The 4 Freedoms Library

It takes a nation to protect the nation

History of Jihad against the Nubians - modern Sudanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis (640 - 2004)

How the ancient Nubians for the first time in Islamic history used guerilla tactics to utterly defeat the Jihad, but their struggle continues today in the conflicts of the Arabized Northern Sudanese with the Christian Dinka tribesmen of Southern Sudan, and with the Muslim but non-Arabized, darker-skinned tribesmen of Darfur who were forcibly converted to Islam late in the 18th century when Areadi Gaya, the ruler of Futa Bandu State in Western Sudan was forced to embrace Islam after he was defeated by the Mamelukes of Egypt.


After overrunning Byzantine ruled Egypt and giving the Coptic Christian population the choice Islam, death or Jizya, the Muslim armies attempted to penetrate deeper into East Africa then known as Nubia. At the time of the Muslim invasion in 642 C.E., the ancient kingdom of Nubia stretched from the south of Egypt (from Aswan) to Abyssinia, and from the Red Sea to the Libyan desert. The Nubians were Christians with a strong element of pre-Christian pagan beliefs, and were ruled by kings who had zealously guarded their freedom from their Byzantines who were their Christian co-religionists. The capital of the kingdom was a city named Dumqula that was deep into the forests of the upper Nile valley.

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What led to the defeat of the Muslims in Nubia (ancient Sudan)?

The fact that led to the defeat of the Muslims in Nubia was that for a few years before the Jihadis attacked Nubia, the Nubians had been receiving refugees from Egypt and Syria. These refugees had forewarned the Nubian king about the ruthlessness of the Jihadis.

So when the invaders soon followed the worrisome news from Egypt, the Nubians were prepared to meet them on equal warlike terms. When the Arab conquerors of Egypt soon came into conflict with the Nubians, their first raid was made in A.D. 641. These early attacks were only predatory raids. But these raids were good enoough to make the Nubians realize that they would be massacred in open warfare, and they decided not face the Muslims in guerilla warfare. The Nubians turned the tactics of subterfuge and hit and run tactics against the Muslims themselves. Tactics which were till then the trademark of the Muslims.

After nightfall, the Nubians hid themselves in the bushy trees and in the scrub vegetation that was scattered in this parched land and lay in wait for the Muslims to reach these clusters of bush vegetation to target them silently and skillfully with their poison tipped arrows and spears. Thus it was with the Nubians that the treacherous tactics of the Muslims came home to roost for the first time in early Islamic history.

The Nubians fought stoutly and gained a reputation amongst the Arabs as skilful archers, who specialized in blinding their opponents by shooting at their eyes; they were known to the Arabs as rumat al-hadaq, "pupil-smiters ". Soon after these first raids, a treaty known as the Baqt, from the Greek pakton, a pact, was concluded, by which the Nubians supplied annually four hundred slaves in return for foodstuffs and cloth.

The, till then, undefeated march of the Muslims was halted and reversed in Nubia. This proved to the others (especially to the Byzantines) that the Muslims could be vanquished. It is due to this victory that the Nubians preserved their Christian heritage in large tracts of Nubia (Southern Sudan and Ethiopia).

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In the summer of 642, the Muslim general Amr-ibn-Al-Aas who commanded a battalion near the Nubian border decided to take another swipe at Nubia. His battalion was a part of the armies of Muslim General of occupied Egypt, Amr-ibn-Al-Aas. He sent an expedition to Nubia under the command of his cousin Uqba-ibn-Nafe. The expedition was ordered by Amr-ibn-Al-Aas on his own account, without the knowledge or approval of Caliph Umar. In those days many Muslim commanders undertook expeditions into non-Muslim lands through their own overzealousness to claim their name in the history of the Islamic Jihad and also to bring in personal fame and glory.

The Caliphate was rife with personal and clan dissensions from the inception. This is borne out by the fact that out of the first four caliphs Umar, Uthman, Ali and Abu Muawiya ibn Sufyan, the first three were murdered by Muslims from the opposing clans. This speaks for the unity of the Ummah in those formative days. The Shia-Sunni Schism that came later was the first major faultline within Islam, that was to be replicated within the national boundaries that came about when the Caliphate started falling apart a few years later after the death of Abu Muawiya ibn Sufyan, the fifth caliph.

To build his own fiefdom Amr-ibn-Al-Aas attacked Nubia from Egypt since he thought that the victory over the Nubians would be an easy affair and that he would inform the Caliph after he had conquered another land and claim its governorship for himself.

Uqba-ibn-Nafe who had till made a great name for himself as the butcher of the Copts and Conqueror of Egypt and North Africa, and who had led his horse to the Atlantic complaining that there were no lands left for him to conquer in which to spread the glory of Islam by terrorizing the conquered people to accept Islam or death. But here his non-existent allah refused to favor him and his accursed followers and he came in for a shock in Nubia.

The Nubians also followed a scorched earth policy. As the Muslim army proceeded into the Nubian kingdom, in village after village, they encountered burnt out houses and farms. The wells had been filled up with mud and there was no population to fall prey to the advancing Muslims. The Muslim army was surprised that there were no pitched battles to be fought, where they could challenge the champion of the Nubians to come forth and face the Muslims to be slaughtered with some foul trick, after which the Muslim army would overawe the resisting Kafirs (non-Muslims) with their ghastly slaughter and frighten them into submission to Islam, as had happened till then with the Byzantine and Coptic Christians as also with the Zoroastrians (Sassanid Persians) in Iran.

In Nubia, the Nubian army never challenged the Muslims to open warfare. They hid themselves in the forests during the day and attacked at nightfall, when the Muslim army retired. There were only skirmishes and haphazard engagements and in such type of warfare the Nubians excelled the Muslims. The Nubians also did never engage the Muslims in hand-to-hand combat nor in single combat, as the Hazar Mard champions of the Persians.

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The Nubians were skilful archers and attacked from a safe distance perched on tree tops. They were never seen by the Muslims who camped below. We have it on the strength of Muslim historian Balazuri that they would shout to the Muslims where would they like to be hit by the arrow, and where the Muslims mockingly named some part of the body, the arrow invariably struck there to the great grief of the Muslim who had mockingly challenged the Nubians to hit him.

One day Uqba came across a concentration of the Nubians. Before the Muslims could attack the Nubians; the Nubians subjected the Muslims to a merciless barrage of arrows. The arrows were aimed at the eyes of the Muslims who had defensive leather armor all over their bodies, except over their eyes. and in the encounter 25000 Muslims lost their eyes. The Nubians were also very fast in their movements. The Muslim cavalry was known for its speed and mobility; but it was no match for the Nubian horse riders. The Nubians would attack in the dead of the night, strike hard against the Muslims, and; then vanish into the dark before the Muslims could recover their balance and take counter action. The hit-and-run raids; by the Nubians caused considerable damage to the Muslims.

Having suffered a bloody nose at the hands of the Nubians, the Muslim gangster Uqba decided to retreat from Nubia after informing Amr-ibn-Al-Aas of the state of affairs. He said that the Nubians avoided pitched battle, and in the guerilla tactics that they followed the Muslims were the sufferers. Uqba further realized that; Nubia was a poor land, and there was nothing therein worth fighting for or to tempt the avaricious, greedy and cruel Muslims by way of booty. This also speaks the mind of the Muslim to raid non-Muslim lands not only for spreading Islam but to loot, plunder and rape. And when all this was done, to force the victims to join the Gang of Bandits named the Muslim Ummah, by embracing Islam at the point of the sword.

But in A.D. 652 Arab attacks recommenced and the Arab writer, Maqrizi, recounts that they penetrated as far as Old Dongola, where the principal church was destroyed, with stones thrown from catapults, and the Nubian king Kalidurut sued for peace. It is certain that it was no easy victory and an Arab poet wrote:

"My eyes ne'er saw another fight like Dongola, with rushing horses loaded down with coats of mail ".

In spite of this victory the Arabs could not hold the comparatively poor country of Nubia for long in face of the fierce resistance of its inhabitants, so different from that of the Copts in Egypt, who had helped the invaders against the hated Byzantine rulers.

Another factor that delayed the Arab conquest of Nubia (Sudan) was that at some date between A.D. 650 and A.D. 710 the two Nubian kingdoms of Nobatia and Makuria merged to became one powerful kingdom. The conditions under which this unification came about, and its exact date, are obscure. If the king Merkurios, who has left an inscription in the temple at Taifa, which is in the territory of Nobatia, dated A.D. 710, is the same as the Merkurios king of Dongola, who is referred to as the " New Constantine ", then it would seem that Makuria had conquered the northern kingdom. But about this time also took place the complete winning of the country to the monophysite church, and it seems unlikely that a victory of Makuria, which had long championed the Melkite faith, would lead to the triumph of the rival church of the defeated country.

The danger from Islam had become clear after the Arab conquest of Egypt, when the Nubian Melkites were considered as supporters of the Byzantine empire, whilst the nationalist (Coptic) church favoured the Arab conquerors and, during a period of nearly a hundred years, from about A.D.637 to 731, there was no Melkite patriarch in Egypt. Consequently the Nublans were unable to get Melkite Bishops, and the Monophysites took advantage of this to assert their supremacy.

This unification of the two Nubian kingdoms was of importance for Nubia, as it enabled a stronger resistance against Arab raids, and the ending of political and religious strife facilitated cultural development. Although now under one king, Nobatia, or Maris as Nubia also seems to have been called, maintained its own identity and had a governor appointed by the king of Nubia, known to the Arabs as sahib el jebel, "Lord of the Mountain ", and to the Nubians by the Greek title of " Eparch ". A representation of one of these officials is to be seen in a painting in the church at Abd el Qadir, near Wadi Halfa.

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The united kingdom under King Cyriacus was powerful enough to invade Egypt in the year A.D. 745 in defense of the Patriarch of Alexandria, who had been imprisoned. The Nubian army reached Cairo where an official called the eparch, presumably the eparch of Nobatia, was sent to treat with Abd el Melek ibn Musa, the governor of Egypt, who agreed to the release of the Patriarch. A contemporary document shows that as well as the title Eparch, other Byzantine titles, such as Domestikos, were still in use, and suggests that the Byzantine traditions introduced by the first missionaries were still living.

From A.D. 822-836 there was continual warfare with Egypt until, in the latter year, George, son of King Zakaria, was sent on an embassy to Baghdad to the Caliph Muatasim. The number of accounts of this embassy shows that it was considered an important event, and marked the arrival of Nubia as a Near Eastern power.

During the ninth century, there had again been considerable Arab penetration into the area to the east of the Nile river, the main purpose of which was to obtain the gold of the Red Sea Hills. Struggles with the Beja inhabitants of the area ensued, and in A.D. 831 a treaty was made by which the Beja were to pay tribute, the blood price for Muslims killed by them was fixed, they were permitted to enter Egypt but not to be armed, and they agreed not to destroy the mosques at Sinkat and Hagr, places so far unidentified.

The existence of these mosques shows that Arab penetration must have achieved significant proportions, and suggests that there was now a permanent Muslim population at these places. This treaty did not last for long, and in A.D. 856 a new one was made after a Beja defeat. This reaffirmed the clauses of the earlier one, and added one by which the Beja undertook not to interfere with the Muslim gold miners.

We know the name of one of the Arab gold prospectors, Abu Abd el rahman el Omari, whose story is told by Maqrizi ; he established a virtually independent state in the hills and fought the Nubians in the area round Abu Hamed, where he needed access to the Nile for his water supplies.

By the middle of the tenth century, hostilities had again broken out with Egypt. The Nubians invaded Arab occupied Egypt and, benefiting from the state of disorder there, reached, in the year A.D. 962, as far as the town of Akhmim, and for a time controlled Upper Egypt, at least to the north of Edfu. The discovery there of Nubian documents in the monastery of St. Mercurios suggests that it had become a centre of Nubian culture.

This occupation of Upper Egypt continued for some while after the Fatimid conquest in A.D. 969, but relations between Nubia and Egypt were good, and the king of Nubia was regarded as protector of the patriarch of Alexandria. This period of the late tenth and eleventh centuries marks the height of Nubian power, but from then on the history is one of increasing Arab pressure and lessening Nubian strength, and control of Upper Egypt was lost.

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The lessons from the defeat of the till then invincible Muslims by the agile and ruthless Nubians is that the sneaky tactics of the Muslim can only be outmatched by being more sneaky yourself. The old English adage -Everything is fair in love and war,- holds greatest relevance while battling the Muslims. And only when we in the Western world realize this and go into an overreach with subterfuge against the Terrorists (all of whom are Muslims), and use our still prevailing (but fast closing) edge of superior weapons against the enemy, can the Muslims finally be defeated in the looming Third World War.

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With the end of Fatimid rule in A.D. 1171 peace with Egypt again came to an end, and war broke out. The Nubians took the initiative and invaded Egypt. After capturing Aswan, the Nubians advanced into Upper Egypt. Saladin (Salah ed Din), the new ruler of Egypt, sent in army under the command of his brother Shams-ed-Din Turan Shah against them. Hw defeated the Nubians and drove them back to lbrim, which was captured. The main Nubian church there was turned into a mosque, and a garrison was left there for two years.

There are a hundred years of silence after this event, until in 1272 the Nubians under a King David again attacked the Arab town of Aidhab on the Red Sea coast. This was the last aggressive action of the now much weakened Christian Nubian state, and its history from then on is a story of dynastic intrigue, with Egypt ever ready to take advantage of dissensions and place her nominee on the throne. To David succeeded another David, his son, but one Shekanda, a nephew of the late king, basing his claim to the throne on the traditional succession through sisters' sons, appealed for Egyptian Muslim help, and was by them placed on the throne in A.D. 1276. Some time before A.D. 1288 a king called Semamun came to the throne and for the next six years he alternated with an Egyptian nominee; when the Egyptian army retired Semamun seized the throne, when it advanced he fled.

The last Christian king of Dongola was Kudanbes, who in A.D. 1323 was defeated by Kanz-ed-Dawla; the Christian kingdom came to an end and the country thrown open to the Arabs, became rapidly Islamized.

But it was because of these early Nubian victories did Ethiopia and the southern parts of Sudan remain overwhelmingly Christian to this day. But later Muslim attacks from Hejaz (Saudi Arabia) into the coastal areas of Nubia (East Africa) led to the forcible conversion of the people of Somalia, Upper Nile (Northern Sudan) and Eritrea to Islam. It is these converts that account for the recurring battles in Southern Sudan and along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border between Muslims and Christians.

The Roots of the Darfur Crisis in the Muslim Invasion of Sudan

The people of Western Nubia also resisted Islam for a long time, and were converted as late as the 18th century by the Mamluks (Mameluks). These late converts are the darker-skinned tribesmen of Darfur (Chad, Mauritania and Nigeria) who were forcibly converted to Islam late in the 18th century when Areadi Gaya, the ruler of Futa Bandu State in Western Sudan was forced to embrace Islam after he was defeated by the Mameluks of Egypt in 1764.

Subsequently the Mameluks led proselytising campaigns deep in to Central Africa up to Northern Nigeria and today-s Ghana in West Africa. These converts still practice a mix of animism and Islam. While most of them in Northern Nigeria, Ghana, and other parts of Central Africa are insulated from Arab tyranny, those in Mauritania, suffer tyranny, that is a mostly unreported, in the form of slavery that is imposed upon them by the relatively lighter skinned Arabized Muslims of Algeria and Morocco who have migrated from the Mediterranean coast.

But the converts in Darfur and Chad are the most unfortunate of this lot. They had reverted to animism after their forced conversion in 1784, and were Muslims only in name till more than a century after their conversion. Even today they practice animism mixed with Islam, do not speak Arabic and their womenfolk do not use the Hijab, but wear colorful African traditional tribal dresses. Hence they continue to bear the brunt of the onslaught of the Arabized Janjweed. They suffered the first wave of Arabization when Othman Dan Fodio established Islamic State of Sokoto in Central Sudan in 1804. These attacks were the precursor of the Janjaweed attacks of today.

But in spite of these efforts the people of Darfur were never fully Arabized, due to their late conversion and continuing resistance to Arabization. They inhabit what is today the belt stretching from Darfur in Western Sudan through Chad, Mauritania, up to Ghana and Northern Nigeria. In Darfur they are constantly subject to attacks from the Janjaweed who are the Arabized Muslims of Northern Sudan who consider the Darfur Muslims to be infidels by virtue of their being non-Arabized.

Lessons from the Battle of Nubia

The lessons from the defeat of the till then invincible Muslims by the agile and ruthless Nubians is that the sneaky tactics of the Muslim can only be outmatched by being more sneaky yourself. The old English adage -Everything is fair in love and war,- holds greatest relevance while battling the Muslims. And only when we in the Western world realize this and go into an overreach with subterfuge against the Terrorists (all of whom are Muslims), and use our still prevailing (but fast closing) edge of superior weapons against the enemy, can the Muslims finally be defeated in the looming Third World War.

Tags: Jihad, Nubians

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Most Western societies are based on Secular Democracy, which itself is based on the concept that the open marketplace of ideas leads to the optimum government. Whilst that model has been very successful, it has defects. The 4 Freedoms address 4 of the principal vulnerabilities, and gives corrections to them. 

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