Date: 3/17/2005


How the Muslims used deceit and blackmail to capture the Libyan city of Tripoli

From Al Burqa, Uqba bin Nafe was sent at the head of a column to undertake a campaign against Tripoli. Soon after the Muslim army marched westward from Burqa. They arrived at Tripoli in the spring of 643 A.D. there was a Byzantine garrison here and they refused to surrender. The Muslims accordingly laid siege to the city. Amr put his camp on a high ground and blocked all land routes to the city. The city however had free access to the sea, and the passage to the sea could not be blocked by the Muslims. The Muslim army did not have siege equipment with them. The Byzantine garrison remained locked up within the fortifications and did not come out into the open. The siege accordingly dragged on for two months. The Muslims decided to use subterfuge. They opened negotiations with the Christians and offered to lift the siege during the week of Good Friday and the feast of Easter. The Muslims allowed the Christian inhabitants to visit the Cathedral of Mother Mary that was situated on a Hillock outside the walls of the city. The Christian pilgrims were being escorted by a small contingent Byzantine troops as the pilgrims were to be allowed to proceed unmolested to the Cathedral as per the terms of peace offered to them by the Muslims.

Taking advantage of this nominal and weak security arrangement and the presence of a large number of civilians in the group of pilgrims, the Muslims broke their word as they had planned to and seized a number of the Christian pilgrims as hostages. The Muslim captors question the pilgrims as to who they were in the hierarchy of the Byzantine nobility. To their dismay, none of the hostages were of high rank, they all came from humble families. The intention of the Muslims was to take hostages from the pilgrims, whom they hoped would be from high ranking families who paid homage a at he Cathedral every year. But they realized that among the hostages were two daughters of a night watchman. The Muslims promised to give a thousand dinars to each of them, if they could tell the Muslims an easy way into the city. The two patriotic girls pleaded ignorance of any such path. On seeing their obstinacy, the Muslim threatened to kill them along with the other hostages. The siege of the town was resumed once again.

During the daytime, the Muslims tied the two girls to poles outside their camp which was visible from the ramparts of the Fort of Tripolis, taking them inside their camp for the night. This sight was heart-wrenching and after a few days, the Muslims deliberately lowered their guard and let the two girls sleep in a seemingly unguarded tent. After a few days the girls made a predictable attempt to escape. The Muslims who had kept a small contingent hidden from the sight of the girls followed them stealthily and realized that the girls were circumventing the city walls to go across to the beach from where the Muslims saw that their must be some way to enter the city from the seaward side, which was also fully fortified. They saw the girls slip into a channel which went under ground and followed the girls. This channel was hidden from view by big boulders and so was not visible to a casual visitor. Hence this way into the city had remained unknown all through the two months of siege. Little did the two girls realize that they had unknowingly revealed to the Muslims the secret path into the fortified city.

When the Muslim contingent discovered this passage that provided the city access to the sea they sent for reinforcements and rushed into the city through this passage raising the shouts of 'Allah-o-Akbar.' In the commotion in the dead of the night, the Byzantine guards thought that the entire Muslim army had entered the city. There was panic in the city and some of the Byzantines sought refuge on board the ships that lay anchored in the harbor. The Muslim contingent seized one of the Gates and open it for the main Muslim army waiting outside to rush in with shouts of 'Allah-o-Akbar'. The Muslims then pressed the attack from outside, after having got into the city. There was wholesale slaughter and looting that went on for the entire next day, till Amr called for it to stop, so that an orderly plunder could be organized. The surviving Byzantine garrison fled to the ships and sailed away. The Muslims captured the city without much resistance. The citizens surrendered and most of them accepted Islam and from then on Tripoli, the capital of Libya, which had till then been a Christian City, established by Romans, became a Muslim city, and remains so till this day.