Just a tiny span of water separates the northernmost part of Morocco from the southernmost part of Spain. In 711 AD on this day in history, a mighty general named Tariq ibn Ziyad led an army of 300 Arabs and 10,000 Berbers across that span to invade Spain and establish am Islamic empire that ruled for 1200 years.
The Iberian Peninsula, a chunk of land in southern Europe that is divided between Spain and Portugal, had been controlled by barbarian tribes ever since they sacked Rome 410, accelerating the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Although the barbarians – and their kingdoms – became Christians over time, all that was about to change.
It all began when North Africa, which was still under the Byzantine domination got conquered by the governor of Egypt Abdullah Sa’ad, whose raids have been documented as the most formidable against the North Africa. The practice of Islam thus came to fruition during the battle at Subetula (648 AD) where the Byzantine monarch, Gregory was slain and North Africa taken over by Muslims.
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Tariq bin Ziyad, a freed slave and convert to Islam from the Berber tribe of Algeria, is believed to have seen the Holy Prophet Muhammad in his dream, who encouraged him to take arms against Spain in 711 AD, following the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I.
“Take courage, O Tariq! And accomplish what you are destined to perform,” Islamic historian Ibn Khaldoum in transcribing the message of Mohammed to Tariq wrote.
Marching on with an army comprising 300 Arabs and 10,000 Berber converts to Islam, Tariq landed at a large hill that would become known as the rock of Gibraltar, prepared to battle King Roderic of Spain who had amassed a force of 100,000 fighters against the Muslims. Being overwhelmed by the huge army of King Roderic, Tariq immediately called for military reinforcements, Ibn Khaldoum writes. He received an additional contingent of 7,000 cavalrymen under the command of Tarif bin Malik Naqi after which he consolidated his troops.
The rock of Gibraltar was actually named for him: it was originally named Jabal Ṭāriq, which is Arabic for “mountains of Tariq.”
The battle lines were drawn but one thing was certain – the nervousness of Tariq’s army, having seen the formidable enemy before them. In a move to regain their trust and confidence, Tariq bin Ziyad ordered the ships of King Roderick to be burned, a daring military move which subsequently led to both armies locking horns at the battlefield of Guadalete. There, King Roderic was defeated and killed on Ramadan 28, 92 AH – a victory forever inscribed in the military annals of the world.
The medieval political economy of Spain blossomed as result of Muslim rule. With the introduction of tax exemptions, social justice and bilateral trade with Christians, Spain is documented to have become a beacon of art, science and culture for Europe as grand mosques, palaces, plush gardens, hospitals and libraries were built and canals were repaired, which transmuted the European state to an agricultural estuary!