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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

The military conquest took seven years 711 718


Conversion of the Arabs to Mohammedanism.]

The Arabs were a people dwelling in greatest part in that section of western Asia which bears their name. Prior to their conversion to Mohammedanism they led a tribal life, not as one great tribe but as many, some of them in settled fashion, and others in a nomadic way, but all were independent one tribe from another and all engaged in endless strife. There was no such thing as an Arabic national feeling or an Arabic political state. Early in the seventh century Mahomet began to preach the faith which he originated, a religion of extreme simplicity in its doctrinal beliefs, but based very largely on the Jewish and Christian creeds. The Mohammedans date their era from the year 622 A.D., but it was not until after that time that the Arabs were converted to the new religion. Once they did receive it they were for a long time its principal sword-bearers, since it fitted their fighting spirit and promised rewards which suited their pleasure-loving tastes. Most of them, however, were not nearly so zealous in their religious beliefs as they have at times been regarded; rather they were too sceptical and materialistic a people to be enthusiastic devotees of an abstract faith.

[Sidenote: Arabic conquests.]

[Sidenote: Elements of dissension among the Moslem conquerors.]

Nevertheless, the Arabs achieved a conquest

which was remarkable alike for its extent and for its rapidity. Between 697 and 708 they overran nearly all of Syria and the entire northern coast of Africa, including Egypt. For their conquests they had formed themselves into a single state under the rule of a caliph, who was at the same time the head of the church, thus centering political and religious authority in one person. The state was divided into provinces, two of which were in northern Africa,--Egypt and northwestern Africa. This cohesion was more apparent than real, for the old tribal jealousies and strife continued, accentuated by differences both in religious zeal and in interpretations of the Moslem faith. Of the Arabs who entered Spain there were two principal parties, representing at the same time religious and tribal animosities, the Sunnites, or Sunnis, who were of Yemenite race, and the Shiites, or Shiahs, of Mudarite blood. Their quarrels in Spain, as elsewhere in Moslem realms, were a factor which rendered difficult the establishment or the maintenance of a strong political state. In northwestern Africa the Arabs had encountered the Berbers, who had submitted only after opposing a determined resistance. The Berbers were by nature a devout and democratic people, and once they received the Moslem faith they took it up with fanatical enthusiasm. They never regarded their conquerors with favor, however, and their hatred was intensified by the very religious indifference of the Arabs. Here, then, was another element of dissension in Spain, for the Berbers took part in the conquest along with the Yemenite and Mudarite Arabs.

[Sidenote: Nature of the Moslem conquest of Spain.]

The military conquest took seven years (711-718), for after the fall of M?rida the invaders met with vigorous, if also unorganized, resistance. In characteristic fashion the Spanish peoples fought in guerrilla bands or defended their own towns with desperate courage, but did not aid one another. Some nobles made terms whereby they were allowed to retain their estates, but the majority of them opposed the conquerors. Except for narrow strips in the mountain regions of northern Spain the entire peninsula had been overrun by the year 718, at which time the Moslem armies crossed the Pyrenees into southern France. Spain was organized as a district ruled by an emir under the governor of the province of Africa, who was in turn subject to the Moslem caliph. The bond uniting Spain to Africa was not in fact very tightly drawn, for the Spanish Moslems acted in the main with complete independence of the governor of Africa. The conquerors did not usually insist on the conversion of the Spanish peoples (although there were exceptions to the rule), preferring usually to give them the option of accepting the Mohammedan faith or of paying a poll tax in addition to the taxation on Moslems and Christians alike. Many of the Arabs opposed the conversion of the Christians, since the continuance of the latter in their own religion meant a lighter financial burden upon the Moslems. Since, also, the conquerors were outnumbered, they often found it wise to grant the Spanish peoples a right to retain their faith. In fine the conquest was not a matter of religious propaganda, but rather was one of a more or less systematic pillage.

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