“I have a passion for Andalusia because it contributed not only to Muslims but to humanity and human understanding. It contributed to the well-being of society, to its social harmony. This is missing nowadays.”H.R.H. Prince Turki al-Faisal
It was this very statement which stimulated my longstanding interest in the history of Spain’s southernmost region. To me, the study of history means using past experiences to make sense of today, learning from former mistakes and adopting practises which made those before us successful. Although there is a plethora of ethical, moral, intellectual and educational enlightenment which can be gained from reading into the history of Andalucia, there are also many mishaps and unfortunate incidents which occurred that can also be used as edification for the society we live in today.
Covering a lengthy period of time (approx 800 years), the history of Islam in Andalucia can take time to study and read due to it’s many complexities. However, this article will examine and revisit the cause of arrival of Muslims into Andalucia.
Formerly a land of European Christians, the Iberian Peninsula which covered modern day Spain and Portugal, was a place where Muslims and Islam communed with pre-existing Christians. At its inception, the newcomers into the land of Andalucia may have taken the Christians by surprise, however, the place swiftly transformed into a diverse and integrated society. At this point in history, we are no longer viewing this region as Christian Europe, but as Al Khateeb (2014) put it, it became both Muslim and Western Europe.
Since the emergence of Islam, there have been caliphates and dynasties with the four major ones being Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman consecutively. It is important to know that the Dynasty which had the most involvement with Islamic Spain was the Umayyad Dynasty. Also known as Banu Umayya in Arabic, etymologically the word Umayyad was formed due to the sons of Umayya Ibn Abd Shams who was the adopted son of Abd Shams Ibn Abd Manaf.
In the year 710AD/78AH, Andalucia started to receive more and more Muslims under the Umayyad rule. This was a breakthrough in the history of Islam, as it was the first time that Muslims were entering this part of the world. Under the leadership of a man called Tariq Ibn Ziyad, Muslims made their way into the region with 12,000 troops taking care of the transition from Morocco.
History tells us that the reason for movement of Muslims into Andalucia was manifold. Let us first get rid of a discredited view. Collins (1995) tells us that ‘there is a myth surrounding Julian’s daughter being raped by [King] Roderic [who was the last Visigothic ruler in Spain before the arrival of the Muslims], but that has been discredited. Count Julain was the governor of Ceuta at the time and was in favour of the Muslims taking over, and hence the reason why he had a great part in the conquest of Muslims into Andalucia. While Julian’s motives for aiding the Muslims is unclear, it most likely had to have been financially or politically motivated’.
Undoubtedly, due to the suffering situation of Christian Europe under Visigothic rule and King Roderic failing to do a good job in serving his people, Muslims were called for help. Count Julian, the governor of Ceuta at the time, lent ships to Tariq to charge into modern day Spain (James, 2009). This coupled with the desire to spread Islam into Andalucia territory made for perfect reasons for a new civilisation to mark the beginning of something great in the region. Andalucia desperately needed a change and looked towards the Islamic way of life as a saviour.
Tariq’s army encountered little resistance when he assaulted the Iberian peninsula in 711.
The only notable opposition that the Muslims faced was that of the Visigoth’s King, Roderic
(711), and even they failed to provide a significant challenge to Tariq’s seizure of Spain. (Deegan, 2012)
Lost Islamic History, Firas Al-Khateeb, 2014
The Arabic Conquest of Spain: 710 – 796, Roger Collins, 1995
Early Islamic Spain (Culture and Civilization in the Middle East), David James, 2009 (Original work by Ibn al-Qutiya (977))
Roderic’s Failure and Tariq’s Success: Why the Muslims Conquered Spain, Arthur Deegan, 2012