Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Muslim Conquest of Spain (711-1492)

The Muslim Conquest of Spain


Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD
The conquest of Spain was the beginning of a new era in world history. It was the first interaction of Islamic civilization with the Latin West. For centuries, Muslim Spain was a beacon of knowledge to a European continent that was shrouded in the stupor of the Dark Ages. It was Spain, along with southern Italy, that was destined to act as a conduit for learning to the West. It played a central role in the reawakening of Europe.
The very name Andalus conjures up images of a bygone golden age of a brilliant civilization. Spain, as Andalus is known today, is situated in the northwestern corner of the Mediterranean. It is a peninsula, bound to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east by the Mediterranean Sea. To the north the Pyrenees Mountains separate it from France and the rest of Europe. To the south the narrow Straits of Gibraltar connect the waters of the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. Geographically, it is a part of the Mediterranean world, although topographically, the rugged mountains of the Peninsula make it more a part of North Africa than southern Europe.
The Atlantic Ocean had arrested the westward advance of Muslim armies. But the narrow straits separating Morocco from Spain were not wide enough to stop their inexorable march northward into Europe. They were propelled by the vision of a world order wherein tyranny was abolished and freedom of religion guaranteed. The early Muslims considered Tawhid(meaning, a God-centered civilization) to be a Divine trust and the establishment of Divine patterns on earth, a mission. Neither the ocean nor the desert was an insurmountable barrier in their drive to establish a just order on the globe.
Faith was the driver for centralization of power during the first centuries of Islamic rule, just as today economics is the driver for centralization of power in the world. Faith cements civilization, advances knowledge and brings prosperity. Absence of faith destroys civilization, fosters ignorance and invites poverty. When the human soul is motivated by faith, nothing in this world—not greed, nor passion nor even glory—can detract it from the single-minded pursuit of a higher goal. People with faith work together and create civilizations. It is only when faith is weak that greed and passion win, co-operative struggle becomes impossible and civilization crumbles.
In the 5th century, the Visigoths conquered Spain and established a kingdom there with Toledo as their capital. Not noted for their skills in administration and statecraft, the Visigoth monarchs invited the Latin Church in 565 to manage the affairs of state. In return, the church obtained official sanction to propagate its faith. The economic condition of the Spanish peasant improved little under this arrangement because he was now subject to double taxation, one from the despotic monarchs and the other from the local monasteries. The rich lived in opulence while the farmers suffered abject poverty. The condition of the Jews was even worse. They were precluded from owning land and prohibited from openly practicing their religion. When they protested, the Church came down hard on them. In 707, when the Visigoth king Vietza slackened in the persecution of the Jews, the clergy promptly deposed him and installed a playboy army officer, Rodriguez, as the new king. The Jews were forced into slave labor and their women condemned to servitude.
The contrast between Spain and North Africa at the beginning of the 8thcentury was as marked as it can be between two geographically adjacent areas. The Muslims had arrived on the scene with a new creed and a new mission, preaching the freedom of man and justice before the law. The openness of the Muslims was not unknown in Spain and many of the serfs and the Jews had escaped and found a new home in Maghrib al Aqsa (Morocco).
North Africa was seething with vibrant energy. The Berber revolts had been overcome. The Berbers were enlisting in the Muslim armies with the newfound zeal of faith. In Damascus, Waleed I had ascended the Omayyad throne. A skillful administrator and shrewd statesman, he had successfully crushed a rebellion in far-away Khorasan and had even outmaneuvered the Chinese emperor into a stalemate in Sinkiang. Waleed is known in history as the Emir who gathered around himself the most capable generals of any Omayyad. Noteworthy among these generals were Muhammed bin Qasim (the conqueror of Sindh and Multan), Qutaiba bin Muslim (the conqueror of Sinkiang), Musa bin Nusair and Tariq bin Ziyad (conquerors of Spain). The Omayyad governor of the Maghrib, Musa bin Nusair, waged a constant struggle with the Visigoths for the control of Maghrib al Aqsa (The western frontier, today’s Morocco). One by one, the Visigoth strongholds on the Mediterranean had been captured. Only Ceuta remained under Visigoth control and Count Julian, a Visigoth deputy, governed it.
It was customary among the Visigoth nobles to send their daughters to the royal palace so they could learn the etiquette of the court. In accordance with this custom, Count Julian sent his daughter Florinda to the court in Toledo. There, the profligate Rodriguez raped her. Julian was outraged and sought to take revenge on Rodriguez for this act of dishonor. Besides, Julian’s wife was the daughter of Vietza, whose throne Rodriguez had usurped. At this time, the area around Ceuta was governed by Tariq bin Ziyad, a deputy of Musa bin Nusair. Julian traveled to Kairouan to confer with Musa and ask him to invade Spain and humble Rodriguez. The timing was right. Musa ordered Tariq to cross the straits with a contingent of troops.
According to Ibn Khaldun, there were three hundred Arab and 10,000 Berber troops in the army of Tariq bin Ziyad. The towering rock near which Tariq landed is called Jabl al Tariq, the mountain of Tariq ( in English Gibraltar), and the straits separating North Africa from Spain are called the Straits of Gibraltar. Tariq was an outstanding soldier, a brilliant general, a man of faith and determination. He burned the boats that had brought his forces across the straits and extolled his men to march forward in the name of Tawhid or perish in the struggle. A skirmish ensued with the local Visigoth lord, Theodore Meier, in which the latter was soundly defeated. The year was 711.
Rodriguez heard of the invasion and collecting a force of 80,000, advanced to meet the Muslim force. Tariq called for reinforcements and received an additional contingent of 7,000 cavalrymen under the command of Tarif bin Malik Naqi (after whom Tarifa inSpain is named). The two armies met at the battlefield of Guadalupe. The Muslims were fighting to establish a just political order whereas the Visigoths were fighting to protect and preserve an oppressive scheme. The Arabs were superior in the art of mobile warfare. They were superb horsemen and had mastered the art of rapid enveloping movements in their advance from the desert across Asia and . The Visigoths were accustomed to fighting in static, fixed positions. There was no contest. Even though the Muslims were outnumbered, the Visigoths were cut to pieces. Rodriguez was slain in battle.
The defeated Visigoths retreated towards Toledo, the ancient capital of Spain. Tariq divided his troops into four regiments. One regiment advanced towards Cordoba and subdued it. A second regiment captured Murcia. A third advanced north towards Saragossa. Tariq himself moved swiftly towards Toledo. The city surrendered without a fight. Visigoth rule in Spain came to an end.
Meanwhile, Musa bin Nusair landed in Spain with a fresh contingent of Berber troops. His first advance was towards Seville. The defenders closed the city gates and a long siege ensued. The offensive capability of the Arabs, backed by military engineering and technology, was superior to the defensive capabilities of the Visigoths. Musa had brought his Minjaniques (machines) with him, which threw heavy projectiles at the city ramparts demolishing them. After a month, the city surrendered. The Umayyad armies now fanned out across the Spanish peninsula. In rapid succession, Saragossa, Barcelona and Portugal fell one after another. The Pyrenees was crossed and Lyons France was occupied. The year was 712.
Musa was ready to continue his drive into France and Italy. But in the meantime, CaliphWaleed I fell ill in Damascus. In the power struggle that ensued, Musa was called back to take his oath to the next Caliph Sulaiman. Musa appointed his son Abdel Aziz as the Emir of Spain, left another son Abdallah in charge of North Africa and hastened to the Umayyad Capital. During their conquest of Spain, the Muslims had captured an enormous amount of booty. Musa was eager to hurry up and bring the conquered booty to Walid I so that the dying Emir would appreciate the services rendered by Musa. Meanwhile, Sulaiman, the heir-apparent, wrote to Musa to slow down his return so that by the time the war booty arrived in Damascus, Walid I would be dead and the booty would belong to Sulaiman. However, Musa, out of courtesy to the dying Emir, did not oblige Sulaiman. He arrived before Walid died. Sulaiman was very upset at losing his chance to claim the war booty. So, when he ascended the throne, he stripped Musa of all rank, accused him of misappropriating war funds and reduced him to stark poverty. Musa lived the rest of his life as a beggar, half blind and at the mercy of public charity.
The Jews and the peasants in Spain received the Muslim armies with open arms. The serfdoms were abolished and fair wages were instituted. Taxes were reduced to a fifth of the produce. Anyone who accepted Islam was relieved of his servitude. A large number of Spaniards became Muslim to escape the oppression of their former 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.
Spain, under Muslim rule, became a beacon of art, science and culture for Europe. Mosques, palaces, gardens, hospitals and libraries were built. Canals were repaired and new ones were dug. New crops were introduced from other parts of the Muslim empire and agricultural production increased. Andalus became the granary of the Maghrib. Manufacturing was encouraged and the silk and brocade work of the peninsula became well known in the trading centers of the world. Andalus was divided into four provinces and efficient administration was established. Cities increased in size and prosperity. Cordoba, the capital, became the premier city of Europe and by the 10th century had over one million inhabitants.

FC46B: Muslim civilization in Spain (711-1492)

FC46B in the Hyperflow of History.
Covered in multimedia lecture #6877.

The coming of the Moors

In the seventy years after the death of Mohammed in 632, the Arab Muslims conquered an empire that stretched from the borders of India in the East to the Atlantic coast of North Africa in the West. In 711, an Arab general, Tariq, was sent into Spain with a force of unruly North African Berbers (from the Roman word for barbarians). Tariq, after whom the Rock of Gibraltar was named (from Jebel Tariq, the Rock of Tariq), decisively defeated the Visigoth king Roderic in 712, after which the Moors, as the Arab-led Berbers were called, overran the rest of the peninsula by 720.
Several factors aided the rapid Muslim conquest of Spain.  First, despite the hilly and fragmented nature of Spain's geography, the Romans had succeeded in creating a tightly knit and romanized province (both politically and culturally). Rome's Visigothic successors carried on these traditions, thus giving the Moors a fairly unified state whose government largely fell into their hands after one decisive battle, much as England fell to the Normans after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. A very different, but complementary factor was the de-centralized nature of Roman (and Visigothic) rule, where local nobles who copied Roman culture and showed loyalty to the empire, were allowed to run their cities or regions for Rome. There is evidence the Moors avoided prolonged sieges by confirming these local officials in their positions in return for their loyalty. Therefore, there was often little more than a change of management at the top that many people might not have even noticed.
By the same token, the Moorish conquest and its aftermath to c.800 seem to have been a fairly destructive and chaotic period in Spanish history for several reasons. For one thing, there was some resistance by the king and his nobles who lost their lands to Tariq's followers. Secondly, the Berbers who made up the bulk of the conquering army, were still unruly tribesmen and, for the most part, only superficially Muslim. Thus they often plundered and destroyed at will. Finally, although all Muslims were supposedly equal, the Arab rulers and officers treated the Berbers as second class citizens, taking the best lands and lions' share of the plunder for themselves. This triggered a Berber revolt and period of turmoil (c.740-90).
This anarchy allowed the survival of the Christian states in the north, the most prominent of which would evolve into Portugal and Leon in the west, Castile in the middle, and Aragon in the east. Likewise, the Franks, who had turned back the Moors at Tours in 733, entered northern Spain in 778 under Charlemagne, supposedly to help the city of Sargasso. Although this expedition failed, Charlemagne's son, Louis I established a more permanent Frankish presence and military frontier, the Spanish March, in the northeast. This helped knit strong cultural ties with Catalonia, centered around Barcelona, which has maintained its own Catalan culture and language (a mixture of French and Spanish) and still harbors designs for political independence, much like the Basques do in the north-west.

The Ummayad Caliphate of Cordoba (c.800- 1008)

During this time, Abd al-Rahman, the lone survivor of the Ummayad Dynasty in the East after the Abassid Dynasty's bloody coup, had escaped to Spain and gradually extended his control there (756-88). The Ummayads always had trouble maintaining firm control of their frontier regions, which were remote, turbulent, less wealthy and sparsely populated. This forced them to give more freedom and power to their military governors so they could defend the frontiers against the constant raiding that created a virtual no-man's-land between the Christian and Moorish realms.
However, under Abd al-Rahman III (912-61), al-Hakem II (961-76) and the viziers al-Mansur and his son Abd al-Malik ruling for the weak Hisham II (976-1009), the Ummayads established some degree of control over the frontiers and presided over the height of Muslim power in Spain. In 929, they even took the title of Caliph, spiritual and secular ruler of the Islamic world, most likely in reaction to the Shiite Fatimids in North Africa claiming that title by right of descent from Mohammed's daughter, Fatima. The Ummayads also moved their capital from the old Visigothic center, Toledo, to Cordoba, where they built one of the Islamic world's most splendid mosques and a magnificent palace complex. This palace had 140 Roman columns sent from Constantinople, a menagerie, extensive fishponds, and a room with a large shallow bowl of mercury that, upon shaking, reflected light wildly around the room like lightning in order to impress and terrify visitors. The court was also a flourishing center of culture, especially after the renowned Arab musician, Ziryab was attracted there from the East, bringing with him the latest in fashionable foods, clothing, and personal hygiene, most notably toothpaste. Cordoba was famous for its extensive library with 400,000 books and may have had a population of 100,000, making it one of the most splendid cities in the world at the time.
At this time, a growing number of Christians started coming from Northern Europe to absorb the growing body of knowledge stored in Cordoba, taking back such things as the abacus, astrolabe, Arab math and medicine, and translations of Aristotle. This transmission of Arab learning from Spain would be the basis for the revival of learning in Western Europe in the following centuries.
By 950, the population of Moorish Spain was largely Muslim, since as many as one million Berbers may have migrated to Spain and many Spanish Christians converted to Islam, either out of conviction, the influence of friends and family, or the improved opportunities such conversion might bring. Evidence for these conversions comes from the large number of Arab genealogies, which often show a point where Christian names are replaced by Arabic ones, indicating their conversion to Islam. Another source of converts was slaves, largely Slavs brought from Eastern Europe by Viking traders. These were often converted to Islam and trained as slave bureaucrats or bodyguards (although slaves with much higher status than the average subject). The caliphs in Cordoba had as many as 60,000 such recruits in their army, which largely freed them from dependence on unreliable Berber recruits.
Maintaining such a splendid court, capital, and army required a vibrant economy, which seems to have recovered in general across the Mediterranean after 750 and particularly in Spain after the turmoil of the 700s. Spain's agriculture especially flourished, from such new crops as rice, hard wheat for pasta (which required less water and stored better as a result), sorghum, sugar cane, cotton, oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, pomegranates, figs, watermelon, spinach, and artichokes. Figs, which were a Byzantine monopoly, supposedly reached Spain by smuggling seeds wrapped in a book past the customs agents. Making this "green revolution" possible were extensive irrigation and waterwheel systems copied from Syrian models, the largest being around Valencia. There were reportedly 5000 waterwheels along the Guadalquivir River alone by 1200.
Better agriculture produced a healthier and more numerous population, which allowed the government to lower tax rates, which in turn promoted more innovation, thus creating even better agriculture, and so on. This, of course, allowed and encouraged urban growth and more industries, such as metals, ceramics, glass, silk, ivory carving, paper and book making, woolens, and dying with dyes imported from as far away as India. One indication of Moorish Spain's prosperity at this time was government revenue, which reached 6,500,000 gold dinars a year.

Fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba and rise of the Taifa, or "Party kings" (1008-c.1080)

After the death of the powerful vizier, Abd al-Malik, a period of civil wars and strife known as the Fitnah broke out (1008-31). Various claimants to the throne had to rely on Berber mercenaries, who claimed lands and provinces for their services. As a result, a string of caliphs rapidly followed one another, one supposedly reigning for only forty-seven days. In 1013 Cordoba was sacked and its library destroyed by Berber troops who, resenting their inferior status under the Arabs, saw no reason to preserve their culture. While the government disintegrated at the center, Christian princes in the north raided and conquered Muslim lands or extorted tribute from local rulers.
This chaos led to a fragmentation of power into some three dozen city-states known as the Taifa (literally party or factional rulers, although our other meaning for party might also apply). Gradually, the smaller taifas were gobbled up by the larger ones, leaving six main ones: Seville and Granada in the south, Badajoz, Toledo, and Valencia in the middle, and Zaragoza in the northeast. Once affairs settled down and stabilized, there was a rapid revival of the economy and culture. However, rather than being concentrated at one central court, culture was dispersed and localized in a number of taifa states. Taifa rulers' status, much like that of princes in Renaissance Italy, rested as much on which scholars and artists they could attract to their courts as it did on warfare and conquest.
The richest of the taifa states was Seville in the lower valley of the Guadalquivir River, specializing in its olive oil, crimson dye made from a beetle, sugarcane, and musical instruments. Its rulers, al-Mu'tadid (1042-69) and his grandson, al-Mu'tamid, took Seville to the height of its cultural prestige and political power (even recapturing Cordoba from the Christians in 1069), and were themselves accomplished poets.
Meanwhile, the Christian states of Aragon-Catalonia in the east, Castile-Leon in the middle, and Portugal in the west were attacking and extorting tribute from the various taifa states. Such tribute was a major, if not the main, source of revenue for these princes who, in turn, passed it on to their soldiers, nobles, churchmen, and merchants, making it a vital part of their economies. Joining in this were Muslim and Christian mercenaries who would fight for either side, depending on the pay and circumstances. The most famous of these was Rodrigo Diaz, known as El Cid (from the Arabic word for boss). During his very active career, Diaz served Castile (until he was exiled from there), the Muslim ruler of Zaragoza (fighting both Christians and Muslims), and Castile again until another falling out with its ruler. Having built up his own fortune, reputation and following, he fought, plundered, and extorted tribute from both Christians and Muslims until he took Valencia in 1094, where he ruled until his death in 1099.

Islamic resurgence from North Africa: the Amoravids & Almohads (1080-1250)

Just as the Moors had originally come from North Africa and constantly drawn upon its Berber tribesmen for settlers and soldiers, so they drew renewed strength from two more North African groups to stem the tide of Christian conquest. The first of these, the Almoravids, were led by ibn Yasin, who had founded a ribat, a frontier religious community with a strong military character since it must be able to defend itself, and spread Islam through preaching and charity. As ibn Yasin's movement grew, it came to be called the Almoravids (from al-Murabitun, meaning people of the ribat). They founded Marrakech as a base in 1060 and took over Morocco by 1083.
They then turned toward the taifas in Spain which they saw paying tribute to non-Muslims, not recognizing the authority of the caliph in Baghdad, and failing to abide by the Muslim ban on drinking wine. In 1085 when the ruler of Castile took over Toledo, several alarmed taifas called the Almoravids into Spain for help. In 1086, the Almoravids crushed Castile's forces and embarked on a series of campaigns (c.1100-1125) to recover lands recently lost to the Christians. If the Almoravids were intolerant of any breaches of Islamic law by fellow Muslims, they were even less tolerant of Jews and Christians. From this point on we see growing hostility between Christians and Muslims who used to tolerate each other. Add to this aggressive Christian princes desperate to recover the lost revenue from tributes cut off by the Almoravids and a Church reform movement that wanted to channel the military energies of Europe's nobility into campaigns, such as the wars in Spain and the Crusades, to serve its own interests, and one can see a growing strain of intolerance that would plague Spain for centuries.
Arrogance toward other Muslims, growing indulgence in the very luxuries they had originally condemned, and the re-emergence of Berber tribal loyalties led to Almoravide decline after 1125. However, a new group of North African reformers emerged to take their place, the Almohads (from al-Muwahhidun, upholders of divine unity). Founded by Muhammed ibn Tumart, their career seemed to parallel that of the Almoravids, starting with a ribat and winning over the local tribes with their own brand of religious fervor. One major difference between the two movements was that the Almohads believed in a more mystical unity of God in which all of us are immersed. In 1121, ibn Tumart was declared the Mahdi (rightly guided one) by his followers to restore righteousness in the final days before the Last Judgment. At this time, the Christian princes were taking advantage of a new period of turmoil (sometimes referred to as The Second Fitnah) by conquering more lands. In 1146, Alfonso VII of Castile briefly took Cordoba before losing it again. The following year, Alfonso I of Portugal took Lisbon with the help of an English navy, marking the start of a long friendship between those two countries. Consequently, a Sufi leader, ibn Qasi, called in the Almohads who took over the Almoravids and attacked the Christian states, inflicting a crushing defeat on them at Alcaros in 1195. This served as a wakeup call to the Christian states, which united against the Almohads and stopped them decisively at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212.
In the ensuing forty years (1212-52) nearly all the Iberian Peninsula came under the three Christian states of Portugal, Aragon, and Castile. Fernando III of Castile took Cordoba in 1236, and Seville fell to him in 1248 after a grueling siege. In the latter case, he ejected the surviving population and replaced it with Christians. A later elegy on the fall of Seville by the poet ar-Rundi seemed to bemoan the fate of Muslim Spain in general:
Ask Valencia what became of Murcia,
And where is Jativa, or where is Jaen?
Where is Cordoba, the seat of great learning,
And how many scholars of high repute remain there?
And where is Seville, the home of mirthful gatherings
On its great river, cooling and brimful with water?
These cities were the pillars of the country:
Can a building remain when the pillars are missing?
The white wells of ablution are weeping with sorrow,
As a lover does when torn from his beloved:
They weep over the remains of dwellings devoid of Muslims,
Despoiled of Islam, now peopled by infidels!
Those mosques have now been changed into churches,
Where the bells are ringing and crosses are standing.
Even the mihrabs weep, though made of cold stone,
Even the minbars sing dirges, though made of wood!
Oh heedless one, this is fate's warning to you:
If you slumber, Fate always stays awake.

Nasrid Granada and the end of Moorish power in Spain (c.1250-1492)

By the mid thirteenth century, Moorish power in Spain was confined to a thin mountainous strip of land in the south that was never more than sixty miles wide. In the 1230's and 1240's, Muhammed ibn Yusuf ibn Nasr established a state centered around the city of Granada, thus giving his name to its ruling dynasty (Nasrid). Granada's strength was undercut by two main factors. First of all, it suffered from a good deal of internal disunity caused by tribal divisions, the ever-troublesome Berber mercenaries from North Africa, and an influx of Muslim refugees from the north. Second, it had a weak economy caused by its poor soil, forcing it to import much of its food, while its trade was largely controlled by Genoese merchants. Also, heavy tribute to the Christian states in the north forced the amirs (rulers) of Granada to charge high taxes, which made them unpopular.
Granada's survival depended on several factors: an excellent army consisting largely of Berber light cavalry, an extensive system of castles every five or six miles along its frontier and as many as 14,000 watchtowers scattered across the countryside, strong support from the Merinid dynasty in North Africa, generally capable rulers until the early 1400s, and some luck, such as the intervention of the Black Death (1349), Castilian involvement in the Hundred Years War in the 1300s, and turmoil both within and between the various Christian states.
Despite its problems, culture flourished in Nasrid Granada, especially in the fields of poetry, architecture, and art. The most remarkable example of this is the Alhambra, probably the best surviving example of a medieval Muslim palace. Much of its beauty lies in its elegant gardens, fountains, and courtyards that provided a serene setting for meditation, reading, or romance. The rooms of the palace itself show Islamic decorative art at its peak, with intricate geometric designs gracing the walls, doorways, and ceilings. According to the poet, Ibn Zamrak:
“...The Sabika hill sits like a garland on Granada's brow,
In which the stars would be entwined,
And the Alhambra (God preserve it)
Is the ruby set above that garland.
Granada is a bride whose headdress is the Sabika, and whose adornments are its flowers.”
In the 1400s, Granada's luck ran out in several ways. Genoese control of its trade tightened, which further aggravated resentment caused by the high tax rates (three times that paid by the people in Castile) to pay tribute to the Christians. The Merinids in North Africa went into decline and could no longer provide Granada their support. Tribal strife within Granada increased while the Christian states of Portugal, Castile, and Aragon resolved their own internal problems. In 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married, thus uniting Spain into one powerful state when they ascended their respective thrones in 1474. The only missing piece of the puzzle, in their minds, was Granada, which they attacked in 1482. The war boiled down to a series of sieges, as one city after another fell to the Christian artillery. In 1492, after an eight-month siege, Granada fell to Ferdinand and Isabella, who accepted the surrender dressed in Moorish clothes. After nearly 800 years, Spain was again united under Christian rule.
For Spain's Jewish and Moorish subjects, Christian rule was anything but pleasant. Almost immediately, the Jews were expelled from Spain, thus depriving it of some of its most productive population. Despite Ferdinand and Isabella's promise to tolerate their religion, the Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity or leave Spain in 1502. Since emigration was so costly, most converted in name while secretly maintaining their own beliefs and practices. In 1568, Philip II, increasingly concerned about his image as a strict Catholic monarch and support the Moriscoes (Moors supposedly converted to Christianity) might give to the Ottoman Turks and his other Muslim enemies, tried to stamp out their Muslim customs, which triggered a revolt. After brutally suppressing this uprising Philip dispersed the Moriscoes across Spain. However, since they still refused to assimilate into Christian society, Philip III took the final step of expelling some 300,000 Moriscoes from Spain in 1609. Aside from the suffering it caused the Moriscoes, this also substantially hurt Spain, by ridding it of much of its most productive population just when its power and wealth in other quarters were going into decline. This only accelerated Spain's decline into the rank of a second rate power by the mid 1600s.

Moorish Spain's legacy

As discussed previously, many Christian scholars during the Middle Ages came to Spain to absorb its learning, helping trigger a revival of learning in Europe. Very simply, this was the single most important legacy of Moorish Spain to Europe. One of its most significant contributions came from the philosopher, ibn Rushd (known in Europe as Averroes), who devoted his life to reconciling faith and reason (in particular that of Aristotle). The Christian philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, whose book, Summa Theologica, similarly reconciled faith and reason, quoted ibn Rushd no less than 503 times in his works. It was Aquinas' work that laid the foundations for the Renaissance and the birth of Western science in the centuries to come, but in a very real sense, it was the work of an Arab scholar, ibn Rushd, that was the real foundation.


In 711, Islam made its entrance into the Iberian Peninsula. Having been invited to end the tyrannical rule of King Roderick, Muslim armies under the leadership of Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed the straits between Morocco and Spain. Within seven years, most of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) was under Muslim control. Parts of this land would remain Muslim for over 700 years.
By the mid 900s, Islam had reached its zenith in the land known as al-Andalus. Over 5 million Muslims lived there, making up over 80% of the population. A strong, united Umayyad caliphate ruled the land and was by far the most advanced and stable society in Europe. The capital, Cordoba, attracted those seeking education from all over the Muslim world and Europe. However, this golden age of politics and society would not last forever. In the 1000s, the caliphate broke up and divided into numerous small states called taifas. The Muslim taifas were disunited and susceptible to invasion from Christian kingdoms in the north. For the next 200 years, the taifas fell one by one to the Christian “Reconquista”. By the 1240s, one kingdom remained in the south: Granada. This article will analyze the fall of this final Muslim kingdom in Iberia.

Emirate of Granada

The seal of the Emirate of Granada, declaring "There is no victor except for Allah"
The seal of the Emirate of Granada, declaring “There is no victor except for Allah”
During the Reconquista, Muslim states fell one by one to Christian kingdoms invading from the North. The major cities of Cordoba, Seville, and Toledo fell from the 1000s to the 1200s. The Murabitun and Muwwahidun (Almoravid and Almohad) movements from North Africa helped slow the Christian tide, but disunity among the Muslims eventually led to continued loss of land.
One Muslim state – Granada – was able to escape conquest by Christians in the 1200s. After the fall of Cordoba in 1236, the rulers of the Emirate of Granada signed a special agreement with the Kingdom of Castile, one of the most powerful Christian kingdoms. Granada had agreed to become a tributary state to Castile. This meant they were allowed to remain independent as the Emirate of Granada, but in exchange for not being invaded by Castile, they had to pay a yearly sum (usually in gold) to the Castilian monarchy. This created a detrimental situation for the Muslims of Granada as they paid regularly to strengthen their enemies.
Despite this, one of the reasons Granada was able to maintain its independence was its geography. It lies high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern Spain. The mountains created a natural barrier for any invading armies. Thus, despite being militarily weaker than Castile, the mountainous terrain provided a huge defensive advantage.

The Granada War

For over 250 years, Granada remained as a tributary state to the stronger Kingdom of Castile. But surrounded by unfriendly Christian nations, Granada was constantly at risk of being exterminated. In the early 1400s, a Muslim scholar wrote of al-Andalus’ last kingdom, “Is Granada not enclosed between a violent sea and an enemy terrible in arms, both of which press on its people day and night?”
The impetus for the conquest of Granada occurred in 1469, when King Ferdinand of Aragon of Queen Isabella of Castile married. This united the two most powerful Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. With a united front, now the Christians set their sights on removing the last Muslim state from the peninsula.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sought to destroy the last Muslim emirate of al-Andalus
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sought to destroy the last Muslim emirate of al-Andalus
In 1482, war began between the new Kingdom of Spain and the Emirate of Granada. Despite being in a much weaker position, the Granadans fought valiantly. One Spanish chronicler expressed his respect for the Muslim soldiers, “the Moors [Muslims] put all their strength and all their heart into the combat, as a courageous man is bound to do when defending his life, his wife, and his children.” The ordinary Muslim civilians and soldiers were fighting for their existence and the survival of Islam in al-Andalus, and fought very bravely. The Muslim rulers, on the other hand, were not as chivalrous or brave.
Throughout the war, the Christians remained unified and did not break up into separate warring factions, as they had commonly in the past. In contrast, Granada experienced huge political upheaval. Muslim leaders and governors were commonly at odds and scheming different plans to undermine each other. Many of them were even secretly working with the Christian kingdoms in exchange for wealth, land, and power. Worse than all of that, in 1483, one year into the war, the sultan’s son, Muhammad, rebelled against his father and sparked a civil war in Granada, just as Spanish forces began to attack from outside.
King Ferdinand planned to use the civil war to his advantage. He supported Muhammad in his fight against his father (and later, his uncle) in an effort to weaken Granada as a whole. Muhammad was supported with arms and soldiers by Ferdinand in the fight against other members of his family, and thus was able to take power over Granada. Throughout this armed struggle, Christian armies slowly pressed further into Granadian lands, so that by the time Muhammad took power in 1490, he only ruled the city of Granada and nothing of the surrounding countryside.

Granada’s Last Stand

Right after solidifying his rule over Granada, however, Muhammad was sent a letter by King Ferdinand that demanded he immediately surrender the city. Muhammad was very surprised by this demand as Ferdinand had given him the impression that he would be allowed to rule over Granada with Ferdinand’s support. Clearly, Muhammad realized too late that he had been just a pawn used by Ferdinand to weaken Granada.
Muhammad decided to resist the Christians militarily and sought help from other Muslim kingdoms throughout North Africa and the Middle East. No help came besides a small Ottoman navy that raided the Spanish coast and did not cause much damage. By the end of 1491, the city of Granada was surrounded by Ferdinand and Isabella’s army. From the towers of his palace, Alhambra, Muhammad could see the huge Christian armies assembling and preparing to conquer the city. With this depressing future in sight, Muhammad was forced to sign a treaty which gave over control of the city in November 1491.
Christian banners and crosses were hung from the Alhambra on January 2nd, 1492
Christian banners and crosses were hung from the Alhambra on January 2nd, 1492
On January 2nd, 1492, the treaty took effect and the Spanish army entered Granada and officially took possession of the last Muslim state of al-Andalus. Christian soldiers occupied the legendary Alhambra palace that morning. They hung the banners and flags of Spain’s Christian monarchs from the walls, signifying their victory. At the top of Alhambra’s tallest tower, they erected a giant silver cross, telling the terrified people of Granada below that the forces of Christendom had been victorious over the Muslims of al-Andalus. Muslims were too fearful to venture outdoors, and the streets were deserted.
Sultan Muhammad was exiled, and on his way out of Granada, he stopped at a mountain pass to look back at Granada and began to cry. His mother was unimpressed with his sudden remorse and scolded him, “Do not cry like a woman for that which you could not defend as a man.”
Although the victorious Christians promised religious freedom and generally favorable terms to the people of Granada, these promises were soon broken. In 1502, Islam was officially outlawed in Granada and hundreds of thousands of Muslims had to either immigrate to North Africa or hide their beliefs. By the early 1600s, not a single Muslim was left in all of Spain.
The story of al-Andalus’ decline from one of the Muslim world’s leading political and social powers in the 1000s to a rump state that was conquered in the late 1400s is one that has no match in Islamic history.  The constant infighting among Muslims, the lack of support from other Muslim empires, and the focus on personal power instead of Islamic unity all led to this downfall. And with the loss of Granada in 1492, that story ended.

Carr, Matthew. Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain. New York: The New Press, 2009. Print.
Najeebabadi, Akbar Shah. The History of Islam. 3. Riyadh: Darussalam, 2001. Print.
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