Notorious Egyptian scholar Youssef Zeidan has stirred another controversy by going against mainstream Islamic history, this time by calling the famed Muslim military leader Saladin “one of the most despicable figures in human history.”
Salahuddin Ayyubi (or Saladin) is known as one of the most esteemed Muslim figures of the medieval Islamic world, most importantly for reclaiming Jerusalem from the Crusaders during the 12th Century.
But recent statements on Saladin by Egyptian philosopher Zedian, an expert on Arabic and Islamic studies, have ignited a heated debate on social media and in Egyptian newspapers.
The storm broke out when Zeidan replied to a question on a night talk show about older Egyptian films on Islamic history.
He claimed that such films included “historic fallacies” about Islam.
In comments on one of these films, Zedian said the way Saladin was portrayed in current Islamic history did not reflect “his brutality against the Fatamids,” the founders of the Shia Islamic Caliphate that ruled Egypt and Syria back then.
Historically, it is believed that when Saladin held key posts in Egypt, he was able to consolidate power and overthrow the Fatimids.
“Salahuddin is one of the most despicable figures in human history,” Zeidan told interviewer Amr Adeeb. “He committed crimes against the Fatimids.”
Zeidan claimed that Saladin had isolated women from men in that era to prevent any descendants of the Fatimids in Egypt.
He also said that Saladin “burnt one of the most important libraries in the world back then, located in Cairo,” under the pretext of “confronting the Shiite ideology.”
The reason why this image of Saladin is not common among today’s Muslim community is “intentionally political”, according to Zedian.
Zedian’s controversial interview angered many Egyptian historians and scholars, who denounced his claims, and questioned his motives in attacking esteemed figures in the history of Islam.
Zubeida Attallah, a professor of modern history at Egypt’s Ain Shams University, said: “Why do we attack our symbolic figures and the values that we possess?,” in reference to Saladin, whom she recalled as a distinguished historical figure and “the hero of the Battle of Hattin, during which he fought the Crusaders and took back Jerusalem.”
Ziedan, who has stirred several controversies over his time, has written a number of novels in the past decade, many of which have been best-sellers in the Arab world.
His views on many topics, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, have previously landed him in hot waters and made him a subject for criticism.