Saturday, 1 September 2007

Imadudeen Zangi

In 1127, twenty-eight years after the Christians captured Jerusalem in the First Crusade (1096-99), the possibility of a revenge assault on the City looked remote. The Muslims were still divided, the Christians soundly entrenched in their positions and united in comparison, little seemed to suggest all that could or might change by the end of the century.

The same year however, a few changes did occur. Sultan Mahmud, a king of some importance of the time, appointed Imadudeen Zangi as Governor of Mosul (then part of Syria under the Seljuk Sultanate).

It was then, as is now a delicate position, an administrative responsibility not for everyone as well as a challenging role for those able to uphold and stabilise it. Syria itself was in a state of anarchy and in constant threat from Christian powers on the outlying areas surrounding Syria.

Several petty states had since risen and despite Christian interference, they did not form a common front and fought largely among themselves. Christian forces would take advantage of such squabbling and invade individual territories.

Once inside Islamic lands, tribute was exacted to further weaken the economic conditions, spirit and morale of neighbouring Muslim areas. Raids deep into Muslim territory were a regularity as were skirmishes near and close to the border areas.

Imadudeen Zangi, once in office, assumed a defensive policy and carried out a re-organisation of the army. In this manner, he consolidated the regional and national frontiers aimed at withstanding and repelling invading forces.

In 1128, just one year into office, Imadudeen had his first taste of success when he took Aleppo and Hamah, both cities were exposed to continuous Christian attack and the following year, in his first engagement with the Christians, annexed the fortress of Al-Asarib.

During the next few years, after the death of Sultan Mahmud, there was a succession of Seljuk Sultans and civil strife and this added to the weakness and insecurity of the Empire.

The prevailing circumstances encouraged external assault and Christian states increased their raids. With reduced weaponry, regiments and armed garrisons in operation, Bazaa, was captured and its residents all put to the sword.

The Christians then pressed forward to Caesarea, Abu Asakir, the leader of Caesarea, appealed to Imadudeen for immediate assistance. Imadudeen then led a force in person to relieve the City.

News of his imminent arrival made the Christians lift the siege and withdraw altogether. Imadudeen however, did not stop there and captured the fort of Arka in the country of Tripoli and later advanced to Ba’albek, which he also successfully subjugated.

Some years were to pass before Imadudeen and the Christians were at loggerheads again. This time in 1139, Imadudeen pushed the Christians out of Barin, one of the strongest fortresses held by them until then.

Imadudeen however, is remembered most for his crowning glory towards the end of his life. In 1144, two years before a servant would extinguish his light through assassination, Imadudeen commenced his biggest military operation yet, the capture of Edessa; one of the most strategic outposts then under Christian occupation.

Edessa, it is said, one of the original five outposts built by the Christians after the First Crusade, was the weakest of the major garrisons in Christian Middle East, yet it still seemed un-penetrable and least of all by Muslim cavalry or small infantry at arms.

Despite the stratagem employed by Christian defences, the City fell to Imadudeen and his son, Nurudeen Zangi (who would later succeed his father as an equally able ruler and Mujahid himself) and the first major frontier outpost to fall, led to mixed reactions across the globe.

To Christians, it was a puzzling mystery in how he succeeding in winning and accomplishing his goal. It was further worrying, God had let the Christians suffer defeat.

Something had gone wrong, perhaps they were guilty of a collective error. Years later, they would surmise the same opinion when Sultan Salahudeen Yusuf Bin Ayyubi would take Jerusalem in 1187.

In Muslim nations across the globe, it was a source of great jubilation, excitement and frenzy. The Christians could be beaten and dislodged from power and an Islamic hero existed to challenge their rank, check their expansionist designs and press forward additional conquests deep into their domains.

In Muslim circles, the fall of Edessa was further marked as the conquest of conquests. A seemingly unknown figure rose to be an international celebrity with just one event. It was during Imadudeen’s siege of Kalat Jabir however, a later skirmish with Christians the same year, he was killed in his sleep.


As a ruler, Imadudeen is most renowned for his conquest of Edessa in 1144, but he was also a benevolent man of authority. Respected by Christians as a formidable opponent and pious ruler abroad, he was honoured and treasured as a strong and able executive administrator and leader, a responsible Muslim, a just judicial authority and efficient military strategist and senior general.

Within the State, he improved agriculture, patronised scholars and encouraged learning. He was generous with his personal income and often gave much away in charity and slept on a common rug despite the accumulation of much wealth.

Under him, the Sultanate of Seljuk Syria expanded vastly at the expense of the Christians and enjoyed a spell of magnificent prosperity and peace at home during his reign.

Although he was not a monarch himself and refused to style himself as one, the Caliphs and other Sultans respected his integrity, manner and personality and did much to patronise his governorship and military responsibilities.

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