Often we hear Muslim scholars teaching their students in history and seerah lessons that the study of history is not an intellectual pastime; history is studied to learn valuable lessons. This fits well with the Quranic teaching, ‘And in their stories are lessons for those who reflect’. Generally, those studying history do so with an intent to draw practical lessons for their lives and avoid repeating mistakes of earlier generations. When it comes to practical life, however, most people either simply turn a blind eye or utterly fail to apply any lessons they might have drawn from their reading of history. And if one were to ask why is it so, the weakest of excuses prop up: ‘The circumstances then were not the circumstances now’; ‘we have better means at our disposal than anyone had before us’; ‘the nature of the land, geography and war differs from age to age’, and so the reading of history becomes a superficial exercise in futility with no practical lessons to be learnt.
Today, we shall pause and reflect on a historical incident which will take us centuries back in time. The similarity in the pattern of events is striking enough to make one think that current events are a mere replay of an earlier sequence. We shall discuss today the Muslim Kingdom of Granada, and draw some parallels between the fall of Granada and the events unfolding before us in the Muslim province of Idlib, which God forbid may meet the fate of the former.
The Parallels between Idlib and Granada:
Granada was the last Muslim stronghold to fall in Al-Andalus (Spain). The Mujahideen who had been defeated in other governorates used to retreat to Granada after their cities had fallen. These withdrawals would only come after long periods of determination, resistance and Jihad. The retreat to Granada was mostly based on an intention to reorganize, return and take revenge from the Spaniards. However, many Muslim residents preferred to stay in their fallen cities, especially after receiving reassurances and guarantees from their new Christian rulers. This is strikingly similar to what has transpired in most areas earlier liberated by the Syrian Revolution, such Daraa, Darya, and Ghouta, from which the fighters have withdrawn to Idlib, the final stronghold of the revolution. In Spain, the Spaniards were fully aware of the gathering of Muslims in Granada, but they chose to ignore this development until they had defeated all other Muslim governorates. This was not done out of fear or awe of the strength of Muslims in Granada, but was simply a matter of strategic military and political calculations. In fact, the Spaniards even concluded a ceasefire with the ruler of Granada while they were engaged in conflict with Portugal.
After the merger of Castile with Aragon- an alliance solidified by the marriage of Isabella with Ferdinand- the Spaniards united to fight the Muslims and assembled a large military force under a single banner. While these momentous developments were taking place at their doorsteps, Muslims in Granada were embroiled in their own internal struggles for the sake of power and prestige in a besieged kingdom that was breathing its last. How similar is the present to the past! Today we are unfortunate enough to witness unending conflicts between the various factions in Idlib; the only beneficiary of this strife being the enemy which has preserved its internal cohesion and strength. The leadership in Granada had fallen in grave error by embroiling themselves in internal political rivalries right when the enemy was knocking at the doorstep. This transpired in spite of the Muslims in Granada professing to be the Ummah of the Quran- the same Book which commands them, ‘And do not dispute with one another lest you lose your strength and fail.’
After all Muslim kingdoms had fallen one after another and the Muslims had gathered in their last remaining stronghold, the Spaniards started plotting to bring about the fall of Granada as well. They initially besieged the kingdom for a long period of time, until its residents were consumed by weakness, fear, hunger and exhaustion. Many started to contemplate an eventual surrender. At this stage, the Spaniards offered an olive branch to the Muslims, a treaty ensuring peaceful coexistence. It would be worthwhile here to review some of the most prominent clause of this treaty.
The treaty had several causes guaranteeing the Muslims freedom, security, protection of wealth, trade, lives, sanctities, and homes. In fact, the first clause stipulated that no Christian shall climb over the wall between al Hamra and Bayazeen, lest their might be violation of the privacy of Muslim homes; and that whosoever violates this clause shall be punished severely. The twelfth clause stated that no Christian shall enter a Masjid or any place of Muslim worship without prior permission from Muslim judges, and whosoever violates this term shall be punished. The sentiments of Muslims were taken care of to the extent that the thirty third clause stated that if any Muslim women wished to conclude a love marriage with a Christian, she shall not be allowed to do so without due admonishment first, and if this didn’t work she must seek the permission of her caretakers.
The treaty guaranteed the freedom of adjudication in matters of law as per the Islamic Shariah. Questions of inheritance, marriage and other such legal matters fell in the jurisdiction of Islamic courts alone. The Spaniards affirmed their respect of Muslim religion and rites. The treaty states, ‘Any claim or dispute between Muslims shall be resolved legally in accordance with the rulings of the Islamic Shariah as per the prevailing custom; and if a dispute occurs between a Muslim and a Christian, the judicial body must include at least two judges, one Muslim and the other Christian so that no injustice is done to either party.’
As for weapons, the treaty stipulated that Muslims were permitted to possess light weapons only for self-defense. As for light or heavy artillery- heavy weapons in modern parlance- the Muslims were required to surrender them to the Spaniards. The fifth clause states, ‘Personal weapons and horses shall never be confiscated from the Muslims, with the exception of ammunition and storage dumps, which must be surrendered.’
The treaty permitted travelling to the Islamic Maghreb and assured that no hurdles will be faced in the course of the journey. It even stated that anyone who wishes to depart but is unable to sell-off his property may appoint an attorney who shall sell his or her properties and send the proceeds to the owner without any hindrance.
The eleventh clause stated that no Spaniard shall be allowed to use any follower or servant of Abu Abdullah, the King of Spain, or to use their horses or animals without their permission or monetary compensation in lieu of usage.
The treaty guaranteed the complete preservation of mosques and religious property. The twentieth clause stated that a body of jurists shall oversee the revenue and expenses of universities and educational institutions, and that no one shall possess the right to interfere in the revenues of these institutions or order their confiscation.
After a prolonged siege, the leadership of Granada agreed to sign an agreement of surrender so as to fulfill some ‘popular demands’ and appease some of the leadership that had grown weary of the siege and had been exhausted by war. The terms of the surrender were extremely enticing, but in reality it was a resounding victory for the Spaniards for whom the treaty was a better bargain than any military onslaught that would have met severe resistance and incurred great losses in men and material.
Several figures in the Muslim leadership showed their willingness to surrender. In the midst of this infamy, history records for us brave stances as well, such as that of Musa bin Ghasan (may Allah have mercy on him) who is reported to have said, ‘It is better for me to be counted among those who died fighting in defense of Granada than those who were witness to its surrender.’ And so an honorable death was destined for him as he died defending a Muslim land. May Allah have mercy on him and accept him in the ranks of the martyrs. Musa knew the reality of this treaty: it was an agreement of a disgraceful surrender, whereas many considered it a political victory which safeguarded vital interests, especially since it guaranteed the respect of their religious sentiments, independence in judicial matters, rule of the Shariah, the protection of their lives, wealth and property, and did not differentiate much between Muslims and Christians. Confronted with these delusions, Musa bin Ghasan warned them in the following words:
‘Don’t fool yourselves. Don’t ever think that the Christians will fulfill their promise. Do not be lured by the façade of their magnanimity. Death is the least that we should fear, for the plunder and destruction of our cities, the defilement of our mosques, the ruin of our homes, the violation of the honor of our women and daughters awaits us. We are confronted with the most indecent form of oppression, ruthless prejudice, whips and chains, prisons, dungeons and infernos. This is the tragic fate that awaits those weak souls that fear an honorable death. As for me, I shall not live to see that day.’
May Allah have mercy on Musa, for he fully knew that the disbelievers can never be trusted with their promises, and that the clauses in the treaty which guaranteed the protection of Muslims and their religion were only a deception which should not delude any Muslim who reads the following in the Book of Allah, ‘The Jews and Christians shall never be pleased with you until you follow them.’ He knew that history had valuable lessons to offer, but was anyone even willing to pay heed? The voice of Musa was drowned in the clamor that saw in his voice lack of political acumen and indifference towards the lives that would be protected by such an agreement. Some might have even considered Musa’s opinion to be based on extremism and a rigid interpretation of loyalty and disavowal (al wala wal bara).
Unfortunately, only seven years after the agreement, Musa’s predictions materialized. After years of siege had weakened the resolve of Muslims and the Spanish had stripped them of their weapons, events started to take an ugly turn. Many Muslims were forcibly converted to Christianity. The inquisition reveled in the most gruesome techniques of torture, murder and forced expulsion to the Maghreb. The mosques were converted to Churches, property and wealth of Muslims were torched in front of their eyes. Centuries after the fall of Granada, when the soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte entered Spain, they were horrified by the institutionalization of torture by the successive Inquisitions. The story of the fall of Muslim Spain is well known in the Muslim world today, but what is often forgotten is that it was the signing of an ostensibly benign agreement that sounded the death knell of the last Muslim stronghold in Al-Andalus.
(Source: Baeen Idlib wa Gharnata)