By Z A Rahman
25 January 2019
“O My servants, I have made oppression
unlawful for Me and unlawful for you, so do not commit oppression against one
The Strait of Gibraltar is one of the
busiest shipping lanes in the world, with ships passing between the
Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
With each of these voyages, the passengers
will have to go past, or even stop at, Gibraltar, which lies at the
south-western corner of Europe, opposite to Morocco where there is no escaping
the great big mountain of Gibraltar. However, what does Gibraltar mean and from
where does it derive its name? Gibraltar is taken from the Arabic ‘Jabal
Tariq‘meaning ‘Mountain of Tariq’—Tariq Ibn Ziyad.
What was it however that brought this
dazzling young Muslim general from Africa to the heart of Europe?
Though there are a number of accounts relating
to his ancestry, it is widely believed that Tariq Ibn Ziyad was born in the
tribe of Nafzaw (a Berber tribe in Algeria).
There is no definitive evidence on his
ethnic background. What we do know was that he was a Berber. Berbers live in
scattered communities across North Africa and West Africa which today includes
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Niger, and Mauretania. You
therefore have light skinned as well as darker skinned Berbers. Whether or not
Tariq was black, one thing is for sure; many of his soldiers were depicted with
racial connotations in the famous French poem, ‘The Song of Roland’.
Tariq was a freed slave who, along with his
father, is said to have embraced Islam since the days of the famous Muslim
General, and liberator of Ifriqiyah (today North Africa), ‘Uqbah ibn Nafi’
al-Fihri. Islam entered North Africa through Egypt which was opened by the
great companion of the Messenger of Allah (Sall Allahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam), ‘Amr
bin al-As (Radiy Allahu ’Anhu). His commander, ‘Uqbah, then continued right
across what is now Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and then the furthest west, Morocco.
The famous incident here then took place where it is reported that ‘Uqbah
continued to gallop his horse past Morocco into the Atlantic Ocean saying:
“Oh Allah, had it not been for the sea, I
would have continued to gallop with my horse until the entire earth was opened
Tariq was still a teenager when he joined
the Muslim army in North Africa. Despite his young age, he showed great courage
and enthusiasm for the faith and for its spread in the hearts of people.
He won the trust of the General, Musa ibn
Nusair, who appointed him Governor of Tangier at the behest of Khalifa of the
time, Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik.
Musa of course was the son of Nusair who
was a former Christian and among those taken captive by the Commander of the
Muslim army. This was of course the veteran Companion among Muslim soldiers,
the ‘Sword of Allah’ unleashed against the enemies of Islam, Khalid ibn Walid
(Radiy Allahu ’Anhu), after Ayn al-Tamr in Persia surrendered to him in 633
(12-15AH). This just show quite how early in the history of Islam Tariq
Across the shores in the Iberian Peninsula
in what we today know as Spain, the Visigoths (the Goths) had been in power
since the early fifth century.
The Goths subscribed to Arianism and became
Catholics in the late sixth century during the reign of King Reccared
(586–601). During this period, a number of Church councils were held. Church
councils usually took place at intervals to decide on matters of immediate
concern to local Christians.
These series of councils have come to be
known as the ‘Toledo Councils’, taking their name from the city in Spain in
which they were held, which was also the capital of Gothic Spain.
A group of Jews, known as the Sephardic
Jews, also resided in the Iberian Peninsula at this time.
The series of councils held at Toledo
towards the end of the sixth century, and during the seventh century adopted a
radical goal of seeking to uproot Judaism entirely.
At the Third Council of Toledo (589), it
was decreed that children of a mixed marriage had to be Christians and that
Jews could not be appointed to positions of authority.
Many more restrictions were placed on the
Jews from successive Councils relating to the Sabbath, dietary laws, marriage
laws and circumcising their young until the Seventeenth Council in 694 where
all of their property was to be forfeited to the king and children over the age
of seven were to be taken from them and raised as Christians.
Life in Visigothic Spain was grim and
deteriorated further when King Roderic took the reins in or around 710. The tyrannical and oppressive rule under him
saw both Jews and non-Jews alike being persecuted.
It was in this period that the Christian
Governor of Cueta, Julian, called upon the Muslims in North Africa for help. It
is reported that King Reccared had dishonoured Julian’s daughter.
He met with Musa b. Nusair who in turn sent
Tarif ibn Malik on a reconnaissance mission to survey the coastline of Spain.
Tarif landed at the town which still bears his name today – ‘Tarifa’. After a successful mission, Musa decided that
it was time for the Muslims to lend Julian the support he desired. Accordingly,
he tasked his courageous young Commander, Tariq ibn Ziyad, to head an army of
7,000 men (12,000 in other accounts). Tariq’s age is reported to have been
between 19-23 at the time.
Some historians have stated that Julian
supplied the ships to transport the Muslims across the shore so as to avoid
Whatever the case, the first spot that
Tariq and his army landed on was in what we now call Gibraltar. It was here
that the young, charismatic general gave one of the most famous military
speeches, known as the ‘Khutbah (sermon) of Tariq’, which was as follows:
“O my warriors, where will you flee? Behind
you is the sea, before you, the enemy.
By Allah! There is no salvation for you but
in your courage and perseverance.
Consider your situation; here you are on this
island like so many orphans cast upon the world.
You will soon be met by a powerful enemy,
surrounding you on all sides like the infuriated billows of a violent sea, and
sending against you countless warriors, drowned in steel, and provided with
every store and description of arms.
What can you oppose them with? You have no
other weapons than your swords, no provisions but those that you may snatch
from the hands of your enemies…
Banish all fear from your hearts, trust
that victory shall be ours, and that the barbarian king will not be able to
withstand the shock of our arms…
Do not think I impose upon you a task from
which I shrink myself, or that I try to conceal from you the dangers attending
And do not imagine that while I speak to you,
I mean not to act as I speak, for as my interest in this is greater, so will my
behaviour on this occasion surpass yours… for it is my intention, on the
meeting of the two hosts, to attack the Christian tyrant Roderic and kill him
with my own hand, Insha’Allah (if God wills).
When you see me bearing against him, charge
along with me; if I kill him, the victory is ours; if I am killed before I
reach him, do not trouble yourselves about me, but fight as if I were still
alive and among you, and follow up my purpose… If, however, I should be killed,
after inflicting death upon their king, appoint a man from among you who unites
both courage and experience, and may command you in this emergency, and follow
up the success. If you follow my instructions, we are sure of victory.”
It is reported that on the journey between
Africa and Spain, Tariq had a dream of the Messenger of Allah (Sall Allahu
‘Alayhi wa Sallam) where it is reported that the Messenger of Allah Sall Allahu
‘Alayhi wa Sallam) said to him:
“Take courage, O Tariq! And accomplish what
you are destined to perform.”
It is stated that it was for this reason
that Tariq was confident of victory as apparent from his speech for he knew
full well the hadith of the Messenger of Allah (sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)
which teaches us that Shaytan cannot take his form in a dream and as such, if
you dreamt of him, it was indeed him.
The army responded to Tariq’s battle speech
by bursting with great enthusiasm to meet the enemy.
Julian and men loyal to him acted as guides
through the land for the Muslims and also ensured that the people were informed
that Muslims had come to liberate them from Visigoth tyranny. For the Spanish
population of Jews in particular, the Muslims were seen as saviours and the
Jews had in fact fought alongside them.
There are numerous accounts telling of the
contributions of the Jews. Historian Gabriel Jackson states that,
“the Muslims were welcomed by a large
proportion of the ruling aristocracy and the Jews.”
The Jewish historian Nahum Slouschz stated:
“The victorious Muslims in 711 were
everywhere supported by the Jews to whom the Muslims confided for safekeeping
every city which they conquered. “
In fact, Slouschz went as far as to say
that Tariq was Jewish, such was the high regard with which he was considered by
The decisive battle took place in what has
come to be known as the Battle of Guadalete. The Arabic sources traditionally
give Roderic 30,000 – 100,000 troops. Whatever the case, it was considerably
more than the 7,000 – 12,000 of the Muslim army. The battle was a resounding
victory for the Muslims and King Roderic and the oppressive Goths were written
away from the pages of history, and this set the beginning of the almost
eight-century long Muslim rule of Spain which was from here to be known as
al-Andalus, until 1492 when Granada, the last stronghold of the Muslims, was
lost to Christians as part of the Reconquista, the wider crusades.
The End of Tariq
Tariq and his army continued to liberate
Spain, and many were receptive to the Muslims. As the British Arabist Sir
Thomas Walker Arnold wrote in 1896, in ‘The Preaching of Islam’:
“Of forced conversion…, we hear nothing.
Indeed, it was probably in a great measure their tolerant attitude towards the
Christian religion that facilitated their rapid acquisition of the country.“
Just as the conquest and liberation of
Spain was near complete, he and Musa received some news. Just as the politics
of the Visigoths provided Tariq with his way into al-Andalus, the politics of
the Umayyads sent him on his way out. Tariq and Musa were summoned to the
capital of the Khilafah, Damascus, with some spoils from the liberation. On
their journey, there was news that the Khalifah, Walid Ibn ‘Abd al-Malik was
about to die. His brother, Sulayman ibn ‘Abd al-Malik then took the reins and
became Khalifah. It is not entirely clear why, but it seems that he had
different priorities than his predecessor, and seeking to make his mark,
Sulayman decided to strip Musa and Tariq of their duties, and from here on, the
hero of the hour, Tariq Ibn Ziyad fades into the background and we hear nothing
further of him.
Interestingly Sulayman, who was to die
without having an heir old enough to reign, appointed his cousin, ‘Umar ibn Abd
al-‘Aziz, who was to go on to become one of the greatest Khalifahs since the
period of the Rashidun (the ‘Righly Guided’ Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Uthman and ‘Ali
Radiy Allahu ‘ʿAnhum). Like them, he refused to accept the appointment except
through their Islamically-mandated method, of pledges of allegiance from the
Muslims and their representatives, earning him the title of the ‘Fifth Rightly
Points to Note:
When you think of the situation of the Jews
at the time who were having the pharaohnic experience with their children being
taken away from them, and forcibly being converted to Christianity, the Muslim
army were without a shadow of a doubt seen as liberators rather than as
Even Tariq’s battle speech gives us an
insight into the motivations of the Muslims where we find reference to Roderic
as “barbaric” and a “tyrant” King – this was not on account of Roderic’s
treatment of any Muslims but how he dealt with his subjects, particularly the
Jews. Most of the Jews in the world were now inhabitants of a single Islamic
State and thus, for the first time since the beginning of their diaspora, the
Muslim state in Spain brought Jews into a single cultural, economic, and
political system which gave rise to the Jewish ‘Golden Age’, particularly after
912, during the reign of ‘Abd al-Rahman III and his son, al-Hakam II. Jewish
economic, philosophical and intellectual expansion here was unparalleled.
During ‘Abd al-Rahman’s term of power, the
scholar Moses ben Enoch was appointed Rabbi of Cordoba, and as a consequence
al-Andalus became the international centre of Rabbinical studies. Tyrants such
as El-Sisi of Egypt today would do well to remember these lessons – his
suppression of Islam and Muslims has seen a number of notable Islamic
historical figures removed from school-books, such as ‘Uqbah ibn Nafi’,
Tariq ibn Ziyad and Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, under the pretext that these
figures “incite violence”.
The Muslims did not attack Roderic because
he was seen as a threat to the Muslims or to their interests, but rather to
deliver a people from oppression since they understood full well the teachings
in Islam concerning oppression and how detested it is in the sight of Allah, as
set out from the beginning of this article.
There are unfortunately many today who seek
to exploit and misapply the teachings of the Messenger of Allah’s (Sall Allahu
‘Alayhi wa Sallam), such as the concept of the Hilf al-Fudul; an alliance of
nobility which saw him, before Prophethood, ally with others to assist a man
who had been wronged and oppressed. The alliance was set up to assist a man
cheated in business by one of the Quraysh’s own elite. The Messenger of Allah
(Sall Allahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) later stated—after Prophethood—that even if the
Quraysh called him to be involved in such an alliance then, he would readily
accept, i.e. to work with non-Muslims for issues of social justice and against
oppression. For Muslims today to work with and praise open oppressors and
tyrants, calling it an “alliance of nobility”, is an insult to the mission
of the Prophet (Sall Allahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam), particularly with those
actively involved in oppressing Muslims in Yemen and Palestine—two communities
beloved to the Messenger of Allah. Tariq’s cooperation in assisting non-Muslims
to deliver them from oppression is however more akin to the Hilf al-Fudul –
alliance of nobility – of the Messenger of Allah’s (Sall Allahu ‘Alayhi wa
The actions of Tariq and his army also
showed that the noble maxim of jihad is used not just to repel oppression
against Muslims, but non-Muslims also. With justice as their armour, and mercy
as their shield, they cleansed the Iberian Peninsula of tyranny and laid the
foundations for an amazing period of history for we know that within a century,
the Umayyids had developed a civilisation based in Cordoba that surpassed that
of any on earth and the state was the most populous, cultured, and industrious
land of all Europe, remaining so for centuries and catalysing the intellectual,
philosophical and technological growth of Europeans beyond its borders.
As a side point, the story of Tariq also
shows us that a person’s ethnic and social status did not form an obstacle to
their success in Islam and the Muslim community – Tariq was a new convert to
Islam from the Berber tribe and was said to be a freed slave. This shows that
Islam provided high status to all those wishing to strive for it. We are
unlikely to find anything similar to this concept of equality and social
mobility anywhere in the history of the West.
Tariq Ibn Ziyad Today
Today, a military base located south of
Doha, Qatar, is named ‘Tariq ibn Ziyad’. Also, Gibraltar is British overseas
territory and in 1995, Queen Elizabeth II was honoured by having her face
printed on the opposite side of the £5 note on which appeared a depiction of
Tariq with sword in hand and a boat to tell the tale of the voyage he had
Tariq has left behind an amazing legacy
despite his young age. He laid the foundation for Muslim rule in Spain which
started in 711, and ended in 1492 which amounts to 781 yrs. To put that into
perspective, if Muslims took control of Spain in 1492 (when they lost control),
they would continue to rule until the year 2273.
What is actually remarkable about Tariq’s
life is that unlike many other such luminaries in our history, very little is
really known about his life before and after the liberation of Spain – it is as
if Allah had put him on this earth just for this noble deed which we all
remember him for.
As for Tariq, whilst he may have died in
obscurity, there are some men who on the account of their noble deeds, Allah
makes their name become immortalised which is why today, more than 1300 years
later, Tariq’s name continues to shine and stands firm and tall like the very
mountain which continues to carry his name. Tariq also continues to remain a
source of inspiration for many who yearn for some sign of life in a community
that is today cowed and dead.
The answer to the question as to whether
Tariq was an invader or a liberator, I believe is clear, however I will let you
be the judge of that.
 Ibn Idhari
 The Goths
in Spain, Thompson, E. A
 Jews of
Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience, Jane S Gerber
 Ibn ‘Abd
al-Hakam. Charles Cutler Torrey, ed. Kitab futu? misr wa akbaraha: The History
of the Conquests of Egypt, North Africa, and Spain
The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, Vol. 1
 Ibn Khaldun
 The Making
of Medieval Spain, Gabriel Jackson
 The Jews
of North Africa, H. Z. Hirschberg
Z.A Rahman is a community activist and a member of a large Mosque in the
UK. He graduated in Law, specialising in discrimination law and now works for a
leading national company. He has a keen interest in politics and history,
particularly Islamic history. He also enjoys travelling and has visited
numerous countries in the Middle East and North Africa.