The Fall of Granada

The Fall of Granada

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

It is said among Muslims that the hills of El Pujarra around Granada still weep for the sound of the adhan every morning and the mosque of Cordoba stays awake all night waiting for the sajda of a single momin. To this day Andalus evokes among Muslims nostalgia for a golden age when the resonated with the sound of prayer every morning and the name of Prophet Muhammed (p) was honored every day. No other country was contested between Muslims and Christians as bitterly as was Spain. The struggle went on for 500 years. When the battles had ended and the lastadhan was said from the ramparts of Granada in 1492, Muslims had lost the crown jewel of the Maghrib. Soon, they would be tortured and expelled, along with the Jews, from a land they considered the garden of the west. Their monuments were razed, their mosques destroyed, their libraries burned and their women were sent as slaves to the courts of Europe. It was a turning point, a milestone and an event that profoundly and fundamentally changed the flow of global events.

Granada did not fall in a single day, nor did its collapse come with a sudden stroke. Rather, it was the last breath of a decaying society, which had lost the capacity to defend itself against a sustained offensive from Christian Europe. Long before church bells replaced the call of the muezzin and Boabdil (Abu Abdallah, the last emir of Granada) stood on the hills of El Pujarra, looked down on his lost capital and wept, Spain had spent itself politically, militarily and culturally. There was warfare between competing emirs, intrigues within each dynasty pitting father against son, tension between the religious establishment and corrupt administrators, murder, mayhem and external aggression. The surrender of Granada was only the final curtain in a drama that had played itself out.

The Maghrib was a vast area, which included the modern nations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Sene-Gambia, Spain and Portugal. It was separated from Egypt and the Nile Delta by the Libyan Desert, from Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains and from the Sudan by the great Saharan desert. The high Atlas, which branched off into the Andalusian Peninsula, tied together the topography of the region. The hinge for this geographic entity lay in Morocco. Andalus (Spain) and Ifriqiya (Tunisia) served as its extremities.

This vast region was inhabited by a diverse group of people. Andalus was a composite of Hispano-Muslims, Christians, Arabs and immigrants from North Africa. The Atlas Mountains were home to the Berbers. A sedentary Arab layer, resident primarily in the coastal cities, existed side by side with the Berbers. To the south, the historically important tribes of the Sanhaja, Zanata and Nafzawa roamed the pasturelands. Powerful tribes such as the Banu Hilal completed the landscape. The relative isolation of the Maghrib meant that this region had to face its political destiny on its own, more or less isolated from the rest of the Islamic world.

To understand the events of 1492, we must take an historical perspective of events dating back to the beginning of the 13th century. The Crusades in Palestine ended with the victory of Salahuddin at the Battle of Hittin (1186). This was also a period when Al Muhaddith power was at its zenith in the Maghrib. The Al Muhaddith Abu Yusuf won a major victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Alarcos (1196). The Crusaders regrouped and came back with a vengeance. At the Battle of Las Novas de Tolosa (1212) a powerful army of the Crusaders overwhelmed the Al Muhaddith. The magnitude of this defeat can be understood from the sheer number of soldiers involved. Muslim chroniclers record that as many as 600,000 Al Muhaddith took part in the battle. Over 150,000 fell on the battlefield. When we consider that the entire population of the Maghrib at the time was about three million, it follows that practically every able-bodied man took part in the battle and one fourth of them lost their lives. The Al Muhaddith Emir al Nasir who had assumed the title of Emir ul Muslimeen, returned distraught from the battle, locked himself up in his palace in Marrakesh and died soon thereafter (1213). Sensing an historic opportunity, Castile, Aragon and Portugal carved up Muslim Spain for conquest. The major towns were overrun one by one. In 1236, Cordoba, the capital of the Omayyad Caliphate in Spain, fell. Seville was lost in 1248. Only Granada remained. Muhammad Ibn Ahmar of the Nasirid dynasty, who had captured Granada in 1238, managed to maintain his position by becoming a vassal of the Castilian monarch. Granada remained a vassal of Castile until 1333, when the Nasirid Emir Yusuf I, abrogated the annual tribute to Castile and made an attempt to carry the war into Christian territories.

In North Africa, the Al Muhaddith territories disintegrated into three emirates: the Merinides in Morocco, the Zayyanids in Algeria and the Hafsids in Tunisia. The Al Muhaddith capital of Marrakesh faded away and in its place sprang up three regional capitals-Meknes, capital of the Merinides; Tlemcen, capital of the Zayyanids; and Tunis, capital of the Hafsids. Nostalgia for the Al Muhaddith Empire was so great, that all three attempted at one time or the other to recreate an empire that included all of the Maghrib. The first to make an attempt were the Hafsids. In 1236, the Hafsid Emir Yahya I, claiming his descent from Omar ibn al Khattab (r), declared himself Emir ul Muslimeen. When he died, his son al Mustansir succeeded him.

Events in far away Baghdad presented an historic opportunity to al Mustansir. When Hulagu Khan occupied and destroyed Baghdad in 1258, the Islamic world looked to North Africa for leadership. For a brief period of one year, from 1260 to 1261, al Mustansir was recognized as the Caliph by the world of Islam. The Khutba was read in his name all over the Muslim world. The title was short lived because the Mamluke Sultan Baybars of Egypt resurrected the Abbasid Caliphate in Cairo in 1261, in part to provide an ideological boost to his troops who were on their way to Palestine in a desperate attempt to stop the Mongols at the Battle of Ayn Jalut (1261).

With the move of the Caliphate to Cairo, the center stage of Islamic history moved back east. Al Mustansir paid the price for his Caliphate of one year. In 1260, Louis IX of France, in the mistaken belief that defeating al Mustansir would deal a deathblow to all Islam, invaded and briefly occupied the city of Tunis. During this period, there existed a de-facto alliance between the Crusaders and the Mongols to conquer the Muslim world. However, the numerous attempts of Louis IX to conquer North Africa were repelled and he died during a siege of Tunis in 1270.

The defeat at Las Novas de Tolosa (1212) was a result of several interrelated political, religious and economic factors. There was deep distrust between the Spanish emirs and the Al Muhaddith of North Africa. This led to poor coordination on the battlefield. Within the Al Muhaddith court, there was infighting between the religious establishment and the vizier. The Al Muhaddith ulema had a running quarrel with the Grand Vizier Jami and demanded his removal. The detrimental effect of this quarrel can be appreciated from the structure of the Al Muhaddith court. The emir was the head of state. In the discharge of his responsibilities, he delegated the administrative and military affairs to the grand vizier and the judiciary affairs to the chief Kadi. A fight between the administrative-military wing and the judiciary wing was a disaster. In modern terminology, it is like two senior vice presidents of a corporation fighting with each other before launching a new product line. The economic condition of the empire was precarious. Inflation was rampant, which in turn led to corruption. On his way to Spain to fight the Christians in 1210, the Al Muhaddith Emir Al Nasir stopped off in Fez and Ceuta and had the governors of the two provinces beheaded for corruption. Lastly, the Al Muhaddith doctrines, heavily influenced by the Mu’tazilites, were deeply suspect in the eyes of the ulema, who tolerated the Al Muhaddith as a shield against the aggression of the Crusaders, but otherwise offered them no support.

For the next eighty years (1248-1328), a political equilibrium developed in the western Mediterranean involving Castile, Aragon and Portugal on the Christian side and the Merinides, Zayyanids, Hafsids and Granada on the Muslim side. The tribe of Banu Hilal in the south joined this fray from time to time. Political alliances shifted back and forth and it was not uncommon for a Muslim emir to side with a Christian king against another emir, or for a Christian chief to support a Muslim against a fellow Christian. Meanwhile, the power struggle between the Merinides, the Zayyanids and the Hafsids continued. The Merinides gradually gained the upper hand over the other two. In 1269, the Merinide Yakub took Marrakesh and followed it up with the capture of Sijilmasa in 1274. Granada was under pressure from Castile and appealed to the Merinides for assistance. Yakub crossed over the Straits of Gibraltar and inflicted a defeat on the Christians at the Battle of Ecija in 1274. In 1279, the Merinide navy won a battle against a combined naval squadron of Castile and Portugal. While Yaqub was busy helping Granada, the Zayyanids were at the throat of the Hafsids. The emir of Granada, in a thankless rebuff to the Merinides, joined forces with Castile and occupied the city of Tarifa in 1291. In 1295, the Granadans incited a revolt in Ceuta against the Merinides. Disgusted with the thankless emirs in Spain, the Merinide Yaqub turned his attention more towards North Africa. By 1307, he had conquered all of the Maghrib except the easternmost province of Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia).

The Merinides in Morocco reached their greatest strength under the Emirs Ali and Abu Inan (1331 to 1357). It was the Merinide Emir Abu Inan who was the patron of Ibn Batuta, the celebrated Muslim world traveler. There was a resurgence of Islamic solidarity in the Maghrib during this period. In 1340, the Moroccans (Merinides) defeated the Castilian navy and laid siege to Tarifa. For a change, there was close cooperation between Granada and the Merinides in Morocco. The Granadan Yusuf I cast off the Castilian yoke and turned to the Merinides across the Straits for support. However, in 1341, a Castilian force assisted by Crusaders from France, Italy and England defeated a combined force of Granadans and Merinides. This was an indication that the balance of power in the western Mediterranean had turned in favor of the Christians.

After the Crusades ended in Palestine (circa 1190), the balance of power in the Mediterranean moved counter clockwise, with the Turks advancing upon Anatolia and southeastern Europe while the Christians gained the upper hand in Spain and North Africa. The Spaniards, sensing blood, followed up their victory and captured Algeceras (in Morocco) in 1244. Emir Ali was hampered in his efforts at the consolidation of the Maghrib by two factors. The first was the Black Plague, which engulfed his kingdom much as it did West Asia and Europe (1346-1360), causing widespread death and economic dislocation and the second, the recurrent uprisings of the Banu Hilal tribe. Four year later, the Banu Hilal at the Battle of Kairouan defeated Emir Ali himself and his dream of a Maghribi Empire came to an end.

Events now flowed inexorably in favor of the Crusaders. In 1355, the Genoese briefly occupied Tripoli (Libya). In 1390, the French attacked Mahdiya (Tunisia). In 1399, Tetuan (Morocco) was sacked by Castile. In 1415, Ceuta (Morocco) was captured by Portugal. One may juxtapose these losses with the Ottoman victories in Europe where Bayazid I defeated the Serbs at the Battle of Kosova (1389), captured Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Skopje and smashed a combined Crusader army at the Battle of Nicopolis (1396). With both Ceuta and Algeceras in the hands of the Christians, communications between Granada Morocco across the Straits of Gibraltar were cut. The noose around Granada tightened.

Historians have pondered over the decay and disintegration of the Maghrib in the 14th and 15th centuries. Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) lived through this period of instability in North Africa. Born in Tunis, which was at that time a part of the Hafsid Emirate known as Ifriqiya, Ibn Khaldun had an opportunity to travel widely in the Maghrib and witness first hand the mechanics of the rise and fall of local dynasties. Much of his youth was spent in North Africa. In later years, he migrated to Egypt, where he served as an ambassador and advisor to the Mamlukes. It was Ibn Khaldun who was given charge by the Mamlukes to negotiate the surrender of the city of Damascus to Timurlane in 1400.

Ibn Khaldun is justly regarded as the father of sociology and the philosophy of history. He was the first to advance a general theory of the rise and fall of civilizations, which he based on his observations of the Maghrib. According to him, there is always a state of tension between the nomads and the city dwellers. History moves forward in the resolution of this tension. The nomads possess in abundance the quality of asabiyah, which in a general sense means group feeling and group loyalty. By contrast, city life tends to dilute and destroy group feeling. According to Ibn Khaldun power is political. Asabiyah fosters political and military unity and enables the nomads to overcome the sedentary city dwellers. In time, the nomads themselves settle down and become city dwellers and in turn are overcome by a new wave of nomads. Asabiyah thus becomes the key to political power and the building block of nations and empires. It is the glue, the cement that binds people together and demands and obtains the sacrifice of individuals for monumental tasks. When asabiyah is diluted or destroyed, civilizations lose the glue that holds them together and they disintegrate.

This theory is widely used as a model to explain the rise and fall of civilizations. However, Ibn Khaldun’s ideas present enormous difficulties from an Islamic perspective. Islam is against asabiyah based on race, color or national origin (“We made you into nations and tribes so that you may recognize and know each other-not that you may despise each other” Qur’an, 49:13). Islam seeks to create a global community “enjoining what is noble, forbidding what is wrong and believing only in Allah”. Such a community transcends the asabiyah based on race, region or national origin and embraces all nations.

While it is true, as Ibn Khaldun maintains, that asabiyah enables common people to achieve uncommon results and build nations and empires, it is also true that nations built on asabiyah are by nature aggressive and expansive. They become predatory on their neighbors and foster feelings of superiority over other nations and tribes. Hitler’s Germany offers an example. The Nazis built a nation-state based on German asabiyah-nationalism based on the superiority of the German race over other races. This enabled them, temporarily, to dominate Europe. But Nazi Germany collapsed, in part because other nation states would not accept German ascendancy. In a philosophical sense, asabiyah frees the individual from his or her ego and places the walls of egocentric exclusion at the national or racial boundary. The prison of race, tribe, or nation replaces the prison of the ego.

Islam, by contrast, liberates humankind not only from the individual ego, but also from the prison of racism, tribalism and nationalism. The outward limits of the Islamic civilization are set at the global community. All races, tribes and nations are included in this civilization. The most difficult issue with the philosophy of Ibn Khaldun is that it offers no prospect of internal renewal. When a tribe or nation settles down and softens up, enjoying the pleasures of city life, must it necessarily yield to another group, which is sedentary and more rustic? This is contrary to observation.

The universal religions of the world provide the possibility of self-renewal. Islam provides for the renewal of individuals and nations from within. Individuals and nations do decay through their own folly and by Divine Grace they renew themselves and rise up once again. Islamic history is animated by this recurrent theme of renewal. The appearance of a reformer at the turn of each century is expected by a large majority of Muslims in the world. Century after century, from the Al Muhaddith of the Maghrib to Uthman dan Fuduye of Nigeria and the Mahdi of the Sudan, one sees this recurrent attempt at renewal of Islamic life and a regeneration of Islamic civilization. It is the possibility of renewal that animates the collective efforts of Muslims.

The reasons for the fall of Granada were demographic, economic, cultural, religious and ideological. The continuous wars in Andalus sapped the manpower of the entire Maghrib. The Crusades were a civilizational conflict wherein Europe hurled itself again and again at the Islamic world for almost five hundred years. The battle lines extended from the Andalusian peninsula across North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Anatolia and Sicily into southeastern Europe. Andalus provided a complex problem for Maghribi rulers. Any ruler, whether Merinide or Hafsid, who coveted the leadership of the Maghrib and desired the title of Emir ul Muslimeen, was duty bound to defend Andalus against the Christians. Andalus was like quicksand. The politics of the Iberian Peninsula was shifty. The Muslim Andalusians had lost the capacity to defend themselves and had come to depend upon soldiers from North Africa. Even after the defeat of Rio Solado (1341), when the North Africans finally turned their back on Andalus, the court of Granada continued to depend on soldiers from Africa. The Maghribi manhood bled. What was not lost on the battlefield was destroyed by disease. The Black Plague of 1346-1360 hit particularly hard. Entire villages were destroyed. Politics and culture both suffered. In 1360, most of the Crusader army led by Louis IX of France perished from the Black Plague at the gates of Tunis.

Agricultural production was a casualty of the drop in population. When food production dropped, many of the settled tribes became nomads. This in turn had an impact on state revenues. The drop in agricultural revenues and the cost of continuous wars in Andalus squeezed the treasuries of the Maghrib. Initially, during the Murabitun and Al Muhaddith periods (1050–1212), the accumulated wealth of Andalus had paid for the wars. But as the bulk of the Andalusian peninsula fell to the Christians (1085–1248), the source of this wealth also disappeared. A poorer Maghrib could not sustain a standing army. Political centralization requires capital, because capital is required to pay for a standing army, which provides cohesion for a large political entity. With the Maghrib in economic decline, fragmentation set in.

When the wealth of Andalus was exhausted, the emirs of the Maghrib turned to trade with the city-states of Italy for their tax revenues. The Al Muhaddith had signed a trade concession with Genoa in 1168. In 1236, the Hafsids entered into a treaty with Venice and Genoa. In 1265, al Mustansir of the Hafsids gave special privileges to the French and the Sicilians. Unfortunately, this trade, while it brought prosperity to a few rich merchants on the coast, further eroded the political authority of the emirs because they were now dependent on the merchant elite for their revenues. The Genoese often acted as spies for their fellow Christian Spaniards, providing them military, political and social intelligence, which was of enormous benefit to the Crusaders. The southerly trade routes across the Sahara to the Sudan were still active but they shifted between the western route through Sijilmasa and a more central route through Ghat and Kairouan, depending on the safety of the routes.

There was a silver lining to the dark clouds. The political fragmentation of the Maghrib and the emergence of competing emirates provided a haven for scholars and men of the arts. On the surface, culture flourished (1250-1350). But this was a culture borrowed from Andalus, sustained by the influx of refugees who were driven out by the Crusaders. Culture must have roots in the soil for it to provide the foundation of a civilization. A borrowed culture is like a tree without roots; a mere whiff of wind will knock it down. When Andalus fell, along with it disappeared the culture of North Africa. Furthermore, the influence of the Spanish refugees was not always positive. The Andalusians were more secular in their thinking than the North Africans. Perhaps, it was a result of their cosmopolitan culture wherein Muslims, Christians and Jews all participated. The immigrants tended to look upon politics as separate from its ethical foundation. They were often involved in the intrigues of the Merinide and Hafsid courts and tended to depend for their survival on playing off the North African courts against the powerful Banu Hilal tribe.

The most important reason for the fragmentation of the Maghrib-and the loss of Andalus-was the loss of legitimacy of rule. Legitimacy is a central issue that has haunted Islamic history since the assassinations of Uthman (r) and Ali (r). A ruler and a system of government that is accepted as legitimate elicits its support from the people. Such support is essential to building a civilization. Conversely, rule that is considered illegitimate is constantly challenged and can only be sustained by force. This was well understood by the Shi’a Fatimids, the Sunni Murabitun and the Mu’tazilite Al Muhaddith. Each of these dynasties packaged their appeal in religious terminology and sought their legitimacy in an Islamic framework. Thus the Fatimids claimed their descent from Ali ibn Abu Talib (r), the Murabitun claimed an orthodox reformation against the excesses of the Fatimids and Kharijites and the Al Muhaddith claimed a rational basis for rule based on reason and consensus.

The disappearance of a centralized empire in the Maghrib made the issue of political legitimacy particularly acute. The emirs were unsuccessful in expressing their legitimacy in religious terms, as had the Fatimids, the Murabitun and the Al Muhaddith. Politics became increasingly separated from religion. The divergence of politics from religious ethics was at the core of the loss of Andalus. The regional courts became a paradise for sycophants. Historians wrote and poets sang in glorious verse of their patron emirs whenever they won a small skirmish or built a minor monument. Gone was the grand idea of building a universal Islamic community in the Maghrib.

Great efforts spring forth from great ideas. Only faith in a super-ordinate idea can demand and obtain the willing sacrifice that is the basis of great efforts. Without an idea that transcends individual egos, great collective achievements are not possible. Without a superordinate vision, the masses are like wild fires that burn everything in front of them. But when they are held together by a common idea, they are like a powerful laser beam that inscribes its edict on the edifice of history. Ideas are the glue, the cement, the force and the power that hold people together. They form the ethical basis, the foundation of a civilization.

At the core of Islam is the idea of Tawhid, which liberates the individual from his egotistical prison and propels him into a universal mold. Tawhidimplies a God-centered civilization, wherein culture, art, politics and sociology all spring from their focus on the omnipresence of God. The Muslims lost their bearing in history when they lost their focus on Tawhid. Legitimacy of rule then became an item of convenience, to be bestowed upon whoever held the big stick. The rulers, the soldiers, the merchants, the writers and the ulema all shared this guilt. The kadis and religious scholars in the Maghrib went along with the divestiture of religion from politics, preaching the Friday Khutba in the name of whoever was in power. Only after Al Muhaddith power had disintegrated did the orthodox vision of Islam find its place in the sun, but by then the center of gravity of world history had moved away from the Maghrib.

It is useful to compare the historical experience of the MalikiSchool, which is most widely practiced in the Maghrib, with the experience of the Hanafi School in Asia. The children of Islam constructed similar but different historical edifices using the spiritual and intellectual material left by Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Malik. The comparative latitude provided by Imam Abu Haneefa in the school of Fiqh named after him provided the Muslims of Asia the tools to adapt and grow with the tides of history. The Turks adapted the Hanafi School and when Fatimid power challenged the Abbasids in the 10th century, the Turks became champions of the Abbasid Caliphate and its protectors. The Seljuks and the Ghaznavids alike fought the Fatimids to the blade, in places as far away as Multan (Pakistan) and Baghdad (Iraq). More importantly, the Hanafis showed a remarkable ability to assimilate great ideas as they emerged out of the ideological conflicts of the 9th and 10th centuries. Thus, when the Asharites carried the day against the Mu’tazilites (10th century), Asharite influence melted into Hanafi Asia. The ideas of Al Ghazzali (d. 1111) were absorbed with equal ease. When the Mongol eruption came (1219-1301) and much of Asia lay in ruins, Sufi ideas triumphed, Islam became more spiritual and Sufi ideas also became a part of the Hanafi milieu. Thus the Islam that emerged by the 16th century, when the Safavid and Moghul dynasties were founded and the Ottomans were at the zenith of their power, was an amalgam of the great ideas that had flowed from Madina, Kufa, Baghdad, Bukhara and Samarqand. Out of this amalgam came the giants of the ages, personages like Ghazzali, Hafiz, Rumi, Abdul Qader Jeelani, Moeenuddin Chisti, Bahauddin Naqshband, Ahmed Sirhindi, Shah Waliulla and Muhammed Iqbal. And it is this amalgamated folk Islam that is practiced by Turks, Pakistanis, Iranis, Indians, Bengalis and Central Asians today.

The experience of the Maliki Maghrib was different. For three long centuries, the Maliki School took a back seat to Fatimid, Murabitun and Al Muhaddith ideologies. When it did express itself freely after 1230, political power had slipped from the Maghrib and the military-political initiative in that region had passed on to the Portuguese and the Spaniards and then after a brief interlude of Ottoman protection, to the French and the Italians. When the Maghribi Muslims did accept Sufi ideas in the 14thcentury, it was out of necessity to protect themselves against the onslaught of the Europeans. The Maliki Maghrib did not experience the amalgamation and evolution of ideas that was experienced by Asia. This explains why political, social and cultural fragmentation proceeded so rapidly in the Maghrib during the 14th and the 15th centuries.

Events in the Maghrib moved rapidly after the Turks captured Istanbul in 1453. Pope Nicholas V called for a new Crusade. On the eastern front, the rising tide of Turkish power was more than a match for the combined power of Europe. But in the west, it was a different story. In 1458, the Portuguese occupied the important fortress of Al Qasr and used it as a base to attack Morocco all across the Atlantic coast. In 1469, Tangier was lost to the Portuguese. By 1471, the Merinides had disappeared from Morocco and the region was in disarray. This general fragmentation explains the inability of the North Africans to come to the aid of Granada. In 1469, at the behest of the Pope, Isabella of Aragon married Ferdinand of Castile and the Spanish state was born. Abul Hassan Ali, a capable, brave and chivalrous emir, ruled Granada at the time. At other times, he might have left his imprint on Spanish history. But his court was ravaged by internal dissensions and intrigues so characteristic of the Maghrib of the time. In 1482, Ferdinand attacked Alhama, a city located about twenty miles from the city of Granada. Abul Hassan bravely defended the city, but had to abandon it when news reached him of the rebellion of his son Abu Abdullah, named Boabdil by the Spaniards. Abu Abdullah had none of the courage, stamina and integrity of his father. A battle between father and son left the forces of Granada weak and vulnerable. Malaga fell in 1483. As the Castilians approached the capital city, the brother of Abul Hassan Zaghal, offered valiant and stout resistance, but was constantly thwarted by Boabdil. In 1489 the city of Safar fell. Having destroyed the territories around Granada, Ferdinand retired to Cordoba, there to raise an army of 80,000 for a final assault on Granada. In 1490, he returned at the head of this host, built a city of siege called Santa Fe (Holy Faith) and cut all lines of communication between Granada and the outside world. Resistance was desperate, but faced with starvation Granada surrendered on January 3, 1492.

The cross displaced the crescent in the once mighty Omayyad province of Andalus. An Empire died and a new Empire was born. The terms of surrender guaranteed freedom of worship and the right to emigrate. But within six years, the treaty was abandoned and the Inquisition was unleashed with all its fury upon the hapless population under the direction of the cruel Bishop Jimenez. The Jews had already been expelled in 1492. It was now the turn of the Muslims. They were given the option of either converting to Christianity or being banished to North Africa. Those who were caught saying the shahada were hanged from their tongues. Water was cut off from Muslim homes so that they could not do their wudu before prayer. Children were forcibly inducted into Catholic schools. The wives of the believers were sold as slaves in Europe. Faced with this oppression, the Muslims of Granada offered what little resistance they could. There were a series of uprisings (1496, 1501, 1568, 1609), each of which was put down with ruthless cruelty. Finally, in 1609, the last of the Muslims boarded a decrepit boat and set sail for Morocco. The curtain fell on Muslim Andalusia. Some migrated to America. The roster of immigrants into America on board the early ships arriving from Seville contains the names of many Muslim men and women.

Cordoba, the Fall of

Cordoba, the Fall of

The Fall of Cordoba

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The word “Crusades” immediately conjures up among Muslims visions of Jerusalem and Salahuddin. While Jerusalem was indeed the focus of the First Crusade, a broader view of this civilizational confrontation between medieval Christianity and Islam must include the events in Spain and North Africa. While the Muslims did hold their own in West Asia and recovered Jerusalem, Medieval Europe gained a decisive advantage in Spain and Portugal. This loss had a profound impact on the subsequent unfolding of global history.

Under the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba (929-1032), Spain had become a cultured, urbanized society and was a world leader in the development of art, science and culture. Urbanization led to the loss of the very qualities-courage, virility, energy, spirituality, leadership and solidarity that had helped it survive and prosper against the Christian threats from the north. Decay set in and the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba disintegrated in 1032. Spain split into several principalities-Saragossa, Toledo, Seville, Malaga, Granada, Almeria, Denia and Valencia, each ruled by a petty emir, the disintegration of the Umayyad Caliphate was a signal to the Christian Crusaders to expand their operations to the south. A free-for-all followed and in the medley, Toledo the ancient Visigoth capital of Spain, fell to Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085.

The key to Andalus lay in North Africa. Muslim Spain continued to benefit from successive reformist movements in the Maghrib and from the infusion of new blood through the Berbers and the Slavic (Mamluke) bodyguards. In the 11th century the Murabitun revolution swept through northwest Africa and carried itself into the Andalusian peninsula. Murabitun intervention in Spain followed. Under Yusuf bin Tashfin, the Muslims regained much territory and re-established their rule over most of Andalus. However, events in North Africa once again profoundly influenced Spain. Following the loss of Jerusalem during the First Crusade (1099), new reformist movements arose in the Maghrib. The Al Muhaddithin displaced the Murabitun during the decade of 1130-1140 and established themselves in North Africa. The turbulence in the Maghrib was a signal to the Crusaders. Pope Eugene III declared a Second Crusade (1145-1146) with a three-pronged military thrust against Damascus in Syria, Tripoli in North Africa and Andalus in Europe. Damascus and Tripoli held but Lisbon (Arabic Hishbunah) fell and the Crusaders captured northern Portugal in 1145.

The Al Muhaddith held the Christians at bay for fifty years. Following the recapture of Jerusalem city by Salahuddin (1187), there was an upsurge of military confidence and cohesiveness in the Muslim world. In the east, Muhammed Ghori captured Delhi in 1192. In the west, the Al Muhaddith inflicted a crushing defeat on the Crusaders at the Battle of Alarcos in 1196. This cohesion, however, did not last. Soon after the Battle of Alarcos, North Africa was beset with further convulsions. In the first decade of the 13th century, petty emirates supplanted the Al Muhaddith in southern Morocco. As a result, the Al Muhaddith lost their supply of men and material from the African hinterland. The Christians were waiting for just this kind of opportunity. In 1212, the combined armies of Leon, Castile, Portugal and Aragon, reinforced by Crusaders from France and Germany, won a decisive victory over the Al Muhaddith at the Battle of Las Novas de Tolosa.

The situation in Asia also took a turn for the worse. Genghiz Khan devastated Central Asia and Persia region (1219-1222) and Baghdad itself was threatened. The destruction of the principal cities of Asia meant a significant dilution of the military capabilities of Muslims and their ability to help each other. Sensing an historic opportunity, the Christian powers openly sought an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims. Representations were made to the Mongol Khan Kuyuk seeking such an alliance. John de Plano Carpini, a Franciscan, reached the Mongol capital Korakorum in 1245 and came back with promises of military help. While Genghiz Khan was devastating Samarqand and Bukhara, a German army invaded Egypt (1218-1221). The Muslim world was thus faced with a two-pronged invasion from a Mongol-Crusader axis. The onslaught was total, with the avowed intent of capturing Muslim lands and extirpating Islam.

After the Battle of Las Novas de Tolosa, Muslim political power in Andalus declined rapidly. The double hammer of Mongol devastations and Crusader invasions had taken its toll on the Muslim world. No help was forthcoming from the east to relieve the increasing pressure of the Crusaders. By 1230, Mongol horsemen were riding into eastern Anatolia and knocking at the gates of Delhi. In Spain, political disintegration led to a free-for-all with local emirs seeking alliances with Christian powers against each other. The Crusaders were only too willing to provide military help in return for military cooperation against other Muslim princes. The principalities of Castile, Aragon and Portugal carved up what remained of Muslim Spain for assault and subjugation. Valencia was taken in 1200. The Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean fell in 1230. Southern Portugal was lost in 1231. Cordoba, the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate fell in 1236. The conquest was complete with the fall of Seville in 1248. Only Granada remained in the hands of Ibn Ahmar, a prince of the Nasirid tribe from Saragossa who managed to retain his possessions only by becoming a vassal of Castile.

To grasp the full extent of the damage inflicted on the Islamic world one must juxtapose the events in Spain with those in Asia. Between 1219 and 1260, the Muslims lost more than half of their dominions. The lands that today constitute the states of Kazakhstan, Kyrigistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzighistan, Azerbaijan, Sinkiang, Persia, Afghanistan, western Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Georgia, Russiaand the Caucasus were ravaged. Spain was occupied. Samarqand, Bukhara Herat, Ghazna, Isfahan and Baghdad were destroyed. The Crusaders had formed a geopolitical alliance with the Mongols with the avowed intent of eliminating Islam. By the year 1260, the combined armies of the Mongols, the Crusaders and the Armenians stood at the gates of Jerusalem with only Egypt and Hejaz before them. The hour was dark indeed.

While the loss of Spain was a tragedy for the Muslims, it was of tremendous benefit to the Christians. It was through Spain and Sicily that Islamic learning, which had internalized and added to the wisdom of Greece, India and ancient Persia, was transmitted to Europe. One can chart out the intellectual transformation of Europe following the fall of Toledo (1085). In 1126, Archbishop Raymond established the SchoolTranslation in Toledo. In 1132, Roger II invited Muslim scholars into Sicily. The famous geographer al Idrisi worked at the Sicilian court. In 1150 the University of Paris was founded and in 1167, the University of Oxford was established. Cambridge followed in 1200. In 1204 the Chartres Cathedral in France was completed. In 1215, the University of Salamanca was established. In 1258 Roger Bacon taught at Oxford. Thus it was that the learning that had been cultivated in Baghdad, Cairo and Samarqand was passed on to Christian Europe through Toledo and Palermo.

The loss of the Andalusian Peninsula was much more than a local military event. Until the expulsion of the Muslims in 1492, Europe was bottled up from the southwest. The conquest of Spain and Portugal freed up the energies of Europe and it was now poised to venture out into the Atlantic. Beyond the blue waters of the vast ocean lay the gold coast of Africa, the route to the Americas and the riches of the Indian Ocean. The loss of Andalus was to reverberate through the centuries in the European discovery of America, the slave trade from West Africa and the colonization of Asia.

History Of Murabitun


The Murabitun in the Maghreb

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The Murabitun revolution was one of the few genuine mass movements in Islamic history. Growing out of the womb of Africa, it engulfed two continents and played a decisive role in historical developments in Africa and Spain alike. As a mass movement, European as well as Muslim scholars have studied it extensively. Ibn Khaldun used it as a basis for his theory of the rise and fall of civilizations. According to Ibn Khaldun, civilizations are held together by asabiyah (primal cohesiveness). The characteristics that foster cohesiveness are to be found in profusion among the nomads of the desert. The nomads, acting as agents of change, overcome older civilizations and bring in new blood as well as the virtues of the desert: integrity, virility, courage, steadfastness and commitment to the tribe. With time, they settle down, become city dwellers and succumb to the vices that characterize city life. Decay sets in, which in turn is overcome by a new wave of conquest from the desert. It was Ibn Khaldun’s view that in the 11th century, Muslim North Africa and Spain had exhausted their virility to the vices of a luxurious city life. The Murabitun revolution was the tribal wave from the desert that overcame the corruption of city life and replaced it with the asabiyah of the desert.

Engel, one of the architects of Marxist thought, viewed the Murabitun revolution in purely economic terms. He held that the impoverished Sanhaja tribes of the desert wanted to punish the rich, morally lax city dwellers and confiscate their wealth. Max Weber, a German historian, held that both economic and religious elements were present in the uprising of the desert tribes.

It is our thesis that the causes for the rise and fall of Muslim societies are to be found in the internal dialectic of the community. Islamic history revolves around the axis of faith. It has been a recurrent effort of Muslims to construct their lives in accordance with the dictates of their faith. Even where the primary motives for a struggle were external, such as the resistance to European colonialism in West Africa in the 19th century or the struggles against foreign domination, they were packaged in religious terms.

The thrust of this global struggle is to create an ideal Islamic society enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. This effort is guided by a consensus of the community based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Even where the trigger for a movement arises out of peripheral sources, the mass of the struggle always gravitates towards a consensus of the believers. In the 11th century, the Maghrib was rife with restlessness. The region had not yet recovered from the devastations wrought by Fatimid Egypt in the previous century. The majority of the Arabs and Berbers, who were Sunni, had acquiesced to Fatimid rule but had never fully accepted it. The extremist Kharijites had established a kingdom in southern Algeria and had made significant headway in converting a large number of people to their point of view. The peripheral Fatimid and Kharijite sources applied an impulse for change and the center of mass based on Sunni Islam was beginning to stir. The Murabitun revolution was thus a mass expression of a desire to reform and restore Sunni Islam over competing visions offered by the Kharijites and the Fatimids.

The region of Mauritania, inhabited by the Sanhaja, was the cradle for the Murabitun revolution. The word Murabitun derives its origin from the wordrabat, meaning, a fortress guarding a frontier. In the year 1035, Yahya bin Ibrahim, a leader of the Sinhajas, performed his Hajj. On his return from Mecca, he stopped off at the great University at Kairouan, a stronghold of the Maliki School of Fiqh. Yahya bin Ibrahim requested the rector of the university, Abu Imran al Farsi to send one of his students to Mauritania. Abu Imran chose one of his former students, Abdullah bin Yasin. On their way through southern Algeria, the caravan passed through areas where the influence of splinter groups such as the Kharijites was strong. Deeply disturbed, Abdullah bin Yasin resolved to wage a struggle to revive orthodox Islam in West Africa.

The Maghrib was seething with discontent and the Murabitun rapidly consolidated their hold on the region. By 1051 the entire area west of Kairouan was under their sway. For administrative purposes, Abdullah bin Yasin kept the oversight of the southern regions consisting of Senegal, Mauritania and southern Morocco under his direct control while delegating the management of the northern territories around the Mediterranean basin to his cousin Yusuf bin Tashfin. While political consolidation was taking place in North Africa, Muslim power in Spain was rapidly disintegrating. It had been more than 300 years since Tariq had landed his troops across the straits of Gibraltar and having burned the boats that had ferried his men across the narrow straits that separate Africa from Europe, commanded them to move forward in the name of Tawhid.

The faith that had propelled Tariq into Europe in 707 had by the year 1051 dissipated and given way to politics and opportunism. The Omayyad Caliphate in Cordoba had dissolved in the year 1032 and in its place sprang up petty principalities jostling with each other for prestige and power. The cohesion fostered by faith had given way to opportunism based on tribal and family loyalties. But tribe and family cannot replace the transcendence of faith based on Tawhid. Spain was therefore like a piece of cracked glass ready to shatter.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Pope Urban II declared a Crusade for the conquest of Jerusalem (1095). The thrust of the Crusaders in the early part of the 12th century had been Sicily, North Africa and Spain. The disintegration of the Caliphate of Cordoba and the simultaneous regression of Fatimid power in Egypt was an invitation for European powers to flex their muscles. Roger II captured Sicily, providing a base in the Mediterranean for the invasion of Palestine. In 1060, the Crusaders raided the North African coast but could not hold onto their gains due to the resurgent Murabitun power. However, these were only sideshows. The first pitched battles of the Crusades were fought on Spanish soil. It was here that the crescent and the cross met in battle, almost fifty years before the focus shifted to Palestine, Syria and the city of Jerusalem. And when the ledger of the Crusades was drawn up 300 years later, it was Spain that was first won and was then lost from the fold of Islam.

The Crusades began in earnest in Spain in 1017. Rallied by the Church, knights from in France streamed into Spain to join the local Crusaders against the Muslims. In 1026, Sancho captured Castile and made it the capital of his kingdom. His son Ferdinand I captured Leon in 1037. By 1063, he had subjugated most of the areas north of the River Duero, in an arc extending from Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast. By the time he died in 1065, Ferdinand had forced the Muslim principalities of Saragossa, Toledo, Seville and Badejoz into paying him tribute. But this was only the beginning. It was during the reign of his son Alfonso VI that the Christians made major advances. In 1085, Alfonso VI captured the ancient city of Toledo. The vast libraries and learning centers of this ancient capital fell into Christian hands. The intellectual stimulus from Toledo was the first in a series that was to liberate medieval Europe from its Dark Age.

The fall of Toledo set off a chain reaction. Europe was jubilant. Alarm bells rang through Muslim Spain. But the petty rivalries among the principalities made a concerted resistance to the Christian onslaught impossible. Meanwhile, the Murabitun revolution had swept through North Africa and was knocking on the doors of Spain. The purity of faith championed by the Murabitun struck a resonant chord with the Spanish Muslims. The Andalusian population was toiling under oppressive taxes levied by the emirs to support their own extravagant and lavish courts and to pay off the annual tribute to Christian marauders. The ulema realized that faith alone would provide the shield against the Crusaders. They gathered from all over Andalus in Seville and demanded that the emirs approach the Murabitun for help. In 1086, one year after the fall of Toledo, the emirs of Seville, Granada and Badejoz sent an emissary to Yusuf bin Tashfin asking him to intervene.

Yusuf bin Tashfin, the leader of the northern wing of the Murabitun movement, was well aware of the divisions among the rulers of Spain and was at first hesitant to enter the fray. But he was moved by the repeated pleas from the ulema. In 1086, he crossed the Straits with an army of 80,000 men. His Sinhaja, Berber and African troops were battle hardened after campaigns in and were animated by faith. Some of the troops came from as far south as Timbaktu and Gao. Ibn Khaldun records that the Murabitun followed the strategies taught by the Prophet at the Battle of Badr. They were fighting for faith and would not quit a battle until victory was achieved. The armies of Seville, Granada and Badejoz joined the Murabitun, swelling the ranks of the Muslim soldiers to over 150,000.

At the time, Alfonso VI and his Crusader knights were ravaging Saragossa in the north. Upon hearing of the arrival of the Murabitun, he turned around and the two armies met on the fields of Zallaqa, near Badejoz. Up until this time, the European knights had enjoyed the advantage of heavy armor. But Yusuf had brought with him Turkish archers with their powerful Cossack bows. The African soldiers, armed with shields of hippo hide and long spears of steel, marched to the deafening sounds of African drums. The earth shook as the battle was engaged. The Crusaders suffered a crushing defeat with over 80,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalrymen dead. Alfonso VI was himself wounded several times but managed to escape with his bodyguard in the darkness of night. After the victory, the Spanish emirs quarreled among themselves over the spoils of war. Disgusted, Yusuf bin Tashfin, withdrew into Morocco.

Alfonso VI turned to Christian Europe for help and within a year was back on the rampage again. His able lieutenant El Cid (from Arabic, ya sidi or al Syed), Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar held Saragosa and Valencia. Another of his knights, Garcia Jimenez, ravaged Muslim territories all the way into Seville. The Emir of Seville, the learned and cultivated al Mutamid, could not contain the Christians. In desperation, he turned once again to North Africa for help.

Yusuf bin Tashfin crossed into Spain a second time in 1089. The emirs of Seville, Granada, Malaga, Almeria, Murcia and Badejoz promised their support. Battle lines were drawn. El Cid joined up with Alfonso VI and advanced towards the Murabitun camp. But just before the engagement, quarrels broke out again among the emirs. Yusuf bin Tashfin had no desire to face the Crusaders with a divided camp and withdrew into Africa. This time, however, he made up his mind to depose the emirs and absorb Andalus into Murabitun territory.

In 1090, Yusuf bin Tashfin crossed into Spain a third time. His first act was to depose the emirs of Granada and Malaga who had deserted him at the hour of battle. Meanwhile, Al Mutamid, the emir of Seville, read the signs correctly that he was next in line for a Murabitun takeover. To preserve his emirate, he sought an alliance with Alfonso VI. However, the Murabitun intercepted this correspondence. Al Mutamid was deposed to North Africa along with his household. He died penniless in the city of Aghmat in the year 1095. He is best known in history as a great poet, whose expression of pathos in poetry presaged that of the last Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar of India by more than seven hundred years.

The Murabitun conquered Andalus as far north as Toledo and as far east as Barcelona. Alfonso VI and his Crusader knights suffered one defeat after another But El Cid continued to hold out against Yusuf bin Tashfin and blocked a major Murabitun advance up the Mediterranean coast. Yusuf bin Tashfin died in the year 1106. Alfonso VI died in the year 1109.

The confrontation between Yusuf bin Tashfin and Alfonso VI took place while the First Crusade raged in Palestine resulting in the fall of Jerusalem in 1099. The Murabitun represented an upsurge of faith amidst the corruption and laxity of 11th century Spain. They held the Andalusian peninsula for the Muslims for over a hundred years and were successful in pushing back the Crusaders beyond the Pyrenees Mountains into France. Were it not for the Murabitun, the fearless, veiled warriors from the womb of Africa, the Crusaders might well have inflicted far more damage to the Muslims of the eastern Mediterranean, in Syria, Egypt and Palestine. Yusuf bin Tashfin, as one of the architects of the Murabitun revolution, is celebrated as a key figure in the Islamic defense against the Spanish Crusades.

Abdur Rahman III of Spain

Abdur Rahman III of Spain

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Three men of giant stature dominated Islamic history in the 10th century. These were Abdur Rahman III of Spain, Muiz of Egypt and Mahmud of Ghazna. The first two determined the flow of historical events in the Mediterranean region, whereas Mahmud of Ghazna had a decisive impact on Central Asia and the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.

Abdur Rahman III was the ablest and most accomplished of the Omayyad rulers of Spain. As a young man he received an excellent education under the ulema of Cordoba. His intellect made him a prince among the scholars and a favorite among the literary circles of the day. His character and exemplary conduct won him the allegiance of the court and the common man alike. His first act after becoming the ruler of Spain was to abrogate all taxes that were not in accordance with the Shariah. These taxes had been imposed to support the lavish expenditures of the royal household. The move won for him the support of the peasant and the merchant alike. His second act was to offer a general amnesty to all rebels who accepted him as their sovereign.

In the year 912, when Abdur Rahman ascended the throne as a young man of 23, Spain was adrift without central authority. It had been more than two hundred years since Tariq and Musa had landed at Jabl al Tariq and marched forth to conquer Spain in the name of Tawhid. By the 10thcentury, chiefs and noblemen were more animated by the love of money than the love of God. Tribal affiliation and wealth moved them far more than any transcendental idea. Upon ascending the throne, the young ruler faced two major challenges. The first was from the Arab aristocracy based in the old Visigoth capital city of Toledo. The second was the military-ideological challenge from the Fatimids who had made no secret of their desire to conquer Spain.

The challenge from the Arab aristocracy was inherent in the pattern of invasions from North Africa. As successive waves of Muslim armies landed in Spain, they settled in the various provinces according to the desires of their tribal chiefs. Thus the Bani Hud controlled Saragossa, the Zul Nun settled in Toledo, the Banu Abbad were powerful in Seville, the Berbers controlled Granada and the newly arrived Slavs from eastern Europe settled in Valencia and the Mediterranean coast. The court of Cordoba was sustained by the allegiance of these tribes. Gradually, the tribal chieftains accumulated privileges, which they were reluctant to give up. The spartan simplicity of the desert warrior gave way to the luxurious life style of the emirs. The court in Cordoba gradually became a prisoner of this privileged class. So, when Abdur Rahman abandoned the excessive taxes and took away the privileges of this class, there was an immediate uproar. Particularly upset were the noblemen of Toledo. They had harbored a long-standing grudge against Cordoba for moving the capital out of Toledo. Abdur Rahman put down each of the rebellions with firmness. When he was victorious, he treated the vanquished with dignity and won over their allegiance. The principalities of Bobastro, Badejoz, Zamorra, Simancas, Osma and Toledo were subdued one by one. He then turned his attention to the Christian territories to the north. The Christian chieftains had conducted numerous raids on the Emir’s territories and had devastated border areas. In a series of brilliant campaigns, Abdur Rahman forced Leon, Castile, Navarre, Galicia and Alva into paying him tribute.

The challenge from the Fatimids was far more serious. The Fatimids considered the progeny of Imam Ismail to be the only legitimate heir to the leadership of the Islamic community and were bitter enemies both of the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Omayyads in Cordoba. By 923, they had captured all of North Africa, had displaced the Idrisi kingdom from Morocco and Algeria and had their eyes on Spain. A renegade Spanish chieftain, Omar bin Hafsun, who had become a Christian, openly challenged the rule of Cordoba and sought the help not only of the Fatimids but also of the Christian principalities to the north. Abdur Rahman was busy at the time rendering military assistance to his Idrisi allies against the Fatimids. He was forced to withdraw from North Africa to face the rebel.

The Fatimids sent a fleet across the Mediterranean to assist Omar bin Hafsun, but this sea-borne force was intercepted by Abdur Rahman’s navy and was destroyed. Cornered in the mountains of eastern Spain, Omar bin Hafsun sued for peace. Abdur Rahman pardoned him and let him keep a small principality under his own authority.

The breakup of tribal influence enabled Abdur Rahman to establish a standing professional army of more than 150,000, perhaps the finest in the world at that time. But it also destroyed the tribal cohesion that had sustained Umayyad power in Spain for more than 200 years. In the view of Ibn Khaldun, this act sowed the seeds for the ultimate disintegration of the Spanish Caliphate of Cordoba.

In North Africa the Fatimid threat was persistent. In 910, the Fatimid Ubaidullah had declared himself the Mahdi and the Caliph of all Muslims. At this time, the Caliphate in Baghdad was in disarray and the Abbasid Caliphs had become mere pawns in the hands of their Turkish generals. The Buyids from Persia had become rulers of the Abbasid domains in all but name. These were clear signals that the Abbasids had lost their political and military power. In 929, Abdur Rahman declared himself to be the Caliph and took the title of Emir-ul-Momineen. In effect, this was a response to the political and military challenge from the Fatimids in North Africa. Thus there emerged three claimants to the Caliphate in the 10th century. With the ascent of Muiz in 953 and his capture of Egypt in 969, the balance of power tilted decidedly in favor of the Fatimids. One by one, Fatimid armies overran Spanish strongholds in North Africa. Except for a small stretch of land around Ceuta, Muiz subdued all of North Africa. The Fatimids had not given up their dream of capturing Andalus and continued to provide assistance to any insurrection that challenged Omayyad rule in the peninsula. In 955, Abdur Rahman’s navy intercepted and sank some of Muiz’s ships ferrying supplies to Andalusian insurgents. In retaliation, Muiz ordered his viceroy in Sicily, Hassan bin Ali, to raid and lay waste the Spanish coast of Almeria.

The mutual rivalry between the Omayyads in Spain and the Fatimids in Egypt destroyed the last chance for Muslims to conquer southern Europe. After the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire in France in the 9thcentury, Europe was in political disarray. The devastating raids from the Nordic Vikings had crippled northern and central Europe. Faced with this onslaught from the north, Europe was vulnerable in the south. However, the Sunni Omayyads and the Shi’a Fatimids spent more energy fighting each other than projecting their power into Europe. Indeed, the emergence of two centers of political power in the Mediterranean, one based in Cairo and the other in Cordoba, gave an opportunity to the Christian monarchs to play off one against the other. Sensing this historic rivalry, the Greek monarch of Constantinople, involved as he was in a military confrontation with the Fatimids for control of Crete and Sicily, sent an ambassador to Abdur Rahman III. The monarchs of Germany, France and the principalities of the Italian peninsula made similar representations. Spain, under Abdur Rahman had become a major player in the geopolitics of North Africa, southern Europe and West Asia.

Abdur Rahman was a consummate soldier, an accomplished scholar, a great builder and a just ruler. He forged Spain into a single military-political entity shorn of the petty rivalries of regional chiefs and Arab tribes. Scholars flocked to his court from Kairouan, Cairo, Baghdad and Bukhara. His personal collection of books exceeded 400,000. The court nobility, copying the ways of their sovereign, had their own collections of books. No writer, no scribe, no teacher was without work. Under Abdur Rahman, Cordoba grew to be the largest and most cosmopolitan urban center in the world with a population exceeding one million. The city had more than 100,000 homes, 80,000 shops, 700 mosques and 900 public baths. The streets were paved and were patrolled. The shops were filled with goods from all over the world and Andalusian merchants were known in distant parts of Eurasia. Agriculture received particular attention and Spain became an agricultural paradise. Abdur Rahman enlarged and embellished the great mosque of Cordoba. His principal architectural achievement was the construction of his capital Madinat az Zahra, a marble city constructed three miles from Cordoba. So beautiful was this city that visitors came from far and wide to see and marvel at its beauty.

Abdur Rahman ruled over his kingdom with justice towards people of all religions. Christians and Jews received equal protection under the law. Spain became the most cosmopolitan kingdom on earth. The Caliph made no distinction between his own household and the common man in matters of justice. When one of his sons was tried by the courts and convicted of treason, Abdur Rahman sentenced him to death against the entreaties of his own household. After the sentence was carried out, Abdur Rahman was so struck with sorrow that he was never seen to smile again.

Abdur Rahman III passed away in the year 961 and was buried at Madinat-az-Zahra. His reign marked the zenith of Islamic civilization in Spain and the pinnacle of its golden age.


Fatimids in Egypt

Fatimids in Egypt

The Fatimids in Egypt

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The Fatimid conquest of Egypt (969) was a defining moment in Islamic history. It destroyed any semblance of central authority in the Muslim world, provoked the reaction of the Turks as defenders of orthodox (Sunni) Islam, impelled the Omayyads in Spain to declare their own Caliphate, launched the powerful Murabitun revolution in western Africa, denied the Muslims their last chance to conquer Europe and was the decisive ideological provocation that was answered by the eloquence of Al Ghazzali (d. 1111). The cleavage opened by the Fatimid schism gave the Crusaders an opportunity to capture Jerusalem (1099). Finally, when the Fatimids left the center stage of history, they did so with a vengeance, contributing to the rise of the assassins. The assassinations, chief among which was that of Nizam ul Mulk (d. 1092), perhaps the ablest administrator produced by Islam after Omar bin Abdul Aziz, played havoc with the Islamic body politic.

We have traced in other articles the political developments surrounding the struggles of Shi’a Aan-e-Ali. In time, the Shi’a movement itself split into several groups over the issue of Imamate succession. The principal rift occurred after Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq. When his eldest son Imam Ismail predeceased him, Imam Ja’afar, the sixth imam in the succession of the Imamate, nominated his second son Imam Musa Kadim as the 7th Imam. The majority of Shi’as accepted this nomination. However, a minority refused to accept this verdict, declared Imam Ismail to be the 7th Imam and recognized the Imamate only through his lineage. These are called the Fatimid Shi’as or the Seveners. From the Fatimids are derived the Agha Khanis and the Bohras, two powerful groups of Muslims who have played an important part in the politics of East Africa and in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.

The Abbasids (750-1258) were even more ruthless towards Shi’a dissidence than the Omayyads. Shorn of any hope of political success, the Shi’a movements went underground. Our focus in this chapter is on the Fatimids. The confluence of several historical developments helped the Fatimid movement. In the 9th century, the consolidation of vast territories in Asia, Africa and Europe led to an enormous increase in trade. Prosperity ensued. Great cities sprang up and older towns grew larger. The movement of the rural population to the cities, in search of protection from marauding tribesmen, assisted the urbanization process. Conversion to Islam was taking place at a rapid pace both in Asia and North Africa and the new Muslims found refuge in the cities from the pressure of their kinsmen who had not yet converted. Damascus, Baghdad, Basra, Kufa, Hamadan, Isfahan, Herat, Bukhara, Samarqand, Kashgar in Asia; Fustat, Sijilmasa, Tahert, Kairouan, Awdaghost and Tadmakka in Africa; Seville, Cordoba and Toledo in Europe became centers of trade. Colonies established by Muslim merchants existed as far away as Malabar in India, Zanzibar in Africa and Canton in China. Brisk trade stimulated the demand for manufactured goods such as brass work, gold jewelry, silk brocade, fine carpets and iron and steel products. Guilds arose in the urban centers, organized around specific trades and skills. The Fatimid movement zeroed in on these guilds to propagate their ideas.

The Abbasid Caliphate also lost much of its political and military power after Caliph Mutawakkil was killed by his Turkish guards in 861. The emergence of the Turks was a new element in the body politic of Islam. Initially hired by the Caliphs as bodyguards to balance the established power of Arabs and Persians, the Turks displaced both the Arabs and the Persians and rose to control the destiny of the Caliphate itself. After Muktafi (d. 908), the Caliphs became mere pawns in the hands of Turkish generals. Sensing the political impotence of Baghdad, local chieftains in the far-flung provinces of the empire asserted their independence and established local dynasties. Idris, a great, great grandson of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) established a Shi’a dynasty in Morocco (788). After the year 800, an Arab general Al Aghlab and his descendants exercised autonomous control over Algeria and Tunisia. In 868, a Turkish General Ibn Tulun seized Egypt and established the Tulunid dynasty. In the east, Tahir, a general who had helped Caliph Mamun in the civil war between the two brothers, Amin and Mamun, was granted autonomy over Khorasan. After the year 922, the Tahirids dropped any pretense of allegiance to Baghdad and ruled as independent rulers. In 932, Buyeh, a Persian, established a powerful dynasty at the borders of Persia country-region and Iraq. The Buyids, who were Ithna Ashari Shi’as, quickly overran Basra and Kufa. In the year 945 they captured Baghdad itself and forced the Caliph to surrender effective power to the Alavis. But they stopped short of eliminating the Abbasids, partly because there was no single person who was acceptable as Imam to all Muslims and partly out of concern for the reaction of the Turks who were emerging as a powerful new military element. Nonetheless, the Buyids came as close as the Ithna Asharis ever did in establishing their political control over the world of Islam.

Perhaps the most persuasive reason for the success of the Fatimid movement was the internal corruption in the ruling circles. After Harun al Rashid, Baghdad became a dazzling city of splendor. Long gone was the spartan simplicity of the first Caliphs. In a bygone era, Caliph Omar ibn al Khattab (r) had traveled from Madina to Jerusalem to accept its surrender, sharing a single camel for the journey with a servant. Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) would fast for days on a ration of dried dates. By contrast, the Caliphs of the 9th century moved in golden chariots with an entourage of thousands. Lavish sums were spent on pomp and ceremony. Surrounded by eunuchs and dancing girls, the court of Baghdad was no different from the Byzantine court in Constantinople or the Persian courts it had displaced. The Islamic Empire was now held together by political expediency and brute force rather than by fidelity to a higher transcendental idea, as was the case in early Islam. In North Africa there was continued tension between rural Berbers and the Arab city dwellers. In Persia, the Turks had displaced the Persians from the centers of power but were looked down upon by both the Arabs and the Persians as pushy intruders. Corruption was rampant and it was time for a revolutionary movement like that of the Fatimids who promised a new era led by the Fatimid imams.

For more than a hundred years after Imam Ja’afar, the Fatimid movement ran like a subterranean stream of hot lava in the Islamic body politic. Then, in the second half of the 9th century, it burst out from horizon to horizon like a hundred volcanoes spewing forth at once. The architect of this movement was Abdullah bin Maimun. He was a student of Abul Khattab, who had at one time studied under Imam Ja’afar, but was executed by Caliph Mansur as a heretic for his ideas on Taqiyya (permissibility of denying your beliefs if you are threatened by death or grave injury). As we have pointed out earlier, the Fatimids had refused to accept Imam Ja’afar’s verdict nominating Musa Kadim as the 7th Imam, claiming instead that Imam Ismail had not died but was just hidden from view.

The lineage of hidden imams from Ismail till the latter part of the 9thcentury is not clear, but in 875, one Hamdan Karamat, set up his operations near Baghdad. In 893, the Karamathians, as the followers of Karamat are called, captured Yemen under the leadership of Abu Abdallah. Using Yemen as his base, Abu Abdallah raised an army of Bedouins and Yemenis. In 903, he moved on Damascus and massacred its inhabitants. Basra was plundered in 923. The Karamathians were ruthless. They attacked caravans of Hajj pilgrims on the caravan routes from Basra to Madina and massacred thousands of men, women and children. In 928, they attacked Mecca and carried off the Hijre Aswad (black stone) from the Ka’ba to Bahrain where they set up their headquarters. There the black stone remained for 22 years until it was returned to Mecca in 950 upon orders of the Fatimid Caliph al Mansur. Baghdad moved swiftly to retake Damascus but in the meantime the Karamathian movement had spread to North Africa.

The Arabs called the territories that today comprise Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia Maghrib al Aqsa (the farthest western frontier). More often, this area is simply referred to as the Maghrib. Maghrib al Aqsa was the hinge around which the fate of Muslim Spain and southwestern Europe revolved. The region was an historic caldron of discontent and sporadic rebellion against external authority. In part, this was a reflection of the free spirit of the mountain Berbers and the desert Sinhajas. The Arab experience was no different from that of the Romans who had clung to fortified positions along the Mediterranean shores but were unsuccessful in subduing the Atlas mountain interior.

There was also tension between the Arab city dwellers and the Berbers who lived in the hinterland. The classical Islamic civilization was primarily urban. People congregated in towns and cities for safety as well as for economic opportunity. Resentment against the perceived haughtiness of the city dwelling Arabs surfaced time and again as rebellion against established authority. The Berbers welcomed new ideas that challenged the status quo as a vehicle for expressing their resentment and anger. For instance, in the year 900, a Persian Kharijite, Rustum, moved to the Maghrib and established his base there. He successfully challenged the local Aghlabid emirs who represented Abbasid authority. Support from the Berbers and the Sinhaja enabled Rustum to established a Kharijite dynasty in southern Algeria centered on Sijilmasa. The Kharijites-an extremist group who espoused killing those who did not agree with them-rejected the claims of both the Sunnis and the Shi’as for leadership of the Islamic community and held that the Caliphate should be open to anyone, Arab or non-Arab. This seemingly democratic position was welcome to Berber ears. The Kharijites survived in isolated pockets long after the Rustamid kingdom disappeared. Ibn Batuta reported the existence of Kharijite communities in north central Africa as late as 1350. (The American traveler John Skolle has recently provided an account of the remnants of this community. He mentions in his travelogue a community around Ghardaja in Algeria, as “of the Ibadite faith. . . Muslim Puritans . . . driven south . . . in the 11thcentury . . .”. Ref: John Skolle, The Road to Timbaktu, Victor Gollancz, Ltd., 1956).

South of the Atlas belt, the powerful Sinhaja tended their sheep and roamed freely, much as their ancestors had for centuries and acted as power brokers between the Berbers and the Arabs. There developed in the Maghrib a triangular relationship between the Berbers, the Arabs and the Sinhajas, much as there was a triangular relationship between the Arabs, the Persians and the Turks in Persia and Central Asia. Occasionally, there was a fourth element in this relationship, namely the Sudanese from sub-Saharan Africa, who were recruited by the Ikhshedids and later by the Fatimids, in their armed forces as a counterbalance to the power of the Berbers.

Conditions were ripe in North Africa for a revolutionary movement like that of the Fatimids. The Aghlabid rulers had become more interested in women and wine than in the affairs of state. Law and order had deteriorated to such an extent that people longed for deliverance by a Mahdi. In 907, Abu Abdallah, who had by this time lost Damascus to the Abbasids, proceeded to North Africa. By the sheer magnetism of his character and the force of his arguments, he converted the powerful Kitama tribe to Fatimid doctrines. In 909, taking advantage of the incompetence of Aghlabid Ziadatulla, Abu Abdallah moved on Salmania, driving out the Aghlabids. It was now time to invite the Fatimid Imam Ubaidullah who was living in Syria. After a harrowing travail, with Abbasid agents hot on his trail, Ubaidullah reached the Maghrib. He was arrested in Sijilmasa but Abu Abdullah moved with a powerful force on the town, freed his mentor and proclaimed Ubaidullah to be the long awaited Mahdi and the hidden Imam and the first Fatimid Caliph.

Ubaidullah al Mahdi, the first Fatimid Caliph, was an able general, a capable administrator, a shrewd but ruthless politician and was tolerant of the Sunnis who made up the vast majority of his subjects. He established a new capital, Mahdiya, near modern Tunis. His first act was to assassinate Abu Abdallah and eliminate any possibility of a challenge from that quarter. History repeats itself. The fate of Abu Abdallah was similar to that of Abu Muslim (d.750) who was disposed of by the Abbasids once they came to power. After consolidating his hold on Algeria and Tunisia, he moved west into Morocco displacing the floundering Idrisid dynasty (922). But his eyes were on the prosperous provinces of Spain to the northwest and Egypt to the east.

The conquest of Morocco provoked a response from the powerful Umayyad, Abdur Rahman III of Spain, who declared himself the Caliph in Cordoba (929) and the protector of Sunni Islam in Africa and Spain. There emerged at the same time three claimants for the Caliphate based in Baghdad in Asia, Mahdiya in Africa and Cordoba in Europe.

Ubaidullah died in the year 934 without realizing his dream of conquering Spain or subduing Egypt. His son Abul Kasim was a fanatic and tried to force his brand of Islam on everyone. He is best remembered for building a powerful navy and his raids on France, Italy and Egypt. To pay for these adventures, taxation had to be increased. The Berbers rebelled against this excessive taxation. Centered on Sijilmasa, which was a Kharijite stronghold, the rebellion gathered momentum and received support from the Spanish Umayyads. Abul Kasim was cornered in Mahdiya where he died in 946. His son Mansur, with the help of the Sinhajas, put down the rebellion in 947. To teach the Spanish Umayyads and the Moroccans a lesson, he stormed the Maghrib all the way to the Atlantic, devastating much of what lay in his path. All of North Africa except Mauritania was conquered. According to Ibn Khaldun, the Maghrib never fully recovered from the devastation caused by the Fatimid-Sinhaja invasions. The power of the cities in North Africa was destroyed. The social political vacuum created by this devastation was in part responsible for the germination of the Murabitun revolution, which was soon to engulf all of West Africa and Spain.

It was under Muiz (d. 975) that the Fatimids achieved their greatest success. Muiz first turned his attention to the west. Taking advantage of the preoccupation of the Spanish Umayyad Abdur Rahman III with the Christians to the north, Muiz took Mauritania and brought the Maghrib, with the exception of the small Ceuta-Tangier peninsula, under his control. The powerful Spaniards blocked any further advance to the west, so Muiz turned his attention to the east where conditions were much more favorable. The Buyid takeover of Baghdad (945) had so weakened the Abbasids that the Fatimids sensed their golden opportunity to capture Egypt. At the time, Egypt was under the military control of the Ikhshedids, a Turkish clan who had displaced the Tulunids (933) and ruled in the name of the Abbasids in Baghdad. Abbasid power in the eastern Mediterranean had been further weakened by Byzantine attacks in Anatolia, Crete and Syria. The Fatimids marched with a force of more than 100,000 Berbers, Sinhajas and Sudanese under a Turkish general Jawhar al Rumi and in a pitched battle on the banks of the Nile in 969, defeated the Ikhshedids.

The victorious Fatimids entered Egypt and founded a new capital near old Fustat, which they named Al Qahira (Cairo, 969). With Egypt under his control, Muiz’s armies fanned out into Syria and took Damascusin 973. Mecca and Madina fell soon thereafter. For almost a hundred years, it was the name of the Fatimid sovereigns in Cairo and not of the Abbasids in Baghdad that was taken after the Friday sermons in the great mosques of Mecca and Madina.

The Fatimids were bound to attempt a conquest of Asia to fulfill their vision of a universal Islamic Empire ruled by the Fatimid imams. In this attempt they were not to be successful. There were several reasons for their failure. The Karamathians, a splinter group among the Fatimids, considered the mainstream Fatimids soft on the Sunnis. The revolution they hoped for had not materialized. Instead, the Fatimids, with some exceptions, had established a working relationship with their Sunni subjects. The disgruntled Karamathians attacked Fatimid positions in Syria and twice invaded Egypt. They were beaten back with heavy losses but they controlled the military routes to northern Syria and hence effectively blocked a Fatimid advance into Asia.

Second, the Buyids who controlled Iraq and Persia resisted the Fatimids for ideological reasons. The Buyids considered Imam Musa Kadim to be the heir to Imam Ja’afar. They considered the Fatimids to be renegades who followed Imam Ismail after Imam Ja’afar. Although the Buyids controlled Baghdad, they had established a working relationship with the majority Sunnis and had shied away from displacing the Abbasids. Third, there was a resurgent Byzantine Empire, which had built up its naval power, captured Crete and continuously challenged both the Abbasids and the Fatimids in the eastern Mediterranean. Fourth, the Seljuk (Turkish) presence in Persia and Central Asia was decidedly in favor of the Abbasids and tilted the balance of power in favor of orthodox Islam.

Egypt prospered under the Fatimids. No longer was the Nile valley a mere province, with its tax revenues carted off to far away Baghdad. It was now the center of an empire extending from the Euphrates to the Atlantic. Sitting astride the continents of Africa and Asia, Egypt controlled the trade routes from North Africa and Europe to India and the Far East. Gold flowed into Egypt from Ghana, providing a firm basis for a solid currency. The bazaars of Cairo were full of goods from East Africa, India, Indonesia and China. Alexandria became a port of exchange and a world-class trade center. European travelers such as William of Tyre marveled at the prosperity of Egypt. Italian merchants in Venice, capitalizing on the proximity of Egypt, became successful entrepreneurs. Venice grew in wealth and power and was to play an important role in the Crusades looming on the horizon.

Conversely, the loss of Egypt and North Africa meant that hard times had fallen upon Baghdad. Cut off from the Mediterranean by the Fatimids and the Byzantines, Baghdadbecame dependent for its trade on land routes to India and China. Loss of revenues meant loss of political power and the Caliphs in Baghdad became increasingly dependent on the Turkish sultans for their revenues. The sultans, in turn, raided India with increasing frequency in search of gold and plunder. Between the years 1000 and 1030, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna conducted no less than 17 raids into India. The territories of the Caliphate extended to no more than a few miles outside Baghdad. Since the power of the fatwa had been co-opted by the ulema from the earliest days of Islam, the Caliphate became, in effect, a wistful symbol of long lost Muslim unity. Decentralization set in, hastening the fragmentation of Asia into principalities and local kingdoms. This was a social political matrix almost tailor-made for the rise of the Seljuk Turks, who rose from nomads to become the masters of Asia.

Muiz died in 996 and his son Al Aziz became the caliph in Cairo. He was a consummate ruler and an able organizer. He appointed a well-known financier, Yakub bin Killis as his minister. Killis wisely managed the fiscal affairs of the far-flung empire. Taxation was reduced, trade encouraged, currency stabilized and the empire prospered. Al Aziz also built a powerful navy as a counterweight to the resurgent Byzantines and the Umayyads in Spain. But he also recruited Turkish soldiers into his army to balance off the Berbers and the Sudanese, a decision that in time led to the takeover of the Fatimid dynasty by the Turks.

Al Hakim succeeded his father Al Aziz as the caliph in 996, the same year that Pope Gregory V declared the Crusades against the Muslims. Al Hakim, an eccentric man, killed his regent Barjawan, forbade women to appear in the streets, prohibited business at night, persecuted the minority Jews and Christians and in 1009 began the demolition of churches and synagogues. This was a reaction to the laxity of his father who had married a Christian and was protecting his flank against charges of laxity leveled by the Sunnis. Perhaps also, he was suspicious of the Christians in his midst because the Crusades had started in earnest in 996 with attacks on North Africa.

The Fatimids controlled a vast empire, but they had to continually come to terms with the standards of moral rectitude and religious dogma of their subjects. The dominant opinion in the community, espoused by orthodox (Sunni) Islam, had always gravitated towards a consensus based on the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the ijma of his Companions. Such consensus was the central axis around which Muslim history revolved, although at times the impact of peripheral opinions proved to be important. Al Hakim was faced with a rising military challenge from Christian Europe while guarding his rear against orthodox discontent with the perceived excesses of the Fatimids. His father Al Aziz was a compromiser who had tried to weld together a consensus of tolerance by marrying a Christian. Al Hakim began a drive to convert the Sunnis and the Ithna Asharis to Fatimid doctrines. A Dar-ul-Hikmah was established in 1004 in Cairo to impart training to Fatimid da’is (missionaries). Fatimid propaganda was extremely active throughout the Islamic world. There was even a Fatimid ruler in Multan in what is today Pakistan. In the year 1058, the Fatimids briefly controlled the suburbs of Baghdad itself. These attempts drew an immediate reaction from Baghdad where the Abbasid Caliph Kaim denounced the Fatimids as renegades.

In 1017, two Fatimid da’is, Hamza and Darazi, arrived in Cairo from Persia. They preached that the divine spirit transmitted through Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) and the Imams had been transmitted to Al Hakim, who had thus became God incarnate. The doctrine was repugnant to the orthodox Egyptians. So, Darazi retired to the mountains of Lebanon where he found a more favorable reception. The Druze, followers of Darazi doctrines, are to be found in Lebanon and Syria today. They believe in reincarnation and Al Hakim as the reincarnate of God who will return at the end of the world.

Messianism as a reaction to political oppression is a recurrent theme in Islamic history. The belief that a Mahdi will return to re-establish a just world order after the example of the Prophet recurs in many parts of the Muslim world. This belief is to be found among the entire spectrum of Islamic opinion-Sunni, Twelver Shi’a and Fatimid Shi’a. It occurs with greater fervor in the Sudan, Persia and India. Concrete examples of this are to be found in the appearance of the Mahdi in modern Sudan in the 19th century; the movement of Uthman dan Fuduye in West Africa in the 19th century; the beliefs of the Mahdavi sect in India; the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam among the Twelvers; and the disappearance of the Seventh Imam among the Seveners. Messianism is not without its ideological pitfalls. Most Muslims managed their Messianism within the limits of Tawhid and stayed in the mainstream of Islam. The Fatimid positions on the transmutation of the soul, advanced by al Hakim, were rejected by orthodox Muslims as heresy.

The excesses of Al Hakim hastened the downfall of the Fatimids. Under Mustansir (1036-1096), civil strife took over. Berber, Sudanese and Turkish troops competed for power in the armed forces. In 1047 Hejaz broke away and the name of the Fatimid monarch was removed from thekhutba in the great mosques of Mecca and Madina. The Murabitun revolution consumed the Maghrib in 1051. During the period 1090-1094, Egypt was hit with a severe drought of Biblical proportions and the economy was crippled. The Crusades-active first in Spain-descended upon North Africa and then on the eastern Mediterranean. In 1072, Palermo Sicily was lost to the Crusaders. By 1091 all of Sicily was under Latin control. Mahdiya, the first capital of the Fatimids, was attacked by sea.

Meanwhile, the Turks and the Fatimids fought for control of the Syrian highlands. Seljuk warriors regained Damascus from the Fatimids and reestablished the authority of the Abbasids all the way to El Arish. Under Taghril Bey and Alp Arsalan, all of West Asia except for a few strongholds like Acre and Jerusalem were taken from Egyptian control. The lines of control ran through a plateau embracing Jerusalem. Hostility between the Seljuks and the Fatimids prevented any effective coordination against the Crusaders who took Jerusalem by assault from the Fatimid garrison in 1099. The retreating Fatimids turned to assassination for vengeance. Under Hassan Sabbah, the assassins became an effective underground movement and wreaked havoc on the Seljuks with their cloak and dagger murders.

After Muntasir (d. 1096), the Fatimid court presented a long saga of murders and mayhem. Power passed on to the viziers who wielded their authority through intrigue and assassination. In 1171, the last of the Fatimid Caliphs, Al Aazid, died. Salahuddin abolished the Fatimid dynasty and Egypt passed once again into the Abbasid domain.

Civilizations are held together by transcendental ideas. After the first four Caliphs, Islamic civilization lost the transcendence of Tawhid. The Fatimids came to power promising to bring that transcendence back to the world of Islam. They captured half of the Islamic world but remained a minority elite ruling over a vast Sunni world. Umayyad Spain challenged their authority. Sub-Saharan Africa remained loyal to Abbasid authority. Yet, the Fatimid presence in Egypt marked a high point in the development of Islamic civilization. The monarchs in Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba, each claiming to be the Caliph, competed with each other in establishing universities, encouraging learning, art and culture. The Fatimids established Al Azhar University, the oldest surviving institution of higher learning in the world, in 971 (We do note that the Qawariyun University in Fez Morocco claims to have been founded in 812 and is still functioning). Universities in Baghdad, Bukhara, Samarqand, Nishapur, CairoPalermo, Kairouan, Sijilmasa, and Toledo competed with each other in attracting men of learning. Artisans were encouraged to produce the finest work of art. Egyptian brocades, brass work and woodwork were valued throughout Europe and Asia. It was through Sicily, no less than through Spain, that Islamic ideas and knowledge were passed on to Europe. Even during the height of the Crusades, Latin monarchs employed and patronized Muslim scholars. The Sicilian monarchs considered it an honor to be buried in caskets made in Egypt. Roger II of Sicily not only continued the University at Palermo which had been established by Muslims, he also patronized at his court the well known geographer al Idrisi, who was one of the finest scholars of the age.

Islamic history is animated by a vision to establish a universal community enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong and believing in God. But there have been different interpretations of this vision. In the 10th century there were at least four different versions of that vision. The Fatimids based in North Africa claimed the Imamate in the lineage of Imam Ismail. The Karamatians were also Fatimids but were extremist in their views and believed that their version of Islam be imposed on all Muslims, by force if necessary. The Buyids were Twelvers who believed in the Imamate in the lineage of Imam Musa Kazim. Then there were the Sunnis, the vast majority of the population, who accepted the Caliphate in Baghdad. In the 10th century, these conflicting visions collided on the political military plane. And out of this confusion emerged the victorious Turks, displacing both the Caliphate and the Imamate by a new military-political institution-the Sultanate. But the excesses of the age also gave birth to a revolution–the Murabitun revolution in Africa–and provoked the dialectic of Al Ghazzali, which altered the way Muslims looked upon Islam itself. Their internal rivalry denied the Muslims their last chance to conquer Europe. In the 9th and 10th centuries, Europe lived in the age of imagination, dominated by the talisman and ruled by feudal lords. After the death of Charlemagne in 814, his Carolingian heirs fought among themselves for the remnants of the Frankish kingdom. Faced with Viking attacks from the north, Europe could not defend itself in the south and was militarily vulnerable. The mutual hostility between the Fatimids, the Umayyads and the Abbasids prevented them from exploiting this historic window of opportunity. The Aghlabid conquest of Sicily and their raids into southern Italy as far as Rome in 846 marked the farthest advance of Muslims into southern Europe. The armies of the Fatimids, the Umayyads, the Buyids and the Abbasids spent their energies primarily at each other’s throats.

Ottoman Empire, origins of

Ottoman Empire, origins of

The Origins of the Ottoman Empire

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The origins of the Ottoman Empire are to be found in a combination of Turkish asabiyah and the Islamic spirit of ghazza (meaning, struggle in the cause of God). Asabiyah, a term used by Ibn Khaldun to denote tribal cohesion, is the force that holds together tribes through bonds of blood, a characteristic found in abundance among peoples of the desert and the nomads of the steppes. The Turks were a people who lived in the upper reaches of Central Asia, on the borders between Sinkiang Mongolia and Kazakhstan and possessed the qualities of asabiyah in abundance. They were, like their Mongol cousins, a people who roamed the grasslands on their horses, setting down their tents just long enough for rest and recuperation. They were known for their fierce loyalty to the clan and for their bravery and horsemanship.

In the 8th, century, as Islam spread towards the Amu Darya, the Turks came into contact with its universal precepts and embraced the new faith. Many found service in the armed forces of the Abbasid Empire. Using their innate qualities of leadership, some rose through the ranks, occupied important positions in the army and by the middle of the 9th century, became the kingmakers in Baghdad. By the end of the 9th century, they had replaced the Caliphate in Baghdad with the Sultanate as the de-facto political power. The rise of the Seljuks in the 11th century marked a high point in Turkish power. The Seljuk victory over the Byzantines in August 1072 was a turning point in world history and opened Anatolia to Turkish penetration. Until the advent of Hulagu Khan and the fall of Baghdad (1258), Turkish pressure on Byzantine holdings in Anatolia was continuous and forceful. There was a pause during the Mongol eruptions. Hulagu captured the upper reaches of the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates located in eastern Anatolia and forced the Turks further west. Most of Anatolia accepted Mongol dominance and the Mongol lords appointed their own satraps to rule over the local principalities.

But the Turks were not a people to accept Mongol over-lordship for long. After the Battle of Ayn Jalut (1261), Mongol power waned, while Turkish power gathered momentum. As early as the 11th century, the Turks were organized into effective brigades, each one led by a bey. The primary purpose of these brigades was to march against the Byzantine territories. It is here that the Islamic spirit of ghazza came into play.

Without Islam, the Turks were a roving band of nomads, not unlike the nomads of bygone eras, who were pushing against the frontiers of settled civilizations. With Islam, they became not just conquerors but founders of a global empire and a global civilization. The narrow asabiyah of tribe and race gave way to the global vision of Islam. Those who took part in ghazzawere called ghazis. The term ghazi carries a connotation of valor, strength, humility, selflessness, charity, steadfastness, struggle and chivalry to this day in languages spoken by Muslims worldwide. There were several groups of ghazis and a person could move freely from one group to another.

It was these ghazis who cemented Turkish power in West Asia and projected it into the very heart of Europe. Uthman Ghazi emerged from among these ghazis as the bey (Turkish, meaning authority, leader) of the western marches. The house of Uthman is called Uthmanali and the empire founded by him is referred to as the Uthmania or Ottoman Empire. It is said that Uthmanali was inducted as a ghazi by a sage, Shaykh Ede Bali. By 1301, he controlled the swath of territory extending from Eskishehir to Bursa and advanced towards the old Byzantine capital of Iznik. Alarmed, the Byzantine Emperor sent a force under Muzalon to relieve Iznik. The Turks annihilated this force at the Battle of Yalakova (1301). This critical victory was a turning point for the Ottomans. Uthman’s fame spread far and wide in the Muslim world and attracted a growing number of volunteers for the ghazza.

The Turks followed up this victory by occupying the regions around the cities of Iznik and Bursa, isolating them both. Uthman’s son Orkhan captured Bursa in 1326. Iznik fell in 1331. Orkhan was a contemporary of Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire and Muhammed bin Tughlaq of India. Ibn Batuta visited Bursa in 1333 and described it as a beautiful town with fine mosques, markets and schools. The ghazi spirit of the Uthmania Turks won his admiration and he accompanied Orkhan on many of his expeditions against the Byzantines. The situation in Anatolia at the time was the flip side of that in Spain. In the eastern Mediterranean the march of the ghazis brought them to the very gates of Constantinople. In contrast, the last attempt by North African Muslims to reconquer Spain from the Christians was made in 1333 and ended in total failure.

Orkhan continued his march westward, occupying the province of Karasi in 1345. The continent of Europe lay ahead of him. In 1346, he married Theodora, a Greek princess, in a tradition that was in keeping with the times when the Byzantine court sought marriage ties with the Turks to contain their advance. These marriages of convenience, however, did not arrest the Turks. The western march was placed under Sulaiman, the eldest son of Orkhan. In 1354, Sulaiman captured the Fort of Gallipolis. Ankara was captured the same year. When Sulaiman died in an accident in 1356, the march passed under the leadership of his brother Murad who stormed and captured Erdirne in 1357. This alarmed Pope Urban V who declared a Crusade in 1366. However, the response to this call was mute and Turkish advances continued. Sofia was conquered in 1385, Nish in 1386 and Salonica in 1387. The Balkan princes and the Byzantine emperor saw the futility of resisting the Turks and avidly sought an alliance with them against each other. In 1365-1366, the Bulgarian King Shishman sought the help of the Turks against a combined attack by the Hungarians and the Latin Crusaders. In 1373, the Byzantine Emperor John V accepted the over-lordship of Murad and took part in the Balkan campaigns as his vassal. His son Andronicus IV remained on the throne in Constantinople under the protection of the Turks.

To the east, the Ottomans pressed their claims against the other Turkish principalities. Declaring themselves to be heirs of the Seljuks, they fought and won their struggles against the Beys of Sivas and Karaman. In 1387, Murad marched against, the old capital of the Seljuks, defeated the house of Karaman and completed his conquest of Anatolia. Meanwhile, the Balkan front was far from quiet. In 1386, the Serbs were in open rebellion and were supported in their uprising by the kings of Bosnia and Bulgaria. Murad marched against Bulgaria in 1387. Bulgaria was occupied and Shishman, the King of Bulgaria was expelled. Continuing his advance, Murad met the Serbian army at the Battle of Kosova in June 1389. In a pitched battle the Serbs were defeated and the last resistance to Turkish rule in the Balkans was crushed. Murad himself was fatally wounded in the Battle of Kosova and was succeeded by his son Bayazid, who is referred to as Yildirim in Turkish.

By the time Murad died in 1389, he had laid the foundations of a fledging empire in Anatolia and southeastern Europe. The city of Constantinople remained as an island in this sea, only because the Byzantine Emperor had accepted the over-lordship of the Turks. Political centralization had begun, which was in time to embrace all of West Asia, North Africa and southeastern. The spirit of the ghazis which won and founded this empire was to last for centuries and make it the pre-eminent military power in the world until the 17th century.

As an Islamic Empire, it eschewed the principles of tolerance and co-existence of peoples of different religions and nationalities. It provided political stability to the peoples of North Africa, West Asia and southeastern Europe for almost 600 years, a period longer in its duration than any other empire in recorded history.

Constantinople – the Sack of 1204

Constantinople – the Sack of 1204

The Sack of Constantinople – the Fourth Crusade

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Civilizations change when the paradigms that govern them change. Humans relate to themselves and to each other through transcendental values firmly imbedded in basic frameworks. These values define how a society looks upon itself, how it interacts with other societies and its place in history. For instance, in the Middle Ages, most people believed that the earth was flat. The paradigm of a flat earth defined the limits of geography, politics and history. When that paradigm changed and it was universally accepted that the earth was round, it fundamentally altered the way civilizations related to each other. America was discovered, the oceans were conquered, the patterns of trade changed, old empires fell and new ones emerged.

In the vast panorama of history, certain milestones stand out when a civilization fundamentally and noticeably altered its paradigm and charted its course in a different direction. The sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the Crusaders was one such milestone. Indeed, it was the year that the Latin West fundamentally changed its orientation. Prior to the year 1204, the focus of the Crusades was the Cross and the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. After that date, it was the glitter of gold. Before 1204, the energy of Europe expressed itself through imagination and monasticism. The continent was steeped in poverty and ignorance. Trade was at a standstill. The amulet and the talisman, magic and sorcery were the mechanisms for communication with the supernatural. The Church was the primary beneficiary of this ignorance because it was the one institution that claimed the privilege of dispensing the amulet and the talisman.

This changed after the Latins captured Constantinople in 1204, rampaged through its streets, destroyed its relics, danced on the altars of its churches and looted its immense wealth. The Crusaders were a motley group of French barons, German peasants, Italian merchants and Latin priests. The gold and silver that was carried off from the ancient Byzantine capital provided momentum for the prosperity of the Italian city-states of Venice, Genoa and Florence. Italy was launched on its way to the Renaissance that reached its zenith in the 15th and 16th centuries. Europe was transformed. After 1204, the energy of Europe found its expression primarily through economics, trade and self-interest. The civilization that produced the Renaissance and later the Reformation and the Enlightenment was secular and bore little resemblance to the civilization that had produced the First Crusade in 1096. There were more “Crusades” after the Crusade of 1204, but these were either expressions of an economic thrust cloaked in religious terminology or a reaction to Turkish marches into southeastern Europe.

The prelude to the historic events of 1204 was the declaration of a Crusade by Pope Innocent III in 1199. The loss of Jerusalem to Salahuddin was unpalatable to the Latin Church, which was reeling from further defeats at the hands of the Al Muhaddithin in Spain. The initial response to this call to arms was lukewarm. Europe was a divided house towards the end of the 12th century. Count Baldwin challenged the French throne. Germany had two claimants to the throne, Philip of Swabia and Otto of Brunswick. Venice had lost its hold on the western Adriatic. In Spain, the Muslims had driven the Crusaders back towards the borders of France. The Crusader toehold in Palestine and Lebanon was at the mercy of the powerful Ayyubids. By declaring a Crusade, Pope Innocent sought to direct the energies of the warring Europeans towards a transcendental goal and collect funds for the Church at the same time.

Europe was broke and could not muster the energy for a new war against a resurgent Islam. To raise funds, the Pope levied a tax on all believers. This was not a popular move and it generated little enthusiasm for another march on Palestine. The situation changed and a spark for the Crusade was lit, when two young barons, Thibaut and Louis, “took the Cross” (joined the Crusade) at the tournament of Ecrysur-Aisne in northern France in 1199. These two barons, grandsons of Louis VII, enjoyed enormous prestige and soon many other barons and knights from France also enlisted. At the Council of Compeigne in 1200, it was decided that the warriors would depart for Palestine by sea. Neither the potentates nor the church had a fleet. Therefore, they sought the help of Venice, the only city-state on the Italian coast, which had the resources to provide this help.

Envoys were sent to Venice. The Venetians were a breed different from the Crusaders from northern Europe. They were merchants, motivated by profit, even when the goal was a super-ordinate one, such as the conquest of Jerusalem. They had maintained a brisk trade with Egypt and Syria throughout the 10th and 11th centuries. Venice was ruled by an elected council, the doge and its head in the year 1201 was Enrico Dondolo. Savvy, politically astute, eloquent, ruthless and unscrupulous beyond compare, Dondolo was an old man, between eighty and ninety five years of age. He personified the archetype of a business culture, which had survived and prospered for centuries through piracy and trade in the eastern Mediterranean. Dondolo drove a hard bargain with the Crusader barons. In return for ferrying 20,000 foot soldiers and 4,500 knights and their horses, he demanded a payment of 85,000 silver marks, a demand that was agreed to by the Pope. A contract was signed and the warriors began to assemble in Venice.

But all the silver plates and tablespoons of the knights and barons of Europe could produce only 29,000 silver marks. Dondolo saw his golden opportunity and moved for the kill. He had built and delivered four hundred ships as per the contract. As compensation for his already completed efforts, Dondolo proposed that the Crusaders assist him in capturing the city of Zara located on the eastern Adriatic (today’s Croatia). Zara had long been coveted by Venice as a harbor for the supply of much needed hardwood from Croatia and Bosnia. In 1201, Zara was a Christian city under the protection of the Hungarian monarch, a fellow Christian and a Crusader under the jurisdiction of the Pope. The Pope was furious at the suggestion and objected to this enterprise. But his bishops and prelates in charge of the Crusade agreed to go along with Dondolo, “in the interest of a higher cause”, so that money could be raised by plunder of Zara and the Crusade could continue on to Jerusalem. Zara was stormed, captured and looted. The Church made some noises but not a single silver candlestick stolen from Zara was returned, either by the invading Venetians or by the representatives of the Pope who accompanied them.

At this time, an historic opportunity presented itself to the shrewd Dondolo who had the instincts of a predator. In 1185, the Byzantine Emperor Isaac had been dethroned by his own brother Alexius, blinded and locked up in a dungeon. Isaac’s son, also named Alexius, escaped to Germany where his sister Irene was the queen and then on to Rome to appeal to the Pope for help against his uncle. The Pope sensed at once an opportunity to bring the Church of Constantinople under the Church of Rome. The prospect of opening a land route to Palestine through Constantinople ruled by a pliant king did not escape him either. With the acquiescence of the Pope, Dondolo’s fleet proceeded towards Constantinople, accompanied by 20,000 French, Italian and German Crusaders, who were motivated more by lust and the power of wealth than by the love of Christ.

The European archetype had changed, from a man of imagination titillated by magic and the talisman to a man of this world motivated by the promise of plunder. The minds of men were now fired by the glitter of gold, not the vision of the cross. The defenses of Constantinople were formidable. The walls of its ramparts were the tallest in all of Europe. The entrance to the Golden Horne was blocked by a chain of steel anchored to piers on either side of the narrow straits. Dondolo knew the city and its defenses well, having served as the Venetian ambassador there for a long time. He knew that the weakest defenses were along the Golden Horne. A Venetian ship was loaded with steel shears and ordered to cut the steel chain. The city was assaulted by sea, led by the old man himself and taken by storm on April 12, 1204. Young Alexius was installed on the throne, under the tutelage of Rome and a demand for an exorbitant sum of 400,000 silver marks was placed before him. Alexius could not raise this sum and late that year attempted to expel the invaders. He was defeated and the city was sacked.

The rampage of the city was beyond description. Men were killed by the thousands and women raped. The treasures of the Byzantine court, accumulated over a thousand years, were looted. The horses of the Crusaders rode into the churches, defiling the hallowed grounds with their refuse. The Church of Santa Sophia became a dancing hall. At the height of the carnage, a prostitute stood on the seat of the Patriarch and sang a lewd song, entertaining the demented invaders. The glory of Byzantium was trampled under the feet of the Latin mules. Treasures of the Byzantine Empire traveled west, to Venice and Rome. Upon the ashes of Byzantium rose the pirate states of eastern Italy. Economic consolidation had begun, cemented by the gold of Constantinople. In due course, this would give birth to the Renaissance. A civilization died and a new civilization was born, destined to dominate the globe. History had taken a turn and the world would not be the same again.

Delhi, the Conquest of

Delhi, the Conquest of

The Conquest of Delhi

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

For a brief moment, towards the end of the 12th century, the Muslim world was politically united under one caliph ruling from Baghdad. This political unity, rare in Islamic history, projected itself on the military plane. In West Asia, the Crusaders were ejected from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Salahuddin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187. Four years later, in 1191, Muhammed Ghori of Ghazna crossed the Indus, defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan of Delhi and Ajmer and conquered Hindustan. Five years after this momentous conquest, in 1196, the Al Muhaddith Yaqub al Mansur, won a decisive victory against the Crusaders at the Battle of Alarcos. For about thirty years, Muslim power was unchallenged on the globe.

Five years after the Battle of Hittin (1186) in which Salahuddin routed the Crusaders, another battle of equal historical importance was fought at Tarain on the plains of the Punjab between Muhammed Ghori of Ghazna and Prithvi Raj Chauhan of Delhi. The outcome of this battle paved the way for the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate. It was the first gambit in the creation of an Islamic community in the subcontinent which today numbers 450 million and is by far the largest Islamic community in the world.

The vast Indian subcontinent of 1192 was a divided land rent asunder by the mutual passions and jealousies of the ruling Rajput princes. Prithvi Raj, a dashing prince of the Chauhan dynasty, who had an equal penchant for love and war, ruled Delhi and Ajmer. Further to the east, Jai Chand, the Raja of Kanauj, was at odds with Prithvi because Jai Chand’s daughter had married Prithvi against her father’s wishes. This violated the Rajput code of honor and Jai Chand had vowed to get even with his son-in-law. Rival princes held Benares, Ujjain, Bundelkhand, Bengal, Malwa and Gujrat. The Rashtrakutas were in power in central India. The Chola, Pandya and Chera kingdoms prospered in southern India.

The storms that become manifest as critical moments in history are first played out in the minds of men and women. It is in the minds-and hearts and souls-of humans that lust and passion, love and hatred, power and prejudice, greed and benevolence are first sorted out. When these conflicts are projected on the world plane, facts are created and the canvas of history rolls forward offering new possibilities for human action. Thus it was that the rivalry between Prithvi Raj and Jai Chand, born out of a love affair between Prithvi Raj and Jai Chand’s daughter, played a critical role in the conquest of Delhi by the Afghans.

For three hundred years after the conquest of Sindh, Mansura and Multan by Muhammed bin Qasim (711), the frontier between the Caliphate in Baghdad and the Rajput strongholds in India remained more or less stationary. Mahmud’s raids (1000-1026) shattered this equilibrium and showed up the weakness in the Indian defenses. The majestic but slow moving elephants in the Rajput armies were no match for the swift enveloping movements of the horsemen from Central Asia. After Mahmud, there were no major incursions into the subcontinent from the northwest and the Rajputs were able to reconsolidate their hold on the territories of central Punjab.

The status quo was changed by the Ghoris, a resilient tribe of Afghan-Turkomans who had challenged the Ghaznavids from the mountains of Ghor, located between Kabul and Herat. In 1173, Giasuddin Ghori established himself as an independent ruler in Ghor and after capturing Ghazna itself, appointed his brother Moeezuddin Muhammed Ghori as his lieutenant in the eastern provinces. Tough, resilient, resourceful and endowed in abundance with leadership qualities, Muhammed Ghori cast his eyes east towards Hindustan. India was too rich a prize for any enterprising prince to disregard. But first he had to deal with the emirs and the Muslim princes of Afghanistan and the Punjab. By 1177, he had added Multan, Uch, Dera Ismail Khan and portions of Sindh to the Ghorid dominions. In 1178 he led a raid on Patan in Gujrat but suffered a setback. Turning his attention northwards, he captured Peshawar (1179), Sialkot (1185) and Lahore (1186). Initial forays eastward towards Delhi were not fruitful and on more than one occasion Muhammed Ghori was cornered by the Rajputs but escaped after paying a ransom. However, an opportunity presented itself in 1190 when he successfully attacked and took the fort of Bhatinda. This skirmish led to a series of military actions with fateful consequences for the subcontinent.

The Raja of Bhatinda was an ally of Prithvi Raj Chauhan of Delhi. Treaty obligations compelled Prithvi to advance from Delhi to meet the Afghans. Muhammed Ghori was returning to Kabul when news reached him of the Rajput advance. He turned around to defend Bhatinda, even though some of his cavalry had already preceded him to Kabul. The two armies met at Tarain in 1191. Ghori fought bravely but the charge of the Indian elephants broke through the Afghan defenses. Ghori was injured and barely escaped with his life. Undaunted, Ghori regrouped in Kabul and returned the following year. This time Prithvi was supported by a large number of Rajput princes. However, Jai Chand, Raja of Kanauj, who had vowed to avenge his daughter’s honor, supported Muhammed Ghori. The armies met at the Second Battle of Tarain fought in 1192. The Indian forces charged, spearheaded by the elephant corps, but this time the Afghans feigned a retreat. Then, turning around in a rapid enveloping movement, trapped the Indian center. The Rajputs dispersed. Prithvi Raj was taken prisoner and later died in captivity.

The victory at Tarain made Muhammed Ghori the master of Hindustan. After capturing Delhi, Ajmer and surrounding territories, he nominated his Mamluke lieutenant Qutbuddin Aibak as his deputy and returned to Ghazna. Meanwhile, his generals fanned out across the Gangetic plains and in swift movements reminiscent of the advance of Tariq and Musa in Spain five hundred years earlier, captured Bihar (1199) and Bengal (1202). Jai Chand, Raja of Kanauj, who had hitherto supported Muhammed Ghori, was upset with the Muslim advance beyond his territories. He resisted but was defeated in a pitched battle in 1193. By 1205, all of the Indo-Gangetic plains were under Ghurid control.

Giasuddin Ghori died in 1202 and Muhammed Ghori ascended the throne of Ghazna. Much of the time of the new Sultan was occupied with containing the Turkish invasions from the north. In 1205, he suffered a defeat at the hands of the Kara Khitai Turkish tribe. Rumor spread that Muhammed Ghori was killed in this battle. Sensing an opportunity, the Khokars of the Punjab revolted under the leadership of a local raja. The uprising was so well organized that Punjab was cut off from both Ghazna and Delhi. The revolt was crushed only when a pincer movement was organized wherein Muhammed Ghori descended from the north while Qutbuddin Aibak advanced from Delhi to the south. While returning to Kabul after this successful engagement, Ghori was assassinated by a Fatimid assassin in 1206.

With the conquest of Delhi, the center of gravity of the Islamic world began to shift to the east, a process accelerated by the Mongol invasions (1219-1261) and the resulting destruction of Central Asia and Persia. It paved the way for successive Muslim dynasties in India and Pakistan, culminating with the magnificent Moghuls (1526-1707). The people of Hindustan entered the fold of a global Islamic community taking their place alongside the Arabs, Persians, Turks and Africans. In time, this would be augmented with the great Islamic communities of Indonesia and Malaysia. Islam took root in the subcontinent, giving birth to a flourishing and unique Indian Muslim civilization in a Hindu matrix. Lahore, Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Hyderabad flourished as centers of Islamic learning, art and culture, rivaling and surpassing Samarqand, Damascus and Kairouan. In the 20thcentury, it paved the way for the birth of the modern nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.