The Great Muslim Military Leaders: Musa ibn Nusayr, the conqueror of Maghreb and Andalusia

Musa Bin Nusayr / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Allah tempered the faith of His Messenger and his Companions in trials. Leaving Mecca to escape the persecution of the polytheists, the Prophet returned there with his companions twenty years after the true faith had been revealed to him in order to finally establish it here. Now Muslims were strong enough to carry the Light of Allah not only to their fellow tribesmen, but also to neighbouring countries and far beyond their borders. This mission was carried out by the great Muslim military leaders.

One of these commanders was the conqueror of Maghreb and Andalusia Musa ibn Nusayr. His father was a freedman (former slave) and favourite of the governor of Egypt, Abdulaziz ibn Marwan, the son of Caliph Marwan I. Abdulaziz always patronized the son of his favourite in everything, thanks to which he could advance speedily in his career.

In 703 he was sent to Basra as a tax collector of the special tax on Christians (kharaj), however, when the tax was delivered, a shortage was discovered. Governor Abdulaziz made a lot of efforts to save his ward. He paid a fine for him and convinced the caliph that what happened was a sheer misunderstanding. As a result, instead of punishment, Musa was appointed governor of the province of Ifriqia (which at that time stretched along the African coast of the Mediterranean Sea up to the Maghreb, i.e. modern Morocco, Algeria and Libya).

After becoming governor, Musa received almost complete independence from the rulers of Egypt. Its main task was to extend the power of the Caliphate to the Berbers. Two years after being appointed governor of Ifriqiya, Musa began a military campaign aimed at the western domains. In 706-709, he reached the Atlantic Ocean, capturing all the countries of the Maghreb, including Tangier at the tip of Africa opposite Gibraltar. The only fortress that he could not capture was Ceuta, located 70 km. from Tangier, on the impregnable Monte Hacho. Since then, the territory of Ceuta has remained (up to the present day) a piece of Europe in Africa with an area of 18 square km. Musa made peace with the governor of Ceuta, the Visigothic Count Julian. Later, Julian will become an ally of the Arabs in the conquest of Spain.

While Musa was dealing with affairs in the capital of Ifriqiya, Kairouan (a city in Tunisia), the supervisor left by him in Tangier, the Berber commander Tariq ibn Ziyad, whom Musa had taken prisoner earlier on his conquest of Maghreb, converted to Islam and then freed for the sake of his undoubted talents, without Musa’s knowledge crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and in the spring and summer of 711 led successful military operations against the Visigothic Christians.

Musa was jealous of the success of his protégé. Next year, 712, he himself came to Andalusia and headed, in parallel with Tariq, an attack on Spanish lands. As a result, they reached the very Pyrenee mountains, but were recalled by the caliph to Damascus. The Caliph did not find it amusing when his military leaders acted without his knowledge and did not follow his orders.

Leaving Andalusia, Musa confiscated the treasury of the Visigoth kings and took it with him to Damascus, when the Caliph demanded to surrender it. Musa did not obey the order of the caliph. As a result the Caliph removed him from all posts and held in contempt both him and Tariq ibn Ziyad.

Musa ibn Nusayr died several years later during the Hajj. One of his sons, who became the governor of Ifriqiya after him, was killed by his own servants, and the other one was executed by order of the caliph.