A Jewish prince of a Muslim Caliphate

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Around the year 1013 Abu al-Kasim ibn al-‘Arif was chief advisor to Habbus al-Muzaffar, the king of Ta’ifa Garnata (Modern day Granada). It was around this time that al-Kasim’s confidential slave employed the services of Samuel ibn Naghrela, a Jewish caligrapher, to write his letters. One of the letters fell into the hands of the chief advisor, al-Kasim, who was so struck by the linguistic and calligraphic skill that he expressed a desire to make the acquaintance of the writer. Samuel was brought to the palace and within a short time was appointed secretary to al-Kasim. Samuel’s natural ability as a statesman was soon recognised and al-Kasim allowed himself to be guided by his secretary’s counsel in all the affairs of state.

In 1027 al-Kasim fell ill upon hearing the news King Ḥabbus paid his ill advisor a visit. Realizing that al-Kasim was on his death bed the King expressed his sorrow at losing such an able statesman, to which the advisor confessed that most of his successful undertakings had been due to his Jewish secretary.

Like many great Muslim leaders of that period Habbus was free of racial prejudice, and he raised Samuel to the dignity of chief advisor, entrusting him with the conduct of his diplomatic and military affairs.

A Jew was now the General of one of the most powerful Muslim armies of the time, but there was more to the story. In the year 1037 Ḥabbus died, and there arose two parties in Granada who respectively rallied around the two sons of Habbus. The majority of the Berber nobles, and some influential Jews: Joseph ibn Migas, Isaac ben Leon, and Nehemiah Ashkofa — sided with the younger son of Ḥabbus, while Samuel at the head of a smaller party supported the elder son Badis.

The chances were all in favour of the majority, and Samuel ran the risk of losing not only his position, but also his life, when unexpectedly the younger son of Ḥabbus abdicated in favour of his elder brother. Badis was then hailed king, and Samuel not only retained his former position, but practically became king of Granada, as the pleasure-seeking Badis paid little attention to affairs of state.

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A Jewish prince of a Muslim Caliphate