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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Place called Gaza - Part Two

When we left the story last, Gaza had been occupied by the Christian Crusaders, and it was, according to Christian records, a near deserted city. It was around this time that Salah Ud-din ( or Saladin ) Ayubbi emerged in order to reawaken the Islamic nation. He was a Kurd, from Tikrit in Iraq. His father was a regent of Mosul, and Salah ud-din was a student who continued to pursue Islamic knowledge. It is said that he had little interest in the Military, until the Christians captured Jerusalem and other Palestinian enclaves ( including Gaza). The muslims were disunited, with various kingdoms, the largest of which was the Shia Fatimid Kingdom in Egypt for whom his father, though a sunni, served. The Fatimid dynasty was incredibly corrupt and weak, and fears by both Salah-uddins father and uncle were that Egypt would soon fall to crusader raiding parties. Together with Fatimid forces, they were able to successfully defend Egypt, whilst the quarrelling continued. Looking for a pacifying force within the turbulence of infighting, Salah-uddin quickly rose to power, becoming Sultan of Egypt at the age of 31. One of his first acts was to consult with the scholars and realign the kingdom to that of Ahle-us-Sunnah, and from then on historians referred to Salahuddins Caliphate as “The Ayyubid Dynasty”.

He then set out to reunite the muslim kingdoms, initially taking North Africa and Yemen. Salah-uddin avoided recapturing Jerusalem and Palestine initially, because of a rival kingdom in Syria, whom he wished to reunite under the banner of Islam first so that they could be a far stronger force when they eventually fought the crusaders. This did not stop him capturing Gaza first however, in 1170. He successfully launched a military campaign against the Syrians, becoming victorious in Damascus in 1176 AD. This worried the heretics of the region, and one of these groups “The Hashashin” (Ismalis ) attempted to assassinate him whilst he was besieging Aleppo.

He engaged in one battle against the crusaders at this point, known in western history books as “The Battle of Montgisard”. It ended in a severe loss. From this point, Salah-uddin resolved to strengthen the muslim forces, emerging victorious at the battle of Jacobs ford in 1179. The crusaders arranged a temporary peace treaty, however frequently broke it, organising raids on pilgrims who were travelling to Mecca. These attacks were mainly made by ship on the red sea, to which Salah-uddin raised a fleet 30 galleons strong, and resolved to attack Beirut, where the attacks on pilgrims were originating. The crusaders continued to threaten to attack Mecca and Medina itself. Whilst these attacks on pilgrims were taking place, rival kingdoms in Mosul were plotting against Salah-uddin. He was able to arrange a peace treaty with them whilst Salah-uddin focussed on defeating the crusaders. He was victorious in capturing Jerusalem and thus uniting Palestine ( however briefly ) after the battle of Al-Hittan. He personally executed Raynauld de Chatillon after this individual insulted the prophet Muhammad (saw) and killed a number of Pilgrims.

Gaza was briefly recaptured by the crusaders ( led by Richard “The Lionheart “) in 1192, however it was returned as part of a peace treaty to the muslims in 1993.

Salah-uddin sadly passed away from fever that same year, after successfully uniting the muslim nation under one banner, and defeating the crusader forces. It is no small exaggeration to say that Gaza only has a muslim population today because of this one man, who rebuilt the city, fought the crusaders, and defended the honour of the muslims.

Sadly however, this unity was not to last. When the ummah found itself rich again, his own sons caused a great disunity to occur through their petty squabbling. Al-Adil, Salah-uddins brother, organised campaigns around all the provinces under Ayyubid control, killing and imprisoning his own brothers and nephews. Whilst this in-fighting continued, how history repeated itself! The Mongols this time, and not the crusaders, emerged as the new army to wake the muslims up. Hulagu Khan captured Damascus in 1256, before finally capturing Gaza in 1260. When he did so, he completely destroyed the city.

Though the muslims recaptured the city in 1277, the city suffered many catastrophes from that point until ottoman rule. An earthquake struck the city and region in 1294, causing many casualties. After that point, 5 years later, the Mongols (led by Khan ) again destroyed the city, ransacking it completely and causing misery for its inhabitants.

From this tragedy, Gaza recovered remarkably. It was described as a “medium sized city, with many gardens” by the geographer Abu Al-Fida, which is remarkable after this city suffered so much within that 100 year period. Sadly, the citys tribulations continued, with plague killing the majority of its inhabitants in 1348, followed by a great flood in 1352. It was after this time that the great muslim traveller ibn Battuta visited, seeing fit to comment on it thus : large and populous, and has many mosques. But there were no walls round it. There was here of old a fine Jami' Mosque (the Great Mosque), but the one at present used was built by Amir Jawli."

There was one more tragedy to befall gaza, that of a plague of locusts in 1401. After this point, the city was once again virtually uninhabited, with the arrival of the ottomans describing it as a city with an inactive port, little or no trade, and many ruined buildings.

In part three we will see the rebirth of the city once more, and how it flourished under Uthmani rule.

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