Salah Ad-din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub - meaning Righteousness of Faith, Joseph, Son of Job (1137 -1193), founded the ethnically Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt and Syria. He was also renowned for his prowess as a military leader during the Crusades and for his honorable mercy towards the Crusaders.

He was born in Tikrit on the River Tigris in modern day Iraq, into a Kurdish family but he spent most of his early years in Damascus and Baalbek (Lebanon). After an initial military education under the command of the Seljuk statesman and soldier Shirkuh, Saladin defended Egypt against the Crusaders and abolished the Fatimid caliphate in 1171. He took power in Egypt with the title of Sultan, though many Seljuks refused to serve under a Kurd. His position was tenuous at first, as no one expected him to last long in Egypt where there had been many changes of government in previous years due to a long line of underage caliphs. As the leader of a foreign army from Syria, he also had no control over the Egyptian army, which was led by the now otherwise powerless Caliph. With his brothers, Saladin essentially turned Egypt into a vassal state of his own family, against the wishes of Nur ad-Din who had sent Shirkuh and Saladin to Egypt in the first place. Saladin also restored Sunnism in Egypt.

On two occasions, in 1171 and 1173, Saladin retreated from an invasion of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. These had been launched by Nur ad-Din, and Saladin hoped that the kingdom would remain intact as a buffer state between Egypt and Syria, until Saladin could gain control of Syria as well. Both Nur ad-Din and Saladin were planning a war against each other when Nur ad-Din died in 1174. Saladin then marched on Damascus, and was welcomed into the city. However, Aleppo and Mosul, the two other largest cities that Nur ad-Din had ruled, were never taken but Saladin managed to impose his influence and authority on them in 1176 and 1186 respectively. In 1176 on May 22, while besieging Aleppo, the "Assassins" attempted to murder him.

While Saladin consolidated his power in Syria, he generally left the Crusader kingdom alone, although he was usually victorious when he met the Crusaders in battle. One exception was the Battle of Montgisard in 1177; however he soon recovered and defeated the Crusaders at the Ford of Jacob's Daughters in 1179. Nevertheless, the Crusaders repeatedly provoked him. Raynald of Chatillon in particular, harassed Muslim trading and pilgrimage routes and threatened to attack Mecca with a fleet on the Red Sea. In July of 1187, Saladin invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem and annihilated the Crusader army at the Battle of Hattin. Saladin captured and executed Raynald and he also captured King Guy. Then, in 1187 on October 2, after 88 years of Crusader rule he recaptured Jerusalem. Soon he had taken back every Crusader city except Tyre.

The battle of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem prompted the Third Crusade. This Crusade took back Acre, and Saladin was defeated by King Richard I of England at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191. Saladin's relationship with Richard was one of mutual respect as well as military rivalry. When Richard was wounded Saladin even offered the services of his personal physician and at Arsuf, when Richard lost his horse, Saladin sent him two replacements. There were even plans to marry Richard's sister to Saladin's brother. In 1192, the two came to an agreement over Jerusalem whereby it would remain in Muslim hands but would be open to Christian pilgrims. Not long after Richard's departure, Saladin died in 1193 in Damascus, where his tomb is now a major tourist attraction.

Despite his fierce opposition to the Christian powers, Saladin achieved a great reputation in Europe as a chivalrous knight, so much so that there existed by the 14th century an epic poem about his exploits, and Dante included him among the virtuous pagan souls in Limbo.

The name Salah ad Din means "Light of the Faith", "Righteousness of the Faith" or "Weapon of the Faith", and through the ages Saladin has been an inspiration for Muslims in many respects. A province centered around Tikrit in modern Iraq, Salah ad Din, is named after Saladin. Saladin is a romantic historical figure in whom it is difficult to find much fault. In fact, some of his most ardent admirers have often been his Christian biographers. They, as much as the Arabs, have made a myth of him, and what always attracted Europeans to Saladin was his almost perfect sense of cultured chivalry. It is said that the crusader knights learned a great deal about chivalry from him. For example, when the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099 they murdered virtually all of its inhabitants, boasting that parts of the city were knee-high in blood. When he re-took the city in 1187, Saladin spared his victims giving them time to leave and safe passage. It was in his view, a holy city, and it was captured by the Muslims in a 'just war'.