Umar ibn Hafsun

Umar ibn Hafsun ibn Ja'far ibn Salim (Arabic: عمر بن حَفْصُون بن جَعْفَ بن سالم) (c. 850 – 917), known in Spanish history as Omar ben Hafsun, 9th century rebel political & military leader who contested Ummayad power in Iberia.

Ruins of the Bobastro Church.


The background of Umar ibn Hafsun has been the subject of conflicting claims. His contemporary, the poet ibn Abd Rabbih (860-940) referred to him as a Sawada, a descendant of black Africans.[1] Writing a century later, ibn Hayyan recorded a pedigree for Umar ibn Hafsun, tracing his descent to a great-grandfather, Ja'far ibn Salim, who had converted to Islam and settled in the Ronda area of the Province of Málaga in southern Spain. The pedigree then traces back several additional generations to one Count Marcellus (or perhaps Frugelo), son of Alfonso, apparently a Christian Visigoth. This pedigree was copied by later historians, including Ibn Idhari, Ibn Khatib, and ibn Khaldun, as well as the A'lam Malaga (History of Malaga) begun by ibn 'Askar and completed by Ibn Khamis, and more recent authors such as Reinhart Dozy, in his Histoire des Mussulmans d'Espagne (History of the Muslims of Spain).[2] However, Wasserstein recently concluded that the pre-conversion portion of this pedigree was probably invented by Umar himself. Conde in 1820 indicated that Umar ibn Hafsun was "a man of pagan origin, of obscure and unknown ancestry."[3] Regardless, his family owned lands in Iznate, Málaga where ibn Hafsun grew up.[4]


Ibn Hafsun was born around 850 in the mountains near Parauta, in what is now Málaga. A wild youth, he had a very violent temper and was involved in a number of disputes, even a homicide around the year 879. He joined a group of brigands, was captured by the wali (governor) of Málaga, who merely imposed a fine (having not been informed of the homicide). The governor subsequently lost his post. Ibn Hafsun fled the jurisdiction to Morocco[5] where he worked briefly as an apprentice tailor[6] or stonemason.[citation needed]

He soon returned to al-Andalus, albeit as an outlaw, and joined the bandits who were in rebellion against Córdoba's rule, wherein he soon rose to a leadership position.[7] Originally he settled in the ruins of the old castle of Bobastro (Arabic: بُبَشْتَر bubastar).[8] He rebuilt the castle, and fortified the nearby town of Ardales. He rallied disaffected muwallads and mozarabs to the cause, playing off resentment at the unfair, heavy taxation and humiliating treatment they were receiving at the hands of Abd ar-Rahman and his successors.[9] He acquired castles and lands in a wide area, not only in Malaga, but including portions of the provinces of Cádiz, Granada (known then as "Elvira"), Jaén, and Seville. By 883 he had become the leader of the rebels in the provinces to the south and west of the Emirate of Córdoba. The year before, in 882, he is said to have fought the Emir in a battle in which ally García Íñiguez of Pamplona was killed. About 885, in order to be more centrally located and quicker to respond to external threats, ibn Hafsun moved his headquarters to the town of Poley, which is now known as Aguilar de la Frontera.

After ibn Hafsun’s defeat by the forces of Abdullah ibn Muhammad al-Umawi at the battle of Poley in 891, he moved his headquarters back to Bobastro. In 898, Lubb ibn Muhammad, of the Banu Qasi, was marching an army to support Umar when the death of his father at Zaragoza forced Lubb to abandon the campaign. In 899, Ibn Hafsun renounced Islam and became a Christian, being christened as Samuel.[4] His motivations seems to have been opportunistic,[10] hoping to obtain military support from Alfonso III of Asturias, who had met with indifference overtures by ibn Hafsun on behalf of ibn Marwan. His conversion attracted significant Mozarab support, but cost him the support of most of his Mullawad followers. He also built the Iglesia Mozárabe ("Mozarab Church") at the Bobastro.

Ibn Hafsun remained a serious threat to Córdoba, even though in 910 he offered allegiance to the Fatimid rulers of north Africa,[11] and when Abd-ar-Rahman III became Emir of Cordoba in 912 he instigated a policy of annual Spring offensives against ibn Hafsun, using mercenary troops. In 913 they captured the city of Seville, and by the end of 914 had captured 70 of ibn Hafsun’s castles. In 916, he joined forces with the Umayyads in a campaign against northern Christian kingdoms, the reasons for this are obscure, as is whether it was done in contrition[4] or merely as an expedient compromise. For a while, even taxes were paid to the Umayyads.[4]

Ibn Hafsun died in 917 and was buried in the Iglesia Mozarabe. His coalition then crumbled, and while his sons Ja'far, 'Abd-ar-Rahman and Hafs tried to continue the resistance, they eventually fell to 'Abd-ar-Rahman III's plots and armies. The last, Hafs, surrendered Bobastro in 928 and afterward fought with the Umayyad army in Galicia.[4] With Bobastro's fall, the mortal remains of ibn Hafsun and his slain sons were exhumed by the emir and posthumously crucified outside the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba.[12]


  1. ^ Antonio Olliz-Boyd; Gabriel Asoanab Abudu (1993). "Afro-Iberian identity in the Early Literature of Spain: Precursors of the Afro hispanic Identity". In Helen Ryan-Ransom (ed.). Imagination, Emplems, and Expressions: Essays on Latin American, Caribbean and Continental Culture and Identity. Bowling Green University Popular Press. pp. 283-300 at 290-291.
  2. ^ Ryan-Ranson, p. 291; Wasserstein, pp. 272-274; Christys, Christians in Al-Andalus, pp. 102.
  3. ^ Un hombre de orígen pagano, de oscura y desconocida prosapia, llamado Omar ben Hafs, José Antonio Conde, Historia de la dominación de los Arabes en España, Madrid: Garcia, 1820, p. 295
  4. ^ a b c d e Houtsma, M. Th. et al. (eds.) (1913-1936) Encyclopaedia of Islam, pp. 981-982
  5. ^ Safran, Janina M. (2000). The Second Umayyad Caliphate: The Articulation of Caliphal Legitimacy in Al-Andalus. Harvard CMES. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-932885-24-1.
  6. ^ Chejne, Anwar G., Muslim Spain, Its History and Culture, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1974, p. 24
  7. ^ Some sources suggest that he received significant help from his uncle Mohadir. "Omar Ben Hafsun"
  8. ^ The exact site of Bobastro is debated by modern archaeologists, although the claim has been made that it is Las Mesas de Villaverde, in the Sierra de la Pizarra mountain range near Ronda in the northern part of the province of Malaga (Ann Christys, Christians in al-Andalus, p. 103).
  9. ^ Ye'or, Bat; Kochan, Miriam and Littman, David (2002) Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison, NJ, p. 63 ISBN 0-8386-3942-9
  10. ^ Lévi-Provençal, Histoire de l'Espagne Musulmane, Paris, 1950, vol. 1, p. 377, speaks of his "instability of character and opportunistic tendencies", while Wasserstein, p. 293, suggests his actions speak of "hasty opportunism, if not, necessarily, of instability". According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, his conversion to Christianity is "far from being historically proved" and that he never sought to ally himself with the Christian north.
  11. ^ Wasserstein, p. 293
  12. ^ Noble, John; Forsyth, Susan; Maric, Vesna (2007). Andalucia. Ediz. Inglese. Lonely Planet Publications. p. 288. ISBN 978-1-74059-973-3.


  • Acién Almansa, Manuel Pedro- (1994) Málaga Musulmana (siglos VIII-XIII). Historia de Málaga. Ed. Diario Sur. Málaga.
  • Barthel, Günter and Kristina Stock (eds.) (1994) Lexikon Arabische Welt, Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden. ISBN 3-88226-783-6
  • Bosworth, C.E.; Donzel, E. van; Heinrichs, W.P.; Pellat, Ch., eds. (1998). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume VII (Mif-Naz). BRILL. p. 248. ISBN 9789004094192.
  • Christys, Ann (2002) Christians in Al-Andalus: Culture and civilization in the Middle East (711-1000), Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0-7007-1564-9, Google Print
  • De la Cierva, Ricardo (1979) Historia de España, Vol. III. Ed. Planeta.
  • Glick, Thomas F. (eds.) (2005) Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages, Brill. ISBN 90-04-14771-3
  • Hottinger, Arnold (1995) Die Mauren, Arabische Kultur in Spanien, Wilhelm Fink Verlag.ISBN 3-7705-3075-6
  • Houtsma, M. Th. et al. (eds.) (1913–1936) Encyclopaedia of Islam: dictionary of the geography, ethnography and biography of the Muhammadan peoples (1st ed. in 4 vol.) E. J. Brill, London. "'OMAR b. ḤAFṢŪN", p. 981-2; reprinted in facsimile edition as E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936 in 1987
  • Marín-Guzmán, Roberto (1994) "Rebellions and Political Fragmentation of al-Andalus: A Study of the Revolt of 'Umar Ibn Hafsun in the Period of the Amir 'Abd Allah (888–912)" Islamic Studies 33(4): pp. 419–473
  • Marín-Guzmán, Roberto (1995) "The Causes of the Revolt of Umar ibn Hafsun in Al- Andalus 880-928: A study in medieval Islamic social history" Arabica 17(2): pp. 180–221
  • Marín-Guzmán, Roberto (2006) "Political Turmoil in al-Andalus in the Time of the Amir 'Abd Allah (888-912): Study of the revolt of Daysum Ibn Ishaq, lord of Murcia and Lorca and the role of 'Umar Ibn Hafsun" The Muslim world 96(1): pp. 145–174
  • Menéndez Pidal, Ramón (1984) España Musulmana: 004 (711-1031 : La Conquista, El Emirato, El Califato). Lectorum Pubns Inc. ISBN 84-239-4806-4
  • Regla, J. (1969) Historia de España Ilustrada. Ed. Ramón Sopena. Barcelona.
  • Ronart, Stephan and Nandy Ronart (eds.) (1972) Lexikon der Arabischen Welt. Ein historisch-politisches Nachschlagewerk, Artemis Verlag
  • Ryan-Ranson, Helen (1993) Imagination, Emblems and Expressions, Popular Press, ISBN 0-87972-581-8, M1 Google Print
  • Wasserstein, David J. "Inventing tradition and constructing identity: The genealogy of Umar ibn Hafsün between Christianity and Islam", Al Qantara, vol. 23 (2002), pp. 269–297. ISSN 0211-3589

External linksEdit