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Uqba ibn Nafi
622–683
Place of birth Unknown
Place of death Sidi Uqba, Algeria
Allegiance Umayyad
Service/branch Army
Years of service 670-683
Rank General

Uqba ibn Nafi (Arabic: عقبة بن نافع‘Uqbah ibn Nāfi‘) (also referred to as Oqba ibn Nafi, Uqba bin Nafe, Uqba ibn al Nafia, or Akbah) (622–683) was an Arab general under the Umayyad dynasty,in Amir Muavia and Yazid periods, who began the Islamic conquest of the Maghreb, including present-day western Algeria and Morocco in North Africa. He was the nephew of 'Amr ibn al-'As. Uqba is often surnamed al-Fihri in reference to the Banu Fihri, a clan connected to the Quraysh. His descendants would be known as the 'Oqbids' or 'Fihrids'.


Uqba accompanied Al-‘As in his initial raids and capture of cities in North Africa starting with Barca, then proceeding to Tripolitania in 644 AD. In 670 now the emir or commander, Uqba led an Arab army to North Africa, crossing the Egyptian deserts, and setting up military posts at regular intervals along his route. In a region of what is now Tunisia, he established the town now called Kairouan (Kairwan or al Qayrawan, meaning "camp" or "caravanserai" in Persian) about 160 kilometres south of present-day Tunis, which he used as a base for further operations.

According to one legend, one of Uqba's soldiers stumbled across a golden goblet buried in the sands. It was recognized as one that had disappeared from Mecca some years before, and when it was dug out of the sand a spring appeared, with waters said to come from the same source as those of the sacred Zamzam Well in Mecca.[1] This story led to Kairouan becoming a place of pilgrimage, and then a holy city (the Mecca of the Maghreb) and the most important city in North Africa.

Uqba aside from cunning and brave, was also a fierce and sometimes brutal emir towards the enemies of Islam and carried out war and collected the poll tax against them. He was rumored to cut off body parts and taken people as slaves in his operations "in order to show them a lesson". He was thoroughly convinced of Arab superiority, demonstrated by the favor Allah had shown his kinsmen in their conquests. He was replaced in chains by Abu al-Muhajir Dinar who would become Uqba's successor. This ignited a fire in him to be returned to his post, which sometime later was granted to him by the Caliph.

In 683 Uqba was ambushed and killed near Biskra by Kusaila. Ironically he died beside his hated rival Abu al-Muhajir Dinar, during the battle with Kusaila's troops. His armies evacuated Kairouan and withdrew to Barqa (though Kairouan was soon recaptured). His descendants can be found in the area stretching from the Lake Chad region to Mauritania's coast. The trans-sahel Arab tribe of "Kounta" traces its origins to Uqba, in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya some of his descendants are known as Ouled Sidi Ukba.

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Most of the accounts which describe Arab conquests of North Africa in general and Uqba's conquests in particular date back to at least two centuries after the conquests have happened.[2]

One of the earliest reports come from the Andalucian chronicler Ibn Idhari Al-Marrakushi in his Al-Bayan al-Mughrib fi akhbar al-Andalus. In it, Ibn Idhari describes the moment when Uqba reached the Atlantic coast saying "Oh God, if the sea had not prevented me, I would have galloped on for ever like Alexander the Great, upholding your faith and fighting the unbelievebers!."[3]

Edward Gibbon, referring to Uqba ibn Nafi as Akbah, gives him the title "conqueror of Africa," beginning his story when he "marched from Damascus at the head of ten thousand of the bravest Arabs; and the genuine force of the Moslems [sic] was enlarged by the doubtful aid and conversion of many thousand Barbarians." He then marched into North Africa. Gibbon continues: "It would be difficult, nor is it necessary, to trace the accurate line of the progress of Akbah." On the North African coast, "the well-known titles of Bugia, and Tangier define the more certain limits of the Saracen victories." Gibbon then tells the story of Akbah's conquest of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana.

"The fearless Akbah plunged into the heart of the country, traversed the wilderness in which his successors erected the splendid capitals of Fez and Morocco, and at length penetrated to the verge of the Atlantic and the great desert. . . . The career, though not the zeal, of Akbah was checked by the prospect of a boundless ocean. He spurred his horse into the waves, and raising his eyes to heaven, exclaimed: Great God! if my course were not stopped by this sea, I would still go on, to the unknown kingdoms of the West, preaching the unity of thy holy name, and putting to the sword the rebellious nations who worship another gods than thee."

Yet this Islamic Alexander, who sighed for new worlds, was unable to preserve his recent conquests. By the universal defection of the Greeks and Africans he was recalled from the shores of the Atlantic, and the surrounding multitudes left him only the resource of an honourable death. The last scene was dignified by an example of national virtue. An ambitious chief, who had disputed the command and failed in the attempt, was led about as a prisoner in the camp of the Arabian general. The insurgents had trusted to his discontent and revenge; he disdained their offers and revealed their designs. In the hour of danger, the grateful Akbah unlocked his fetters, and advised him to retire; he chose to die under the banner of his rival. Embracing as friends and martyrs, they unsheathed their scimeters, broke their scabbards, and maintained an obstinate combat, till they fell by each other’s side on the last of their slaughtered countrymen."

It should be pointed out that although much scholarship on the life and conquests of ibn Nafi are available, most have not been translated from their original Arabic into English or French.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Places of peace and power - Kairouan, Tunisia - Sacredsites.com
  2. ^ Corradini, Richard; Helmut Reimitz, Marx Diesenberger (2003). The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages: Texts, Resources and Artefacts. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 303. ISBN 9-0041-0845-9.  
  3. ^ Ibn Idhari, Al-Bayan al-Mughrib fi akhbar al-Andalus, 1 ed. G.S. Colin and E. Lévi-Provençal, 2 vols. (Leiden 1949) p.27

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