Battle of Tours…Muslim divisiveness lead to reverses in France

Golden Mein: By Dr. Javid Iqbal

Just like the French reverses in ‘Battle of Waterloo’ a battle that settled the Anglo-French confrontation with Nelson dealing the decisive blow to Napoleonic ambitions, the Muslim march in Europe was stopped in the ‘Battle of Tours’ decisively, if not ultimately, as other abortive attempts followed. Abdul Rehman al-Ghafeki had made study progress until then taming the rebellious Berbers led by Uthman ibn Abi Nesa and proceeding as far as Poitiers. Before taking up his northern frontier foray, that is advance in Southern France, he had done all he could to settle Spain in administrative and fiscal terms. He was generous to a fault in going out of way to settle Christian grievances. Churches taken over in violation of Islamic norms entailing due regard and respect to religious places of all faiths were restored to the rightful owners.  Abdul Rehman al-Ghafeki’s governance did not brook any indiscretion by regional administrators. He is recoded to have taken an extensive tour of Spain to settle administrative mishaps and work up fiscal discipline. While settling Spain, he did not forget Spain’s northern frontier…the South of France, where years ago, he had managed a skilful retreat after Islamic forces led by as-Samah faced reverses.

 Uthman [Usman] ibn Abi Nesa was Muslim administrator of Cerdagne—on French-Spanish border [as per 1659 ‘Treaty of Pyrenees’ northern Cerdagne is French, northern part of Cerdanya, while southern Cerdagne is part of Spanish Catalonia]. Cerdagne in the period we are talking of, that is 8th century, the first century after Hijra—the period of Omayyad rule was on other side of Pyrenees–mountainous range in southwest France that forms the natural border between Spain and France.  Uthman [Usman] ibn Abi Nesa had entered into an offensive defensive treaty with Eudes—Duke of Aquitaine in southwest France, and married his daughter—Lampegie. The historical tale and the trail are not free of romance. The couple—the Berber rebel and the European princess were residing in al-Bab [signifies Gate] a city to the west of Mount Louis, not far from Pyrenees, in fact one of the passages of the mountainous range.

The acts of Uthman were seen in contravention of central Spanish authority. Facing censor, Uthman raised banner of revolt in connivance with his father-in-law. Incidentally Uthman [Usman] ibn Abi Nesa is recorded as Munuza in European chronicles. Rather than face the force dispatched to tame him, he fled to mountains. He was ultimately overtaken and killed. Lampegie—his wife was ushered in Abdul Rehman al-Ghafeki’s presence. I keeping with his chivalrous spirit, the governor send her to the Damascus, where she later married a son of Caliph Hisham. In the meantime, Spain and southern France, following the strike on alliances worked out without the sanction of central authority in Spain, witnessed changes with far reaching consequences. These changes forced Abdul Rehman al-Ghafeki to act before he was fully prepared to push ahead in Southern France. He had not forgotten the reverses at Toulouse [in southwest France, 580 km from Paris, 150 km from Mediterranean, and 230 km from Atlantic Ocean].

Eudes—the Duke of Aquitaine stung by reverses strove to work out a larger European alliance apart from the alliances that were already working with other smaller Christian principalities. But before he could extend it, Abdul Rehman entered southern France and had an easy run. The city of Arles that had refused to pay tribute after Uthman ibn Abi Nesa’s elimination was subdued. Bordeaux [port city in southwest France] was the next destination. However, Islamic forces were intercepted by Eudes—Duke of Aquitaine, he was overcome. Bordeaux was overtaken, so were Lyons [city in central east France between Paris and Marseille] Besancon [in eastern France] and Sens [city crossed by two waterways Yonne and Vanne—empties into Yonne].

Eudes looking for broader and more effective alliance approached Charles [in Arab chronicles Karla/Kaldus] son of Pepin of Herstal [Mayor of the Court of Merovingian—the ruling dynasty of Franks]. Pepin was the de-facto ruler, his rule evolved into shrinkage of Merovingian dynasty and ascendance of his own family—Pippinids, as the unchallenged rulers of Franks. Charles Martel was his son, albeit out of wedlock, and Pepin of Herstal named his grandson—Theudoald to succeed him. Charles Martel did not accept it and won the ruler-ship by dint of arms. This was the man who stopped Abdul Rehman al-Ghafeki’s march by marshalling auxiliaries from borders of Danube and Elbe [European rivers] and wilds of Germany. We are talking of a period, when Charles Martel was yet to assume the power that ultimately made him the ruler of Franks.

The armies met at Tours [central French city] which Islamic forces had already taken over.  Abdul Rehman al-Ghafeki had a handicap; his army had collected a huge booty and was averse to lose it. And the divisions persisted between tribals, more so with their riches to protect. Still the heroism held with Charles Martel’s auxiliaries and wilds almost on the verge of defeat. However a rumour that enemy had attacked the camp where the riches had been stored had them turn back to protect their riches, in spite of the Abdul Rehman’s pleas. He had pleaded earlier too, before the battle was joined, asking his forces to partly shed their load. However, the plea could not be forced. The rumor of enemy attack on the camp though untrue did not result in Muslims getting back to battle. They just fled with their acquired riches. Charles however did not order a pursuit. Abdul Rehman al-Ghafeki lost his life, and with that ended Muslim hopes of taking the message across Europe.

There is a historical consensus that at Tours Muslims lost Europe that could have been theirs; wordly riches however had assumed a greater meaning. The battle is recorded in Arabic chronicles as Balat-ush-Shahada [Pavement of Martyrs] however the assertion of some European authors that 360, 000 were slain is not borne by facts. Muslim compilers like Ameer Ali point to virtually one fourth of the stated figure entering south of France. Gibbon, the famed historian questions the inactivity of conqueror, ‘most cruel execution is inflicted, not in the ranks of battle, but on the backs of flying enemy’.

Abdul Rehman al-Ghafeki’s French foray was not the last attempt to overtake France, several other attempts followed, we may continue, what is a fascinating study.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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