"Get into the Know"
After overrunning Byzantine ruled Egypt and giving the Coptic Christian population the choice Islam, death or Jizya, the Arab 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.
Dongola was a meeting engagement or encounter between early Arab-Muslim forces of the Rashidun Caliphate and the Nubian-Christian forces of the Kingdom of Makuria in 642. The battle, which resulted in a Makurian victory, temporarily halted Arab incursions into Nubia and set the tone for an atmosphere of hostility between the two cultures until the culmination of the Second Battle of Dongola in 652.
In the 6th century the area that had once been under the domination of the Kingdom of Kush converted to Christianity. It included the kingdoms of Alodia, Makuria and Nobatia, which rested on Egypt's southern border. Over a century later, the religion of Islam united the nomadic Arab tribes into an expanding military and political force by AD 632. In 640, the military leader 'Amr ibn al-'As conquered Egypt from the Byzantine Empire. To consolidate Muslim control over Egypt, it was inevitable to secure its western and southern borders. Amr accordingly sent expeditions to Byzantine North Africa and Makuria's Nubia.
In 642, 'Amr ibn al-'As sent a column of 20,000 horsemen under his cousin Uqba ibn Nafi against Makurra. They managed to get as far as Dongola, the capital of Makurra. However, in a rare turn of events, the Arab forces were beaten back.
According to historian Al-Baladhuri, the Arabs found that the Nubians fought strongly and met them with showers of arrows. The majority of the Arab forces returned with wounded and blinded eyes. It was thus that the Nubians were called 'the pupil smiters'. Al-Baladhuri also states, quoting from one of his sources that went to Nubia twice during the rule of `Umar ibn al-Khattab.
"One day they came out against us and formed a line; we wanted to use swords, but we were not able to, and they shot at us and put out eyes to the number of one hundred and fifty."
The Nubians were skilful archers and attacked from a safe distance perched on tree tops. They were never seen by the Arabs who camped below. We have it on the strength of Arabs historian Balazuri that they would shout to the Arabs where would they like to be hit by their arrows, and where the Arabs mockingly named some part of the body, the arrow invariably struck there to the great grief of the Arabs who had mockingly challenged the Nubians to hit him.
What led to the defeat of the Arabs in Nubia.
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 Arabs 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 Arabs.
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 Nubian victory at Dongola was one of the Rashidun Caliphate's rare defeats during the mid-7th century. With their archers' deadly accuracy plus their own experienced cavalry forces, Makuria was able to shake the Amr's confidence enough for him to withdraw his forces from Nubia.
Arab sources claim that the expedition into Nubia was not a Muslim defeat while at the same time acknowledging it was not a success. The expedition into Nubia, as well as the more successful expedition into Byzantine North Africa, were undertaken by 'Amr ibn al-'As on his own accord. He believed that they would be easy victories and would inform the caliph after the conquests.
The Arab sources also make it clear there were no pitched battles in Nubia. Yet, they do mention an encounter whereupon Uqba ibn Nafi and his forces happened upon a concentration of Nubians that promptly gave battle before the Arabs could attack. In the ensuing engagement, he claims 250 Arabs lost their eyes.
Arab sources lend more credit to Nubian guerrilla tactics than a single decisive engagement. They claim that the Nubians would call out to their Arab adversaries from afar where they would like their arrow wound. The Muslims would jokingly respond, and the arrow would strike them there invariably. This statement, along with a claim that Nubian horsemen were superior to Arab cavalry in hit-and-run tactics, was used to support their position that the Nubians were besting them in skirmishes and not all-out battles
Regardless of the situation, Uqba ibn Nafi was unable to succeed with his expedition and wrote back to his cousin that he could not win against such tactics and that Nubia was a very poor land with no treasure worth fighting for. Uqba may not have been exaggerating, since Nubia is surrounded by formidable deserts. Upon receiving this news, Amr bin al-As asked his cousin to withdraw, which he did.
Al-Baladhuri states 'Amr decided to withdraw his forces for two principal reasons. One reason is that there was little treasure to be had. The second being that the Nubian military proved considerable. Thus, it was thought better to make peace. However; he was unwilling to stop campaigning elsewhere, and peace between the Eqypt and Christian Makurra only really materialized upon the succession of Abdullah Ibn Sa'ad in 645 CE. This peace would last until the Second Battle of Dongola, whose outcome would result in one of the longest peace treaties in recorded history.
The Eparch and Christ, first half of the 12th century
As we have noted above, before the Arabs destroyed them, there were developed black african civilizations like those of Benin, Ashanti, Zulu, Nubia, Axum and many others. These Black african kingdoms that existed in africa prior to the Arabs invasion were culturally spiritually and technologically more advanced than the arab barbarians that invaded them as is evident from the pictures of the kings of Benin. Seen on this copperplate are weapons used by the kingdom of Benin, Nigeria circa 1550. This also proves the development of smelting in pre-Islamic Africa.
So one should not form any generalized impression of all black africans as primitive bushmen. Before the coming of Arabs destroyed or marginalized these kingdoms, there were many kingdoms like those at Benin and Ashanti. The Zulu kingdom, although more to the south also represents the independent development of civilization in ancient Africa.
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 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 Arabs by the agile and ruthless Nubians is that the sneaky tactics of the Arabs 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 Arabs. And only when we in the Western world and Jews and Hindus realize this and go into an overreach with subterfuge against Arabs, and use our still prevailing (but fast closing) edge of superior weapons against the enemy, can the Arabs finally be defeated in the looming Third World War.
The Nubians were skilful archers and attacked from a safe distance perched on tree tops. They were never seen by the Arabs who camped below. We have it on the strength of Muslim Arab historian Balazuri that they would shout to the Arabs where would they like to be hit by the arrow, and where the Arabs mockingly named some part of the body, the arrow invariably struck there to the great grief of the Arabs who had mockingly challenged the Nubians to hit him.
In the summer of 642, the Arabs 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 Arab 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 Arabs commanders undertook expeditions into non- Arab lands through their own overzealousness to claim their name in the history of the Arabs and also to bring in personal fame and glory.