Andalusi fitna

An 11th-Century Description

This passage is from Ibn Hazm’s famous book, the Ring of the Dove. This volume is a rumination on the nature of love, but he tells us in passing about the things he experienced during the Andalusi fitna.

       Here is the story of our friend Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Yahya Ibn Muhammad Ibn al-Husain al-Tamimi, better known as Ibn al-Tubni, God rest his soul! It might have been said that beauty itself was created in his likeness, or fashioned out of the sighs of those who looked upon him: I have never seen his equal in beauty, comeliness, physique, temperance, self-restraint, culture, understanding, magnanimity, loyalty, nobility, purity, generosity, tenderness, sweetness, dexterity, patience, forbearance, intelligence, chivalry, piety, learning, knowledge of the Koran and the Traditions, grammar and lexicography. He was a fine poet, a splendid calligrapher, and an eloquent and accomplished speaker; he had besides a very decent capacity in scholasticism and dialectic. He was a pensioner of Abu ‘l-Qasim ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Abi Yazid al-Azdi, my own preceptor in these subjects; there was a difference of twelve years between his age and his brother’s, and he and I were almost exact contemporaries. We were inseparable companions and bosom friends, and our relations were marked by perfect understanding and concord, until the troubles broke over us, and let loose their flood of misery. The Berber soldiery pillaged our dwellings in Balat Mughith on the western side of Cordova, and barracked themselves there. Abu `Abd Allah’s residence was on the eastern side. The vicissitudes of fortune obliged me to quit Cordova and take up my abode in Almeria; but we continued to exchange frequent missives, in verse as well as prose. The last communication I ever received from him was a letter containing the following lines.

Alas, I would I knew
If thy affection’s bond
Is still unfrayed and new,
Thy love yet fresh and fond.

O shall I ever win
Thy features to behold,
And speak with thee, as in
Balat Mughith of old?

If yearning had the power
Whole buildings to uproot,
Balat this very hour
Would leap to thy pursuit.

If human hearts indeed
Might ever travel free,
My heart with eager speed
Would hasten unto thee.

Be as thou wilt: by me
Thou shalt be still adored,
Since in my memory
Thy love alone is stored.

Thy troth within my heart,
What though thy mind forget,
Is kept a thing apart,
Deep down, unbroken yet.

       So we continued, until the rule of the Banu Marwan came to an end, and the Caliph Sulaiman al-Zafir was slain. Then the dynasty of the Talibis seized power, and ‘Ali Ibn Hammud al-Hasani, styling himself al-Nasir, was proclaimed Caliph. He conquered and possessed himself of Cordova, and pursued his hostile operations against the city with the assistance of -the victorious armies and the rebel detachments scattered all over Andalusia. Immediately after this I found myself in serious trouble with Khairan, the mayor of Almeria; wicked persons who feared not God in their hearts-and God has since avenged me and my friend, Muhammad Ibn Ishaq upon them-reported to him that we were conspiring to make propaganda in favour of the Umayyad house. Khairan arrested us and kept us under his personal surveillance for some months, after which we were expelled and banished from Almeria. We proceeded to Aznalcazar, where we were received by the governor of that city, Abu ‘l-Qasim ‘Abd Allah Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hudhail al-Tujibi, better known as Ibn al-Mugaffal. We remained in his most hospitable home for several months, enjoying the friendship of his delightful family and admirable neighbours, all men of the most ardent spirit, the truest kindliness, and the most perfect noblesse. Then we took ship and sailed to Valencia, just when the Caliph al-Murtada ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Muhammad emerged on the scene and took up residence there.

       At Valencia I found our old friend Abu Shakir ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Muhammad Ibn Mauhib al-Qabri, who brought me the sad news that Abu ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Tubni was dead, God rest his soul. Then a little while later judge Abu ‘l-Walid Yunus Ibn Muhammad al-Muradi and Abu ‘Amr Ahmad Ibn Mahriz informed me that Abu Bakr al-Mus’ab Ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Azdi, better known as Ibn al-Faradi, had told them-and al-Mus’ab’s father had been cadi of Valencia during the Caliphate of al-Mahdi, while al-Mus’ab himself had been a dear friend and brother to us in the days when we were studying Traditions at his father’s feet, and under the other leading Traditionists of Cordova–these two men, I say, stated that they had been told by al-Mus’ab that he had enquired of Abu ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Tubni as to the cause of his illness. For he had indeed become terribly emaciated, and the wasting sickness had entirely destroyed his once handsome features, so that nothing remained but their very essence to bear testimony to their former beauty; he had so fallen away that a mere breath almost sufficed to send him flying; he was bent wellnigh to the ground, and anguish was evident in every line of his face. He explained that he was alone with Ibn al-Tubni at the time of their conversation.

Ibn al-Tubni answered him, ” Yes, I will tell you. I was standing at the door of my house in Ghadir Ibn al-Shammas at the time that ‘Ali Ibn Hammud entered Cordova, and his armies were pouring into the city from all directions. I saw among them a youth of such striking appearance, that I would never have believed until that moment that beauty could be so embodied in a living form. He mastered my reason, and my mind was wholly enraptured with him. I enquired after him, and was told that he was So-and-so, the son of So-and-so, and that he inhabited such-and-such district-a province far distant from Cordova, and virtually inaccessible. I despaired of ever seeing him again; and by my life, 0 Abu Bakr, I shall never give up loving him, until I am laid in the tomb.” And so indeed it was. For my part, I knew the youth in question, and was personally acquainted with him, having seen him with my own eyes; but I have forborne to mention his name, because he is now dead, and the two have met at last in the presence of the Almighty: may Allah forgive us all! Yet this same Abu ‘Abd Allah (may God accord him an honoured seat in Paradise!) was a man who never in his life went astray or wandered from the straight and narrow path; not once did he transgress against God’s holy laws, or commit any abominable act, or do any forbidden deed such as might have corrupted his faith and tainted his virtue; he never repaid evil with evil; there was none other his like, not in all our generation.

        Then I entered Cordova once more, al-Qasim Ibn Hammud al-Ma’mun having succeeded to the Caliphate, and my first care was to seek out Abu ‘Amr al-Qasiui Ibn Yahya al-Tamimi, Abu ‘Abd Allah’s brother. After enquiring concerning his own health, I offered him my, sympathies in his sad bereavement; though indeed I. was no less deserving condolence than he. Then I questioned him about my friend’s poetry and epistles, for all that I had possessed of these had perished during the sack of Cordova, in circumstances which I have mentioned at the beginning of this story. He told me that when his brother was near his death, and convinced that his time was at hand and his end undoubtedly come, he called for all his poetry, and all the letters which I had written to him, to be brought to him; he tore every sheet into pieces, and gave instructions that the fragments should be buried. Abu ‘Amr continued I said to him, ” O my brother, let them remain! ” But he answered, “See, I am tearing them up; I know that in doing so I am destroying much fine literature. If Abu Muhammad” -he meant myself, Ibn Hazm- “had been present, I would have given them over to him as a souvenir of my love; but I do not know in what country he lies concealed, nor even whether he is alive or dead.” He had indeed heard news of my misfortunes, but was not aware of where I was then lodging, or of what had become of me. Among the elegies which I composed in his memory is a poem from which these three couplets are extracted.

Though the dark tomb thy broken body hides,
Still true, still manifest my love abides.
I sought thy dwelling, passionate for thee,
When Destiny had done its worst with me,
But it was desolate, and thou wast dead,
And ah, the bitter tears for thee I shed!


A 17th-Century Description

This snippet describes the Andalusi fitna, from the perspective of an imam who lived in North Africa in the 1600s.

Source, pp. 241-4.