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Tāriq ibn Ziyād: The Founding Father of Andalusia

posted on: Apr 27, 2021

“Do not believe that I desire to incite you to face dangers which I shall refuse to share with you. In the attack I myself will be in the fore, where the chance of life is always least” Tariq Ibn Ziyad

By: Ahmed Abu Sultan/Arab America Contributing Writer

Spain has been an independent state for the longest of time. It’s culture has changed to levels where the original settlers would seem foreign. However, no era influenced the culture of Hispania as much as the Islamic conquest led by Tariq bin Ziyad. The path he took forever engraved Hispania as a land of interest to both the Muslims and the Europeans. The effects of Tariq’s march can still be seen nowadays.

Early Life

Tāriq ibn Ziyād was a Berber Umayyad commander who initiated the Muslim Umayyad conquest of Visigothic Hispania between 711 and 718 AD. He led a large army and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from the North African coast, consolidating his troops at what is today known as the Rock of Gibraltar. The name “Gibraltar” is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Ṭāriq (جبل طارق), meaning “mountain of Ṭāriq”, which is named after him. There were many accounts concerning his origin since the transcripts are so old. For instance, some believe he was a Persian from Hamadan, others think he was an Arab member or freedman of the Sadif clan. However, the most accurate accounts claim he was a Berber slave freed during the Muslim conquest of North Africa.

In Islam, a slave can attain high status in society depending on the skills they offered. Hasan ibn al-Nu’man was sent to continue the Islamic conquest in North Africa all the way to Morocco. However, his policies were quite strict and he did not tolerate Berber traditions. As a result, he was relieved of his duties. Musa bin Nusayr was then sent to renew the attacks against the Berbers. But he did not impose Islam by force, rather, he respected Berber traditions and used diplomacy in subjugating them. This proved highly successful, as many Berbers converted to Islam and even entered his army as soldiers and officers, possibly including Tariq bin Ziyad, who would lead the later Islamic expedition in Iberia.

Tāriq ibn Ziyād
“My Dear brothers, we are here to spread the message of Allah. Now, the enemy is in front of you and the sea behind. You fight for His cause. Either you will be victorious or martyred. There is no third choice.” Tariq Ibn Ziyad

From Humble Beginning

In 698, Musa was made the governor of Ifriqiya and was responsible for completing the conquest of North Africa and of the Balearic Islands and Sardinia. He was the first governor of Ifriqiya not to be subordinate to the governor of Egypt. He was the first Muslim general to take Tangiers and occupy it; his troops also conquered the Sous, effectively taking control of all of the northern half of Morocco. Muslim and Christian sources quote that while Musa bin Nusayr was eager to cross the Straits of Gibraltar to Hispania, he determined to do so only when a Visigoth nobleman, Julian, Count of Ceuta, had encouraged him to invade Iberia, telling him of the people’s sufferings and the injustice of their king, Roderic, while giving him cause for conquest by telling him of the riches that would be found, and of the many palaces, gardens, and beauties of Hispania. Legend tells that Julian wished for the fall of the Visigothic kingdom because his daughter, Florinda la Cava, had been raped by Roderic.

It was then that Tariq was ordered to accompany a small army to cross the strait and land in Hispania. “Burn your boats,” said Tariq bin Ziyad while addressing his small army after entering Spain by sea in 711 A.D. The order was instantly followed by his forces despite a huge army of opponents ready to attack them. The army of Tariq, comprising 300 Arabs and 10,000 Berber converts to Islam, landed at Gibraltar. King Roderic of Spain amassed a force of 100,000 fighters against the Muslims. Tariq called for reinforcements and received an additional contingent of 7,000 cavalrymen under the command of Tarif bin Malik. Despite the overwhelming disadvantage, Tariq’s speech increased the morale of his men significantly and the two armies met at the battlefield of Guadalete where King Roderic was defeated and killed. It through that battle that the gates of Europe were opened to the Muslims.

Tāriq ibn Ziyād
“Of forced conversion or anything like persecution in the early days of the Arab conquest, we hear nothing. Indeed, it was probably in a great measure their tolerant attitude towards the Christian religion that facilitated their rapid acquisition of the country.” Sir Thomas Walker Arnold, 1896, in The Preaching of Islam

The Birth of Andalusia 

Ṭariq soon advanced to the Spanish mainland itself, gaining valuable support from Spanish Jews who had been persecuted by the Visigoths and from Christian supporters of Witiza’s sons. He then immediately marched upon Toledo, the capital of Spain, and occupied that city against little resistance. He also conquered Córdoba. Mūsā himself arrived in Spain with a force of more than 18,000 in 712, and together the two generals occupied more than two-thirds of the Iberian Peninsula in the next few years. Later, the Pyrenees was crossed and Lyons in France was occupied. Spain remained under Muslim rule for more than 750 years, from 711 to 1492. In its swiftness of execution and completeness of success, Tariq’s expedition into Spain holds a unique place in the medieval military annals of the world.

Muslim rule was a major boon to local residents. No properties or estates were confiscated. Instead, the Muslims introduced an intelligent system of taxation, which soon brought prosperity to the peninsula and made it a model country in the West. The Christians had their own judges to settle their disputes. All communities had equal opportunities for entry into public services. The Jews and the peasants in Spain received the Muslim armies with open arms. The serfdoms that prevailed were abolished and fair wages were instituted. Taxes were reduced to a fifth of the produce. Anyone who accepted Islam was relieved of his slavery. A large number of Spaniards embraced Islam to escape the oppression of their masters. The religious minorities, the Jews, and the Christians received the protection of the state and were allowed participation at the highest levels of the government.

The country became a shining beacon of science and art. However, the story ended with the brutal Reconquista of Hispania initially supported by the Frankish kings. As for the heroes of this legend, well, politics was unkind to those who showed bravery and faith in God during that time period. Caliph Walid bin Abdul Malik invited Musa and Tariq to Damascus. But when they reached the capital, the caliph was on death bed. He honored them lavishly but he passed away soon. Caliph Sulaiman succeeded him and he turned against the two commanders and deprived them of all amenities. Both died in complete obscurity and are only remembered for their impact on Islamic History. Some in Islamic history even gave them the title “The Founding Fathers of Andalusia” many years before the nation’s birth.

Arab America Contributor, Ahmed Abu Sultan, narrates the events that eventually led to the foundation of the state of Andalusia. A country which saw prosperity, advancement, and peace for centuries until its death in the 14th century.

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