Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
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C.2 SIR HAMILTON GIBB.
Two biographies appeared within a few months of each other in the early 1970s — Sir Hamilton Gibb’s The Life of Saladin from the works of “˜ImÄd ad-DÄ«n and BahÄ” ad-DÄ«n in 1973, and Andrew S. Ehrenkreutz’s Saladin in 1972. No two works of history could be more different; where Gibb’s Saladin is highly idealised, relies largely on two hagiographical primary sources, and where the Muslim leader is seen as an exemplary hero of Islam, Ehrenkreutz paints a critical portrait of a ruthless and ambitious politician, and relies on diverse Arabic primary sources such as Ibn al-Athir, who passed some harsh judgements on the Kurd.
Sir Hamilton Gibb was preparing The Life of Saladin shortly before his death in 1971. He had already written extensively of Saladin in various learned journals. His biography is terse, well-footnoted, and written entirely from the Muslim perspective. Every Crusader defeat is a triumph, and every Muslim rout is defended as not being as bad it seems.
I think we need to have some idea of Gibb’s general views on religion and on Islam in particular to appreciate what he admired in Saladin, and what he believed was his true achievement. Gibb was an intensely religious man who worried that Islam was exposed to great dangers, and would be attacked by the corroding acids of the twentieth century: “The external pressure of secularism, whether in the seductive form of nationalism, or in the doctrines of scientific materialism and the economic interpretation of history, has already left its mark on several sections of Muslim society”. But the greatest danger to Islam was “the relaxation of the religious conscience and the weakening of the catholic tradition of Islam”. In modern times, Gibb feared that the Muslims would discard the Sharia, the Sacred Law, with disastrous consequences, “Modern governments”¦when they legislate changes in the sphere of the SharÄ«”˜a have done so because by influential sections of contemporary Muslims the classical SharÄ«”˜a is regarded as no longer adequate and sufficient interpretation of the moral imperative. Yet if the Sacred Law is wholly dethroned the link with the historic Community is broken; and the popular movements have demonstrated that the appeal to the SharÄ«”˜a can still be an effective instrument to energize the demand for social justice. Thus the task before the spiritual leadership of Islam today is not to fight a stubborn rearguard action, but to close the widening rifts within the Community by enlisting its creative participation in the effort to reformulate and reactivate the SharÄ«”˜a as a valid way of life in the new and changing conditions”. 
 H.A.R.Gibb. Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978 [1st Edition, 1949], p. 131.
To be continued.