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The Taifa Kingdoms (ca. 1010-1090): Ethnic and Political Tensions in al-Andalus during the 11th Century

Following the collapse and disintegration of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba during the civil wars of 1009–1013, al-Andalus fragmented into about 20-30 kingdoms known as the party kingdoms, reyes de taifas or mulūk al-tawā’if. Some of these emirates, such as the Taifa of Silves, were little more than self-governing city-states while others, such as the Taifa of Seville, controlled large swathes of territory. Although there were three Taifa periods—the first from 1010 to 1110, the second from 1144-1172, and the third from roughly 1220 to 1270—I will be focusing this post on the first Taifa era, which is what scholars usually mean when they refer to the “Taifa Kingdoms.” I thought it would be useful to simply lay out the names and ethno-tribal origins of the ruling families of the various Taifa kingdoms in order to demonstrate the complex political situation that had arisen in 11th-century al-Andalus. Although the question of “ethnicity” is certainly a troublesome one in the medieval period (not least in al-Andalus!), the concepts of “Berber,” “Arab,” and “indigenous Iberian” (muwallad) were all deployed and utilized by various factions in the Taifa kingdoms during the 11th century. Rather than attempt any major analysis (I’ve provided a list of further reading for those interested in learning more), it seemed like a good idea to clarify the tribal and “ethnic” background of each of ruling families of the Taifa kingdoms.

It is quite notable (especially when one considers that they probably composed a significant majority of the Muslim population of al-Andalus) that only two very small kingdoms were actually of Hispano-Muslim (i.e. muwallad/muladí) origin, while the vast majority of the Taifas were ruled by various Berber dynasties who had migrated to al-Andalus during the late Umayyad period, especially during the regency of Ibn Abī ‘Āmir al-Manṣūr (d. 1002). It was these various Berber tribes, which played such an instrumental role in al-Manṣūr’s successful campaigns against the northern Christian kingdoms, that eventually played such an instrumental role in the dismantling of Umayyad and Arab power in the Iberian peninsula.

It is also notable that there were several “Slavic” (or Saqlabī) kingdoms that arose, since many of these “Slavs” (many of whom were actually Franks or Germans slaves or freedmen from Western or Central Europe) also played an important role as administrators and soldiers in the late Umayyad period. Although the two Arab kingdoms of Seville and Zaragoza were among the most extensive, stable and powerful, they represented a minority of the kingdoms and the fact remains that between roughly 1000 A.D. and 1220 A.D. (i.e. from the Taifa period to the devolution of the Almohad caliphate) al-Andalus would remain dominated by Berber polities. This fact, coupled with the reality that the vast majority of Andalusīs were Arabic-speaking Hispano-Muslims, Christians or Jews contributed to an important dynamic in which the political system involved Berber political and military rulers working alongside local Andalusī administrators and elite families. For more on the complex and interesting socio-political dynamic of the Taifa period, here is a summary of Abdullah b. Buluggin’s Tibyān: ). The following are the main kingdoms that existed in al-Andalus between the fall of the Umayyad caliphate in 1013 and the Almoravid conquest in 1090:

Taifa de Albarracín (1011-1104). Ruled by the Hawwara Berber Banū Razzīn family

Taifa of Algeciras (1035-1058). Ruled by the Hammudids, who were a Berber dynasty that claimed partial descent from ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 661). They briefly claimed the caliphate following the fall of the Umayyad dynasty.

Taifa of Almeria (1011-1091). Ruled by various Saqlabī Muslim rulers until the Arab Tujibi Banū Sumūdih took over in the 1040s

Taifa of Alpuente (1009-1106). Ruled by the Kutama Berber family of the Banū Qāsim

Taifa of Arcos (1011-1068). Ruled by the Zanata Berber family of the Banū Jizrūn

Taifa of Badajoz (1009-1094). Although founded by a Saqlabī Muslim (Sabur), it was ruled by the Miknasa Berber Banū Afṭaṣ family. It was one of the most powerful and extensive of the taifa kingdoms.

Taifa of Carmona (1013-1091). Ruled by the Zanata Berber Banū Birzāl dynasty

Taifa of Denia (1010-1076). Ruled by the Saqlabī Muslim Mujāhid al-‘Āmirī and his sons

Taifa of Granada (1013-109). Ruled by the powerful Sanhaja Berber Banū Zīrī family, who were originally governors for the Fatimids in Ifrīqīyah (modern-day Tunisia and eastern Algeria)

Taifa of Malaga (1026-1090). Ruled by the Berber Hammudid family before being seized by the Sanhaja Berber Zirid taifa of Granada between 1058 and 1090

Taifa of Majorca (1076-1116). Ruled until 1075 by the Saqlabī Mujāhid al-‘Āmirī and his son ‘Alī before being controlled by the Banū Aghlab family for the remainder of its existence

Taifa of Murcia (1011-1090). Although founded by a Saqlabī Muslim (Khayrān al-‘Āmirī), this kingdom was contested between various Saqlabī, Berber and Arab rulers in al-Andalus until it was finally integrated into the Almoravid polity. However, during the second and, especially, the third Taifa periods Murcia would be one of the most powerful kingdoms.

Taifa of Niebla. Founded and ruled by Abū-l ‘Abbās Aḥmad b. Yaḥya al-Yaḥṣūbī, descended from the Hispano-Muslim family of the Banū Yaḥṣūb, and his successors until it was conquered by the Banū ‘Abbād of Seville in 1053

Taifa of Algarve (1016-1052). Founded and ruled by the Hispano-Muslim Banū Harūn family until it was absorbed into the expanding ‘Abbādid taifa of Seville in 1052

Taifa of Seville (1023-1091). Ruled by the Lakhmid Arab Banū ‘Abbād family until its conquest by the Almoravids. It was one of the most powerful and expansionist of the taifa kingdoms

Taifa of Toledo (1010-1085). Ruled by various individuals until the Hawwara Berber Dhū-l Nūn family took power in 1032 and controlled it until its conquest in 1085 by Alfonso VI of Castile

Taifa of Valencia (1010-1094). Ruled by the Saqlabī Amirid dynasty of Mujahid of Denia and his sons until it was seized by the Berber Banū Dhū-l Nūn dynasty of Toledo in 1085 (and the city was conquered by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar or “El Cid” in 1094)

Taifa of Zaragoza (1013-1110). Ruled by two Arab families: the Banū Tujib (1013-1039) and the Banū Hūd (1039-1110). The descendants of the Banū Hūd would play a particularly prominent role in the second and third Taifa periods as well. The famous Sayf al-Dawlah (the Zafadola of the Castilian chronicles), whom I have written about elsewhere on this blog, was descended from this line.

(There existed other taifas centered around the towns of Cordoba, Lisbon, Ceuta, Lorca, Mertola, Ronda, Silves, Tortosa but these were very short-lived and fell under the domination of one of the larger and more powerful kingdoms by the mid-11th century)

Enlace permanente de imagen incrustada

 (Map of the Taifa Kingdoms with the  Berber dynasties shown in brown)

Further Reading

Travis Bruce. “Piracy as Statecraft: The Mediterranean Policies of the Fifth/Eleventh-Century Taifa of Denia.” Al-Masaq 22 (2010): 235–248

Abdullah ibn Buluggin. The Tibyan: Memoirs of Abd Allah b. Buluggin, Last Zirid Emir of Granada. Leiden: Brill, 1986. Translated by Amin Tibi.

Pierre Guichard and Bruna Soravia. Los reinos de taifas: Fragmentacion politica y esplendor cultural. Malaga, 2006

Andrew Handler. The Zirids of Granada. Miami, 1974

Goran Larsson. Ibn Garcia’s Shu’ubiyya Letter: Ethnic and Theological Tensions in Medieval al-Andalus. Brill, 2003

Peter Scales. The Fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba: Berbers and Andalusis in Conflict. Leiden: Brill, 1994.

David Wasserstein. The Rise and Fall of the Party-kings: Politics and Society in Islamic Spain, 1002-1086. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985

Imágenes de Granada. 25: La Granada de la Plataforma de Ambrosio de Vico


Granada in the Early Modern era

Originally posted on Alberto Granados:

En el último cuarto del S. XVI y en plena contrarreforma, el Arzobispo don Pedro de Castro y Quiñones encargó al arquitecto Ambrosio de Vico que realizara un plano de la ciudad. Quienes observen la llamadaPlataforma de Vico y observen la leyenda, encabezada por todas las iglesias locales, podrán observar el énfasis en hacer de nuestra ciudad todo un escaparate de la más pura ortodoxia religiosa.

Téngase en cuenta, que la Plataforma coincide en el tiempo con el gigantesco fraude de loslibros plúmbeos, con el que algunos moriscos trataron de simular una aparición milagrosa que eliminaba las distancias entre cristianismo, islam y judaísmo, conjurando con ello el miedo a la Inquisición. La aparición de dichos libros y del cuerpo de San Cecilio, provocó un renacer de la fe y la ciudad se llenó de cruces, especialmente en el camino que conducía al nuevo Monte Sacro o Sacromonte.

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Majrit/Mayrit: The Andalusi Muslim Heritage of Medieval Madrid

Although the area has been inhabited since ancient times, the foundation of the city now known as Madrid owes its origins to a small Roman settlement built on the banks of the Manzanares River called Matrice. It seems that by the late Visigothic period (7th century) this settlement was largely abandoned and only a small village remained. It was only in the ninth century, during the Umayyad period in al-Andalus, that Madrid became an important town in central Iberia (although still not as significant as Toledo).


Wisdom from Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (d. 835)

Muhammad b. ‘Alī al-Jawād al-Husaynī (d. 835), considered the ninth Imām by the Twelver Shi’i tradition, was a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and was one of the most important Alid figures during his time. His mother, al-Khayzaran (also known as Sabika), was of Nubian or East African origin and was an important figure in her own right, with many Muslims considering her among the most virtuous and knowledgeable women of her era. Muhammad al-Jawād undertook the responsibility of the Imamate while only 8 years old and died at the young age of 25. Although he lived in turbulent times and despite his youth, he played an important role—religiously and intellectually—as the leader of the Husaynid Shi‘i community. In addition to being revered as the Imām of the Age by Twelver Shi’is, he is also highly respected and revered by Sunnis as a religious scholar and one of the most prominent leaders of the Ahl al-Bayt in his time. He died in 835—possibly poisoned on the orders of the Abbasid caliph—and was buried in Baghdad next to his grandfather Mūsa al-Kāẓim (d. 799), where his shrine remains an important place of visitation for the faithful. Among the many pieces of wisdom that have been ascribed to him is the following:

“Modesty is the ornament of poverty, thanksgiving is the ornament of affluence and wealth. Patience and endurance are the ornaments of calamities and distress. Humility is the ornament of lineage, and eloquence is the ornament of speech. Committing to memory is the ornament of [hadith] narration, and bowing the shoulders is the ornament of knowledge. Decency and good morale is the ornament of the intellect, and a smiling face is the ornament of munificence and generosity. Not boasting of doing favors is the ornament of good deeds, and humility is the ornament of service. Spending less is the ornament of contentment, and abandoning the meaningless and unnecessary things is the ornament of abstention and fear of God.”

العفاف زينة الفقر، والشكر زينة الغنى، والصّبر زينة البلاء والتواضع زينة الحسب، والفصاحة زينة الكلام، والحفظ زينة الرواية، وخفض الجناح زينة العلم، وحسن الأدب زينة العقل، وبسط الوجه زينة الكرم، وترك المنّ زينة المعروف، والخشوع زينة الصلاة، وترك ما لا يعني زينة الورع

[Narrated in Kashf al-Ghummah fī Ma‘rifat al-A’immah (Volume 3, p. 139 in the Beirut 1985 edition) by Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī b. ‘Isa al-Irbilī (d. 692/1293) and al-Fuṣūl al-Muhimmah fī Ma‘rifat al-A’immah (p. 261 in the 1988 Beirut edition) by Nūr al-Dīn ‘Alī b. Muḥammad (d. 885/1451), known as Ibn al-Sabbāgh]


ImageFor further reading on this fascinating figure:

Shaykh al-Mufid, Kitab al-Irshad: The Book of Guidance into the Lives of the Twelve Imams (2007)

Baqir Sharif al-Qarashi, The Life of Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (2001), which can be read here:

Last Will and Testament of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661)

The 21st of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (r. 656–661), the fourth rightly-guided caliph in the Sunni tradition and the first divinely-guided Imam of the Age and Successor of the Prophet in the Shi’i tradition. Like the two preceding caliphs, ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (r. 634–644) and ‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān (r. 644–656), Imam ‘Alī was brutally murdered by a faction of his own, disgruntled subjects for religio-political reasons. In this case, the assassin, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Muljam (d. 661), was a member of the Kharijite sect whose grievances against ‘Alī were colored by his own theological grievances as well as the fact that his father, brothers and fellow Kharijites had been killed at the Battle of Nahrawan (658) by the caliph’s army. As a result, Ibn Muljam took it upon himself to assassinate the caliph, which he did by striking Imam ‘Alī with a poisoned blade to the back of the head while he was leading dawn prayers in the Great Mosque of Kufa. The caliph died of his injuries two days later. The following is his last will and testament (addressed to his two eldest sons, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn) as preserved in Nahj al-Balāghah, Imam ‘Alī’s collection of letters, sermons and decrees that was compiled by al-Sharīf al-Raḍī (d. 1015) in the 10th century. Mosque of Kufa)


I advise you to fear God, and not to pursue this vicious world even though it may try to entice you. Do not seek it though it may seek you and do not grieve over and long for things which this world refuses you. Always speak the truth, and work constantly for the eternal reward and blessings of God. Be an enemy of tyrants and oppressors and be a friend and support of those who are oppressed. To you, to my other children, to my relatives and to all who receive these words of mine, I advise to fear God and to be pious, to have fair and honest dealings with one another and improve mutual relations because I have heard your grandfather, the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him and his family) often say: “To remove mutual enmity, ill-feeling and hatred among people is better than all the prayers and fasting of many years.”

Fear God when the question of helpless orphans arises. You should not let them be full some time and hungry some other times. So long as you are there to guard and protect them, they should not be ruined or lost. Fear God with respect to your neighbors, for your prophet constantly enjoined us to be good to the neighbor, so much so that we thought that he may even decree that they had the right to inherit from us. Fear God in respect of the Holy Qur’an, lest others should excel and surpass you in following its tenets and in acting according to its orders. Fear God so far as prayers are concerned because prayers are the pillars of your religion.

Fear God in the matter of His House (Ka’bah). Let it not be deserted because if it is deserted, you (the Muslims) will be troubled with chastisement. Fear God in the matter of struggle in the path of God with your properties, lives, and tongues. Develop mutual liking, friendship and love and help one another. Take care that you do not spurn and treat one another badly and unsympathetically. Exhort people to do good and abstain them from evil, otherwise the vicious and the wicked will be your overlord and if you willingly allow such persons to be your rulers then your prayers will not be heard by God. O sons of ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib: Let there be no retaliation for the act of my murder, except against the individual who committed the act. Do not seek vengeance against the community of Muslims under the slogan “The Commander of the Faithful has been murdered” nor inflict any harm on anyone, save my murderer. If I should die because of his strike against me, then strike him with a sword a single time, as he did to me. Do not mutilate or torture the man, for I have heard the Prophet of God (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him and his family) say: “Never mutilate or torture any living being, even if it be a vicious dog.”

[“Letter 47,” Nahj al-Balāghah (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2009), pp. 361–362]


2009), pp. 361–362]

The Royal Edict of Expulsion (1609) and the Last Andalusi Muslims (“Moriscos”) of Spain

Historical Background

Following the forcible conversion of the Andalusī Muslims of Granada in 1501 (which I have described elsewhere ), similar edicts of conversion were promulgated that forced the Muslims populations of Castile (1502), Navarre (1515) and the Crown of Aragón (1526) to convert to Christianity, thereby criminalizing Islam as a public religion in the Iberian peninsula for the first time in 800 years. The new population of New Christians, as they were called, were referred to (derogatorily) as Moriscos. The Spanish government as well as the Church and Inquisition threatened any who continued to adhere to Islam—in any shape or form—with the death penalty, which usually meant being burned at the stake.

Image(Panels showing the Conversion of the Muslims of Granada in 1501, Altar, Royal Chapel, Granada) (more…)

An Andalusi Muslim in Early Modern Europe: Shihab al-Din Ahmad al-Hajari’s Description of the 17th-Century Netherlands

Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad ibn Qāsim al-Ḥajarī al-Andalusī was an Andalusī Muslim born around 1570 in the village of al-Ḥajar, in the vicinity of Granada. He lived for most of his youth as a Morisco (crypto-Muslim) in Spain before escaping to Morocco around 1598, residing in Marrakech, where he remained until 1636 or so. While in Spain, he learned Spanish and Portuguese in addition to his native Arabic. As a result of his knowledge of the latter, he was enlisted in deciphering the so-called “Lead Books of Sacromonte” around 1588. During his time in Morocco, he entered the service of the Sa’adian Sultan Muley Zaydān (r. 1603–1627) as a translator and secretary. While in the service of the Sa’adian dynasty he also embarked on major journey to Europe, traveling to France and the Netherlands between 1609 and 1611. Around 1636, he departed to the Central Islamic Lands in order to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. Following his performance of the latter, he resided in Egypt for a time before departing for Tunis. Due to the absence of sources, it is unclear how he spent the remainder of his life. It is certain that al-Ḥajarī died sometime after 1638/1639, because he has a work (on gunpowder technology and cannons) that can be dated to these years. He was a erudite scholar, traveler and translator and the few of his works that have survived remain an important source of information for the Islamic West during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


The purpose of his trip to Europe in 1609–1611 was diplomatic (on behalf of the Sa’adians) and was aimed at securing the properties and wealth that was confiscated from the Moriscos during their expulsion from Spain. The work in which this journey is recorded is given the heavily polemical title Nāṣir al-Dīn ‘ala al-Qawm al-Kāfirīn (“Making the Faith Victorious against the Disbelievers”).* His travelogue is interspersed with all the interesting details, fascinating personal exchanges and curious observations that can be expected from an Andalusī Muslim traveling in Early Modern Europe during the seventeenth century. However, the bulk of the work centers on the author describing (and likely exaggerating) his various theological and polemical exchanges with different Christian and Jewish scholars that he met in France and the Netherlands. The section translated below is excerpted from his description of the Netherlands and his meeting with the ruler/stadtholder of the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands, Maurice of Nassau (r. 1585–1625).

**(It has just been brought to my attention that this book has been translated into English and published in Madrid in 1997 as “Kitāb Nāṣir al-Dīn ʻalā ʼl-qawm al-kāfirīn = (The supporter of religion against the infidels)” by P.S. van Koningsveld, Gerald Wiegers and Q. al-Samarra’i. However, since I only have access to the 2003 Beirut edition of the Arabic text, the translation below is my own. Update II: I now have access to the 1997 Madrid edition, of which scans are included below but have left my translation, based on Beirut 2003 edition, unchanged) (more…)


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