Saturday, 1 September 2007

Sultan Hakam I of Spain, Part I

At the time of his accession to the Spanish throne in 796 CE, Sultan Hakam then only 22 years old, was already a veteran of battle and administration, having fought and governed under the eight year rule of his father, Hisham I.

In time, he would be awarded the honorific titles, ‘Al Muzaffar’ (the Victorious) and ‘Al-Fateh’ (the Conqueror) for his record of conquests and military successes against the Christians in Spain and France.

This was the era of Harun Al Rashid as the major Caliph in the Muslim World and the Christian King Charlemagne across the border in France. Indeed, it was only one hundred years since the last of the Sahabah had passed away and some of their disciples were still alive.

Imam Malik himself, then the greatest and most well known scholar and jurist of the age, was invited to Spain by Sultan Hisham just a few years before, and although he preferred to stay in Medina, he sent some of his students to the Iberian Peninsula.

Sutan Hakam inherited an empire at a precarious time. Almost one fourth of the country (composed of self-proclaimed Christian dominions) were virtually independent in the north, earlier rebellions by members of the royal family had severely weakened the morale, resources and treasury of the state and regular interference by France under Charlemagne only added to the burden of keeping the kingdom in order and united under one umbrella.

If Sultan Hakam had desired a peaceful start to his reign, he was to be sadly disappointed. Various revolts sprang up almost immediately and included Toledo, Saragossa and Huesca. One such revolt enjoyed the support of a relative, Abdullah, a paternal uncle of Sultan Hakam.

The Sultan despatched relief columns to retrieve the territories and after some skirmishes, the revolts were successfully suppressed. Abdullah, the Sultan’s uncle, requested amnesty after defeat and was granted an annual stipendiary.

Once internal disturbances had died down, a usurper from abroad tried his luck at capturing the throne himself. Sulayman, another uncle, this time from Tangier, Morocco, landed in the Iberian Peninsula and marched to Cordova, the capital of the Empire.

Stirred on by early successes along the way, Sulayman faced his nephew’s regular forces just outside the capital and in the Battle of Kharish that followed, suffered defeat. Not to be taken prisoner, he fled to Merida, but was later captured and killed.

Toledo, a former grand Visgothic capital before Islam and still populated by largely Christians and disloyal Muslims, was the next to raise the standard of revolt. The pretence, it is alleged, was the growth of Arabs in the country and their enjoyment of state support.

After dealing with other rebellions first that had since appeared, Sultan Hakam sent further forces to subjugate the city. In the engagement that followed, the rebels met defeat and the city capitulated.

Sultan Hakam next turned to the Christian states. They had greatly benefited from the internal rivalry between Muslims and annexed areas close to their borders adding to their prestige.

The Sultan’s aim was not to initialise a war between him and them for the sake of war itself and religious rivalry, but to recapture the lands taken by them during the disturbances in his domains.

The Sultan carried the war into their territories and faced each state within its own boundaries. In this way, it was the Sultan in theory who was most at risk, as he had crossed into foreign soil and against regular infantry, trained militia and regiments of long established and independent states.

The Sultan cut off the Christian strangulation from the rest of Spain by subjecting it to an eight year war of attrition with varying fortunes on both sides, this way the country could continue to function and prosper without being adversely affected by the economic and socio-political conditions that would arise in a state of actual war.

During this time, trade and commerce continued to flourish. Subjects could cross from state to state without curfew, restrictions or check points without the danger of molestation, injury or death and enjoyed full access to resources and rights just as they had in peacetime.

Religious differences between subjects of the Sultanate, despite the political atmosphere around them, remained nominal, cordial and peaceful. Justice and harmony otherwise prevailed across the empire.

Despite the dissentions and enemies around the Sultan however, he still triumphed in most of his actual personal engagements, major encounters and otherwise and returned to Cordova, a hero.

Across the border in France (then known as the Frankish Empire or Kingdom of the Franks), Charlemagne (ruled 768-814), the most powerful and well-known ruler in the country, watched events in Spain with a close eye.

He sympathised with the Christian subjects irrespective of their grievances, large or small, or whether they were guilty of committing gross acts of criminal aggression or not and wished to see them under him if possible, particularly those nearest to his frontiers.

Charlemagne himself, the grandson of Charles Martel, who had defeated the Muslims in the Battle of Tours in 732 CE and thereby checked the Muslim advance, and son of Pepin the Short, who had retrieved the last footholds in France from Muslim control in 756 CE after a six year siege, had a family legacy of hatred against Muslims stretching back six generations.

By the time Sultan Hakam had assumed the throne in Spain, Charlemagne had successfully consolidated most of France under his rule, the country still had segments of paganism within its borders, Saxons, a people who resisted his overlordship and refused to embrace Christianity and other elements of the population who wished to assert their own independence had once been a source of tension during his tenure as king.

The pagans and Saxons were forcibly converted to Christianity and the latter were massacred in large numbers with the blessing and joy of the Church, who later invested upon Charlemagne the rank of Holy Roman Emperor in a ceremony in 800 CE. The title remained with him and his successors thereafter and represented the role of the King and State as the political arm and Champion of the Church.

Despite serious doctrinal, personal and political differences, dissentions and in some instances armed conflict between them, the term and trusteeship between Church and State remained along different lines, thoughts, interpretations and rulers until 1806, approximately a millennium, before it was formally dissolved.

This then was Charlemagne; the inaugural Holy Roman Emperor, defender of Christian values, ethics and minorities, representative of Jesus on an executive level and saviour of the Church. Interestingly Charlemagne initially rejected the Trinity.

Some twenty years before Sultan Hakam’s accession in 777 CE, Charlemagne had for the first and only time in his reign, invaded Spain at the head of an imposing army upon the invitation of rebels inside the country.

The revolt was miscarried and before Charlemagne reached his destination to join the rebel camp, the insurrection was over. Charlemagne was disgusted and arrested the instigators on the Spanish side and decided to return to France without engaging in actual combat with Islamic forces.

Along the way, the mammoth Frankish army was spotted leaving Spain inland through the mountain passes on the Pyrenees by the residents of Asturias, the then only independent kingdom of Christians who had made the hills and landlocked terrain their home.

The Asturians (or Basques as they were also known) had welcomed, hailed and praised the invasion as their relief from the heavens at its inception and hoped to join them in arms once the invasion was in full force.

The sight of the huge Frankish army, who they had expected to be their liberators and saviours, departing from Spain in such a short time without even a single encounter infuriated the local Christians.

Asturian irregulars and civilians from their hidden mountain positions attacked the rear end of Charlemagne’s grand army with the result that few of his soldiers, including many of his best generals and ablest soldiers actually survived and reached France successfully. The setback prompted Charlemagne never to attempt another similar invasion again.

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