Islam in Spain
Compiled By: Syed Ali Shahbaz
The Spanish Muslim city of Zaragoza
On January 6, 1118 AD, the Spanish Muslim city of Zaragoza and the province of the same name, now called Aragon, was occupied by Alfonso the Battler, thereby ending 414 years of glorious Islamic rule. Founded by the Romans as Caesar-Augusta, the city was captured by the Goths, who lost it to the Muslims in 714, and was called Saraqusta in Arabic. It grew to become the biggest Muslim city of Northern Spain. It became a hotbed of political intrigue. In 774, its governor, Hussain bin Yahya al-Ansari declared Hispania to be a province of the Abbasid caliphate, prompting the Omayyads of Cordoba to launch an abortive attack. Hussain resisted till 788 and in the meantime in 777, beat back an attempt by Charlemagne of France to besiege it. The area changed hands several times among the various Muslim factions.
In 884 it was sold by Mohammad ibn Lubb ibn Qasi to the Christian Raymond of Pallars, but was immediately retaken by the Muslims. In 886 the Banu Tujibi were appointed to govern it, and after over a century of increasing its economic and military might they declared it as an independent Taifa or emirate. In 1038, Zaragoza was seized by Banu Houd, whose ruler, Abdul-Malik Imad od-Dowla, allied himself with the Christians against the al-Moravvid Muslim dynasty, which took it in 1010. The treachery proved fatal and in 1118 with the help of mercenaries, Alfonso seized Zaragoza and ended Muslim rule. The grand al-Jaferia Palace, built by Ja'far al-Muqtadir, serves as the local assembly today.
The Spanish Muslims crushingly defeated the Viking marauders
On 25th of the Islamic month of Safar in 230 AH, the Spanish Muslims led by their general of Iranian origin, Mohammad bin Rustum crushingly defeated the Viking marauders who made an attempt to invade Andalusian coasts in a battle near the Islamic city of Ishbiliya (Seville). He succeeded in cutting off the Viking invaders from their ships, and captured four of their vessels laden with booty. Many of the attackers were captured while the rest of them fled. The descendents of the captured Vikings settled in Islamic Spain, embraced the truth of Islam, and became cattle ranchers and makers of excellent cheese.
Abdur-Rahman III, the Omayyad Emir of Cordoba
On January 11, 889 AD, Abdur-Rahman III, the Omayyad Emir of Cordoba, and the first self-styled caliph of Spain, was born to a Christian concubine – his father's mother was also a Christian concubine. He succeeded his grandfather, Abdullah, and broke all allegiance with the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad. During his 49-year rule until his death at the age of 72, his legitimacy was under serious question as a result of the bid by the Fatemid Ismaili Shi'ite Dynasty of North Africa to expand its sphere of influence in Spain, where Muslims considered the Omayyads as usurpers and the descendents of the Prophet more worthy of governance. In order to check the Fatemids, he signed a treaty with the Christian ruler of Leon, Ordono III, and backed the Maghrawa Berber rebels in Northwest Africa. Instead of confronting the European Christian rebels who were slowly encroaching upon the northern territories of Islamic Spain, he devoted his time and energy to creating inter-Muslim rivalries, as was evident by his support for the Idrisids, which was also a Shi'ite Muslim Dynasty of what is now Morocco. Abdur-Rahman's efforts were brought to naught in 958, after a decisive Fatemid victory that ended the Omayyad plots in North Africa.
On January 16, 929 AD, the Omayyad Emir of Cordoba, Abdur-Rahman III styled himself as caliph, 17 years after having succeeded his grandfather as the ruler of Islamic Spain. Born to a Christian concubine – his father's mother was also a Christian concubine – he thus broke the nominal allegiance to the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad, which his forbears had kept since 756, when the Omayyad fugitive from Syria, Abdur-Rahman ibn Mu'awiya ibn Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, was made ruler of al-Andalus, six years after the end of the Omayyad caliphate in Damascus.
During his almost 50-year rule, the self-styled caliph’s legitimacy was under serious question as a result of the bid by the Fatemid Ismaili Shi'ite Dynasty of North Africa to expand its sphere of influence in Spain, where Muslims considered the Omayyads as usurpers and regarded the descendents of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) more worthy of governance. In order to check the Fatemids, Abdur-Rahman III signed a treaty with the Christian ruler of Leon, Ordono III, and backed the Maghrawa Berber rebels in Northwest Africa. Instead of confronting the European Christian rebels who were slowly encroaching upon the northern territories of Islamic Spain, he devoted his time and energy to creating inter-Muslim rivalries, as was evident by his dubious support for the Idrisids – also a Shi'ite Muslim Dynasty of what is now Morocco – against the Fatemids. Abdur-Rahman's efforts were brought to naught in 958, after a decisive Fatemid victory that ended for good any Omayyad influence in North Africa.
The Caliphate of Cordoba lasted for 102 years when in 1031 it split into independent Muslim Taefas in Spain, because of infighting among the Omayyads, who eventually ended up in the dustbin of history. Although the Omayyads imposed the Arabic language on the Christians and Jews of the Iberian Peninsula, built grand palaces and mosques – some of which survive till this day – patronized scientists and established libraries such as the one in Cordoba that housed over 400,000 books when Europe was immersed in the dark days, their lack of proper faith in Islam and their indulgence in vices, failed to win hearts and brought about cultural decadence resulting in the eventual end of Muslim rule in Spain by 1492.
The Spanish Muslim Emirate of “Medina Mayurqa”
On 31st of December 1229 AD, the Spanish Muslim emirate of Majorca on the largest Mediterranean island of the same name in the Balearic Archipelago, was invaded and occupied by James I of Aragon, who changed the name of the capital from “Medina Mayurqa” to Palma, thus ending over five glorious centuries of Islamic culture and civilization. The first Muslims arrived on this island in 707, some four years before Spain was liberated by the Muslims.
In 902, Issam al-Khawlani, in order to save the local people from the frequent raids of Vikings and other Christian marauders, liberated the whole Balearic Archipelago, ushering in a new period of prosperity under the Emirate of Cordoba. Agriculture and irrigation networks were developed and local industries set up by the Muslims. From 1087 to 1114 Majorca was ruled by the Taifa of Denia independently, and was able to ward off raids by Christian hordes from Europe including the Crusader marauders sailing towards Syria and Palestine to stir up sedition.
It then came under the rule of the al-Morawwid Muslim dynasty of North Africa, and in 1176 was taken over by the al-Muwahhed dynasty until 1229, when the last emir of Majorca, Abu Yahya, was defeated by the Christian invaders, who forcibly Christianized the inhabitants after killing many of them. Minorca, (Manurqa in Arabic), the other important island of the Balearic Archipelago, continued to be under Muslim control for another six decades, until it was also brutally invaded and occupied by the Christians of Aragon, who killed, Christianized and enslaved the Muslims.
The Nasrid Emirate of Granada
On January 2, 1492 AD, Mohammad XII, the 22nd ruler of the Nasrid Emirate of Granada, was tricked into surrendering the last Muslim region in Spain to the Christian invaders made up of mercenaries from Spain, Italy, Switzerland and other states, thus ending almost eight centuries of glorious Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula.
The people strongly defended their Spanish Muslim homeland during the 10-year war waged by Ferdinand and Isabel, who then resorted to bribes and deceit to gain control of the Nasrid Kingdom that was founded in 1238 on the collapse of the powerful al-Muwahhid Dynasty. The pleas to the Muslim world for help fell on deaf ears, because of the seditious diplomacy of certain European powers to involve into fratricidal wars the Ottomans (who were almost on the borders of Italy) and the Mamluk rulers of Egypt-Syria war that prevented the army assembled by the Mamluk Sultan from being dispatched to the aid of the Spanish Muslims.
About 200,000 Spanish Muslims migrated to North Africa after the fall of Granada including Mohammad XII, who died in Morocco 41 years later in 1533. The ruler's energetic uncle, who had briefly ruled as Mohammad XIII (az-Zaghall) during his nephew's imprisonment by the Christians of Castile, went across the Strait of Gibraltar to gather an army for liberation of Granada, but was prevented and imprisoned by the short-sighted ruler of Fez.
Those of the Spanish Muslims who remained in their occupied homeland were promised rights to their property, laws, customs, and religion, all of which the Christians brutally violated, and by 1609 after systematic Christianization of the population, expelled to North Africa thousands of Muslims who refused to convert.
However, Islamic culture, which led to the development of science and civilization at a time when Christian Europe was immersed in the dark ages, persisted and was incorporated in local cultures, thus leading to the Renaissance in Europe. Among the architectural wonders built by Spanish Muslims in Granada is the famous Alhambra fortress complex, which is among the testimonies to the glories of Islam in Spain.
It is said that while leaving his Spanish homeland for exile, when the defeated Muslim ruler reached a rocky prominence which gave a last view of his lost dominions, he reined in his horse and, surveying for the last time the Alhambra and the green valley that spread below, burst into tears. His mother, Fatema, who was active during the defence and had advised him against surrendering the emirate, reproached him saying: "You weep like a woman for what you couldn't defend as a man."
On January 6, 1492 AD, Christian occupiers of the Spanish Muslim emirate of Granada (Gharnatha in Arabic), led by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, entered the magnificent Islamic fortress complex of al-Hamra, which means "The Red" in Arabic and was corrupted to Alhambra by the Europeans. It is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the inspiration for many songs and stories. Spanish Muslim poets described it as "a pearl set in emeralds," in allusion to the colour of its buildings and the woods around them. The palace complex was designed with the mountainous site in mind and many forms of technology were considered. The park, which is overgrown with wildflowers and grass in the spring, was planted by the Muslims of Spain with roses, oranges and myrtles. Completed by the Nasrid Sultans Yusuf I and Mohammad V, a century before the fall of Granada to a mercenary force of Christian invaders from different parts of Europe, the al-Hamra is a reflection of the culture of the last centuries of Islamic Spain. Among the architectural beauties of this vast complex which for centuries was neglected and damaged by the Christians, before its modern restoration are the Royal Complex, the Court of Lions, the Court of Myrtles, and the Hall of Ambassadors, each structure, marveled for its grand design of slender horse shoe arches, columns, arabesques, and dazzling Arabic calligraphy.
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