History of Islam in Spain

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A century after the death of the Prophet (SAW), Islam had spread from the Arabian Peninsula to the Indus and Amu Darya rivers to the Pyrenees Mountains. Baghdad and Cordoba in Spain had become the economic super power of the world. Arabic was the universal language of culture and knowledge as the English language is today.

The Islamic Caliphate of Spain was established and led by early Muslims who were strong in Tawheed.

Al Andalusia, as it was known will forever remain a privileged place in the history of Islam, a dream that was a reality, tattooed in the hearts and minds of all that beholds the remnants of its Islamic splendor.

This magnificent empire began with invasion of Arabs and Berbers from the North, Morocco. In 711 (AH 92), these  Arab and Berber forces crossed the strait of Gibraltar (or Jabal Tariq) and established an Islamic Caliphate on the Iberian peninsula. Between 711 and 1084 (AH 477), Islamic Spain, Al Andalusia became a magnificent land from which great scientific, astrological, medicinal and mathematical concepts emerged.

It was Musa ibn Nusayr, a young companion of the Prophet (SAW) and brave warrior with outstanding integrity that mediated events in the region.

Musa bin Nusayr was born in 19 AH during the reign of Umar bin Al Khataab (RA).He received his military training in Syria. During the reign of Marwan bin Al- Hakam (and Umayyad Caliph); he was appointed  governor of Egypt and later of Qayrawaan (Tunisia) to bring peace and stability to the Berbers. In North Africa Musa encountered a young Berber from Morocco, Taariq bin Ziyaad. Tariq’s excellent commanding skills and superior courage attracted the attention of Musa bin Nusayr who appointed him as ruler of Tangier, a Moroccan Mediterranean city.

Spain was ruled by the Visigoth’s who conquered the region in the 5th century and whose tyrannical King Rodriguez was at the time exploiting the inhabitants and ruling with severe oppression and racism. Increased uprisings lead to the ruler of Ceuta near Tangier to seek the assistance of Taariq bin Ziyaad whose reputation as a fair and just ruler had reached across the Mediterranean shores. Taariq  sought permission from his senior Musa bin Nusayr. Musa discussed the situation with the caliph of Baghdad at the time, Waleed bin Abdul Maalik who instructed that a reconnaissance expedition be send forth to assess the situation. On the 5th Rajab 92 AH (711), Taariq sailed across the Mediterranean Sea with seven thousand Muslim soldiers mainly Berbers and assembled at the Mountain later known as Jabal Taariq or Gibraltar. At this point Taariq burned the boats that had brought his forces across the straits encouraging his men to strive forth in the name of Allah. He marched towards Toledo to face the king’s  army of over 100 000 warriors armed with the most powerful equipment. The ensuing battle lasted 8 days. The Muslims were courageous and fearless, their firm faith leading them to a remarkable victory on 28th Ramadan 92 AH. The King fled the battlefield. Taariq marched ahead and conquered the cities of Cordoba, Granada and Malaga. In order to strengthen the Muslim army, Musa bin Nusayr, with eighteen thousand soldiers reached the Iberian shores and conquered Zaragoza, Tarragona and Barcelona. These battles lead Musa and Taariq all the way to central France when Waleed bin Abdul Maalik recalled them back to Damascus thus halting further progression.

Under Muslim rule oppression was abolished, fair wages was instituted and taxes were reduced. Christian and Jews received protection from the state to practice their religion.

The next era of Islamic progression in Andalusia occurred when the Abbasid Caliphate defeated the Umayyad Dynasty and assumed the power of the Caliphate in Bagdad.

In order to establish their position as the Caliphate, the Abbasids shifted the Islamic administration from Damascus to Baghdad and pursued in killing all the important members of the Umayyad Dynasty. Amongst them was the devout and brave Abdurrahman bin Muawiyyah (grandson of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham) who escaped the assassins and sought refuge in the Andalusian mountains in 755 (AH 138). Abdurrahman I was deeply religious adhering firmly to the Quran and Sunnah and his superb military and leadership skills ensured the cementing of an early Islamic state. After some years he established himself as the Amir and ruled from the capital Cordoba until 1030 (AH 421).

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Abdurrahman I began the construction of the great Cordoba Mosque whose powerful presence symbolized the presence of Islam on the Iberian Peninsula. The grand mosque with its magnificent horseshoe arches became a renowned place to many scholars and scientists from around the world. It was also a central hub for congregational prayer, Islamic jurisprudence, military expeditions, research and learning for the next 300 years. Great scholars of medicine, astrology, mathematics, agriculture, literature and various other sciences both religious and academic emerged from Cordoba. For instance Al Zahrawi is renowned for the invention of surgical tools and sutures.

Each subsequent ruler of the region played a vital role in cementing an Islamic system. Hisham I 788-796 (AH 172-180) introduced a legal system based on Islamic jurisprudence which would be used for centuries to come in the western world. Abdurrahman 11, 822-852 (AH 207-38) was a warrior who bravely fought with  emerging Christians in the north, the Vikings, internal revolts and continued to consolidate vast territory under his rule. In the year 929 (AH 316) when the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad disintegrated he proclaimed the title of Calipha.

As an expression of his increased power he commanded the construction of the magnificent Madinat Al Zahra. Madinat Al Zahra thus became the capital  of Islamic rule. Madinat Al Zahra transformed into the ultimate palace of grandeur and luxury.

It was the period of Abdurrahman II that marked the arrival of an individual known as the legendary Ziryab. He was a musician from Iraq who arrived at Madinat Al Zahra and established a school of Music amongst other things. New concepts alien to the simple Berbers and Arabs was introduced by Ziryab. He taught them the etiquette of fine dining and sophisticated singing. Ziryab is also credited with new techniques for cooking and make up, dining with silken tablecloths, new fashions and hairstyles. The result was importation of luxurious consumer goods to obtain this elegant life.

The influence of this materialism on the Muslims in part epitomized by the coming of Ziryab to the Iberian Peninsula may have contributed to the trails and disintegration of Cordoba.

No doubt these influences lead the Muslims to preoccupation with extravagance, following worldly desires and abandonment of military expeditions.

The increasing threat of the Christians from the north in the wake of disunity and materialism amongst the Muslims lead to decentralization of the power of the Caliphate in Cordoba.

The next one hundred years was marked by the emergence of the Taifa Kings- the proliferation of separate states governed by power hungry kings striving for territory amongst each other.

When the discord of the Taifah kings increased in severity in conjunction to the Christian threat of Alfonso V1 in 1086 (AH 479), Yusuf bin Tashafin, the leader of the Al Moravids in Marrakesh was summoned by the Taifah rulers.

The Al Moravids (or Moors) were the Al Murabittun, who ruled Marrakesh at the time dedicating their lives to military expeditions. The empire was founded by Yusuf bin Tashufin between 1058 and 1060 (AH 450-52). They dominated North Africa from 1059 to 1147 (AH 451-539) and subsequently dominated Spain from 1070 to 1146 (AH 412-541).

After being summoned by the Taifah rulers, these powerful warriors surged across the Sahara desert to inflict a crushing defeat on the Christian King Alfonso VI in the famous battle of Zallakah. History bears testament to fearful horses from Alfonso’s cavalry bolting from the oncoming Moors, the king himself leaving the battlefield with a dagger in his thigh. Islam was once again firmly established on the Iberian Peninsula.

Yusuf bin Tashafin struggled to unite the Taifah rulers due to differences in legal and religious opinions. He  eventually began to occupy Tarifah, Cordoba, Seville, Almeria, Lisbon, Badajoz, Denia, Jativa and Murcia under Al Moravid rule.  Before his death in 1106 (AH 500), Yusuf ibn Tashafin designated his son Ali Ibn Yusuf as governor of Al Andalusia. In 1115 (AH 505), Ibn Yusuf conquered the Balearic Islands and the Kingdom of Saragossa.

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In 1121 (AH 515) the Al Mohads emerged from Marrakesh. The Al Mohads were Berbers from the Atlas from the Atlas Mountains whose leader was Ibn Tumart 1089-1128  (AH 482-522). Their capital was Tinmal a city near to Marrakesh. They were firm monotheists and Islamic revivalists who believed that the Al Moravids had become lax with religious issues and subjected to extravagance. They declared the Al Moravids infidels and waged a war against them. After the death of Ibn Tumart, Abd Al Mumin was proclaimed the caliph and during his reign, he captured Oran, Tlemclen, Fez, Aghmat, Tangier, Seville and Marrakesh. During their reign the Al Mohads attempted to enforce a strict observance of Islamic laws. A period of uprising and instability followed. As a result of the unrest  the Christians fled to the north of Spain. Many Jews relocated to Castille. Within a few generations, many of these Jews had moved on and settled in the south of France . The had brought many principal Arab works with them which they translated into Hebrew and then into Latin which was later distributed throughout Europe. The western world thereby acquiring the classical sciences through Arab translation.

The Al Mohads position was consolidated under the rule of  Abu Yaqub Yusuf 1139-1184 (AH 534-580), the successor of Abd Al Mumim. He defeated Alfonso VIII at Alarcos in 1195 (AH 592) laying siege to Madrid, Toledo, Alcala and Gaudalajarra. His son and successor Abu Abdullah Muhammed conquered the Balearic Islands in 1202 (AH 599) however he was defeated at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 (AH 609).This battle marked the decline of the Al Mohad dynasty and the gradual entry of the Marinids to the capital Marrakesh. The loss of Al Mohad Seville to the Castillian King Ferdinand 111 in 1248 marked the end of the Al Mohad dynasty.
The Al Mohads had been religious reformers and attempted to discipline the extravagance of the Hispano –Muslims as evidence by the more conservative architectural style of the Al Mohads still witnessed to a certain degree in Seville today. During their rule, the Al Mohads founded public libraries  under the influence of the Sultan Yusuf ibn Ali who had a passion for books and learning. Unfortunately, all of these libraries were destroyed.

It was during this period that Ibn Rushd, also known as Averoes, the Muslim philosopher who set out to integrate Aristotelian philosophy with Islamic thought  was expelled from the Iberian Peninsula by the  Al Mohads.

The fall of the Al Mohad dynasty left a vacuum in the Southern Iberia. This resulted in a struggle between native Iberians also known as Muladies. In the ensuing power struggle, Muhammad ibn Nasr Ibn Al Ahmar emerged as a formidable figure. He ruled the frontier town of Arjona and gradually expanded his influence. After much internal conflict and rebellion, he  decided to surrender territory to  King Ferdinand III of Castille in exchange for a twenty year truce and a tribute of 150 000 maravedis. This point marks the emergence of the Nasrid Kingdom in Granada in 1232.

The Banu Al Ahmar decided to establish a legacy in Granada and in the year 1238 Abdullah Ibn Al Ahmar laid the foundations and commanded the construction of the Al Hambra. The original castle was modest and largely abandoned during the first half of the 11 century. Between 1052  and  1056 the castle was rebuilt by  Samuel ibn Nagrallah.

The Al Hambra had no water supply of its own. The Nasrid Sultans devised a complex and ingenious engineering system to divert water higher on the mountain from the Darro River  through a network of pipes, communicating reservoirs and waterwheels.  Water was channeled from a distant part of the river descending to the Generalife where it was able to serve both the Al Hambra and the city. Thus, the Al Hambra was gradually transformed from the old fortress to a palatine city.

The Nasrids emblazoned the phrase “There is no conqueror but Allah” on all buildings  and by this believe, Islam survived for an additional two and half centuries on the Iberian Peninsula under Nasrid rule.

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Granada fell under siege and in 1492 (AH 898) Mohammed X11 (Known as Boabdil) surrendered the city to Ferdinand and Isabella.

From the 13th century many Muslims and those converts to Christianity whether sincere or not continued to live in Spain under harsh Christian Monarch rule   until 1610 (AH 1019)  when they were expelled from Spain by Phillip III.

Initially the Christian Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to respect the religion of the Muslims, however they did not honor their promise for very long. The Spanish Inquisition devised by the catholic sovereigns (1478) had begun which terrorized all of Europe.

The Muslims had brought the noble teachings of Islam to Spain and liberated Europe from the dark ages , bringing culture, civilization and knowledge to its shores for 800 years .Under Islamic rule Christians and Jews lived in tranquility. In tribute to this, the Spanish Inquisition instituted by the Catholic Monarchs was wrought with executions of those very same Muslims who refused to denounce their faith and those who denounced their faith out of fear. They were burned alive, burned at the stake and subjected to severe prolonged torture.

Muslim Rule in Spain

Muslim rule in Spain would last centuries, and at its greatest extent covers most of the Iberian peninsula. Islam in Spain would become a major religion, challenging the Christianity and polytheism already present.

Map of the Umayyad province of al-Andalus circa 732, including cities

This historical period of Islamic Spain can be divided into several distinct sub-periods.

  • 711-756: Province of the Umayyad Caliphate
    • Berbers and Arabs settle in Iberia
  • 756-929: Umayyad Emirate of Cordoba
    • Most of the Umayyad Caliphate is conquered by the Abbasids, but some Umayyads escape and rule Iberia
    • Cordoba becomes a prosperous city
  • 929-1031: Caliphate of Cordoba
    • Rulers of Iberia declare themselves to be Caliphs
    • Architectural golden age
  • 1031-1212: Moroccan Hegemony
    • Almoravids and Almohads of Morocco lead fights against Christians
    • Christian expansion at cost of Muslims begins
  • 1230-1492: Emirate of Granada
    • Southern Iberia ruled by Emirate of Granada
    • Defeated by Spain

In parallel to ongoing torture of Muslims by the catholic Monarchs, captive Muslim scholars were forced to share their knowledge. Spanish Christians who persisted in the study of sciences, medicine, astrology and mathematics were few in number and even nonexistent. Vast numbers of original Arabic scripts and books were also destroyed. The last execution of the Spanish inquisition was in 1826 during the wars of independence.

The Al Hambra is the only palace from the Muslim era that has remained relatively intact because the king and queen declared it a Royal residence and ensured its preservation. It was the wish of the triumphant catholic sovereign to preserve the Al Hambra as an eternal testimony to their conquest.

When Napoleons troops occupied Granada, they established their barracks in the Al Hambra and when forced to flee the city in 1812, they used dynamite to destroy a large number of Towers.

The revolution of 1868 marked another change to the status of the Al Hambra. The state transferred the jurisdiction of the Al Hambra from the crown to itself and declared the complex a national monument in 1870.


Islam on the Iberian Peninsula, current day Spain, remained strong  for eight centuries.

We have to wonder when beholding the remnants of this glorious period- How did the Muslims lose this domination?

While many theories can be discussed exhaustively, to a large extent we have only ourselves to blame. Preoccupation with extravagance, weak rulers and weakness in faith lead gradually to the loss of Islam on the Iberian Peninsula.

Semua yang tersisa hari ini dari periode besar di dunia adalah nama Allah- terpampang di dindingnya, bertahan utuh selama berabad-abad perang, kerusuhan, perubahan dan gempa bumi yang membuktikan fakta bahwa memang “Tidak ada penakluk selain Allah” .

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