Yusuf Ibn Tashfin
In October 1086 on the banks of Zallakha (Sagrajas) in Spain, stood Alfonso VI, the Christian ruler of the Triple Kingdom of Leon-Castile-Galicia (1065-1109) and self-styled Imperator Hispanie (Emperor of Spain). At the head of seventy thousand soldiers he laid in wait for the latest Islamic invasion of his Country. He was then one of the most commanding and robust figures of his time.
The approaching army, comprised of less than half of his own forces, was joined by the Muslim Kings of Almeria, Badajoz, Granada, and Seville but still jointly amassed only twenty thousand troops when the battle lines were drawn.
Something was strange about this contingent of fighters however. Unlike previous Islamic forces Alfonso VI had faced the vast majority of soldiers were neither Arab, Iberian nor European.
Although Arabs made up a substantial figure in the force, the vast majority of troops were actually black soldiers. In addition there was a noticeable absence of Warhorses. It was also the first time Spanish people would see camels used for cavalry.
Alfonso’s latest opponent on this occasion was also a Black African with his throne in Morocco and like Alfonso VI an experienced military commander and leader. Yusuf Ibn Tashfin (Tashfeen) had crossed the Mediterranean Sea ready for combat in response to pleas from fellow Muslims in Spain.
In appearance, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin (1019-1106) may not have seemed impressive since he refused to wear royal robes and regal attire displeased him. He was in some ways, like the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), a man of the desert with simple tastes.
This then was the man spearheading perhaps the earliest Black African invasion of White Europe this millennium. Gazing at his superior numbers over his adversary, Alfonso VI commented that even the Angels of Heaven could not overcome his formidable force.
Alfonso VI himself had earlier begun his reign of the Kingdom of Leon warring with older brother, Sancho the Strong of Castile, and annexed his throne after his death. Another brother, Garcia of Galicia also lost his throne to him in 1071-2. Now that there seemed to be no one to fear as well as a lack of credible opponents, Yusuf was next.
Alfonso VI wrote to Yusuf before the battle, hurling much abuse at him, and made some references to the immensity of his own army and military strength, as if to frighten and scare him off. Yusuf’s reply was much shorter and more concise; ‘One who remains alive will see.’
In preparation for the battle, Yusuf had amassed an impressive army, impressive in the sense that it is said that when he came to the Iberian Peninsula, there was no tribe of the Western desert not represented in the African Conqueror’s defence force.
Alfonso VI’s army included men from the rival Spanish Christian State of Aragon, Italy and France and in 1088 allowed more foreign Christians, (many of whom later went to the First Crusade between 1095-99 to fight Muslims in Jerusalem), to come to his aid.
The result of the first encounter however was more astounding than the initial arrangements for it by either side. Out of seventy thousand Christian soldiers that assembled for battle, only five hundred are said to have survived and Alfonso himself was injured with a lance wound in his knee that later made him lame.
Al-Mutamed, a local Muslim monarch, later enquired over the distribution of Spoils of War in the aftermath of the event. Yusuf replied he had come to help, not to seek Spoils of War. After resting for a few days Yusuf returned to Africa leaving the princes to divide the booty amongst themselves.
Yusuf Ibn Tashfin of the Lamtunah tribe grew up in the scorching desert plains of the Maghreb (the area encompassing North West Africa and including Morocco), neither of royal blood nor sacred lineage but amidst a simple nomadic farmers existence. As a youth he may have tended sheep and grazed camels.
A religious brotherhood, the ‘Murabitun’ (Muraabetuun) that emerged in his country from abroad and emphasised strict adherence to Shariah law (Islamic Constitution) and the Sunnah (Teachings of the Messenger SAW) caught his eye.
Its founder, Ibn Yasin was a charismatic and colourful figure and very reluctant to assume political office. He was appointed the principal judge and religious leader, while another figure became the political ruler. At a later date, Yusuf’s able cousin, Abu Bakr, succeeded the movement and became one of the earliest to be designated Ameer (leader).
By then it had already captured the imagination and fervour of others like Yusuf and extended its beacon of knowledge, light and influence to other nations. The movement, even by the time it assumed the seat of government, still advocated and legislated the Divine Law and Constitution alone.
This system was also opposed to a cult of personality, as well as those with strong ideological foundations (such as socialism or conservatism) or those based on charismatic leadership and is often camouflaged and carefully concealed under various names.
Yusuf soon became his cousin’s lieutenant and later in 1062, following the instructions of Abu Bakr, founded the City of Marrakesh making it his capital. Abu Bakr had earlier nominated Yusuf to become the acting head of the Northern sector of the Murabitun Empire, whilst he himself left for the Sahara.
Under his efficient and powerful leadership Yusuf’s personal eminence, dynamic and energetic programme soon grew larger than his cousin was and ever had been, and this was despite Abu Bakr still being the ‘official’ leader of the Murabitun.
Yusuf later incorporated all of the Maghreb to his dominion and expanded the army. Seeing Yusuf’s ability to govern well, and sensing his sincerity from the trust and respect loyally accorded by others to him strongly impressed Abu Bakr, who had since returned from waging a successful Jihad abroad.
An additional attraction to his protégé’s style and ascendancy was Yusuf’s personal honesty and financial integrity in all issues and circumstances both as monarch and as a private individual. Abu Bakr, who had met, known and received training under Ibn Yasin, happily transferred and invested all power and authority to Yusuf the same year.
Due to Yusuf’s growing prominence across Africa in later years, tribal rulers of the Murabitun requested the Emperor to assume the title of Ameer-ul-Mu'mineen (Commander of the Believers), adding that he was now the Caliph of the Maghrib.
Yusuf refused the designated name, stating that it was more appropriate and fitting to the Caliph in Baghdad, not himself. It should be said, the Caliph in Baghdad did not demand or enforce any African State to give the Oath of Allegiance and obey or respect him then, yet Yusuf continued to have a very high opinion of the Caliphate throughout his life.
By 1082, the twentieth year of his reign, Yusuf’s African Empire included all of Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, Tunisia, W. Sahara and Ghana. Yusuf now wanted to consolidate and improve the territories under his control and jurisdiction. However news of his conquests, popularity and moral rectitude had already extended as far as Spain.
Refugees from Andalusia then started pouring into Morocco that year. Alfonso VI was denying them their rights and committing criminal offences against them. Yusuf listened to their grievances and sympathised with their plight.
Al-Mutamed, the Sovereign of Seville, sent his ambassador to Morocco and appealed for assistance the same year. Yusuf was initially reluctant to do so. He may not have known much about Andalusia but the idea of further battles especially outside African soil did not particularly fascinate him.
In 1083 Al-Mutamed came himself and presented his plea for Yusuf to invade. If Yusuf’s support was not forthcoming to save his fledgling State from being swallowed by the Christians, all of Andalusia would collapse and Christianity would triumph across the Iberian Peninsula.
Unknown to Yusuf was that Al-Mutamed had earlier crucified Alfonso VI’s Jewish emissary, when the latter demanded gold payment instead of silver (to continue ruling as Alfonso’s puppet ruler), as had been previously agreed by both men.
However, since the killing, execution, trial and incarceration of diplomats, official representatives and messengers were against International law, Alfonso VI was justly intent on taking revenge.
Earlier, Alfonso VI became aware of Al-Mutamed’s request to Yusuf and now was strangely obsessed with moves to entice and initiate a personal encounter; it was more than just a battle for both, and reflected a clash of cultures and religious disparity between their respective nations in Spain.
Alfonso VI did not perturb Yusuf, the African Emperor just wanted to remain content with where he was and what he had. Unnecessary bloodshed for personal standing, honour or glory had no meaning or relevance to Yusuf.
Not content with Yusuf staying in Africa, Alfonso VI requested Yusuf send him a fleet of warships so that he could come to Morocco and engage in battle with him there. Yusuf still hesitated; he wasn’t interested in War for the sake of War. He already had more prestige, wealth and land than Alfonso and ruled over more people.
The Fuqaha (legal jurists) then issued a divine declaration for him to go their aid. Yusuf then swiftly sent a small African force to Spain and briefed Alfonso VI of his appearance in the Peninsula. He also allowed him to choose the day of the battle and if the designated area was to his personal satisfaction.
It was to be Yusuf’s first personal military expedition since 1072, fourteen years earlier. Despite his age, (he was in his late sixties in 1086) he would participate in the battle with distinction.
Notwithstanding this and the unfamiliarity of Spanish terrain for the newly arrived African army, Alfonso VI attacked the Muslims the day before the battle had been agreed upon and still lost heavily.
Yusuf’s strategy was to help the Muslim rulers for as long as they needed him and then return to Africa. He had no interest in booty or personal gains and made no effort in establishing some influence or suzerainty over anyone whilst in Spain.
By the time Yusuf first came to Spain, Andalusia was being torn to pieces. The year before (1085) Alfonso VI had easily annexed the strategic City of Toledo from ‘Muslim control’. Despite reigning for a further twenty-four years, this was the greatest achievement of his career.
The City had already been more or less under his direct influence anyway with the installation of puppet rulers but it’s capture (even to this day) added to his prestige now that it was now ‘officially’ his. The Muslims never re-conquered it again.
For fifty-five long and painful years since 1031 after the capital Cordova was made a republic and the Spanish Central Caliphate collapsed, small, weak ineffectual and petty states known collectively as Mulk-ul-Tawaif like the City of Toledo had declared independence, and now made up what was once a strong and powerful Islamic Empire in Europe.
Alfonso VI and other Christian rulers had previously exploited the weakness of each State, by encouraging one or more of them to make War against the other/s and when the stronger one was exhausted and unable to resist, it would be invaded and be forced to cede key citadels, fortresses, castles and occasionally small towns and other areas.
Initially weaker states accepted suzerainty and tribute status of Christian States, just to retain some authority and power for themselves. This was a far cry from earlier times when Christian aggression was always met with an equal footing.
Although Yusuf was shocked by what he saw in Muslim Spain, (the poverty in some areas among other things) he was prepared to overlook it for the time being. He had come not to judge, counsel or express his opinions and advise, but as a guest and liberator to help those in need. As a guest he could not then insult his hosts.
Since he had come only as a relief force, Yusuf left three thousand troops for the service of the Muslim rulers after the battle and returned to Africa. Yusuf had hoped the victory at Zallakha would encourage the warring Muslim rulers to unite and face the might of Christian dominance together.
The thirteen Muslim monarchs who had given homage to Yusuf pledged just this, but soon started arguing among themselves and left Yusuf’s troops to do all the fighting, whilst they resumed their previous habits and customs and ignored Shariah law.
In 1088, Yusuf arrived a second time after receiving another plea from the ‘Taifa’ or ‘Tarifa’ (petty principalities) provinces. Christian armies had encroached their territories and seemingly couldn’t be dislodged. Yusuf, this time without hesitation, came with an expeditionary force.
On this occasion, little fighting, if at all, happened. The Taifa Kings quarrelled among themselves; some even in his presence and couldn’t unify their forces under one banner. Yusuf nonetheless tried to build some kind of alliance and besieged Aledo.
Unlike 1086, Yusuf had judged the local Muslim principalities too leniently and believed they could bury their differences and discord for the time being, especially when need pressed them to do so.
Before Alfonso VI could send a defence force to relieve territory under his domain, Yusuf had already ordered an unconditional withdrawal and was back in Morocco. Muslim leaders in Spain had wrongly begun to suspect Yusuf was not altogether sincere and sent troops against him. Others had sought assistance from Christian allies. Yusuf was disgusted.
His second crossing had ended disastrously and clouded his decisive encounter of 1086. Yusuf’s third crossing in 1090, would be the first uninvited by the Taifa’s. The Fuqaha invited Yusuf to come to Spain instead on this occasion.
The Ulema (Religious Council of Scholars) of Spain, North Africa and Asia including Imam Ghazalli from the Middle East issued a Fatwa (Legal Ruling or Verdict) of Jihad, urging the Murabitun to declare War against the petty Muslim States who had allied themselves with the Christians and annex those territories.
His third visit was hence more productive. Tired of Muslims forming coalitions with Christians and fighting against one another, he resolved his forces should fight the Christians and leave any Muslim areas alone who don’t take up arms against Yusuf.
As a large number of them began to side with the Christians, Yusuf now ordered his generals to remove those particular Muslim Kings of Spain and replace them with Governors of their own choosing. By the year’s end Yusuf was back in Africa and wouldn’t return until 1097 but his loyal troops remained.
In this way Yusuf annexed the Muslim Kingdoms of Granada, Malaga, Baza, Seville and Cordova while still in Africa. He later took the Southern City of Tarifa as well. Alfonso VI made two attempts to recapture some of these areas who were allied to him in 1091 but suffered defeat both times, including one expedition he led personally.
On one of these occasions, the King of Seville, possibly the same Muslim who had first invited Yusuf to Spain, made preparations against General Sair, Yusuf bin Tashfin’s nephew. He (Al-Mutamed) was then the strongest of all Kings in Spain.
Alfonso VI sent him troops to reinforce the King of Seville. General Sair divided his army into two sections. One would fight the approaching Christians and the other the defence corps of Seville. Both sections returned victorious.
In 1092 Yusuf’s troops occupied the previously impenetrable Castle of Aledo (the same place Yusuf had unsuccessfully besieged four years earlier) dislodging Alphonso VI and they later also took Alcira. By 1093 Yusuf’s forces were committed in the Western half of the Iberian Peninsula.
In 1094 Yusuf’s forces further occupied the key Cities and Kingdoms of Almeria, Marcia, Denia, Jativa and Badajoz. Alfonso VI then lost the territories of Central Portugal namely Lisbon, Santarem and Cintra to Yusuf.
The same year, the Murabitun under Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim suffered an unprecedented reverse at the hands of Rodrigo [Ruy] Diaz De Vivar (1043-1099), better known among Christians as [the] ‘Campeador’ (Lord Champion) and among later generations more popularly as El Cid (or simply the Cid) and it was under this title, his legend stuck.
Officially he was a prized and professionally trained knight (and chief general) in the service of Alfonso VI. In reality he was a spoilt aristocrat and an experienced mercenary; regularly fighting both Christians and Muslims alike for personal and financial gain with more interest in pillage and ravaging lands than ‘saving Spain’.
From this came his title, El Cid, incorrectly derived from the Arabic ‘Sayyid’ and Spanish Arabic ‘As-Sid’ (meaning lord/master but more precisely for him and later admirers ‘the boss’). Sayyid at best referred to a [Islamic] religious leader, Rodrigo Diaz never was.
In respect to the battle, Christian and independent historians say, the Muslims were too overconfident of victory and payed the price by being almost annihilated. El Cid himself was now an icon and later (even to this day) after his death, the National Hero of Spain.
It was nevertheless the Murabitun’s first ever defeat in the Iberian Peninsula. In 1096 the Cid twice repeated his earlier performance by successfully routing the Murabitun army, the first of which was under Ali Ibn Al-Hajj (and the second combined with Pedro I against Muhammad Ibn Aisha, a son of Yusuf).
The resulting losses stunned Muslim pride and demonstrated the Christians, or at least El Cid, were still a force to be reckoned with. It also made many people realise real victory and success comes only from Allah.
By the late 1090s however, Yusuf presided over all or most of Muslim Spain, a fate not seen since the Ninth Century or the days of General Tariq Ibn Ziyad and his mentor Governor of Africa Musa Ibn Nusayr in the early 700s; both black generals were legends.
In 1097, upon Yusuf’s fourth crossing to Spain a Jihad was declared against Alphonso VI and the Cid and Yusuf made for Cordova. Under the authority of Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajj, the Murabitun army moved towards the capital of Tage.
Despite the double declaration of War against both Alfonso VI and El Cid, only the former had the fortitude to face the Muslims during Yusuf’s presence in Spain. Lesser Muslim generals could lead the Murabitun armies, but only Alfonso would fight them.
The Murabitun had yet to invade Alphonso’s territory fully when they met him in August 1097, near Consuegra. Despite reinforcements from El Cid, the Christians tasted defeat. For the Cid it was an irreversible tragedy, he had lost his invincibility in battle.
Yusuf then intensified expeditions against the Christians and ordered his son, Muhammad Ibn Aisha, then Governor of Murcia, to advance against Cuenca and the fortresses of Zorita and Santaver.
Alvar Fanez, a cousin of the Cid (and a veteran of the Battle of Zallakha in 1086), held these strategic areas, and was in command of the region when the Muslims invaded. The two sides met near Cuenca, and Alvar Fanez suffered defeat.
After his victory against Alvar Fanez, Muhammad Ibn Aisha moved towards the east and razed the domains of the Cid in Valencia. Despite doing so, El Cid still evaded him personally but sent troops to face him.
The opposing armies assembled at Alcira, and there the Muslims demolished the Cid’s forces, resulting in heavy losses to the latter. Muhammad Ibn Aisha, a son of Yusuf and the Muslim general in the battle, thus avenged his earlier defeat against the Cid.
The two men would never meet again. The Cid himself had now lost twice against the Murabitun; he may not have been prepared to risk further losses to his name and legend. Soon afterwards Yusuf and his army returned to Africa.
In 1099 Yahya Ibn Abu Bakr, a nephew of Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, crossed into Spain and advanced against both Alphonso VI and the Cid. Before now the Cid had personally only fought defensively when a confrontation was forced upon him. For some reason he also avoided Muhammad Ibn Aisha, who was recently victorious in their last two encounters.
Yahya then joined up with his cousin Sir Ibn Abu Bakr, (another nephew of Yusuf) and Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajj before moving towards Toledo. This time they took Consuegra from Alphonso VI.
Despite the victories the Cid still avoided the Murabitun army, especially now that Yusuf was later among them in Spain. The First Crusade occurred during the same period and although many Spanish Christians went, the devout Christian El Cid opted to stay.
Back in Spain by 1102 Yusuf’s Empire had reached its zenith and had finally occupied Valencia, El Cid’s former principality and a key City near the seacoast in Northeast Spain. Yusuf had also since conquered Rueda, Carmona, Baiha and Bhalat.
The River Tagus (near Castile) came to form the Northern boundary of the African Empire in Spain. With the emergence of the Murabitun State in Spain, the Christians were pushed back further.
After this all of Spain with the exception of the State of Saragossa (Zaragoza) and the Northern areas near the borders with France was back in Muslim hands. The state of anarchy and strife-ridden rulers disappeared. Governors and Viceroys now administered Islamic Spain with their allegiance to Yusuf in Morocco.
Only some twenty years earlier in 1086, Alphonso VI had confidently boasted the boundary between Andalusia and Christian Spain extended as far the seacoast in the South only and prepared to extinguish Muslim power for good.
Yusuf, who few people in Spain may have heard of or knew something about in the 1070s, would rule Spain for a total of sixteen years (1090-1106) and forty-four years as a sovereign in total (1062-1106).
Although Yusuf now ruled Spain, his capital, throne and seat of government remained in Morocco, but he later established a separate court in Andalusia as well. The first known Black African monarch of Morocco and Spain thus set a precedent for later rulers.
Yusuf had also planned a new offensive and Jihad against Valencia and the Cid in 1099, but a few days after his arrival on Spanish soil that year El Cid, the only man who had defeated Yusuf’s forces in battle, died a natural death in his sleep, and allegedly while his principality was still under siege.
Only his death saved the Cid from being forced to fight Yusuf personally. El Cid had failed in his last battle and three years later his State finally fell to his greatest adversary, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin after a nine-month siege.
However, since the African Emperor’s purpose primarily had been to fight the Cid in 1099, Yusuf then returned to Morocco and it’s thought, without any military engagements personally. After 1099 Yusuf never faced any revolts to his rule in Andalusia or in Africa.
As long as Yusuf lived there was relative harmony, peace and tranquillity throughout his territories. As a ruler, Yusuf reformed the administration, ordered the Khutbah (Friday Sermons) to be read in the name of the Caliph in Baghdad made it part of the Abbassid Central Caliphate whom he also gave allegiance to, strictly enforced the Shariah and set a personal example himself.
Earlier the [Abbassid] Caliph of Baghdad, Al-Muqtadi Bi’amrillah (1077-1094), sent him a garment, a standard and invested Yusuf with the honorific title ‘Ameer-ul-Muslimeen’ (Commander of the Faithful), a distinguishing tribute and mark of respect accorded to him at the time, by someone theoretically so much higher than him in rank.
In 1105, eighty-two years before Sultan Salahudeen Yusuf Bin Ayyubi (better or more wrongly known as Saladin to his Christian opponents), Yusuf Ibn Tashfin embarked on an ambitious plan to liberate Jerusalem from Christian rule.
It was ambitious in the sense that no other Muslim army, including those nations adjoining Palestine was accompanying him in this venture, or seemed to share an interest in its success or was willing to help and provide support.
Sixty ships with possibly the largest expeditionary Black African force to the Middle East known to have come together, assembled that year. For Yusuf, the initiative was not necessarily idealistic but similar in design to his first trip to Spain in 1086; liberation to those oppressed by others.
Had everything gone according to plan, Islamic rule would have been re-established and secured within a short time and the disunity engulfing the Muslim World, might have been quenched successfully. Unfortunately many of the ships were sunk in a storm.
Many of the troops on board were also killed before meeting any enemy forces and with it the dream of conquering Jerusalem. Allah had decreed it was to be his first and final attempt. Yusuf died the following year.
The Christian Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, who may have been completely ignorant of the event, at least for the time being, could breathe a huge sigh of relief. When it was finally conquered in 1187, many Christians believed Sultan Salahudeen Yusuf Ibn Ayyubi must have had [French] Christian blood in him to begin with.
He was given a European ancestor who had converted to Islam following her capture after a battle, but later failed to persuade her daughter to revert to Christianity after the former was reunited with her earlier husband. The rebel daughter later gave birth to Salahudeen.
These ‘facts’ then explained the scale of the Christian defeat against him; it also helped prevent Christians embracing Islam by just thinking and talking about the events in amazement and confusion.
How else could he (Salahudeen), as a Non Christian (and a follower of someone who Christianity regarded as an Anti-Christ) inflict such decisive losses against God’s chosen ones and not suffer defeat himself subsequently afterwards?
As for Yusuf’s Empire after his death, the Christians were forced back further North, Saragossa and other areas of Christian Spain not previously taken, were annexed including Talavera and parts of Castile.
Alfonso VI, Yusuf and the Murabitun’s other great rival, would live on until 1109 but made little impact afterwards. In 1108 he also lost his only (illegitimate) son, Sancho, at the Battle of Ucles against the Murabitun. Only his daughters survived him.
As both his brothers were dead and also had no male heirs to inherit Kingship of the Tripartite Dominion, the bloodline passed on to Alfonso VII, the son of their sister Urraca, to occupy the vacant throne in 1109.
Earlier Alfonso VI had also refused to save the Cid’s principality when asked to do so, adding with the Cid’s death he now had no one able to contain Yusuf’s men and recommended the City be evacuated, as it could not now be saved.
Ali Ibn Yusuf, then only Twenty-three at the time of his accession to the throne in 1106, continued the successful trend of his father for over a decade. He was almost as religious as Yusuf, preferred simplicity and solitude and wasn’t lacking in implementing justice.
As a military leader, the City of Toledo eluded him, (which he once unsuccessfully besieged) but Ali personally annexed the neighbouring Hajirah Valley, its surrounding cities and later the City of Lisbon from the Christians.
After some time of presiding over the Iberian Peninsula himself, Ali entrusted the Viceroyalty of Spain and Governorship of ground forces and defence services in the region under his brother, Tamim, who was a devastating general.
His first experience, that was almost immediate, was however less than great. The Kingdom of Aragon, that had purposely avoided a direct confrontation with Yusuf Ibn Tashfin throughout his long reign, now started to pose an immediate and constant threat thereafter.
The death of Alfonso VI of Castile had helped fill this void, as Aragon had previously been content just to see its enemy, Castile, crumble before their eyes. It could then lay claim to adjoining areas and invade them once Castile had been sufficiently undermined and demoralised enough to offer battle.
Alfonso I of Aragon (also known as Alfonso Ibn Ramirez) in his invasion initially proved fatal, by allying themselves with France, the Muslims could not withstand the two-pronged assault and this led to the fall of Saragossa and other lands and citadels.
Ali quickly re-captured the areas lost and returned to Morocco after receiving the submission of his defeated rivals. On Ali’s departure, Alfonso Ibn Ramirez attacked again, this time with the support of the Christian City of Toledo.
For some reason, Ali did not come personally, sent no ground troops for reinforcement or set of instructions on how to deal with the opposing armies. Now all hope firmly rested on Tamim’s shoulders; his own stratagem, confidence and military skills would either prove decisive or spell the death warrant of the Muslim presence in Spain.
Sensing victory in sight due to Ali’s absence, Aragon now made preparations to invade Granada on the Southern seacoast of Spain. The encounter however, left half of the assembled Christian army, permanently lying on the battlefield and the remainder to flee back to Barcelona, the Capital of Aragon, and relate the event to those who had missed it.
One reason for revolts by Christian States was a relaxed policy of peaceful coexistence instead of annexation, and the relative success of many Muslim uprisings now and in later generations was due to the hatred of Non Spanish Governors and leaders ruling over Arab provinces in Spain. Although both elements among the latter were Muslim, the Moroccan administrators were seen as foreign, distrusted and deeply resented.
During Yusuf’s reign, this had been overlooked due to his personal integrity, but as time passed nationalistic feelings, agitation and anxieties re-surfaced. In later years it was further ignited and perpetuated by rumours, true or false, spread by Christian residents in Islamic lands and neighbouring Christian territories. The purpose of which was to create division and internal disorder by turning Muslim against Muslim and weakening their defences against future invasions by Castile or other Christian powers within Spain.
If the Moroccan Muslims had not ruled over them during these years, independent Arab leaders would still not have governed Islamic Spain. Christian monarchs or at best local ‘puppet’ administrators would have ruled over the Muslim populations instead on Non Islamic lines.
Yusuf Ibn Tashfin
Yusuf Ibn Tashfin Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Turghut’s kunya (family name) was Abu Ya’qub. As a Black African, he had a brownish complexion and was of medium height. He was a thin bearded man and had a soft voice
His family comprised of nine sons and four daughters and his wife was the divorced spouse of his cousin, Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr had recommended the marriage contract between them and ruled the Murabitun successfully before him.
Abu Bakr never regretted the decision and lived loyally as a subject under him, he was later martyred in 1088 fighting the Ghanaians. Although Yusuf had eclipsed his cousin, his predecessors as well as his successors, he never felt he was better than anyone.
Yusuf, who was a trained religious scholar and one of the Ulema, was very popular with the Ulema Worldwide and his subjects across the Empire, including Spain and even those provinces not under him, began to enjoy peace and prosperity under his strong rule.
As long as he lived, his Christian subjects could expect more fairness in his administration and choice of officials and would fear and respect him personally. A combination of both made many abstain from ravaging or invading lands under his realm.
Yusuf expanded Murabitun territory from a small insecurely placed area in the Maghreb into an enormous empire. It included major portions of present day Morocco, all of Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Sudan, Niger, Southern and Central Spain and stretched as far North as Fraga and also included the islands of Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza.
He led a series of triumphant military invasions in Western Maghreb, founded the City of Marrakesh in 1062 and made it his capital. Later it became the base from which several campaigns were launched in Western Maghreb including the conquest of the Ghanaian Empire in 1076.
He annexed the Cities of Fes, Tangier and Ceuta before setting out for Andalusia later in 1086. Yusuf had made Du’a to Allah, to give him victory in the City of Ceuta only if it was right to go to Andalusia. He was victorious.
Reports of atrocities, human rights violations and abuses committed by Alphonso VI were also verified by the arrival of hundreds of Muslim refugees to his Kingdom to escape Christian tyranny in 1082.
Initially Yusuf sent a reconnaissance mission/s to scout the area, meet with local leaders who had petitioned him to come and discuss further plans before the actual seaborne invasion commenced itself; a practise employed by Governor Musa Ibn Nusayr in the 700s (who was himself in his sixties then) before the first and earliest Islamic invasion of Spain. Once everything was in place, Yusuf began a recruitment drive in Morocco.
At sixty-seven Yusuf set sail for Europe, age had not weakened him and although he was a great soldier and warrior he had only fought against fellow Africans. This was his first experience of White Europe; still he didn’t find the experience daunting.
Initially, he invited Alfonso VI to embrace Islam, in line with the practice of the Messenger of Allah (SAW), his companions and later generations of pious believers. Alfonso VI replied his family and ancestors had been fighting against Islam for over eighty years and he wasn’t going to abandon that struggle now.
Some years later, after being informed the Muslim rulers continued to live lavish lives and were now utilising Yusuf’s troops to fight their own petty battles, the African Emperor crossed into Europe a third time.
His last visit had been hampered by their refusal to combine hands and align jointly against Christian opponents. From 1090 Yusuf would rely only on his own forces and expect no assistance from the principalities.
In 1086, Yusuf’s only aim was to save Muslim Spain from total annihilation, and after demolishing the Christian’s morale and military might in the years that followed, he ended up ruling it as an overseas province.
The Muslim principalities he saw couldn’t rule without corruption, lacked effective armies and did little to help the populations in general. His personal experience showed they were unreliable and couldn’t be trusted. His personal presence was needed.
Interestingly, Yusuf had no desire, interest or inference in also annexing Christian territories outside of the domains of Alfonso VI and later El Cid (such as the Kingdom of Aragon), seeking alliances with them against the former or fermenting and provoking War between different Christian Kingdoms for his own gain.
The battles were to be limited to and against those who had initiated aggressive actions against both the principalities and the Murabitun and no one else. Islamically, a Declaration of War must be made against someone before any expedition sets out; thus informing immediate opponents and allowing them to make War preparations and those not included to be rest assured of no grievances or hostility against them.
Interestingly, France who had a long history of sending armies against Islamic Spain since the Eighth Century (and had sent volunteers and Christian ‘crusaders’ to fight Yusuf in 1088) also abstained from initiating any personal collisions against him.
The places targeted were only because of their constant personal harassment, tacit and explicit encouragement of rebel excursions and boundary violations of Muslim Spain. In some instances there was blind approval of wrongs and injustices committed by one or some of their own against Andalusia and its citizens.
Both during and after Andalusia had been largely restored to what it had been in its earliest years, Christian Spain was permitted to co-exist peacefully with its Muslim neighbours.
Against his Christian enemies no one, with the exception of the Cid, seemed to have an answer to his military might. Yet for over a decade, El Cid, seen by many as the greatest Christian general and knight there has ever been, purposely avoided a direct military engagement and confrontation with Yusuf throughout the 1080s and 90s.
Alfonso VI was prepared and anxious to fight Yusuf on African soil if need be and even after his dismal performance against him in the years that followed, still led troops personally against him. The Cid meanwhile, was unwilling to face Yusuf even on Spanish soil.
In the late 1090s his reputation was at stake and being tarnished by not meeting Yusuf in battle. The Murabitun, under his knowledge and very presence in Spain, had torched his domains and territories deliberately.
Nonetheless the Cid did very little in return to save his lands (and his name and prestige for that matter), and remained largely indifferent to this and refused to come himself, a fact unrecorded by his Christian admirers to save him from embarrassment.
One would expect someone with such devotion to the Christian religion and is unafraid of anyone, especially those who profess a faith that he/she believes to be completely wrong, would go and fight, if only to show they are not cowards, but not so the Cid.
To his credit, El Cid defeated the Murabitun thrice as well as a Murabitun ally once, but all such clashes had been without Yusuf and were purely defensive. When Yusuf came himself personally to Spain in the early 1090s, El Cid was nowhere to be seen and his excuses later, even to fellow Christians (some, not all, of whom liked him) were not always convincing.
No one could ever accuse Yusuf of evading his responsibilities or his opponents. The most he was ever (or since been) indicted with by anyone, including several of his opponents, was to be a strict Muslim and as someone who lived by what he preached.
As a subject himself under the [Abbassid] Central Caliphate in Baghdad, he received, honoured and acted upon religious instructions from the Caliph and the Ulema and legislated accordingly. Even after his death, religious leaders continued to exercise power and influence.
Yusuf also initiated a renaissance (Lit. [Cultural] Rebirth) of his own in Spain, some four hundred years before most of Europe, by encouraging a flourishing of the arts. Scientists, thinkers, writers and poets emerged in his reign with his personal approval.
The growth of literary and cultural enrichment, (within a society described even today as being oppressive by its enemies) brought on by the social integration of two separate communities (one in Africa, the other in Andalusia) also helped instil lost dignity and respect for many Andalusians.
Whilst Africans provided troops for the army, civil servants and possibly bureaucrats and government personnel, Andalusia supplied access to an expanding ocean of already vast windows and gateways to Islamic knowledge and further/higher education at many levels.
A wealth of opportunities emerged, as did a sense of brotherhood between the Euro-African Muslims on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, and a common desire to see the strong Kingdom remain secure and united.
The additional sincerity of the Murabitun, especially in its earliest years, kept the administration and two societies free from engaging in corruption from within, and from exercising, legislating or legitimising injustices to Non-Islamic subjects.
Because of the peace and prosperity it generated under Yusuf’s rule, the Double Kingdom of Morocco and Spain he initiated and helped to shape and instil remains one of the golden periods in Andalusian and Islamic [if not global] history.
It illustrates an immaculate example of how religion can make rulers truthful and trustworthy, the administration and treasury fair, accurate and reliable in its allocation and distribution of finance and resources, their subjects happy and the societies fully developed and on par with other nations in line with what are or may be required of a responsible government.
Being a man of simplicity and strict discipline himself however, Yusuf despised material luxury and Worldly pleasures. He dressed modestly, occupied the same type of abode as many of the most ordinary of his subjects, and lived in and amongst plain and simple trouble-free surroundings.
In spite of the abundance of resources and services available to him, the existing assets, expanding national income and length of territory he presided over as King, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin retained an austere livelihood throughout his life.
Despite creating Spain into a heavenly splendour and ensuring more than adequate provisions for the welfare and hospitality of his subjects, Yusuf himself chose a different course personally and preferred what many today would describe as a life of asceticism without becoming a recluse himself.
He refused even to change his diet consisting largely of camel milk, meat and barley till his death in 1106 at the age of eighty-seven. He passed on this legacy first to his followers and army and later to his son, Ali, who succeeded him.
Had he arrived in Spain as a monarch in his fifties in the 1070s, no one can say for sure what would have happened. Sancho, Alfonso’s older brother, ruled Castile, Garcia, another brother, was in Galicia and with Alfonso in Leon three kingdoms could separately have fought jointly against Yusuf.
The Cid himself, then in his late twenties and early thirties, was relatively inexperienced and unheard of in many quarters compared to later years, and may have been little more than just a general, if that, and perhaps largely a non-issue altogether.
Yusuf may have been even more victorious since some and perhaps many of the original and most sincere of Murabitun members were still alive, they may have also served him as ministers and within a military capacity as generals, strategists, trainers and advisors.
In addition Yusuf himself personally still served in battles regularly with youthful vigour, he most likely would have assumed chief responsibility as the leading general of the Muslim army in most and perhaps all of the encounters that would have followed.
The military engagements, if they had taken place at all in the 1070s, would have been interesting to see for and from both sides, judging by the relative strength both seemed to display it could also have been anyone’s game.
Nonetheless the era, Yusuf’s successful triumphs occurred were when Islamic nations were fast losing lands and battles elsewhere, compared to the 1070s when all was very well, hence his self-confidence, overall optimism and personal assertiveness did not stem from the International scene revolving around him.
Whilst powerful individual Muslim leaders existed and governed well in the 1090s, few, if any, were responsible for almost single-handedly creating and replenishing a flourishing and enterprising Islamic State as large as Yusuf or in implementing religious ideals and laws similar to him within a span of just sixteen years.
To be able to do so in peacetime is one thing, but to successfully organise and execute innovations and activity of this kind, in the interests of and for the common people within a State of War is admirable to say the least.
If it was not for the colour of his skin, Islamic affiliation, conquest, popular and successful rulership of a White European nation, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin may have received greater recognition and attention, more scholarly and academic interest as well as praise for his largely individual and distinctly unique transformation of Spain, than he has so far to date from Non Muslim historians.
Had Yusuf also lived longer, his achievements, moral and exemplary pattern, spiritual influence and progressive vision might also have been greater and perhaps, more long lasting than it had been in his entire lifetime.