The Safeguarding of the Emirate
Before we start looking examining the external activities of Granada under the leadership of Muhammad VII, we should take a quick look at the domestic situation in the Emirate.
Ibn-Rushd, a scholar at the court of the Mamluk sultan visited the Emirate in the final days of the 14th century. He writes:
“Granada, blessed by the smiling face of Allah the Merciful and Compassionate, sits like the garden of Paradise at the base of the snow-topped mountains. The palace of the Emir, called the al-Hamra, sits on the brow of the hill with water flowing around and through its many palaces, pools and fountains. The city spreads out on the plain before it, with parklands, gardens and orchards making it, too, a veritable paradise." The city was also the largest city in Iberia in terms of population - Christian or Muslim.
In fact, from this and many other records we know that although hemmed in on all sides by Castille and the other Christian nations of Iberia, the Emirate was the most advanced nation in Iberia at the time in terms of technologies of all kinds - warfare, naval, governmental and trade. It was a time of wealth, culture, open-mindedness and multi-culturalism.
Another visitor to the court, ibn-Tariq, noted this in a diary of his travels:
“The Emir, Muhammad, Blessed be his Name, saw himself as another Abd-ar-Rahman. He set about to raise an army for Allah. He gloried in service to Allah and brought the people back to Him. He soothed the hearts the people, kept the devil at bay across the border, brought wealth and prestige back to the land. In an effort to undo the damage to culture and knowledge inflicted on the people by the Almohads, a backward, close-minded and warlike dynasty, the Emir welcomed back the Jews to Granada. While the common man didn't easily accept this change, the Emir was strong in his resolve to restore the former glories of al-Andalus and so persevered in his intent."
Royal records from this time also show that Muhammad assumed the leadership of the army of Granada. In a period when leaders of armies often met with violent ends whether against foreign enemies or domestic rebels, this shows the bravery and seriousness of purpose of Muhammad in this period.
Muhammad also reaffirmed the alliance with Castille that his father established. Ibn-Tariq continues,
"In this [the alliance with Castille], I feel that the Emir is dealing with the devil. But it is a devil that sits across the border and threatens the existence of the kingdom and so must be dealt with. May Allah preserve His people and the dar al-Islam in al-Andalus!”Although the situation of the Emirate seemed precarious, the record shows that the nations of Europe, Christian and Muslim, recognized and rewarded the efforts of Muhammad to revitalize the kingdom.
In religious matters, Muhammad VII showed similar wisdom. He wanted the support of Islam in his efforts to support the state, but he didn’t want to have this religious help turn into religious control of the state. It’s very possible (but unsupported by any known document, so merely speculation) that he had the act of Abd-ar-Rahman III in mind - meaning, the declaration of Abd-ar Rahman III when he assumed the title of Caliph. Muhammad very likely was laying a foundation for something similar; we can suppose that the reclamation of the Caliphate title was already inspiring the imagination of Muhammad.
In support of this balance, he elected to support the Maliki branch of Islam.
This branch looked to the citizens of Medina as the ultimate interpreters of Islam. One doesn't have to look long at a map to see the distance between Granada and Medina. But looking at the map, it is easy to see and admire the cleverness of Muhammad in choosing a branch that had a low probability of any interference with the daily religious life of Granada by any religious authority. Medina was just too far away.
According to the archival sources we have, throughout the year 1400 Muhammad worked diligently to establish a secure base in terms of relations with all the countries surrounding Granada. He knew that without external stability, internal stability and wealth were not possible. To that end he secured several significant triumphs.
Morocco and Algiers provided international guarantees for the safety of Granada. While Muhammad looked with some skepticism on the guarantees of the North African sultanates (he was not interested in seeing a repeat of the Almoravid or Almohad control of al-Andalus!), he nonetheless welcomed the political and military support of these two nations with their powerful armies and fleets.
More interestingly, and for Muhammad hopeful, was the improvement in relations with France. There is debate among scholars as to the source of these improved relations, but surely it had something to do with French-Aragonese relations.
Regardless of the cause, Muhammad gratefully welcomed the warming of relations with the Franks as a gift from Allah.
At the same time, Castille seems to have been sending mixed signals. While relations remained strong, Castillian forces were built up along the long border with the Emirate.
A final entry from the diary of ibn-Tariq in the year 1400 records this:
“The Christian devils parade their horses and men-at-arms along the border, particularly in the province they call Andalusia! All the dar al-Islam know they flaunt their power over the cities and gardens that Islam built all over al-Andalusia. While their king speaks fine words and promises, his marshals and generals provoke and annoy us with their menacing glances and haughty demeanor. The Emir, may Allah bless him, calmly resists these provocations and counsels patience and trust in Allah the Powerful and Merciful.”Thus the first year of the new millennium ended for the people and ruler of Granada.