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.


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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) Continue reading