Tasneem Vali tells the story of Yusuf Bin Tashfin – a Moravid king of Northern Africa, who “saved Muslims from themselves”

Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain, has its heroes and so do the throes of history. However, there are also lesser-known heroes – those, who neither conquered foreign lands nor established Islam there, but saved Muslims from themselves. These are the heroes we need to discuss and emulate, if Islam is to achieve a global recognition again. This is the story of Yusuf Bin Tashfin, a Moravid king of Northern Africa, who ruled around 479 A.H. (1086 C.E.).

It was almost 350 years since Tariq Bin Ziyad had conquered Spain (Andalus) and secured Islam as the religion there. Under Muslim rule, Spain was the seat of learning and culture. Mediterranean trade flourished, and Spain became a haven for enlightenment and renaissance. Muslims imported a rich intellectual tradition from the Middle East and North Africa, including knowledge about mathematics, science, and philosophy. They created a state that reflected the Muslim way of life and thirst for scientific knowledge.

During this time, Andalus was a centrally governed Muslim state, reflecting the Islamic tradition. After an initial period of affluence, the Muslim Spain became fragmented into smaller kingdoms (Taifas), which continuously fought amongst themselves. The most important of these were Córdoba, Seville, Granada, Toledo, Lisbon, Zaragoza, Murcia, and Valencia. The Taifas were ruled by thoughtless rulers, who fought amongst themselves and thus plunged their populations into debt.

The Christian ruler of Castile, Alfonso VI, saw this as a window of opportunity and seized it. He started collecting taxes from the smaller Muslim kingdoms. Soon, the Muslim population was suffering from lack of daily necessities. Meanwhile, the rulers were indulging in every imaginable vice.

In response to this injustice, a delegation from the suffering lands went to see Yusuf Bin Tashfin. This delegation included Ulema, philosophers, and prominent citizens. Yusuf could not ignore the plea of his brethren. After consulting his Ulema, Yusuf issued a public call to join his army for defending Spain from Alfonso VI.

Since Yusuf had only five hundred ships for sending his troops of 16,000, they proceeded in stages, landing on the shores of Seville, which was governed by a Muslim ruler Mutamid. The troops were greeted with pomp and glory, and soon Yusuf began planning his attack. He did not partake in the extravagant feast laid out in his honour; instead, he prayed to Allah (swt) for victory. Together with their Spanish counterparts, the numbers of Yusuf’s army reached 20,000 only.

On the hills of Zallaka, the armies faced each other. Being a true follower of Islam, Yusuf invited Alfonso to accept Islam as his religion or pay Jizya (a tax paid by non-Muslims in a Muslim state for granting them protection). The irony is that Alfonso refused and asked Yusuf to pay Jizya instead!

Yusuf possessed a keen military mind. He hid the African troops on a hill behind the barricades and faced Alfonso with only three thousand soldiers. The plan was that when Alfonso’s troops would cut through the Muslim ranks, the reinforcements would charge down the hill, trapping the Christians in between. The plan worked and Alfonso was defeated. Thus, the Muslim rule in Spain was ensured for another four hundred years.

It is easy to conquer, vanquish or defeat, but it is much harder to settle, establish, and maintain. Let’s follow Yusuf Bin Tashfin – let’s all take steps to re-establish Islam as a part of our lives.