The Jewel of the World

The Jewel of the World

It was in 750 that the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus was overthrown by the Abbasid family; and accession of the Abbasids to the caliphate was signalized by a ruthless extermination of every member of the defeated house on whom the victors could lay their hands.

Among the very few also escaped was a youth of twenty, Abd-al-Rahman, a striking young man, tall, lean, with sharp, aquiline features and hair – a youth of exceptional nerve and ability. It was he who made his way to Spain, fought this way to mastery, and kept in power there the Umayyad dynasty which was wiped out In the East. 
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The story of his escape is dramatic. He was in a Bedouin camp on the left bank of the Euphrates River one day when horsemen carrying the black standard of the Abbasids suddenly. With his thirteen-year old brother, Abd-al-Rahman dashed into the river. The younger brother, evidently a poor swimmer, became frightened, heeded the reassurances shouted from the bank that he would be unharmed if he returned; and swam back. He was killed. The older boy kept on and gained the opposite bank.

Afoot, friendless and penniless, he set out south-westward, made his way after great hardships to Palestine, found one friend there and set-off again toward the west. In North Africa he barely escaped assassination at the hands of the governor of the province. Wandering from tribe to tribe, always pursued by the spies of the new dynasty, he finally reached Ceuta, five years later. He was a grandson of the tenth caliph of Damascus, and his material uncles were Berbers from the district of North Africa. They offered him refuge.

In the process of subduing his adversaries Abd-a-Rahman developed a well-disciplined, high trained army of 40,000 or more Berbers. He knew how to keep their favor by generous pay. In 773, he discontinued the Friday sermon hitherto delivered in the name of the Abbasid caliph, but did not assume the caliph’s title himself. He and his successors down to Abd-al-Rahman themselves with the tides “Amir”. Under Abd-al-Rahman I, Spain had thus been first province to shake off the authority of the recognized caliph in Islam. 

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