Moosaa Ibn Nusayr, the second liberator of North Africa
This is a conversation that took place between Moosaa ibn Nusayr and the caliph of his era both:
The Caliph: "What do you resort to at times of difficulty during war?"
Moosaa: "I trust in Allaah and offer prayers to Him."
The Caliph: "Do you use castles or ditches (to protect yourself and your army)?"
Moosaa: "I use neither."
The Caliph: "What do you do then?"
Moosaa: "I always fight out in the plains and am alert and patient. I protect myself by the sword, seek help from Allaah, and pray to Him for victory."
The Caliph: "Tell me about the war between you and your enemies; does victory alternate between you and them?"
Moosaa: "O leader of the Faithful! I have never faced defeat - from the age of forty, until now, when I am eighty."
It is a well-known fact that whenever the Islamic conquest of Spain is mentioned in Islamic history, two names jump to mind: Taariq ibn Ziyaad and Moosaa ibn Nusayr . But who was this Moosaa ibn Nusayr, who was not defeated even once in forty years?
Moosaa ibn Nusayr was born to an Arab tribe that lived on the borders of the Persian Empire, west of the Euphrates, before the advent of Islam. His father Nusayr lived near Al-Madeenah in the Hijaaz (a region in Western Arabia on the Red Sea coast), from the time of his reversion to Islam. Therefore, Moosaa ibn Nusayr was born in the cradle of Islam in 19 A.H. during the reign of 'Umar ibn Al-Khattaab . Moosaa spent his formative years at Al-Madeenah, learning the religion of Islam from the immediate disciples of Prophet Muhammad . We are told that he was, in fact, considered to be of the second generation of early Muslims who met or accompanied some of the companions of the Prophet and who also were narrators of certain prophetic traditions. This schooling in semi-formal education along with staying within the society of the companions of Prophet Muhammad during the formative years of his life had a lasting impression on him. He was therefore, in a way, an extension of the first generation of the heroes of Islam, heroes like Khaalid ibn Al-Waleed, Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqaas, Abu 'Ubaydah ibn Al-Jarraah and 'Amr ibn Al-'Aas and many other companions of the Prophet .
Later, when the governor of Syria, Mu'aawiyah ibn Abu Sufyaan and his father, chose our hero's father for a head-guard, our hero was exposed to further education. This time it was education in political and military leadership, for Moosaa was in constant contact with Mu'aawiyah during the latter's military campaigns and political conflicts. But as a conscientious Muslim, Nusayr (our hero's father) refused to join Mu'aawiyah in his campaign against Caliph 'Ali ibn Abi Taalib despite the fact that he was a protégé of Mu'aawiyah. This courageous act of our hero's father must have left a great impression on Moosaa who was taught in action that obedience to Allaah and His Pleasure are more important than obedience to people who show disobedience to Allaah, regardless of who they might be.
Moosaa had his military training in Syria. In fact, he was fifteen years old when Mu'aawiyah led the second naval campaign in the history of Islam in 33 A.H. He must have observed very closely the preparations for that new type of warfare. Moosaa had the honour of participating in the later battles at sea against the highly sophisticated Roman navy that attacked the newly liberated lands on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
During the reign of Marwaan ibn Al-Hakam which started in 65 A.H, Moosaa was chosen by the Umayyad Caliph's son 'Abdul-'Azeez ibn Marwaan who appointed him a chief adviser when he himself was appointed governor of Egypt. Moosaa's help was called for in Iraq where he spent some time helping another son of the Caliph.
Fortunately, for humanity and for Islamic history, Moosaa returned to Egypt in 75 A.H., thus beginning a new era in his life and the lives of millions of people in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.
Naturally, a great portion of North Africa had already been liberated from the Roman control many years earlier by the swift sweeps of the great 'Uqbah ibn Naafi' who built the fortress of Qayrawaan in Tunisia for that purpose. But it seemed that much work was needed to bring stability to the area, especially because there were still many pockets for the Romans and their supporters along the coastal area, from where the Muslim armies and settlements were constantly attacked.
It was Moosaa who was chosen for the task of bringing peace and stability to the region of North Africa that was mostly inhabited by Berbers, who were accustomed to a very different pattern of political and administrative life. He was chosen Governor of Qayrawaan (in Tunisia) in 85 A.H.
Moosaa ibn Nusayr made a careful study of the Roman colonizers' administrative division of North Africa and laid down the military strategy required to defeat them. This consisted of:
- Choosing loyal and proficient commanders.
- Having direct contact with the soldiers through constant discussion and personal encouragement.
- Gradually clearing off North Africa of the Romans and their protégés, beginning from the Muslims' base at Qayrawaan and steadily moving westward.
By the time Moosaa sent armies to Morocco; the inhabitants of the region had already known about Islam and heard of the military strength of the Arabs as well as of their fair treatment of the people under their rule. All of these factors, besides the Roman's inhuman treatment and exploitation of the North Africans, caused many Moroccan tribes to join the fold of Islam and welcome the new conquerors. Thus, with the exception of one or two coastal towns, the whole of North Africa came under Muslim rule through the tremendous and untiring efforts of Moosaa .
As a true Muslim who believed in the equality of people, regardless of their language or race, and as a clever administrator, Moosaa chose the Berber, Taariq ibn Ziyaad to be governor of Tangier and its surroundings. Before leaving Morocco, Moosaa left around one thousand seven hundred and fifty fighters and a number of religious scholars to teach Islam to the newly converted Muslim inhabitants of the region, who soon became active members of the community; It is also noteworthy that Taariq ibn Ziyaad had a strong army that consisted of twelve thousand men.
By then, only one coastal town was left in the hands of the Roman governor of the area, namely the town of Ceuta (or Cebta as called by the Arabs). Leaving that town in Roman hands under the command of Julian, who was its governor, seemed to have been a very intelligent military and political move on the part of Moosaa for through that town the Muslim armies could closely follow the Roman activities in the region and learn about what was going on the other side of the narrow strait (later to be called the Strait of Gibraltar), since the Iberian Peninsula was only a few miles away from Ceuta.
With the defeat of the Romans and having therefore gained total control over North Africa, Moosaa successfully finished the first part of the task. But from past experience, he realised that the Muslim control of the land was not sufficient to keep North Africa safe from Roman attacks and raids. Since his youth he had learnt that the Romans could always use their well-trained and well-equipped naval forces to launch attacks against the coastal areas. So one of the first things he did upon his return to his base at Qayrawaan was to expand the ship-building yard earlier established by his predecessor Hasan ibn An-Nu'maan in the city of Tunis. The factory (called Daar as-Sin'ah in Arabic) was designed to build warships, and it had craftsmen brought from different ports in the Muslim World, especially Egypt. Other arrangements to ensure easy passage of the ships to and from the Mediterranean Sea were made under instructions from our hero. Thus, the shores of the newly liberated North Africa became safe from Roman attacks.
Peace and stability achieved, many parts of the region began thriving and rapidly developing under Muslim rule. To ensure better security for the coastal area, Moosaa occupied some strategic islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The road to Europe was being paved from the East by Maslamah ibn 'Abdul-Malik . In the West, Moosaa was already studying the possibility of taking Islam to the Iberian Peninsula, when Julian, the Governor of Ceuta, came to him seeking help against Rodrigos, King of Spain, who had usurped the throne from its legal heirs and mistreated Julian's daughter who was a guest at the Spanish Court in Toledo. Moosaa wrote to the Caliph in Damascus asking for permission to invade Spain, but the Caliph was hesitant and ordered him instead to postpone the attack until he had sent scouts and small bands to study the military situation practically. Tareef was chosen commander of about four hundred Muslim commandos who were transported to Spain on board ships provided by Julian himself. The Muslims first set foot on the Island of Palmas (later called Tareef) and then the Iberian Peninsula itself in Ramadan 92 A.H. The raids were successful, and Moosaa was convinced of the necessity of conquering Spain. Orders were given to the Berber Muslim commander Taariq ibn Ziyaad to launch the invasion of Spain. The crossing was achieved, and the Muslim army was stationed at the mount now called Gibraltar (from the Arabic 'Jabal Taariq' which means 'The Mount of Taariq.')
Moosaa himself went to Spain to complete the Muslim conquest of that land, which he successfully did. This was the beginning of a new era for Spain and Europe. For the next eight hundred years Spain was under the Muslim rule that brought civilisation to that peninsula (then known as Al-Andalus), from where the sparks for the Renaissance and the torch of learning were carried to the whole of Europe and the Western World.
When Spain was conquered, Moosaa was already in his seventies. It was time for him to retire when the Caliph in Damascus recalled him from Spain back to the east. Caliph Sulaymaan ibn 'Abdul-Malik later asked Moosaa to accompany him to Makkah for pilgrimage.
Back at his birthplace Al-Madeenah, Moosaa died at the age of eighty, leaving behind a glorious record of continuous victories for the message of Islam and the Muslims.
Source: Heroes of Islam, by Mahmoud Esmail