Chivalry is a word that has a connotation with a warrior. It means a man who believes in piety, fair play, compassion and bravery. Islam has had many fighters and conquerors who made a name for themselves, but were lacking in chivalry as they killed the helpless prisoners they had captured. The Emperor Akbar was one such man who beheaded an unconscious Hemu after the Second Battle of Panipat and followed up by executing the captured soldiers and making a pyramid of their skulls. Another such is Timur who sacked Delhi 1398 and blood flowed like a river. In contrast there is one conqueror who fought war as a profession but believed in chivalry. He was Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria who broke the rule of the Christians and captured Jerusalem in 1189. He is a man who is much respected in the west and worshipped in Islam.
Saladin was born a commoner in Iraq. He joined the military and started by taking part in wars against the Christians. Those were troubled times as the holy city of Jerusalem was under sway of the Muslims. The Kings of Europe united to throw the Muslims out of Jerusalem and establish a Christian kingdom in Gaza and Palestine. This was the period of wars called " The Crusades".
Saladin by his own ability became Sultan of Egypt and in a military campaign captured Yemen, Syria and Libya. Before he became Sultan of Egypt he defeated the Christians in Palestine. By 1189 he had stormed Jerusalem, but his conduct was one befitting a conqueror. All the Christians were spared death nor taken as slaves , but allowed to go away. In addition he allowed nearly 80,000 to come back to Jerusalem.
The loss of the holy city was resented by Christians and a massive force under King Richard the Lion Heart was assembled to take back Jerusalem. Richard landed in Palestine and soon was crossing swords with Saladin in battle. Both men began to have a healthy respect for each other. In one incident the horse of Richard was killed, but in a gracious act Saladin sent him a horse from his own stable. He even sent his personal physician to cure Richard once he fell ill due to the desert heat.
Both the fighters decided to have a meeting, which is recounted in Sir Walter Scott's " The Talisman". During the meeting Richard wished to show his prowess and with one blow of his broadsword broke a steel lance in two. Saladin not to be outdone with a swish of his rapier cut a cushion into two. Richard remarked that it was magic, but Saladin replied that it was his skill. The tale may or may not be true, but it shows the attitude of Saladin. In any case Richard could not take back Jerusalem and he conceded defeat and left back in 1192. But before he left he signed a treaty with Saladin that allowed Christians to visit Jerusalem for prayers. This was a gracious act by Saladin, something other Muslims generals and rulers have never agreed to.
Saladin died in 1193, but before he died he distributed his entire wealth to the people and died penniless. He was indeed a great man who treated his enemies with respect, no wonder he is admired in the west and Muslims worship him.