“Impossible is nothing”…Addidas
Alexandria, the city built by Alexander the Great
Many years had passed in relative peace. The Crusaders were gone, and at the age of fifty, I was no longer hungry for war. But there are certain things that a man hold dear. One of them is loyalty of his subjects and friends, and the other is justice.
In the land of Egypt, the Muslims were not Sunnis like ourselves, but Shiite. They gave almost equal importance to Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, as they did to the Prophet himself. The caliph of Egypt considered themselves to be descendants of Ali and hence called themselves Fatimids after Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet and wife of Ali.
The important thing was that they had overthrown the Abbasid power there long before the Seljuk empire was founded. Caliphs were considered higher than Sultans, so even though I was now Sultan, the Caliph of Egypt still looked down upon me.
Now, if it were just the matter of my personal dignity, this would not result in combat, but it was not. Many Sunni pilgrims were being mistreated in Cairo and Alexandria, where famous schools and libraries existed. They appealed to Sultan Ahmed, but he did nothing, so they appealed to me instead, for they knew me as the champion who had fought against three Crusades and a better warrior than Ahmed.
So I sent a letter to the Caliph of Egypt, hoping that he would come to his senses:
“Dear Caliph Mustafa ab-Din, favored of Allah. The differences between our Sunni and Shiite faiths are minor and owing mainly to interpretation. I too have great respect for the Holy Ali, and you will know that my very wife was named to honor your esteemed ancestor, Fatimah. Let us be friends that you may treat our Sunni pilgrims with respect and hospitality due to one favored in the eyes of Allah. For when Shiites do come and worship in the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, the Abbasid Caliph of Bagdhad doth treat them with much respect, and I have always honored thy holy men to Jerusalem, a city I have spent my entire life fighting for.”
But Caliph Mustafa was an arrogant man, so he replied,
“Do not address me in such familiar tones, Sultan Sala-hu-din. You are but an upstart and a Kurd at that. Your ancestors were no more infidel than the Crusaders you fought. Even Sultan Ahmed, who is Lord of the Seljuks and your better, doth not dare address me thus. I will chose to do as I please, for my will is divined only by Allah and not common man. Even the Caliph of Bagdhad is misguided, and the differences in our ideology are not minor. To compare thy whore of a wife to my illustrious ancestor is an insult!”
And for this, I was much angered, for I loved Fatimah as much as Nassur could love Aisha. And the fact that he would continue to mistreat Sunni pilgrims could not be tolerated. I asked Ahmed for a combined alliance against the Fatimids, but he only sent me a token force of 5,000 men. So I declared a jihad (holy war) and marched with my army of 200,000 strong, leaving some men to guard Damascus against Seljuk treachery, which fortunately didst not happen.
And with this, we marched to Alexandria. At Gaza and Sinai, conflicts were already breaking up between the Sunnis and Shiite, but it broke up the moment my troops reached. I spent 17 days there arbitrating the cases. In some instance, Sunnis were even punished. I wanted the Shiites to know that Sala-hu-din is not a man who discriminates against faith. After peace was re-established, we marched into the territory of Fatimid Egypt itself.
Alexandandria was a great city. It was believed to have one million inhabitants, more than Rome, Bagdhad, or Constantinople combined. The city was built almost one thousand years ago by the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great, and it had flourishing bays and centers of learnings like the agoras, the maddrassahs, and its magnificent Library rebuilt after the burning by Julius Caesar.
The Fatimids amassed a great army, roughly more than 500,000 men to protect this jewel of the Orient, and I needed to show supreme confidence that my men not lose courage in the face of such adversity. So I marched before them and said, “Men of the Ayyubid clan, you have fought the Crusades and the Sultan Ahmed and defeated them both. Yes, there are more men in the Caliph’s army than those two combined, but they march under a religious man. Know that you march with Sala-hu-din! I am the Lord’s Sword Arm!”
And the men of the Ayyubid army cheered me, “We know no fear, as we march with Sala-hu-din!” and they roared their confidence all the way to the Fatimid camp, and it shook fear in the enemy’s heart. The Fatimid caliphate had been at peace for many years, far too many years. Deep down inside, they did not want to fight with ten-year veterans of the Crusades that had stared down even the mighty Seljuk empire. At that time, I was the most feared commander of the East, and Nassur, a lion in his own rights, stood at my side.
That day, the soldiers of Alexandria fought well, but the Ayyubid clan simply fought much harder. Left and right, each of my men easily slaughtered more than one or two Fatimids each. We were much better trained and quicker with the sword than any Egyptian could hope to be. Our arrows hit their mark twice over and broke the lines of the Fatimids.
Soon, the magnificent army of the Fatimids were starting to break before our much smaller force. The haughty Caliph of Egypt, Mustafa, had fears showing on his face, as though he knew that Allah would desert him, for pride was a sin. Soon, they were in full retreat, and the city of Alexandria fell to us. It made me feel like Alexander the Great himself, but then I chose to control my pride lest the Almighty punished me instead.
I spent my days at the Library of Alexandria, reading philosophies and science. I consulted my engineers on how we could improve our siege machines, for we would now embark on the conquest of Egypt itself. Our next conquest would be Cairo, and soon, all of Egypt would be brought to the true Sunni faith. I treated the elders with respect and did not force them to embrace my religion just yet. Everywhere we went, I ordered an end to prostitution by Muslim women, allowing only infidels to perform such sinful tasks. For men were not angels, and they could not reform themselves overnight.
In less than a months’ time, we were ready to march against Cairo, the magnificent capital of the Fatimids, and put an end to Caliph Mustafa’s arrogance.