Musa bin Nusair

Musa bin Nusair

Musa bin Nusair also Musa ben Nusair or Musa Ibn Nusayr( _ar. موسى بن نصير; 640—716) was a Syrian Muslim who served as a governor and general under the Ummayad caliph Al-Walid I. He had ruled over the Muslim provinces of North Africa (Ifriqiya), and directed the conquest of the Visigothic kingdom in Hispania.


Musa's father was an Arab of either Syria or Western Iraq (there are several different opinionssee al-Baladhuri (ref. cited below)] ) who was captured during the first Muslim expeditions and made a slave. After being given his freedom he returned to Syria to a town called Kafarma, where Musa was born. Apparently, Musa was lame.Musa according to the most reliable reports state that he was the son of a Jewish convert to Islam. This convert had preferred relation with Muawiya (first Muslim Governor of Syria and first Umayyad Dynasty Caliph). He advised Muawiyah that the only way to capture Constantinople is from both sides, His son Musa was groomed to be the leader of the army to start the western invasion starting from Spain. However this plan was delayed because the outbreak of civil war among Muslims.

Conquest of Maghrib

Uqba bin Nafi was sent to continue the Islamic conquests in North Africa all the way to Morocco. However, his policies were quite strict and he did not tolerate Berber traditions. This caused fierce resistance from the Berbers, leading to his demise in a battle against an alliance of Byzantines and Berbers. Musa bin Nusair was then sent to renew the attacks against the Berbers. But he did not impose Islam by force, rather, he respected Berber traditions and used diplomacy in subjugating them. This proved highly successful, as many Berbers converted to Islam and even entered his army as soldiers and officers, amongst whom would be Tariq bin Ziyad who would lead the later Islamic expedition in Iberia.

Musa as Governer

Few years earlier in 698 he had been made the governor of Ifriqiya and was responsible for completing the Umayyad re-conquest of North Africa and reconquest of Cyprus, conquest of Sicily and the Majorca Islands and Sardinia. He was the first governor of Ifriqiya not to be subordinate to the governor of Egypt. He was the first Muslim general to take Tangiers and occupy it; his troops also conquered the Sous, effectively taking control of all of modern Morocco. He also had to deal with constant harassment from the Byzantine navy and he built a navy that would go on to conquer the islands of Ibiza, Majorca, and Minorca.

Conquest of Al-Andalus


Musllim and Spanish sources quote that while Musa bin Nusair was eager to cross the strait across the sea to land mass of the Iberian peninsula, he was only encouraged to do so when a Visigoth nobleman, Julian, had come to Musa encouraging him to invade Iberia, telling him of the people's sufferings and the injustice of their king, Roderick, while giving him cause for conquest by telling him of the riches that would be found, and the many palaces, gardens and beauties of Iberia. Sources claim that his real cause for encouraging such an invasion was that his daughter, Florinda, had been abused by King Roderick, disgracing Julian's personal honor.


After a successful minor raid on the coast of today's Portugal, and the raiding force returning with a booty they captured without any reported resistance, Musa decided to land a larger invasion force. Tariq bin Ziyad crossed the strait with approximately 7,000 Berbers and Arabs, and landed at Gibraltar (from Jebel Tariq, meaning Tariq's mountain in Arabic). The expedition's purpose must have been to conduct further raids and explore the territory. Tariq's army contained some guides supplied by Julian. Three weeks after his landing, the Muslims were faced with a superior Visigoth army of nearly 20,000 lead by King Roderick. The Muslims won the Battle of Guadalete and the entire Visigoth nobility was all but exterminated at the battle. The Muslims then marched towards Cordoba, bypassing several strong fortifications. The ill defended city fell and Tariq established a garrison their comprising mainly of the city's Jews who welcomed the invaders, having been subjected to extermination from the Visigoths for centuries. Tariq then continued on his way to Toledo.

Musa, learning of Tariq's successes, landed in Iberia with an army 18,000 Berbers and Arabs. He planned to rendevouz with Tariq at Toledo, but first proceeded to take Seville, which Tariq had bypassed, and where Musa met stiff resistance, and succeeded after three months of siege. He then campaigned in the area that is today's Portugal, eliminating the remaining Gothic resistance there. His last destination before meeting Tariq was to subdue Merida. After five months of siege and inconclusive fighting, a group of Ceutans pretended to be Christian reinforcements and managed to convince the guards into opening the gates. Once inside, the "reinforcements", nearly 700, overwhelmed the guards and managed to keep the gates open for the Muslims to enter the city and capture it.

After Merida, Musa divided his forces, taking the majority with him to meet Tariq at Toledo where he would remain for winter. The remainder of his forces where led by his son 'Abd al-Aziz, who would return to Sevilla to deal with an uprising. 'Abd al-Aziz made short work of the rebellion. He then conducted several campaigns on the return journey in the territories comprising future Portugal. Coimbra and Santarem were captured in the spring of 714. 'Abd al-Aziz then campaigned in Murcia. The Duke of Murcia, Theodemir, or Tudmir as he was called by the Muslims, surrendered to 'Abd al-Aziz after several hard-fought engagements in April 713. The terms imposed on Theodemir declared that the duke would keep the citadel of Orihuela and several other settlements, including Alicante and Lorca on the Mediterranean, that his followers will not be killed, taken prisoner, forced into Islam, and that their churches will not be burned. It also demanded that Theodemir not encourage or support others to resist the Muslims, and that he pay an annual tax in money and other goods.

Musa finally met up with Tariq where there was an argument over the latter's booty, which reportedly included a table holding gems and other precious stones that belonged to King Solomon. Meanwhile, Musa's messenger, Mughith al-Rumi (the Roman) who had been sent to Caliph al-Walid to inform him of the situation in Iberia, had returned. The Caliph requested Musa to withdraw and to report in person to Damascus. Musa chose to ignore this order temporarily, knowing that if he did not continue his advance, Visigoth resistance may increase and turn the tables against the Muslims. Having done so, he continued with Tariq to the north; Musa heading for Zaragoza, to which he lay siege, while Tariq continued to the provinces of Leon and Castile, capturing the towns of Leon and Astorga. Musa continued after taking Zaragoza to the north, taking Oviedo and reaching as far as the Bay of Biscay. The conquest of Iberia now complete, Musa proceeded to place governors and prefects throughout the newly conquered Al-Andalus, before returning to Damascus with most of the booty captured from the Jihad.

Return to Damascus

Both North African leaders were therefore summoned by the caliph to Damascus. Tariq arrived first. But then the caliph was taken ill. So the caliph's brother, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik became temporarily in charge, and asked Musa, who was arriving with a cavalcade of soldiers and spoils, to delay his grand entry into the city. He most certainly intended to claim the glories brought from the conquest for himself. But Musa dismissed this request, triumphantly entered Damascus anyway, and brought the booty before the ailing Al-Walid I, which brought Musa and Tariq unprecedented popularity amongst the people of Damascus. Al-Walid I then died a few days later and was succeeded by his brother Sulayman, who demanded that Musa deliver up all his spoils. When Musa complained, Suleiman stripped him of his rank and confiscated all the booty, including a table which had reputedly once belonged to Solomon. He ordered that Musa (a very old man by then) to be paraded in the city's streets with a rope around his neck and Musa said "Oh, Caliph, I deserve a better rewarding than this". Reports claim he was seen begging at a mosque door in the last days of his life.

One of Musa's sons, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, became married a Spanish woman, who was the daughter of Roderick. She asked 'Abd al-Aziz why his guests did not bow to him as they used tot do in the presence of her father. It was reported that he began to force guests to bow to him. It was rumoured that he had secretly become a Christian, and a group of Arabs assassinated him, cut off his head and sent it to the caliph. Sulayman had Musa in his audience when the head arrived, and seeing whose it was, callously asked Musa if he recognized it. Musa maintained his dignity, saying he recognized it as belonging to someone who had always practiced the faith fervently, and cursed the men who had killed him.

Musa died naturally while on the Hajj pilgrimage with Sulayman in about the year 715-716. Because of his disgrace, and the misfortunes of his sons, there was a tendency among medieval historians of the Maghreb to attribute his deeds (the conquest of Tangiers and the Sous) to Uqba ibn Nafi [see e.g. article by Ahmed Benabbès cited below which analyzes this tendency] .

ee also

* Umayyad conquest of North Africa
* Umayyad conquest of Hispania
* Timeline of the Muslim Occupation of the Iberian peninsula
* Al-Andalus


*Ibn Abd al-Hakam, "Kitab Futuh Misr wa'l Maghrib wa'l Andalus". English translation by Torrey of portion of this 9th century work covering the period: "The Muhammedan Conquest of Egypt and North Africa in the Years 643-705 A.D., translated from the Original Arabic of Ibn 'Abd-el Hakem'", "Biblical and Semitic Studies" vol. 1 (1901), 279-330 (covers North Africa only, not Spain). An online copy of an older and less reliable (19th-century) translation of the portion dealing only with Spain is at: [ Medieval Sourcebook: "The Islamic Conquest of Spain"]
*al-Baladhuri, "Kitab Futuh al-Buldan", translated by Phillip Hitti in "The Origins of the Islamic State" (1916, 1924).
*A. Benabbès: "Les premiers raids arabes en Numidie Byzantine: questions toponymiques." In "Identités et Cultures dans l'Algérie Antique", University of Rouen, 2005 (ISBN 2-87775-391-3)
*David Levering Lewis God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe 570-1215


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