Monday, October 27, 2008

at 7:25 PM Posted by chaker

Kairouan was founded in about the year 670, the arab general "Uqba ibn Nafi" crossed the deserts of Egypt and began the first Muslem conquest of the Maghreb region of North Africa. Establishing military posts at regular intervals along his route, Uqba ibn Nafi came to the site of present day Kairouan and there decided to encamp his soldiers for some days (Kairouan, also spelled Qayrawan, means "camp" in Arabic).

Old chronicles describe the region as completely deserted, covered with impenetrable thickets, and being distant from trade routes. Apparently inhospitable as a long term settlement site, why then did this temporary military camp soon become the greatest Muslem city in North Africa and the 4th holiest city of Islam (after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem).
To answer this question we must look beyond historical records to the earliest legends of the site. Here we find mention of an incident that occurred during the initial encampment of Uqba ibn Nafi, an incident which, because of its miraculous nature, most history books have chosen to ignore. The legend tells of warrior's horse that stumbled on a golden goblet buried in the sands. This goblet was recognized as one that had mysteriously disappeared from Mecca some years before. When the goblet was dug from the desert sand, a spring miraculously appeared and the waters of this spring were said to issue from the same source that supplies the sacred Zamzam well in Mecca. The power of these three miracles - the mysteriously lost and then found Meccan goblet, the miraculous gushing forth of the spring, and the source of that spring - exercised a magnetic effect upon the early North African Islamic people and thereby established the site of Kairouan as a pilgrimage destination for ages to come.

It was located far from the sea where it was safe from continued attacks of the Berbers who have fiercely resisted the Arab invasion. Berber resistance continued, led first by Kusaila whose troops killed Uqba at Biskra about fifteen years after the military post was established, and then by a Berber woman called Al-Kahina who was killed and her army defeated in 702. Subsequently, there was a mass conversion of the Berbers to Islam, but they were for all that treated as second-class citizens in their native land. This consequent dissatisfaction led to their secession as Kharijites or Islamic ‘outsiders’ which formed an egalitarian and puritanical sect still present on the island of Jerba. In 745 Kharijite Berbers captured Kairouan, which was already at that time a developed city with luxuriant gardens and olive groves.
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