Short Stories

MOOR OF THE ROCK


Tariq was born into a Berber family c. 680 AD, although no record was ever made of the event. He was taught the traditional and ancient beliefs and deities adhered to by the villagers. He celebrated all of the milestones expected of him, without question and with devotion.

Also ingrained in him was the instinct to survive. He followed the village warriors and watched them practice military manoeuvres and, when all of his chores and prayers were complete for the day, he would retrieve a special rod that he had shaped into a mock-weapon and stored under his sleeping mat, and follow the shadows to the far side of the stream upon which backed his family’s hut of stone and dried mud. There, in the glade of a thicket that blocked his family’s view, he would practice the moves that he had seen earlier made by the soldiers.

View from roof of a Berber home in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, taken by Robert Douglas, May 2019

The morning after the day that celebrated Tariq’s fifteenth birthday, he rose with the false dawn, prayed to the deities for guidance, broke his fast, rolled up his bed for the last time, and kissed each parent good-bye. Had he known then the direction that his life was to take, he might have tarried a while longer, but still he would have departed.

Tariq knew in his bones that he was meant to be a warrior, and now it was time to follow the path forecast by the deities. He walked for several days until he found the main camp of the Berber warriors and was directed to the tent of the commander. There, he was instructed to wait for a summons. As he sat in the shade of the commander’s tent, his belly rumbled. He allowed himself two bites of the remaining bread that his mother had baked for him, and three swallows of sweet well-water from the goat skin water bag that his father had made especially for his journey. Then he covered himself with the carpet woven by his grandmother and given as a wedding gift to his parents, and he slept comforted by their love of him. In his sleep, he saw himself as a great warrior and a leader of men, but as he began to puzzle through exactly how that was to be, he awoke abruptly to the toe of a boot nudging his knee.

“Is this how a great warrior serves his people? Napping in the afternoon heat?” A deep voice belonging to a figure backlit by the sun demanded of him.

Tariq scrambled to his feet and stood smartly before the distinguished soldier. “My apologies, sir. It won’t happen again,” he said with sincerity.

“No, I don’t suppose it will Tariq, son of Ziyad,” the commander of the troupes said chuckling. “I have been waiting a long time for this day. Come, it is time for you to prove that your years of practising in the glade have been worthwhile.”

Tariq’s eyes swelled in wonder. “You know about that?” he asked, blushing.

“A good commander knows all things,” the man replied. “Now, close your mouth and follow me. I will introduce you to the men with whom you will serve.” He turned on his heel and led Tariq deep into the camp pointing out the location of the latrines, the food stations, and sleeping quarters. “I don’t believe that you have learned to ride. Am I correct?”

“Just my father’s donkeys, sir.”

“Then you are not yet the ideal warrior. Pay attention to your instructors. Serve me and the deities well, and you will accomplish great things.”

“Yes, sir!” Tariq replied with enthusiasm.

~

Several years later, Tariq and a company of warriors encountered a hostile group of rebels under the rule of Musa bin Nusayr, the emir of North Africa. The rebels overpowered Tariq and his men, several of whom were killed or mortally wounded and left to die. Few survived, and they were not unscathed. Tariq received a deep slash to his upper thigh at the hand of a scimitar-wielding Arab. Despite the depth of the wound, an Arab physician was able to clean it and stitch the wound closed. Tariq was awed by the physician’s skill and knowledge of medicines. The scar of the healed gash forever reminded Tariq of his one act of carelessness. He resolved to pay attention to his surroundings at all time, especially during battles, no matter the size. As soon as the wound healed enough for him to return to fighting, the emir called him to his court.

“Tariq ibn Ziyad”, Musa said, calling him by name, “I have heard of your achievements in battle. You are rumoured to be a great Berber warrior, even at your young age.”

Tariq’s guards had shoved him to his knees in the presence of the emir, told him to keep his eyes on the floor and not to speak unless addressed. At the emir’s comments, Tariq dared to raise his eyes to the powerful ruler.

“I am as you say, sir,” Tariq replied. He looked into Musa’s eyes with confidence.

“Indeed,” Musa replied, the corner of his mouth momentarily turning upward. “That we shall see. You will serve me as the great warrior you are renowned to be. We will conquer new lands and spread the word of Islam. If you serve me well, you will be rewarded.”

“If I serve you well, you will set me free,” Tariq said. “I am no one’s slave.”

“Prove to me that you are worthy, and I will consider it,” the emir countered.

“That I will do,” Tariq replied, “but for one thing.”

“Explain yourself,” Musa demanded, raising an eyebrow to the exception.

“I cannot spread the word of Islam.”

“Because . . .”

“Because I do not know it. It is not my belief.”

“Then you shall be taught, and you shall learn!” The emir bellowed. “Take this man away,” he said to the guards, “but treat him as a warrior, although a slave he is yet.”

~

Tariq kept his word, proving to the emir that he was a worthy warrior. He studied the Quran and learned the laws of Islam, found them worthy and embraced them as his own. He learned to read and write, and to manipulate numbers, and became a master of successful military strategies.

The emir was pleased with the accomplishments of his warrior slave. He freed Tariq from slavery and encouraged the young Moor to rise within the military ranks. In time, Tariq became a general of the emir’s army, as well as the emir’s confident, despite their often-heated, counterpointed discussions.

In 710 AD, Tariq ibn Ziyad, under the emir’s command, led a predominantly-Berber army across North Africa to the sea. They boarded vessels that carried them across the water to the Iberian Peninsula with orders to conquer the Visigoths. With each successful conquest, he and his troops spread the word of Islam. The emir rewarded Tariq by appointing him governor of Tangiers.

Tariq formed several alliances with local rulers and continued to invade the Visigoth settlements until he became de facto governor of Al Andalus in Islamic Iberia. In 714 AD, Tariq retired to Damascus, where he lived the remainder of his life, well known as a conquering hero and military strategist, as well as a scholar.

As time passed, the great mount of Mons Calpe (the Hollow Mountain) located at the southern tip of Iberia was renamed in Tariq’s honour as Jabal Tariq, or the Mount of Tariq. Throughout his life, Tariq had spread the word of Islam across the lands that he had conquered. He remembered every day the knowledge and wisdom that he had learned from those whose life paths he had crossed, those who had helped him become the great warrior of his destiny, and he was grateful.

Jabal Tariq or Rock of Gibraltar, taken by Robert Douglas, May 2019

Tariq’s prowess as a soldier and scholar have long since been forgotten by most, as time often allows. However, his name and his accomplishments are honoured still with each reference made to the mount named in his honour, Jabal Tariq – the great Rock of Gibraltar.

Note: Much of Tariq ibn Ziyad’s history is unknown; therefore, the writer has taken liberties with the telling of the tale.

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