ʿUqba ibn Nāfiʿ ibn ʿAbd al-Qays al-Fihrī al-Qurashī (Arabic: عقبة بن نافع بن عبد القيس الفهري القرشي, romanizedʿUqba ibn Nāfiʿ ibn ʿAbd al-Qays al-Fihrī), also simply known as Uqba ibn Nafi, was an Arab general serving the Rashidun Caliphate since the reign of Umar and later the Umayyad Caliphate during the reigns of Mu'awiya I and Yazid I, leading the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, including present-day Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. He is credited with establishing Umayyad rule in North Africa. Uqba was the nephew of Amr ibn al-As. He is often surnamed al-Fihri in reference to the Banu Fihr, a clan connected to the Quraysh. His descendants would be known as the ʿUqbids or Fihrids.

ʿUqba ibn Nāfiʿ
عقبة بن نافع
A statue of Uqba bin Nafi in Algeria
Governor of Ifriqiya
In office
MonarchMu'awiya I
Preceded byMu'awiya ibn Hudayj
Succeeded byAbu al-Muhajir Dinar
In office
MonarchYazid I
Succeeded byAbu al-Muhajir Dinar
Succeeded byZuhayr ibn Qays
Personal details
Tehouda[1] (near the oasis of Sidi Okba in present-day Algeria)
Resting placeSidi Okba Mosque, Algeria
ChildrenAbu Ubayda ibn Uqba
Parent(s)Nafi ibn Abd al-Qays
Salma bint Harmalah
Military service
AllegianceRashidun Caliphate
Umayyad Caliphate
Branch/serviceRashidun army
Years of service635–683



Uqba was born in 622.[2] As a general of the Rashidun Caliphate, Uqba accompanied Amr ibn al-As in his initial capture of cities in North Africa starting with Barqa, then proceeding to Tripolitania in 644. Upon conquering Cyrenaica in 642 or 643, Amr ibn al-As fixed the jizyah to be paid by its Berber tribes at 13,000 dinars.[3] After the First Fitna and establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate in 661 by Mu'awiya I, a second invasion of the Maghreb began. An army of 10,000 Muslims and thousands of others led by Uqba departed from Damascus and marched into Byzantine Africa, conquering it.[4]

In 670 now the emir or commander, Uqba led an Arab army to North Africa, crossing the Egyptian deserts, and setting up military posts at regular intervals along his route. In a region of what is now Tunisia, he established the town now called Kairouan (meaning "camp" or "caravanserai" in Persian) about 99 miles south of present-day Tunis, which he used as a base for further operations. This became a place of religious pilgrimage and the most important city in North Africa. Kairouan was chosen as the capital of the new Umayyad province of Ifriqiya. Uqba chose the site for its first mosque, and the Great Mosque of Kairouan was constructed on the same year. This mosque has served as a model of all later mosques in the Maghreb,[5] and is considered one of the masterpieces of Islamic architecture.[6]



In 683 Uqba was ambushed by the Berber Christian king Kusaila and his Byzantine allies in the Battle of Vescera. Uqba was killed beside his hated rival, Abu al-Muhajir Dinar. His armies evacuated Kairouan and withdrew to Barca, though it was recaptured in 688.[7]

In 686, Sidi Uqba Mosque was built as a mausoleum dedicated to him after his death. The building was at first built in a simple manner, completely made out of limestone mortars, with no precious materials used. This architectural style resembled some of the oldest Islamic architectures and the mosques built Muhammad.[8] Al-Watiya Air Base in Libya is also known as "Okba ibn Nafa Air Base" after him.

Historical accounts

Great Mosque of Kairouan

Extant records of most of the accounts describing Arab conquests of North Africa in general and Uqba's conquests in particular date back to at least two centuries after the conquests took place.[9]

Moustafa Farroukh's 1954 painting of Uqba reaching the Atlantic

One of the earliest reports comes from the Arab[10] chronicler Ibn Idhari in his Al-Bayan al-Mughrib. In it, Ibn Idhari describes the moment when Uqba reached the Atlantic Ocean, where he allegedly said: |

"O God, if the sea had not prevented me, I would have galloped on for ever like Alexander the Great, upholding your faith and fighting the unbelievers!"[11]

Edward Gibbon, referring to Uqba ibn Nafi as Akbah, gives him the title "Conqueror of Africa," beginning his story when he "marched from Damascus at the head of ten thousand of the bravest Arabs; and the genuine force of the Moslems was enlarged by the doubtful aid and conversion of many thousand Barbarians." He then marched into North Africa. Gibbon continues: "It would be difficult, nor is it necessary, to trace the accurate line of the progress of Akbah." On the North African coast, "the well-known titles of Bugia, and Tangier define the more certain limits of the Saracen victories." Gibbon then tells the story of Akbah's conquest of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana:

The fearless Akbah plunged into the heart of the country, traversed the wilderness in which his successors erected the splendid capitals of Fez and Morocco, and at length penetrated to the verge of the Atlantic and the great desert.... The career, though not the zeal, of Akbah was checked by the prospect of a boundless ocean. He spurred his horse into the waves, and raising his eyes to heaven, exclaimed: 'Great God! if my course were not stopped by this sea, I would still go on, to the unknown kingdoms of the West, preaching the unity of the holy name, and putting to the sword the rebellious nations who worship another gods than Allah.'

Scholarship on the life and conquests of ibn Nafi are available, but most have not been translated from their original Arabic.

See also


References and notes

  1. ^ "Discover Islamic Art - monument_isl_dz_mon01_15_en". Virtual Museum.
  2. ^ Adamec, Ludwig W. (2009-05-11). Historical Dictionary of Islam. Scarecrow Press. p. 318. ISBN 978-0-8108-6303-3.
  3. ^ Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. (1987-08-20). A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. Cambridge University Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-316-58334-0.
  4. ^ African whispers: labels the world leaders. Neili Belhassen. 2014-11-23. p. 16.
  5. ^ Great Mosque of Kairouan (discoverislamicart.org) Archived 2013-04-07 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Kairouan – UNESCO World Heritage Centre". Archived from the original on 2022-08-23. Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  7. ^ Conant, Jonathan (2012). Staying Roman : conquest and identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439–700. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 280–281. ISBN 978-0521196970.
  8. ^ سيدي عقبة. Museum with no Frontiers. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  9. ^ Corradini, Richard; Helmut Reimitz; Marx Diesenberger (2003). The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages: Texts, Resources and Artefacts. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 303. ISBN 90-04-10845-9.
  10. ^ El Hareir, Idris, ed. (2011). The Spread of Islam Throughout the World. UNESCO Publishing. p. 305.
  11. ^ Ibn Idhari, Al-Bayan al-Mughrib fi akhbar al-Andalus, 1 ed. G. S. Colin and E. Lévi-Provençal, 2 vols. (Leiden 1949) p. 27

Further reading