Charles Quint s disastrous expedition in Algiers
Compiled by: Syed Muhammad Bokreta
When the last Muslim bastion in Granada ’s Muslim Andalusia fell on the 02nd of January 1492, a red signal for Muslims was in fact launched as Muslims were driven out of Spain by force and those who remained were forced into Christianity and suffered through the horrors of the infamous Spanish Inquisition.
It was a catastrophe not felt by the people of other Muslim countries, although those living in neighbouring Morocco and Algeria volunteered to extend a helping hand, subsequently, tempted by their first victories, the Spaniards grew fiercer, and their appetite for conquest dramatically increased.
As a consequence, numberless campaigns were to be launched over many centuries against Muslim towns and villages. Algerian and Moroccan coastal towns were particularly targeted by Portugal and Spain, the Moroccan coastal towns of Sabta, Tangier and Asila were occupied by the former, whereas the Algerian cities of Mers Al Kebir, Bijaya and Oran were occupied by the latter, in Oran and on the 19th of May 1509, an atrocious massacre was perpetrated where over four thousand Muslims were killed in cold blood.
Yet, despite their defeat, Muslim Mujahideen including Algerian Corsairs did not give up fighting, and for five long days, fighting went on, and when the last of the Mujahideen fell, the Spanish troops ransacked the city of Oran , they went on a killing spree, looting and taking prisoners. The number of prisoners topped eight thousands and this is just one example of what the Spanish forces did in other cities.
At that time many European countries, including Spain , Austria , the Netherlands and Belgium joined forces under Charles Quint or Charles V, the king of Spain (1500-1558), as such they initiated the geographical exploration of America , the New World as a material basis for European progress.
Material power, therefore, was coupled with a strong king and further blessed by Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) who was busy coordinating and forging treaties and alliances among European states, it was a very precarious and tragic situation for the small defenceless countries such as Tunisia and Algeria , who had already been crippled by domestic conflicts.
Well aware of the sad plight of his subjects and Muslim Brethrens in North Africa and taking into account the imminent danger facing them by the infidels, Sultan Suleiman Al Kanuni, the Lawgiver or the Magnificent the powerful Ottoman Ruler summoned Khayreddin Barbaros Pasha who was the Governor of Algiers to Istanbul, hence a new era was opened in the Mediterranean policy, Barbaros who came from Algeria to Istanbul with his 18 admirals and powerful army (27th December 1533) was declared as the Head of the Ottoman Navy (16th April 1534).
Upon his return to North Africa, Khayreddin captured Tunisia (22nd August 1534) but, the Emperor King Charles Quint came to the region in person and recaptured Tunisia (21st July 1535), the northern section of the country remained in the possession of the Muslims under the Spanish influence; and the central and southern sections of the country remained under the domination of the Ottoman State. However, Barbaros and his admirals did not hesitate in continuous strikes and attacks towards the lands of Spain and the regions of the Southern Italy that were under the Spanish domination.
Meanwhile, the military expedition of Barbaros to Balearic Islands (August 1535) and the expedition to Italy (1537) had great effects and influence, where he was able to capture the Cyclades Islands from Venetia. Charles Quint had understood that he would lose the party if he could not even repulse them to reasonable borders since he could not destroy the strong Ottoman dominion in the Mediterranean Sea.
Therefore, in the first sea-contact, the two navies encountered in the open seas of Preveze in order to establish dominion in the Mediterranean Sea (28th September 1538),in this great open sea war in which a minimum of 120.000 people encountered in the sea, Khayreddin Barbaros totally defeated the united European navy through various manoeuvres.
Totally and deeply complexed by the scale and magnitude of such defeat, Charles Quint decided to lead his troops himself in order to occupy Algiers and amassed an enormous army of three hundred thousand troops which included Italian and German volunteers and nobles who sailed on board five hundred man-of-wars and passenger ships, adding to that was the blessing of Pope John III of his campaign against Muslim countries, Charles Quint sought the help of Andrea Doria, the famous Italian admiral who led the naval forces.
At daybreak of October the 23rd 1541, Emperor Charles Quint landed on the Algerian coast near what is now known in Algiers as “Cap Matifou” and went to besiege the city and tried to take its inhabitants into surrender, Muslim Mujahideen from all different ages decided to resist, and Muslim battalions started flocking on the city and engaged in skirmishes against the imperial army and defeated the Italian brigade.
The Spanish army was in shambles and enemy ships sustained direct hits by the Muslim Mujahideen, having been prevented by torrential rains and violent gales from extending support to his ally the Spanish emperor, Andrea advised him to withdraw, which he did.
Historians although in a few number such as Colonel Trumelet in “Notes sur L’Islam Maghrébin” Page 63 and in “L’Algérie Légendaire” Page 347 & Revue Africaine N° 68 March 1868, have related “the Divine Attention” and the “Miraculous intervention” or Karamat of Three God fearing Saints of Algiers: Sidi Ouali Dadda, Sidi Betqa and Sidi Bougdour all these three Saints had “their great share” in Charles Quint’s debacle as illuminated by their deep Faith and through their Supplications and other interventions to Almighty God, such happened that terrible Storm and violent gales that went to annihilate most of Charles Quint’s fleet.
Early in the morning of the 25th of October 1541, thousand of drowned corpses of the Spanish invaders were floating on Algiers’s bay from Oued Al Harrach to the eastern coast of Tamenfoust while the inhabitants of Algiers were full of joy towards this Divine intervention and the coming days were celebrated through prayers and Salutations and Praises upon the Beloved Prophet Mohamed (PBUH).
Charles Quint first retreated to Bijaya, and then left for Spain on November 16th, 1541. The Spanish army lost one hundred and seventy ships, two hundred cannons and twelve thousand men and in recognition of this great victory, Khayruddin was appointed admiral of the Ottoman navy.
Sadly, he did not live long after that and he died in Istanbul in 1547, Khayruddin and his brother Arouj were able to challenge the fiercest European onslaughts against the Muslim cities and with their courage and devotion Algiers was able to repel the European aggressors, Khayruddin and his brother Arouj showed not only military heroism but also political skill when they shifted the battle from a limited war of defence in the Arab West to a battle of the entire Ottoman Empire giving the conflict a pan-Islamic dimension.
Paradoxically as it may seem and in accordance with their wont, the Europeans called Khayruddin and his brother Arouj “pirates”, and for a long time, the name of Barbarossa sent shudders up their spines, but it is an historical proven act that both Khayruddin and Arouj were true Mujahideen working and fighting for the cause of Allah. They never sought wealth or rule of the people of the Arab West; instead they fought and enlisted others to defend and aid their Muslim brethren.