May 27, 2022

Recently, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar University, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, claimed that the seventh century Muslim conquests of the mostly Christian majority Middle East and North Africa “were not conquests of colonization that rely on the methods of plunder, oppression, control, and the policies of domination and dependency.”  Rather, they were about bringing “knowledge, justice, freedom, and equality” to the conquered.

‘); googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1609268089992-0’); }); }

A couple of weeks before al-Tayeb made these highly ahistorical claims, another prominent sheikh and professional historian, Dr. Ali Muhammad al-Salabi, wrote a lengthy article dedicated to making the same claims — also during Ramadan, when Muslims are wont to reminisce over the virtues of jihad — but in the context of the Muslim conquest of Spain.

Published by the International Union of Muslim Scholars, “From Ramadan’s Victories: The Islamic Conquest of al-Andalus,” offers a more focused case study on this phenomenon of wildly whitewashing Islamic history.

According to Dr. al-Salabi, the Muslim conquerors of Spain were not in it “to gain spoils or achieve status; and this was the objective of all the Islamic conquests.  Reading about and learning their [true] nature is sufficient to reject the allegations and refute the forged slanders which suggest, implicitly or explicitly, that plunder was the motive of this conquest.” Instead, the Muslim conquest of Spain was about “turning the page of injustice and tyranny to a new page of progress and civilization.”

‘); googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1609270365559-0’); }); }

These are quite the claims.  Back in the real word of actual recorded history, the sources make abundantly clear that the Muslim conquest of Spain was driven almost entirely by lust for booty — both animate and inanimate.

For example, according to one of the earliest accounts, the Latin Chronicle of 754, the Muslims “long plundered and godlessly invaded Spain to destroy it.” On landing there, they “ruined beautiful cities, burning them with fire; condemned lords and powerful men to the cross; and butchered youths and infants with the sword.”  As for Musa bin Nusayr, the supreme general of the expedition whom al-Salabi praises in his article for his unswerving piety, “He terrorized everyone.”

Some may object that the Chronicle of 754 was written by an ungrateful Christian infidel, who failed to appreciate Islam’s altruistic intentions.  Unfortunately for them, the Muslim’s own sources are just as, if not more, explicit that the conquest of Spain was heavily motivated by thoughts of plunder.

Thus, according to one of the earliest Arab historians on the conquest of Spain, Ibn Abd al-Hakam (b. 803), “When the Muslims conquered Spain, they looted it and committed many frauds [emphasis added].”  Similarly, the important Arab historian Ahmed Muhammad al-Maqqari, whom al-Salabi (selectively) quotes in his article, writes that, after General Tarek’s initial successes in Spain, “when the people on the other side of the straits [in Africa] heard of… the plentiful spoils he had acquired [including many slaves], they flocked to him from all quarters, and crossed the sea on every vessel or bark they could lay hold of. Tarek’s army being so considerably reinforced, the Christians were obliged to shut themselves up in their castles and fortresses, and, quitting the flat country, betake themselves to their mountains.” And so it went; Tarek continued to penetrate northward into Spain, “not passing a place without reducing it, and getting possession of its wealth, for Allah Almighty had struck with terror the hearts of the infidels.” 

Such terror was only augmented when the invaders chopped up, cooked, and “pretended” to eat some of their Christian captives, as al-Hakam relates.  In another memorable incident, a number of leading Christians and their people holed themselves up in a church in Córdoba. According to al-Maqqari, although “the besieged had no hopes of deliverance, they were so obstinate that when safety was offered to them on condition either of embracing Islam, or paying jizya, they refused to surrender, and the church being set on fire, they all perished in the flames.” 

So much, then, for Dr. al-Salabi’s claim that the Muslim conquest of Spain was about “turning the page of injustice and tyranny to a new page of progress and civilization.”