counter-Crusade
Medieval Empires and the Culture of Competition

Samuel England

Edinburgh University Press

Continues the book’s examination of Arabic poetry as a means for ascent in the court and as a tool for exerting control over the empire. The focus here is the sultan Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn al-Ayyub, often called Saladin. During his transition from vizier to sultan during the twelfth-century Crusades, Saladin oversaw writers and political administrators vying with one another to construct his identity as Islam’s protector. The collapse of the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt and the threat of crusading armies gave the new regime a key opportunity. The Ayyubid system consolidated a previously scattered community of littérateurs. Whereas the Fatimids were seen as incapable eradicating “the Franks” from the Levant and Egypt, now writers challenged each other to poeticize a successful counter-crusade. Modern studies portray the Crusaders as a nagging anxiety of Saladin’s court but, I argue, the presence of a foreign enemy proved extraordinarily useful to him. Writers re-imagined Islamic history as having always included a mysterious threat to pious Muslim people, fully realized in the Franks’ arrival. At the cathartic endpoint of that narrative they placed Saladin and, more subtly, themselves as the chroniclers of Islam’s restoration.

Keywords:   Crusade, Saladin, Usama ibn Munqidh, Jerusalem, Egypt, Syria, Praise Poetry, Iraq

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