No one in history ever conquered North Africa from east to west in a short period of one decade. But Uqba bin Nafe did it during the second half of the first century Hijrah. If Amr ibn Al Aas is called the conqueror of Egypt, Uqba bin Nafe can be called the conqueror of Africa that includes present-day Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco up to the Atlantic shores.
Uqba bin Nafe was born in Makkah one year before the Hijrah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). His father Nafe bin Qais Al Fahri of Quraish had already embraced Islam. Thus Uqba was brought up in a Muslim environment. He was closely related to Amr ibn Al Aas through his mother’s side. He accompanied his father Nafe during the campaign of Amr ibn Al Aas in Egypt. After the conquest of Egypt, Amr sent him to conquer the West.
In 50 Hijrah, Uqba, as the commander of the Muslim forces, crossed the Egyptian deserts and set up military posts at regular intervals along his route, in a territory now known as Tunisia. He established the city called Kairouan, about 160 kilometers south of present-day Tunis. He used it as an advance post for future operations.
Uqba marched hundreds of miles without any major confrontation. After crossing the territory now named as Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco, he triumphantly reached up to the shores of the Atlantic ocean.
When Uqba reached the region, he selected a strategic site for his future camp city.
As the first step Uqba laid the foundation of a grand mosque, which became a center for scholars and the first Muslim institute on the continent. The mosque is known as the Mosque of Uqba in Kairouan or the grand mosque of Kairouan.
Uqba was deposed by Ameer Muawiya in 55 AH. He gladly accepted the order and passed the command to Abu Mahajer Dinar, who later reached victoriously up to Tanja whose Berber ruler, Kusaila accepted Islam. Uqba was again designated as commander of Maghreb in 62 AH. He marched westward and reached up to Tahert where a large Roman army confronted them. Muslims were small in number and away from their supply base. But Uqba gave a great inspiring speech to his fighters which energized them and they fought furiously defeating the rival force. Later Uqba marched triumphantly up to Sous and then to the sea coast. He galloped his horse into Atlantic Ocean and, according to another source, said the words which are recorded on the forehead of Islamic history that “O Lord be Thou witness, that I have taken Thy Message up to the end of the land and if this ocean were not in my way I would have proceeded to fight the pagans until none would be worshipped except Thee.”
After this grand victory Uqba returned toward his base in Kairouan. When he reached Tanja, he dispersed his force and kept a small contingent of about 300 fighters with him. The enemy found an opportunity. Berber chief Kusaila who had embraced Islam turned away and joined the Romans with his force. Thus a large enemy force attacked small Muslim contingent. Uqba bin Nafe told Abu Mahajer Dinar to proceed to Kairouan and take the command. Uqba said: “I desire a martyrdom for me”. Abu Mahajer replied, “I also desire a martyrdom for me”.
They fought bravely and all the 300 fighters were martyred. They were buried at a place later called Sidi Uqba in Algeria and a mosque was built at that place. Uqba’s descendants are still found in the area stretching from Lake Chad region to Mauritania’s coast. The trans-Sahel Arab tribe of “Kounta” traces its origins to Uqba, in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Some of his descendants are known as Ouled Sidi Ukba. That is how Uqba bin Nafe sacrificed his life for the sake of Islam at the distant part of the world.