The Battle of Zallaqa
Compiled by: Syed Muhammad Bokreta
It is worth recalling that during the eleventh century and due to the blatant weakness of the ruling Muslim Ta’ifa kingdoms or Party kingdoms who were only concerned with their ill-fated vested interests, and eager to maintain their thrones at any cost, paradoxically and at the same time Christian forces gained more lands from the disenchanted Muslim rulers, and in a desperate move to save what it could be saved, these rulers turned to Yusuf Ibn Tashfin the Ruler of the Al Mourabitoun or Almoravids of North Africa.
It all started in early 1086 when Mohamed Al Mu’tamid Ala Allah Ibn Abbad, the Ruler of Seville was severely harassed by AlphonsoVI or Alfonso the sixth king of Castile, Alfonso adopted the policy of playing off the Muslim princes against each other (a stance that is exactly relevant to our nowadays events) and then extract tribute from them to deter his intervention, this period was of course the period of the Taifa kings of Andalusia, each rivalling the other king or prince even if it was their fellow Muslim. Greed, worldly gains enthusiasm and lust of power would not deter some from even seeking the support of the Christian kings in Spain over their fellow Muslim brethren.
Soon Muslim towns began to fall to Alfonso, including the town of Toledo, Al Mu’tamid of Seville, was no exception to the rage of Alphonso, delay of payment of his tribute, followed by heated discussion between Al Mu’tamid and the messenger of Alphonso who came to collect the tribute, led to Al Mu’tamid to finally to lose his temper, later on some slaves attacked the camp of the messenger of Alphonso killing the entourage of the messenger, while sparing the messenger’s life.
Al-Mu'tamid was conscious of the gravity of his situation and foresaw its consequences, and so he wrote to Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, asking for his help and urging him to advance in jihad. The Muslim scholars and other important Andalusians did the same, as it was crystal clear that Al Mu’tamid knew for sure that Alphonso would not forgive him, nor even spare his kingdom, in this critical situation.
But the Andalusian princes as a whole had little sympathy with the chief of the “barbarous and fanatical warriors” of the Sahara, regarding him more as a dangerous rival than an ally, But the daily increasing peril rendered it necessary to grasp the only remaining means of safety and keeping alive their thrones.
When Al Mu’tamid‘s eldest son, Rashid objected to the introduction of the Al Mourabitoun in Andalusia, and falsely pointed out the danger of such move, Al Mu’tamid had to say this to his son: “I have no desire to be branded by my descendants as the man who delivered Andalusia a prey to the infidels; I am loath to have my name cursed in every Muslim pulpit; and for my part, I would rather be a camel-driver in Africa than a swineherd in Castile.”
Yusuf answered the call with no hesitation, being an example of a model, just, pious, Muslim governor, well loved by the scholars, and praised by the Great Imam Abu-Hamed Al Ghazali, rejecting the call of help by the Muslims in Andalusia would be nothing but treachery, the Commander of the Muslims hastened to grant his request, and said: “I am the first to be entrusted to come to the assistance of this faith, and none other than I myself will take charge of the matter!”.
However, when Yusuf embarked for the first time, on Thursday the 03rd of July 1086, he raised his hands and called on Allah, saying: “O Allah! If you know that my passage will be beneficial for the Muslims, then make it easy for me. If it is the opposite, then make it difficult for me so that I do not cross over.”
Yusuf had a good crossing as well as about 7,000 horsemen with a large number of infantry crossed the sea too with him, embarking at the town of Sebta (Ceuta) and landing at the town called Al-Jazirat Al Khadra or the green island (Algeciras).
Al Mu’tamid met him with the leading men of his state, and displayed more reverence and deference towards him than the Amir Al Muslimin had expected, at that time, Alfonso VI was giving siege to one of the Muslims’s castles, known as Al-Lit (Aledo), when he heard that the Muslims had crossed over, he abandoned the siege and returned to his own territories, mobilizing his army to meet the Mourabitoun.
Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, reviewed his troops at the fortress of Al-Raqqa, and liked what he saw of them. He said to Al-Mu’tamid: “Let's go on the Holy War that we came for, and attack the enemy.”, he began to grumble about staying in the Spanish Peninsula, and to long for Marrakech, and to belittle the power of Al-Andalus, he was forever saying: “We took the affairs of this Peninsula seriously until we saw it, and now that we have seen it, it has sunk beneath all description.”
A mighty army assembled round Al Mu’tamid from different regions of Al-Andalus, and the people were summoned to the Jihad from other districts. The kings of the Peninsula reinforced Yusuf and Al Mu’tamid with as many horses, men and arms as they could; the total strength of the Muslims, including volunteers was about 20,000 men.
They and the enemy met where Christian territory began in the plain of Zallaqa (Sagrajas), Alfonso had already called up great and small; there was no one left in the furthest reaches of his territory capable of action that he had not stirred. He came leading a powerful army double the size of that of the Muslims, his main intention being to stifle the desire of the Muslims for the Spanish Peninsula and to inspire them with fear.
As for the kings of Al-Andalus, every one of them was paying him tribute; they were more than scornful in his eyes and beneath his contemplation, when the two sides, Muslim and Christian, beheld each other, Yusuf and his companions were appalled by the enormous size of the enemy numbers, the excellence of their arms and horses and their appearance of strength, Yusuf and his companions assembled, and he appointed someone to exhort them and preach to them. A sufficient number of them affirmed their vow and their eagerness to fight the Holy War and made light of martyrdom, to gladden Yusuf and the Muslims.
Since the envoys were unable to agree on a day for the general advance, so that they could make their preparations, Alfonso said: “Friday is your Holy Day, Saturday is the Jews‘s one they are our ministers and scribes, and make up the majority of the servants in the army and we cannot do without them. Sunday is our Holy Day. So Monday would be the best day to begin operations.”
Alphonso’s intentions were crystal clear, his wicked aim was to deceive and mislead the Muslims, but it didn’t turn out as he planned, on Friday, the Muslims were preparing for the Friday prayers with no sign of preparation for a fight, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin relied on the belief that kings do not act treacherously, and he and his companions went out dressed for the Juma-prayer.
Al-Mu’tamid took courage and he and his companions rode out armed to the teeth; he said to the Amir of the Muslims: “Pray at the head of your men; I am ill at ease today. I am here behind you, for I suspect this evil of Alfonso has a secret design to launch a sudden attack on the Muslims.” Yusuf and his men began to pray, and when they had performed the first rak'a the Christian cavalry burst into them. Alfonso attacked at the head of his men, thinking that he would seize his opportunity, while Al-Mu’tamid and his men were behind the Mourabitoun, that day produced such riches as no-one had ever witnessed before.
The brave Mourabitoun Soldiers grabbed their weapons and mounted their horses and the two sides became embroiled, the God-Fearing man Yusuf Ibn Tashfin and his men showed a perseverance, heroism and fortitude beyond the calculations of Al-Mu’tamid, and God defeated the enemy, The Muslims pursued them, killing them on all sides, but Alfonso escaped with nine men, he himself was injured with a lance wound in his knee which eventually later made him lame.
As such, this battle of Zallaqa was one of the most strategic Victory in Al-Andalus, by which God glorified his religion, elevated his word, and cut off Alfonso’s ambitions in Al-Andalus and it has surely delayed for another 406 years the fall of the last Muslim stronghold in Granada on that sorrowful date of the 02nd of January 1492
Yusuf Ibn Tashfin and his men departed victoriously from the scene, conquered for them and by them, and the men of Al-Andalus were delighted with them, and regarded the Amir al-Muslimin as a good omen and a blessing. Prayers for him multiplied in the mosques and from the pulpits, his praises spread through the Spanish Peninsula in a way that increased his covetousness towards it. This was because Al-Andalus, before his arrival, was facing annihilation by the conquests of the Christians and their exaction of tribute from all its kings without exception; and when God overcame the enemy and defeated him at the hands of the Commander of the Muslims, the people proclaimed his glory and love for him grew in their hearts.
Before returning to Al Maghrib, the Amir Al Mouslimin gathered together the Taifa kings and ordered them to work together and to make a common cause against their enemy, having shown that the only reason the Christians had been victorious had been the dissension and huge divisions between the Muslims, they all promised to forget their differences and to unite in the face of their common enemy.
But much to the Mourabitoun and Yusuf’s chagrin as soon as he left Andalusia, things returned to as they were before with all the negative consequences that were detrimental to the cause of their Faith, as those impious and libertine Andalusian lords had just abandoned their proper governance, lost their spirit of solidarity and courage to resist the reconquest, and had abandoned themselves to pleasure and a dissolute life, along with their crushing administration of taxes and illegal impositions on their oppressed Muslim subjects.
Despite all these obstacles and insane acts from the Andalusian lords who kept on moving on the misguided path, faith and deep Muslims’s concern did not deter the Great Mujahid Yusuf Ibn Tashfin from making a second crossing to Al Andalus from Marrakech in June 1088, a third one in July 1091, a forth one in June 1097 and a fifth and final one in July 1103, but all such great efforts and good auspices bids were in vain due to these hen pecked lords and their yearning desire for lust and love for perpetual ruling.
After a few months of illness and suffering, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin died on the 02nd of September 1106 at the moment when the new moon of Muharram appeared, so Yusuf at the age of 90, died surrounded by his two sons, Abu Tahir Tamim and Abu Al Hasan Ali, friends of Sanhaja and his Banu Lamtuna relatives, he was buried in the Kasr of Marrakech.
He certainly was an incarnation of the prototype of a Muslim, brave and devout, and of a Sahara Berber who, moved by profound religious belief, launched himself into the Jihad, a man of enormous energy and prodigious activity, he was always the initiator of military campaigns and the founder of the great empire of Al Mourabitoun which had stretched across present Morocco to central Algeria and from Andalusia north to Ghana in the south, he strictly followed the teachings of Imam Abdullah Ibn Yasin and his cousin, Abu Bakr ibn Omar, in the political and religious life of his empire, he gave a pre-eminent place to the Fuqaha of the Maliki school, and their advice and authority always prevailed.
May Almighty Allah have Mercy on this Great Man of Islam who had a fondness for men of knowledge and of religion, whom he respected and consulted in the affairs of the country. He restored the jurisdiction of the territories to the Qadis and abolished all non-Shari’a laws, he travelled through his lands himself in order to examine the situation of his subjects at first hand , endowed with a clear intellect, he possessed great qualities of organisation ,extremely clever and astute, he knew out to reconcile one faction with another of contradictory views, and to draw to him the warring tribes of Maghrib Al-Aqsa, either by force of arms or by the force of his great personality.
“Among the Believers are Men who have been true to their Covenant with Allah, of them some have completed their vow to the extreme, and some still wait, but they have never changed their determination in the least”. Holy Quran 33-23.