Early Islamic states in the Maghrib

After Műsâ’s expeditions the Berbers continued to make revolutions in support of doctrinal as well as political causes, but, except for a Baraghawâta revolt, never again rejected Islam as such. Their resistance was broken and they now identified with the new Islamic order which they accepted as permanent.

Islam was extended and deepened in the time of Műsâ by the method of dividing the land into fiefs (iqtâc) confided to distinguished Arabs who administered their holdings as district heads and saw to the islamization and instruction of their subjects.  Another of Műsâ’s methods was to choose the most promising Berber slaves, instruct them in Islam, and give them freedom if they proved themselves zealous and competent administrators and propagators of Islam.

[Ibn-cAbdalhakam, 352-56] In 95/714 al-Walîd ibn-cAbdalmalik wrote to Műsâ telling him to come.  Műsâ went and left his son cAbdalcazîz in charge of Andalusia and his son cAbdallâh in charge of Ifrîqiya... After his father left, cAbdalcazîz ibn-Műsâ married a Christian woman, the daughter of an Andalusian king, it is said of King Rodrigo whom Târiq had killed... Some said that she converted him to Christianity.  So Habîb ibn-abî-cUbayda al-Fihrî and Ziyâd ibn-an-Nâbigha at-Tamîmî with companions from the Arab tribes plotted to kill cAbdalcazîz because of what they heard he had done... They killed him in the year 97/715-16...

Then Muhammad ibn-Yazîd al-Qurayshî was made governor of Ifrîqiya... He dismissed cAbdallâh ibn-Műsâ in the year 96/714-15.  He was removed and in August 718 Ismâcîl ibn-cAbdallâh put in his place, with orders to make war and collect the kharâj and zakât.  He ruled well, and during his governorship there was not a single Berber left who did not become a Muslim.  He remained governor until the death of cUmar ibn-cAbdalcazîz in February 720.

The Khârijite revolt and the Rustamid state of Tâhirt in Algeria (777-909)

In their revolt against the Arabs, the Berbers adopted Khârijism.  The original Khârijites were breakaway followers of cAlî, who rejected him because he consented to negotiate with Mucâwiya. This they considered a sin and led them to their principal teaching, that serious sin excludes a person from the Muslim community and deprives him of the right to life.  Another teaching, the one which most appealed to the Berbers, was that all Muslim are equal and any of them, “even a black slave”, is eligible to rule.

In their first action against the Arabs the Berbers took Ceuta and destroyed it, enslaving its inhabitants. This blow ended the existence of the Ceuta Christian community which had a tolerated status under the terms of surrender 10 years previously.

[Ibn-cAbdalhakam, 358] Yazîd ibn-abî-Muslim had Berber guards... He preached to his men on a Friday saying, “If I wake up well tomorrow I will tatoo the hands of my guards, as do the Roman kings.  I will tattoo the name of each soldier on his right hand and on his left “my guard”, so that they can be identified.”  The guards were indignant at that and they plotted to kill him. That evening as he went out to the mosque for the maghrib salât they killed him while he was doing his salât. That was in the year 102/720-21.

[359-63] The caliph Yazîd ibn-cAbdalmalik appointed Bishr ibn-Safwân al-Kalbî as governor of Ifrîqiya. He had been governor of Egypt, and when he left he appointed his brother Hanzala in his place... Bishr died in January 728... The caliph Hishâm then appointed cUbayda ibn-cAbdarrahmân over Ifrîqiya... He resigned, and in May-June 734 Hishâm ordered cUbaydallâh ibn-al-Habhâb, who had been governor of Egypt, to transfer to Ifrîqiya.

[Ibn-cIdhârî:] Ubaydallâh ibn-al-Habhâb sent Habîb ibn-abî-cAbdih ibn-cUqba to raid the outer Sűs region.  He did so as far as the land of the Blacks.  Everyone who met him opposed him, and there was not a tribe in the Maghrib which he did not attack and take many of their people as slaves... Ibn-al-Habhâb put cUmar ibn-cAbdallâh al-Murâdî in charge of Tangier and the western Maghrib... He was evil in his ways and transgressed in matters of taxes and tithes.  He wanted to impose a tax of a fifth on the Berbers and considered them the booty of the Muslims, as previous governors never did.  They only imposed the fifth on those who refused to become Muslim.  His blameworthy action was the cause of the revolt and troubles leading to the killing of many of God’s servants...

[Ibn-cAbdalhakam, 364:] The Berbers revolted against cUbaydallâh ibn-al-Habhâb in Tangier and killed his governor.  The leader of this revolt was Maysara “the poor Berber” al-Midgharî.  He commanded the Berbers and claimed the title of caliph, and was recognized as such by his followers.  Maysara appointed cAbadalaclâ, a client of Ibn-Nasîr of Roman origin, over Tangier. Then he went to as-Sűs, where Ismâcîl ibn-cUbaydallâh was governor, and killed him.  This was the first Berber revolt in Ifrîqiya.

c<Abdallâh ibn-al-Habhâb then sent Khâlid ibn-abî-Habîb al-Fihrî to the Berbers in Tangier together with the Quraysh and Anâr notables of Ifrîqiya and others. Khâlid and his companions were killed; not one of them survived.  So that was called the raid of the notables.  Maysara then went to Tangier, but the Berbers did not like his conduct and his deviation from the conditions under which they installed him.  So they killed him and put in his place cAbdalmalik bin-Qatn al-Muhâribî.

[365] cAbdallâh ibn-al-Habhâb returned to the caliph Hishâm in March-April 741.  Hishâm then appointed Kulthűm ibn-cIyâ al-Qaysî over Ifrîqiya... When he arrived he ordered the people of Ifrîqiya to prepare to fight the Berbers.  He gathered some troops from Tripoli and set out with a large number... leaving Maslama ibn-Sawâda in charge of the troops in Qayrawân.  After Kulthűm left, cUkkâsha al-Fazârî revolted against him in the region of Gabes.  He was a Sufrî [Berber].  This man sent his brother to Sabrata and, with some Zanâta Berbers, beseiged the people in their mosque... The amîr of Tripoli heard of this and came out to attack the brother of al-Fazâri while he was beseiging the people of Sabrata. They fought and al-Fazârî was defeated and his Zanâta and other supporters killed.  Al-Fazârî fled to his brother in Gabes.  Then Maslama ibn-Sawâda came out with his troops from Qayrawân against al-Fazârî in Gabes.  They fought and Maslama was defeated and most of his troops killed.  He fled to Qayrawân, where the survivers baracaded themselves...

[366-7] Kulthűm went as far as Tangier. There he met a contingent of Berbers led by Khâlid ibn-Humayd az-Zanâtî... Kulthűm sent his cavalry to attack them.  They rode all night and met them at dawn.  The Berbers met them naked and with no arms.  When the cavalry fell on them, they shouted, drew back and pelted them. The commander of Kulthűm’s troops fell wounded and the cavalry fell back on Kulthűm and his men who ready to fight... The Berbers pursued the cavalry and fell on Kulthűm and his men... Kulthűm and many of his men were killed, while the rest went back defeated to Qayrawân. That was in 123/740-41...

[369-70] From Qayrawân cAbdarrahmânibn-cUqba al-Ghifârî led a contingent against al-Fazârî and met him between Gabes and Qayrawân.  Al-Fazârî was defeated and with most of his companions killed. Then the caliph Hishâm sent Hanzala to Ifrîqiya... Another Sufrî [Berber] named cAbdalwâhid ibn-Yazîd joined al-Fazârî to fight Hanzala.  Hanzala send cAbdarrahmân ibn-cUqba to fight them, but he and his companions were killed.  Then cAbdalwâhid went and took control of Tunis, where he was greeted as “caliph”.  He then headed for Qayrawân, where al-Fazârî was also going, each one trying to get there first so as to have the booty... Hanzala went out against al-Fazârî, bringing the men of Qayrawân who were desperate for their lives and who feared that their children, wives and property would all be taken as booty.  But they first met cAbdalwâhid and fought him.  He was killed with many of his companions, while the others fled. Hanzala then hurried that night against al-Fazârî, who had not heard of cAbdalwâid’s defeat.  God defeated him and his companions.  Al-Fazârî fled and met a Berber people who took him prisoner and brought him to Hanzala, who killed him.

[371-2] cAbdarrahmân ibn-Habîb in Tunis then organized a force to fight Hanzala...  He wrote to him telling him to vacate Qayrawân in three days... So he left... and cAbdarrahmân entered Qayrawân in March 745.

[372-3] cAbdarrahmân put his brother in charge of Tripoli, who arrested the leader of the [Khârijite] Ibâdites and cut off his head.  The Ibâdites massed against him, and cAbdarrahmân had to appoint another governor.  This one the Ibâdites besieged in a certain village, and finally set free, but not after their leader cAbdaljabbâr executed one of his companions who was charged with killing one of their men. cAbdaljabbâr then became the leader of the Zanâta Berbers... cAbdarramân sent a force against him which was defeated, and cAbdaljabbâr took over all of Tripoli province...

[373-4] cAbdaljabbâr fought with his ally al-Hârith and the two were killed.  The Berbers then chose Ismâcîl as their leader, who became very strong.  But cAbdarrahmân sent an army against him and he was killed with many of his companions.  Many prisoners were taken.  In the market of Tripoli he had them beheaded or crucified.

Comment: After the Berbers’ first unsuccessful attempt to take Qayrawân, their leader, arîf, of the Baraghwâa, then went to Tâmasnâ.  There, says Ibn-cIdhârî, “he decreed his own religious law and died after a while.  His son Sâlih took his place and continued with the laws his father issued.. He claimed that a Qur’ân had been revealed to himself, which they were reciting, and that he was the sâlih (good man) of the believers mentioned in the book of God.  Sâlih taught his son Ilyâs his religion and laws and told him to hide it until it was established..  Sâlih went to the East and said he would return during the reign of their seventh king, and said he was the Mahdî who would come at the end of time to kill the anti-Christ, and that Jesus would be one of his men and would pray behind him..  The beginning of this movement was around 741 and it appeared 50 years later.”

In 755 the Berbers did take Qayrawân and held it until they were driven out in 761.  They Berbers were still powerful in southern Tunisia and Algeria, and the expelled Berber governor of Qayrawân, cAbdarrahmân ibn-Rustam moved to Tâhirt in western Algeria and made it the capital of a Berber Khârijite state.  This state controlled the trans-Saharan caravan termini of Sijilmâsa in the west and Wargala in the east.  Khârijism of the Ibâite form has survived to this day in the Sahara, particularly in Ghardâya.  The Rustamid dynasty was religiously tolerant, and Christians as well as non-Khârijite Muslims lived in its capital.

The Aghlabid state in Tunisia (800-909)

In 800 Ibrâhîm ibn-Aghlab helped put down a rebellion against the governor of Qayrawân.  He then himself usurped the governorship and was recognized by the Abbâsid caliph, who had nominal authority over the area.  Under the Aghlabids the Arabs invaded Sicily in 827, completing their occupation of the island in 902. From Sicily they raided Italy, even sacking the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome in 846.  In Tunisia the Aghlabids were responsible for rebuilding the great mosque of Qayrawân and the Zaytűn mosque of Tunis.

During the Aghlabid period small communities of indigenous Christians continued to survive in Carthage, Qayrawân and many other towns.  A document of the time of Pope Formosus (891-6) tells of some African bishops who went to Rome to have a quarrel among themselves settled.

The Idrîsid state in Morocco (789-926)

Idrîs ibn-cAbdallâh, a sharîf (claiming descent from Muhammad) who had fought with the Shîcites in the East against the cAbbâsids, fled to Morocco in 786 and established himself in Volubilis.  Winning the support of the Berber tribes living between Fez and Meknes, he moved against the Jewish and Christian Berbers of Tadla and other southern towns, forcing them to become Muslim.  Idrîs was assassinated by an Abbâsid or Aghlabid agent.  After the regency of his servant Rashîd, who was himself assassinated in 802, Idrîs’ son Idrîs II took over.

Idrîs II started building the city of Fez in 808, which became a centre of arabization because of the influx of Arab political refugees from Spain in 818 and Tunisia in 826.  Idrîs II eliminated Khârijism in his domains and forced all the Jewish and Christian Berber tribes to accept Islam.

The Idrîsid dynasty lasted 170 years and in this time Morocco, once the refuge of Christians fleeing from the first Arab invasions, saw the complete disappearance of Christianity.  Judaism, on the other hand, survived the Idrîsid period, possibly because of greater ethnic cohesion and because many Jews went into exile and later returned, or they made a pretended conversion and later reverted to Judaism.

Fâtimid triumph in the Maghrib and Egypt (909-87)

The Fâtimids are named after Fâtima, the daughter of Muhammad and wife of cAlî.  His supporters (shîca) maintained that the office of caliph or imâm rightfully belongs to cAlî or members of his family.  In 765 the Shîcites split into two factions, the Ismâcîlîs, who recognized Ismâcîl as the seventh imâm, and the Imâmites, who supported his brother and his successors up to the twelfth imâm.

In 901 one of the Ismâcîlî propagandists, Abű-cAbdallâh, found his way to the area north of Sitif in eastern Algeria and gained the support of the local Berbers. Formerly Khârijite, they welcomed the new movement because it represented a cause incompatible with the authority of the Arab caliphs in the East.  In 903 Abű-cAbdallâh began attacking the Aghlabids of Tunisia and in 909 captured Qayrawân, gaining mastery of Tunisia.  He and the Ismâcîlî leader cUbaydallâh Sacîd then set out to conquer the neighbouring Rustamid kingdom in Algeria. When this was done, in 910 cUbaydallâh claimed the leadership and called himself the mahdî (the divinely guided one) and also the imâm or caliph of all Islam.  Abű-cAbdallâh was assassinated by an unknown party, and cUbaydallâh moved to the east coast of Tunisia where he built a new capital called Mahdiyya.

The Sunnî or orthodox Muslims of Tunisia put up considerable resistance to cUbaydallâh and his Fâtimid movement, as it was now called, and it took the Fâtimids some time to overcome Sunnî and Khârijite resistance.  In 917 the Fâtimids defeated the Spanish Umayyads, who controlled the northern coast of Morocco, and the Idrîsids of Fez. But Morocco was not secure until 958 when the Fâtimid general Jawhar subdued it.

Under the Fâtimid caliph Mucizz in 969 Jawhar realized the Fâtimid ambition of conquering Egypt.   Mucizz then moved his capital to the newly founded city of al-Qâhira (Cairo) with al-Azhar mosque as its centre.  In Cairo the Fâtimid movement enjoyed a brief moment of glory and even came close to realizing its ambition of capturing the rest of the Muslim world, but it failed and faded away before new powers.

The anhâja dynasties (969-) and the Hilâlian invasion (1052)

When the Fâtimids moved their capital to Cairo they left the Maghrib in the care of a anhâja Berber governor named Bulukkîn ibn-Sîrî.  His son al-Manűr in 984 declared himself independent from Cairo at the same time that Morocco was falling into anarchy.  In 1007 ammâd, another son of the late governor Bulukkîn, carved out a separate state of his own in Algeria with its capital at Qalca in the eastern mountains.

The response of the Fâtimid caliph al-Mustanir to the rebellion in the Maghrib was to use two troublesome Arab tribes to punish the Zîrids: the Banű-Sulaym, who had settled in Cyrenaica for two centuries, and the Banű-Hilâl, who had settled in the Nile delta and then moved to the Maghrib.  These may have cooperated at first with the Zîrids, but later found the Fâtimid cause more advantageous.  About 50,000 warriors with their families descended on Tunisia and Algeria, ravishing the whole country “like locusts, neither fearing their Creator nor revering his creatures” (Ibn-Khaldűn).

One effect of the Hilâlian invasion was the arabization of much of the rural area of the Maghrib.   Before this time Arabic was spoken only in the major towns.  Politically the invasion did not destroy the anhâja dynasties, but the Zîrids were forced to abandon Qayrawân in 1057 and move to Mahdiyya, and their authority extended only over the coast from Sűsa to Gabes.  The ammâdids in Algeria had to abandon their capital of Qalca in 1090 and move to nearby Bujâya on the coast.

Christianity under the Sanhâja and the Hilâlian invaders

Before the Hilâlian invasion there were numerous small communities of Christians in Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania.  In the time of Pope Benedict VII (974-83) the clergy and people of Carthage sent a priest named James to Rome to be ordained a bishop because there were not three bishops in Africa, the requisite number for ordaining another bishop.

The Hilâlian invasion seriously disrupted what was left of Christianity in the Maghrib.  At En-Jila near Tripoli Christian tombs have been found with dates as late as 1020.  But al-Bakrî, writing in 1068, does not mention the presence of any more Christians around Tripoli, although he does mention their presence in Monastir, Gabes and Tilimsân. The Qayrawân Christian community was evidently another casualty of the Hilâlian invasion, because there are Christian tombs of a lector dated 1048 and a senior dated 1051, but no later remains.

Before the impact of the Hilâlian invasion hit Carthage, in 1053 Bishop Thomas of Carthage and two other bishops, named Peter and John, complained to Pope Leo IX against the bishop of Gummi (= Raqqâda, near Mahdiyya) who usurped the title of Primate.  The Pope decided in favour of the bishop of Carthage, and lamented that there were only five bishops left in Africa.

Two letters from Pope Gregory VII in 1076 refer to an event of 1073 when the Christian lay leaders of Carthage rose against their bishop Cyriac because he refused to ordain a man they presented for the priesthood.  They complained to the local amîr, an independent ruler and one of the Hilâlian invaders named cAbdalhaqq ibn-al-Khurâsân, who had the bishop stripped and flogged like a slave.  Gregory VII wrote to encourage Cyriac and warn the people to support him; he also noted the sad fact that there were fewer than the three bishops needed for an episcopal ordination and that Cyriac should send a canonically elected candidate to Rome for ordination.

The background of the Cyriac affair and a cause of Church decline throughout the Maghrib was that in the 10th century, apparently, the Muslim rulers reorganized their subject Christian communities, appointing a lay leader to handle their corporate affairs, both internally and in relation with the government, according to the semi-autonomous status of a dhimmî community. This transfer of responsibility from the bishop to a lay leader brought on troubles such as Cyriac experienced and dissuaded others from accepting the office of bishop.

Gregory VII had more satisfying relations with Bujâya, the capital of the Sanhâja Hammâdids.  In 1075 the people had elected the priest Servandus as bishop and the king an-Nâsir sent him to Rome for ordination along with gifts and freed Christian slaves. In 1076 the Pope answered:

Your highness wrote to us this year asking us to consecrate as bishop the priest Servandus according to Christian procedures.  Since your request seemed right and very good, we were eager to comply.  At the same time you sent us some presents and, in deference to St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and through love of us, you released some Christians who were held captive in your land, promising to release others in the future.

God, the Creator of everything, without whom we could not do or think of anything good, clearly inspired you to do this generous act.  He who enlightens every man coming into this world (John 1:9) gave you the idea. Almighty God, who wills that all should be saved and none lost, values above all else in us our love for our fellow man after the love which we owe to him, and that we should not do to others what we do not want done to ourselves (cf. Mt. 7:1-5).

We, more than other peoples, should practice this virtue of love, that is, you and we together, who under a different form believe in and adore the same and only God whom we praise and worship every day as the Creator of the ages and Lord of this world.  As the Apostle Paul said, “He is our peace, who made both one” (cf. Eph. 2:14-16).

God knows that we love you for the sake of his honour alone and that we wish you health and glory in this life and the next.  We pray to him from the depth of our heart that after a long life he will give you the happiness of resting at Abraham’s side.1

The Murâbits in the far West

Sanhâja Berber tribes once controlled the Western Sahara and the north-south trade route through Awdaghust.  The Zanâta Berbers who founded Sijilmâsa at the northern end of the trade route were pressing in on the anhâjas, but the anhâjas suffered more from Ghâna, which took Awdaghust in 990.  With their backs against the Atlantic, the anhâjas had reason enough to fight back, but a religious ideology provided the impetus.

The Sanhâjas of the western Sahara had adopted Islam but had little knowledge of it.  On his way home from Mecca in 1035 a Sanhâja chief named Yahyâ ibn-Ibrâhîm stopped at Qayrawân to look for a religious teacher for his people.  None of the young men at Qayrawân would consent to go with him to such an out of the way place, and he was referred to a former student at Qayrawân named Wajâj (or “Waggâg”), who lived in southern Morocco. One of Wajâj’s students, cAbdallâh ibn-Yâsîn, went with Yahyâ to his people in the desert.  There he launched the religious military organization known as the Murâbits (or “Almoravids” after the Spanish spelling), which name they took either because they operated from a monastery-fort (ribât) or because of their method of fighting in close ranks as recommended in the Qur’ân.2

The Murâbit movement grew in strength, but when its chief Yahyâ died, his people, who belonged to the Juddâla branch of the Sanhâja, revolted against Ibn-Yâsîn who was attached to the Jazűla branch.  Ibn-Yâsîn then went off with several companions to an island, now identified as Tidra, off the coast of Mauritania, to gather a force.  The Lamtűna branch of the anhâjas now became Ibn-Yâsîn’s principal supporters.  Beginning their jihâd in 1042, the Murâbits first won over the rest of the Sanhâjas.  In 1053 they moved north and took Sijilmâsa, and in 1054 went south and took Awdaghust. In further fighting in the north Ibn-Yâsîn was killed in 1059.  His general Abű-Bakr ibn-cUmar took over the movement.  This man and his deputy for the north, Yűsuf ibn-Tâshfîn, founded the city of Marrâkish in 1069 and spread their control over all Morocco, reaching as far as Algiers in 1082.

In Spain the Umayyad rule had fragmented into a number of petty states, a situation which the Christian kings took advantage of.  In 1086 Ibn-Tâshfîn moved into Spain to help and then dominate the Muslim states.  All Muslim Spain was under Murâbit rule by 1110.  At its height the Murâbit empire stretched from Ghâna south of the Sahara (whose capital was taken or brought into clientship in 1076) north to Lisbon and Saragossa.

Murâbit rule was noted for its enforcement of a purist Sunnite orthodoxy according to the Mâlikî rite, and was opposed to the lax living and literary and artistic pursuits of the Spanish Muslims as well as to the Sűfism so popular among the Moroccans.  The Murâbits also were responsible for a reintroduction of Christianity to Morocco. There was an Arabic speaking Christian minority in Muslim Spain called Mozarabs (mustacribűn) who had revolted against the Muslims and called for the help of King Alfonso of Aragon.  In 1126 the Murâbit ruler of Spain cAlî ibn-Yűsuf (1106-42) deported large numbers of these Mozarabs to Morocco where they would be less a threat.  They lived in Marrâkish with their bishop and priests and served as soldiers for the Murâbits until 1142 when the Muwahhid conquerors of Marrâkish sent some thousands of them back with their bishop to Toledo.

The Muwahhids (1125-1269)

Muhammad ibn-Tűmart, founder of the Muwahhid movement, was a Masműda Berber from the Atlas mountains in Morocco. He went on pilgrimage to Mecca and stayed to study in Baghdad, Jerusalem and Cairo.  Returning to Morocco in 1121, he disputed with the Murâbits, condemning their laxity and emphasis on detailed legal studies and schools of law, to the detriment of Qur’ân and Hadîth studies, and at the same time their literal interpretation of anthropomorphic expressions in the Qur’ân. He insisted that phrases like “God’s arm” should be interpreted figuratively in order to respect the immateriality and oneness of God. For this reason he called his followers Muwahhids (or “Almohads”` after the Spanish spelling), that is, those who profess the unity of God.  He claimed himself to be a descendant of Muhammad and the expected Mahdî.

Ibn-Tűmart and his assistant cAbdalmu’min set about consolidating their power among the Berbers of the High Atlas.  The struggle with the Murâbits began in 1129.  In 1130 Ibn-Tűmart died and cAbdalmu’min took over.  By 1147 he completed the conquest of Morocco and western Algeria. establishing his capital at Marrâkish.  In 1146 he entered Spain and within two years took over most of it.  In 1152 he moved to the eastern Maghrib and took Bujâya, but instead of going on to take Tunisia he retired to consolidate his power and prepare his son to take over.

In the meantime the Normans, who had begun the reconquest of Sicily in 1061 and completed it in 1091, began to take over the coast of Tunisia, until then chaotically held by the Zîrids and the Hilâlian Arabs.  The Normans took Jerba in 1134, Tripoli in 1146 and the rest of the coastal towns between Tripoli and Tunis by 1148, in addition to several small ports in Algeria.  In 1159 cAbdalmu’min came with a force of 200,000 men supported by a navy and took Tunis.  He then proceeded to drive the Normans out of their coastal establishments, besieging the last of them in Mahdiyya, which surrendered in 1160.  The captured Normans were at first asked to choose between Islam and death, but were later let go free when the Muwahhids were reminded that the Normans had Muslim subjects in Sicily.  (These remained in Sicily 150 years after the Norman conquest and were then deported to Italy where they were assimilated ethnically and religiously.)  By now all the Maghrib, including Tripoli, was under Muwahhid rule.  The remainder of Muslim Spain was added by 1172.

As for Islamic culture, the Muwahhids had to tolerate tacitly the use of Mâlikî law for the practical needs of justice.  But the masses of the people became more interested in Sűfism, in which Ibn-Tűmart and others occupied the role of saintly mediators with God, than in Mâlikî law or the study of Hadîth as proposed by the Muwahhid leaders.  On another level the Muwahhids were patrons of the philosophers Abű-Bakr ibn-Tufayl (d. 1185) and Ibn-Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), but popular indignation at the latter’s views on religion eventually led to a complete suppression of philosophy in the Muslim world.

The Muwahhid conquest marked the death of the old indigenous Christianity in the Maghrib because everywhere the conquerors went they forced Jews and Christians to adopt Islam or die.  In the Liber Censuum of 1192 Carthage is listed merely as a titular see held by a bishop in Europe.

While indigenous Christianity died out completely, Judaism revived after the Muwahhid period.  Some reasons for the difference are 1) that numbers of Jews moved to desert oases outside Muwahhid territory and later returned, and 2) that Jews, according to Maimonides and others, were permitted to convert outwardly while retaining their Jewish faith secretly until persecution ends.  The Muwahhid ruler Abű-Yűsuf suspected as much and in 1198 ordered the converted Jews to dress in a distinctive way, an act which only solidified Jewish ethnic cohesion and the will to survive.

In spite of the Muwahhids’ hostility to European occupiers and indigenous Christians and Jews, they cultivated trade relations with Europe and exploited their political monopoly in the Maghrib and European divisions to secure favourable trade terms.  Settlements of merchants from Pisa, Venice, Genoa, Marseilles and elsewhere were found in all the major towns of the Maghrib.  Although the Muwahhids sent back to Toledo the Mozarabs introduced into Marrâkish by the Murâbits, other Spanish mercenaries were recruited and these retained a church in Marrâkish with freedom of worship until 1390.

One of the major Maghrib exports was gold brought across the desert. This enabled Europe to go back to the gold standard in the first half of the 14th century.

The most important lasting contribution of the Muwahhids to Islam in Morocco came from their fostering of Sűfism.  While the Murâbits had tried to suppress it, the Muwahhids respected the immense popularity and authority of shaykhs and holy men who were reputed to have charismatic powers.   Satisfying popular demand for religious experience, expressed in poetry, song and dance, and for effective prayers, blessings and amulets, Sűfism enabled Islam to sink into the hearts and culture of the people, driving away or transforming pagan or Christian survivals.

Islamic law continued to dominate the madrasas of the cities, but in the country Sűfî zâwiyas dominated, giving Islam a strong popular resiliency. When militant Christendom defeated Muslim princes in Spain they met no intransigent resistance from most Muslims who stayed behind.  In the 15th century, when Spain and Portugal began moving into the Maghrib, they easily overcame the government forces, but met fierce resistance from the masses led by the shaykhs, dooming any project of removing Islam from the Maghrib by military means.  If the Reconquista had reached the Maghrib before the Muwahhids, it might have succeeded.

«— Chapter 3

The Spread of Islam
Through North to West Africa

Chapter 5 —»

1Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 148, col. 450.

2Cf. P.F. de Farias Moraes, “The Almoravids: some questions concerning the character of the movement during its periods of closest contact with the western Sudan”, B.I.F.A.N., 29 (1967), 797-878.