When Salah al-Din was fighting the Crusaders, one of the longest and most difficult battles was the siege of `Akka (Acre). About 3000 of Salah al-Din’s soldiers, under the command of Baha’ al-Din Qaraqush, were under siege from the Crusaders. In defense, Salah al-Din surrounded the Crusaders around the city, forcing them to fight two fronts. The siege, rife with relentless back and forth fighting, lasted two long years.
Whenever we talk of these incidents, we often reflect on the greatness of the leaders and their accomplishments. These leaders, however, were by no means alone. They were surrounded by a generation of people and individuals who contributed to the effort in so many ways, some more critical than others, but all necessary.
In the book, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin , Yūsuf ibn Rāfiʻ ibn Shaddād recalls the following incident:
The Crusaders had built three monstrous towers of wood and iron so that they could scale the walls of `Akka. They planned to place them against the fort walls, allowing thousands of soldiers to pour into the city. The towers were covered with hides soaked in vinegar, making them impossible to burn; the Muslims were terrified at the sight of these machines. Salah al-Din gathered his scientists and engineers to devise a plan, but numerous fire projectiles proved futile. Try as they might, they could not come up with a solution.
By the qadr (decree) and will of Allah, a young man was looking on. The man offered his help, saying that he could set the towers on fire, as long as the army could equip him with certain materials; and they did. But this was no easy task – they needed to sneak him into the city.
By this time the Crusaders had sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Europe to besiege the city; Salah al-Din’s men had to pass through the entire Crusader army, as well as slip through the city walls, unnoticed. Alhamdu lil Lah (all praise is for Allah) they were able to do so successfully. Baha’ al-Din Qaraqush was naturally skeptical about this “kid” coming forth and offering his services. Hadn’t all the professionals given it their best? What could he possibly have to offer?
After some convincing, Baha’ al-Din gave the okay. The young man mixed together the materials he had requested of the army – chemicals – and had the soldiers launch the mixture at towers. The Crusaders found this hilarious; the mixture was clear, so it looked like the Muslims were throwing water at this great wood and iron structures! Then the young man gave the signal; the soldiers threw fire at the towers and the clear liquid erupted into flames.
The soldiers in the first tower could not make it out in time. When the soldiers in the other towers saw this, they started to jump out preferring the long fall to the burning fire. Alhamdu lil Lah all three towers were burned to the ground.
Allahu akbar (God is Greater)! The Muslims were in shock. Who was this man? Where did he come from? How did he know what to do?
The young man was of humble origins, a pot maker from Damascus. He used to be keen on studying chemistry even though no one was appreciative of his experimentation; nonetheless, he persisted.
Salah al-Din called this young man forth to reward him and praise him for his help, but he declined saying that he only did it for the sake of Allah `azza wa jal (the Mighty and Majestic).
Clearly this young man did not intend on being with Salah al-Din at this particular time nor did he study chemistry to solve this particular problem for the Muslims. Rather he was a deeply sincere individual and a seeker of knowledge. Allah `azza wa jal used him as one of His workers to accomplish one of His tasks; Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (glorious and exaulted is He) put him in the right place, at the right time and gave him the experiences and tools he needed to benefit the Muslims in this situation. Our experiences should never be belittled for we never know which skills will be called forth in the service of Allah.
Let us reflect on a little: how are we benefiting the Muslims and the world with the talents we have, and situations that we have been placed in? How are we using our extensive backgrounds as engineers, scientists, journalists, artists, producers, psychologists, politicians, teachers, activists and so forth to actually create a change (even if that change seems small and goes unnoticed)?
By putting our trust in Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala we find that none of our experiences go unused and none of our deeds are wasted. No action, no matter how large or small, has value until Allah honors it. There are many who passed before us in this legacy, never mentioned or remembered by the world, known only by Allah `azza wa jal; and who better to be remembered by? Is He not the All-Seeing, All-Hearing, the All-Aware and All-Knowing?
May Allah `azza wa jal use us to benefit His deen (way of life) and be instruments of positive social change for His sake. May He use us to be of those who spread good wherever they tread, solely seeking His recognition. May He allow us to use this dunya (the material world) for its intended purposes and to shy away from the superficialities of the glitz and glamour of the world. Ameen.