The Al Bushra Jihad: Simmering Tensions Rising to the Surface

By the 1560’s, life for Muslims in Spain became unbearable, now that the Spanish Inquisition had the right to examine those that had committed the crime of ‘heresy’ to the Christian faith. This constituted acts as simple as salat or speaking Arabic. For these ‘crimes’ one could disappear overnight and never be heard of for months while enduring torture and continuous questioning by the inquisitors. A captured text, allegedly caught by Spanish forces and allegedly written by a Muslim trying to describe the inquisition to those in the Maghrib, stated:

“Anyone who praises Allāh in his own tongue is surely lost, for if it comes to be known, they hunt him down, and catch him even if he is a thousand leagues away. They cast him in the great jail and terrorize him night and day, saying to him ‘Beware!’ The miserable prisoner is left with only his tears, with nothing but his power of sabr. They cast him into a terrible chamber, where he lies for a long time; a thousand ocean deeps open below him, and no swimmer, however strong can make his way up out, for this is a sea that cannot be traversed. Thence they take him off to the chamber for torture, and they tie him down to administer it, and inflict it on him until his bones break. Next they set up in the Hatabin Square a scaffold like that of Judgement Day. If any are delivered, they are dressed that day in yellow, and the rest are borne off to the flames, with effigies and frightful shapes. This enemy has tormented us terribly in every place. We have been surrounded as by fire. We are suffering an oppression that is unbearable, (Marmol, 86).”

As a sign of the aggressive shift towards a direct conflict with the Muslims of Spain, Philip II issued a proclamation on January 1st 1567 that issued new legislation to end all toleration of Muslim practices. He banned the speaking of Arabic or Berber, banned Muslim dress, (for women that mean the jalabiyah and for men the traditional Maghribi thawb), required Muslims to adopt Christian names, and ordered the destruction of all books and documents in Arabic script. Morisco children would be educated exclusively by Catholic priests. This edict superseded all before it and effectively broke the many promises of toleration offered previously. It set January 1st 1568 as the deadline by which all old Muslim clothes had to be replaced by Christian ones.

The Muslims of Garnata had realized the futility of their situation, and decided the time had come to fight. Around this time, a meeting was called of all Muslim notables of the area in the village of Cadiar in the foothills of the Al Bushra mountain range. Those present discussed the possible date of an uprising against the Spanish in Garnata, who would know about the operational details and method by which to restrict intelligence leaks from within their group. The committee decided that winter would be the best time “when the nights would be long enough for them to bring large forces down from the mountain under cover of dark and get them into Granada…(Mendoza, 43),” before the Spanish could realize what was afoot. The committee also agreed that Spanish warships, (which could bring Spanish reinforcements from elsewhere and block Muslim supplies and reinforcements from the Maghrib), would be laid up and in dock. In addition, the date ascertained for the attack would be Christmas night, 1568, when all the Christian folk of the city would be in Church, with their minds on repentence and not on war. The Muslim leaders decided that a strike force of 4000 Mujahideen from the Al Bushra mountains would, as part of phase 1, descend into Garnata’s Al Bayyazin district and would:

1. Attack Al Bayyazin itself and assume command and control of it
2. While simultaneously attacking the Al Hamra’ [Alhambra] palace, scaling its walls to infiltrate inside the palace (where the governor and the armed militia of Garnata resided), by attacking the main gate of the Al Hamra.’ It was known that the Al Hamra’ was not heavily defended by Spanish artillery or troops, (Ibid).

In phase two, the Muslims assumed:

1. “As soon as they [the Muslims of the surrounding villages] heard the sound of firing…they were to storm the gates of the city…(Ibid),” into the Christian half of city, killing the Christians in their path while assuming command and control of that half of the city

The method the committee decided upon to keep the plan secret and to avoid any leaks, while still being able to securely spread the details of the plan was to allow dissemination according to social stratas and age. In other words,

“…the middle-aged and married men were told to confide with the middle-aged and married; the elderly and widowed, the younger men with younger men but circumspectly, taking very great care to make sure that each new person to whom the secret was revealed was reliable, (Ibid, 43-44).”

In the strategic sense, the plan was to take over Garnata and its center of power with a blitzkrieg raid composed of both seasoned mujahid and the common Muslims of the city in the form of a popular uprising. These recruiting methods were successful and continue to be successful today in contemporary jihadi groups, where one specific group springs to mind as an obvious example.

To understand the reasons why these Muslims finally decided to fight the Spanish, a good introduction would be a ballad written by Muhammad Bin Muhammad Ibn Dawood, one of the leaders of the Al Bushra, who wrote in 1568 about the state of the Muslims of Andalus, (it was never received by its recipient, as it was intercepted by the Spanish):

“…Listen while I tell the story of sad Andalusias fate—Peerless once and world–renowned in all that makes a nation great; Prostrate now and [en]compassed round by heretics with cruel force—We, her sons, like driven sheep, or horsemen on unbridled horse.

Torture is our daily portion, subtle craft [i.e. subterfuge] our sole resource, Till we welcome death to free us from a fate that’s ever worse. They have set Jews to watch us, Jews that know nor truth nor faith,

Every day some new device they frame to work us further scaith.

We are forced to worship with them in their Christian rites unclean,
To adore their painted idols, mockery of the Great Unseen [Allāh].
No one dares to make remonstrance, no one dares to speak a word; who can tell the anguish wrought on us, the faithful of the Lord?…

They [Christians] have framed a false religion; idols sitting they adore;
Seven weeks fast they, like the Oxen who at noon-tide eat the more. In the priest and confession they their baseless law fulfil, And we too, must feign conversion, lest they work us cruel ill…

Long they keep him [Muslims] wasting, rotting, in the dungeon foul and black,
Then they torture him until his limbs are broken on the rack,
Then within the Plaza Hatabin [Souq Al Hattabin/wood market] the crowds assemble fast,
Like unto the Day of Judgement they erect a scaffold vast.
If one is released [i.e. not killed], they clothe him in a yellow vest,
While with heideous painted devils to the flames they give the rest [i.e. the rest are burned to death].

Thus are we encompassed round as with a fiercely burning fire, wrongs past bearing are heaped on us…

Each one of their [Christian] petty despots thinks that he can make the law, each invents some new oppression…

…Our wise men [Ulema] counsel us to look to Allāh with prayer and fast, for through woes that make youth aged, He will pity us at last!

…Whoso chants these rugged verses, let his prayers to Allāh arise, that His mercy may vouchsafe me the repose of Paradise [jannah]! (Lea, 2001, 434-437).”

The state of these Muslims of Andalus was filled with misery and hardship with many dreaming of leaving for Dar Al Islam. The others that could not had been pondering how to rectify their situation and realized the time had come to fight back.

Muslims had been writing to the Uthmanis and the kings of the disparate and fragmented Maghribi kingdoms, (such as those included in the Appendix P and Q, the letters sent to the Mamlukes in 1501, and the 1541 letter to the Uthmanis asking them to send Khayr Al Din to help them towards liberations from slavery to the Christians), to no avail. However, the Muslims of Al Bushra began preparations for Jihad by,

“…collecting war supplies, choosing strong places deep in the mountains in which to store and hide them. The armourers got busy, making new weapons and repairing those which for many years had been kept hidden; merchants were sent out to buy new ones wherever they could…(Mendoza, 44).”

In addition the Muslims continued to keep the lines of communication open with the Muslims Sultanates of the Maghrib by illegally sailing back and forth between Spain and the Maghrib. The Andalusi envoys kept the kingdoms abreast of developments in their preparation, while persisting that the Maghribis should help them by way of men and firearms. As Allāh (سبحانه و تعلى) says:

وَأَعِدُّواْ لَهُمْ مَّا اسْتَطَعْتُم مِّن قُوَّةٍ وَمِن رِّبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدْوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ وَءَاخَرِينَ مِن دُونِهِمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَهُمُ اللَّهُ يَعْلَمُهُمْ وَمَا تُنفِقُواْ مِن شَىْءٍ فِى سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لاَ تُظْلَمُونَ

And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war to strike terror into the enemy of Allāh and your enemy, and others besides them, whom you may not know but whom Allāh does know. And whatever you shall spend in the cause of Allāh shall be repaid unto you, and you shall not be treated unjustly.

Agreement was reached between the leaders at the Cadiar meeting and a second clandestine strategy meeting was arranged in the village of Churriana, outside Garnata. They held the meeting at a Christian gathering place and pretended to be part of a Christian brotherhood intent on worship. Natually, the Garnatan government and King Philip would never suspect anything amiss from these Christian brotherhoods. The committee decided during the meeting to send out spies, dressed up as beggars to every corner of Garnata to collect not only geographical intelligence in terms of optimal routes to transport supplies for the Muslims, what routes would be used by the Spanish and optimal locations for defense, but also:

a)      Troop strengths of the Spanish in the many garrisons they kept over the territory of Garnata.

b)      The amount of provision that can be extracted from any key location if needed.

In addition, wherever these men went, they collected donations from all people encountered, (more likely than not, some people really thought they were beggars). They made “…the able bodied men between the ages of twenty and forty-five contribute at a different rate to the elderly, the women, the children and the infirm, (Ibid, 45).” By calculating the total amount received and the amount received by each person, they were able to calculate how many able bodied men there were, ready to fight. In other words, now they had an approximate estimate of troop strength by which to compare against Spanish troop numbers.

Events began to accelerate in terms of planning, recruiting and logistics within Garnata, with the glaring absence of help from the Maghrib, or elsewhere, as of yet. On 27th September 1568, the decision was taken by the Muslims of Al Bushra to elect a king of their own to not just unite them, but to lead them in this war, which would help unite the Garnatans behind the cause, (due to the fact that one of their own would be leading them, instead of a Maghribi general that might arrive prior to the beginning of fighting). The most notable character in this mileu was Don Fernando de Valor ‘Al Sagheer’ or as he was known through his Arabic name, Ibn Jawhar[1]. He convinced the Muslim notables to take this step and on that night at the meeting he spoke:[2]

“Consider how you have been oppressed and abused by men in public office and men with no office at all. You are no less slaves than if you were slaves in law and name. Your women, your sons, your worldy possessions and your own persons are in the power and at the beck of your enemies. There is no real hope that you will escape from this servitude for centuries to come. You have as many tyrants as you have enemies and every year brings new impositions, new taxes and exactions.

They have taken away the right of men fleeing from the vengeance of their law to take refuge in seigniorial estates. This, we must admit, is the most justifiable of their actions but they have also taken away the right of sanctuary in their churches, though they fine us heavily if we don’t go, and the fines go to enrich their clergy which is something which must stink in the eyes of both God [Allāh] and men [Muslims].

Amongst the Christians we are treated as Moors [Muslims] and despised as Moors [Muslim], whilst our own Moorish [Muslim] brethren treat us not as Moors [Muslims] but as renegades to the Christians, and neither help nor trust us.

We are excluded from all that makes life good and we are not even allowed to defend ourselves. They forbid us to speak our own language but we do not understand their Castilian. In what language are we to exchange thoughts, ask for things, give things? Without language, men cannot treat with other human beings. Not even animals are forbidden to understand human voices.

Who is in a position to say that a man who speaks Castilian cannot hold the law of the Prophet or that the men who speak Arabic cannot hold to the law of Jesus?

They force our sons to join their church congregations and go to their schools where they teach them skills that the elders of our people forbid them to learn lest they become confused and lose their purity and begin to question and mock the truth of the The Law [Shariah].

Hourly, they threaten to tear our children from their mothers arms and their fathers care and send away to far distant countries where they will forget our way of life and learn to be enemies of the fathers who engendered them and the mothers who bore them.

They order us to leave off our Moorish [Muslim] clothes and dress in the Castillian manner. Even amongst the Christians, the Germans dress in one manner, the French in another, the Greeks in another, the friars in quite a distict manner and the Christian boys dress quite differently from the Christian men.

Amongst the Christians, each nation, each profession, each group and rank and station of mankind has a distinct way of dressing and they are all Christians, and we are all Moors [Muslims] and so we dress in the Moorish [Muslim] fashion: it is as if they wish us outwardly to conform even when we are not conforming in our hearts.

None of us has an income big enough to buy new clothes for all the children and grown up members of his household and dress them in the Christian manner. How can he? He is not allowed to sell the clothes that they are already wearing. Even if he were, who would be allowed to buy them? Or to wear them? But just say that he did spend every penny that he has on dressing them as Christians, how would he and his then eat?

Perhaps they want us to become beggars? But there is no Christian who would give us anything because there is no Christian who would believe that we are poor.[3] They all think we are immensely rich and that is why they beat us and torment us for they are greedy for the wealth that they believe we have got.

There is nobody who will help us. We Moriscos [forcefully converted Muslims] suffer this misery and poverty because the Christians will not accept us or let us live amongst them as their neigbours and equals.

During the wars against Castille, our forefathers became so impoverished that when the Alcaidi [Qa’id/leader] of Loja [Lawsha] married his daughter he had to borrow clothes for the wedding. Many of you must know that story, some of you I think are descended from him. Al Atar was one of our great men, a fine soldier, a man of substance, Alcaidi [Qa’id] of Loja [Lawsha]. He was so impoverished by years of war that when it came to his daughters wedding, he had to borrow all the clothes. But which of us has not got enough money left him by the Christians to buy a new suit of clothes? What can we do to earn money? Do they allow us to farm? Or trade? Or manufacture? Or provide them with any kind of service? You know as well as I do they do not allow us to earn money in any kind of way and yet we are expected to throw away all our old clothes and buy new ones!

And that is not the end of it. They have taken away our negro slaves and forbidden us to keep white ones because now that we are Spaniards we are white men and white men don’t keep white slaves. Which is all very well but we bought our slaves with hard cash and brought them up and maintained them out of our own pockets.

Must we suffer this loss on top of all others? What can men like us do? They take away our sons so we no longer have sons to serve us nor have they left us the wherewithal to pay servants. What happens if we fall ill? Or have an accident? If we grow old? What can we do except prepare for death?

And there is something else as well as you all know. We Moors [Muslims] are used to have our wives and daughters walk veiled and dutifully look after us and serve us in our houses, and those people have ordered them to uncover their faces and now they are coveted, and even stolen and raped, that is, if they’re honest. And if they are dishonest? You know as well as I do that there are girls who take advantage of being unveiled in order to encourage the lewd advances of young and old in a way that was never possible for them before.[4]

And is that all? No, it is not. Our fathers and grandfathers taught us to keep our houses decently closed, for both religion and caution enjoin that a Moor [Muslim] should keep his house shut against strangers. They have made it a crime for us to lock or bolt our doors. They wil no even permit us to bar our windows or the slits in the walls of our houses. They are so afraid of us they make us keep our houses open and so we have to live at the mercy of thieves and scavengers and shameless and daring adulterers and any of them can say to himself, ‘Tomorrow or the next day at such and such a time I will be able to pillage this Moors [Muslims] house  or that Moors [Muslims] house; tied up this Moor [Muslim] or that Moor [Muslim] by his toes and find out where his money is, sidle around and rape or seduce this or that Moor’s [Muslim’s] wife or daughter.’

And is that all? No, it is not. They take away not only our security, our farms, our livelihoods, our honour, but our whole way of earning a living as well…

And is that all? No, it is not. They have forbidden our baths. If we are not to be allowed to wash, how can we remain clean or healthy?

We, as a people, have always had our Moorish [Muslim] baths from remotest antiquity. The lives, in particular, of our women, have always centered around them. How can they be expected to live without them? You see them now in their houses, miserable, filthy, ill. How can they be expected to be happy if they are not clean? But how can they get clean if they are forbidden to go near the bath houses? And the bath houses are all being destroyed and our women are miserable and they are not even allowed to wear the rightful clothes of a Moorish [Muslim] woman.

And now let me turn and remind you of the state of Christendom, of the divisions between the Catholics and heretics in France, of the rebellion in Flanders, of the behaviours of the English. Now that the old queen is dead and there is a new one on the throne, Madrid can no longer rely on them and let me remind you of the Flemish exiles who have fled to Germany to implore their princes help against Spain—Spain whose king is short of money, short of experienced troops, short of galleys[5] for his navy. Those which he has are mostly patched up and old. The rowers are rebellious. The captains and sailors are discontented for the Royal Spanish Navy is manned with pressed[6] men.

If we rise up and surprise them, not only the kingdom of Granada but that part of Andalusia that used to belong to us in the past and is now in enemy hands can be regained in the first rush, or else, if you so decide, we can restrict the revolt to our own Granada[7].

We have wild, rough mountains, valleys that plunge into the depths, sierras that rise into the sky, narrow roads through the high mountains that lead past precipices and into gorges from which there is no escape.

Our troops are able, ready, practiced [trained], experienced; hardened to stand heat, cold, thirst, hunger; equally ready to attack, to disperse over the country, to meet the enemy in the field, army to army.

It will be Spaniard against Spaniard and we are now many and we are well supplied with food and not nearly so short of arms as we were at the beginning when we were ill armed and very under prepared.

And what if some of our fighting men are still unarmed? Are there not stones lying at our feet which are weapons enough against an unarmed enemy?

And now I say to all of you who have come here that if there are any of us who have not sufficient confidence in the rest of us or have doubts about the great undertaking that lied ahead of us all, then we might just as well not have come together.

For years now, we have all been companions in persecution and adversity, so let us now resolve to bring things forward and to work together for victory for there is no way in which the crimes against us can be avenged, nor the evil that has been done to us undone, nor to hold on to anything that we possess—even our very lives—unless we rid ourselves of this slavery by the sword!

We must be united. We must be resolute. We must concert all our strength and all our forces against them.

To do that my friends we must choose ourselves a chief and we must decide whether he should be our sheikh or our captain or our alcaidi [qa’id] or—if we are of mind—our king who will lead us justly and surely foreward, (Ibid, 47-52).”

After this rousing speech, the nobles present were exhilarated and energized, ready to begin this jihad by picking a ruler and to fight till either one of two victories is achieved: victory on the battle field or Shahada. The shura were looking at a prospective candidate in the form of Don Fernando de Cordoba de Valor, or otherwise known as Muhammad Ibn Ummaya, who was the nephew of Don Fernando ‘Al Sagheer,’ and was apparently a descendent of the Ummawi [Ummayad] line and a descendent of the Prophet (صلَّى الله عليه وسلَّم). However, Ibn Jawhar, afraid that momentum was being lost and that there was a threat that information might leak out to the Spanish regarding the attack date, thus decided to call a third meeting to push all parties into action. At the meeting, twenty six Muslim representatives from around the Al Bushra Mountains were present and there they selected Muhammad Ibn Ummaya as their king and he “…swore to live and die by the Law of the Prophet [Shariah] within his kingdom and to defend the Law [Shariah], and his kingdom,  and all his subjects, and all his vassals, (Ibid, 55).” He appointed his commanders and appointed as General of all his troops, his uncle Ibn Jawhar. The commanders were instructed to inform the troops and captains under them across the various areas of operations the time and date to begin the attack. One can clearly see that the Muslim had learnt many lessons over the previous rebellions that had taken place after the fall of Garnata in 1491:

a)      They based their actions off the Shariah and decided to state their intentions and such

b)      By way of creating a shura they united the various forces and were able to group, concentrate and task separately the forces available to them.

c)      Moreover, they were able to now attack in multiple locations simultaneously and achieve synchronization between various forces under their command

d)     Muslim intelligence was up to the task, and in general their preparation was also up to the task as far as they were concerned with arms, ammunition and training.

e)      Operational security had brilliantly thwarted Spanish intelligence, (also the timing of the attacks was impeccable as Spain was preoccupied with affairs abroad and paid less attention to domestic threats). Furthermore recruiting was not open and was done in a structured way which allowed very little critical information to leak out of the recruiting network.


[1] This might be a clue as to where Ibn Jawhar hails from as the tribe of Banu Jawhar had mainly settled in Qurtuba when Andalus was opened for the Islamic dawah by Tariq Bin Ziyad.

[2] Don Fernando de Valor ‘Al Sagheer’ did exist but the text of this speech comes from Diego Hurtado de Mendoza account of the Al Bushra jihad, whose family members had fought against the Muslims during this jihad and were part of the Spanish military. In fact they were part of the ruling establishment of Garnata. So therefore this speech is to be taken with a pinch of salt. I have only included it since it includes interesting facts, that no Christian could not possibly have understood or known, and in my view, at least some portions of this speech are genuine while others reveal a perspective on the excesses of the Christians upon the Muslims of Garnata.

[3] The popular myth at the time was that all Muslims were rich and they were hoarding unimaginable wealth, while pretending to be poor. This myth is similar to the contemporary myth that all Jews are rich.

[4] I think he is referring to the booming Muslim prostitution trade along with Muslim girls that were not prostitutes officially but flirted and fraternized with young and old Muslim men.

[5] Type of ship

[6] Conscripts. i.e. men who are forced to fight and did not volunteer.

[7] i.e. within the Spanish defined territory of Granada

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