THE MURĀBIT MOVEMENT
The calling of Ibn-Yāsīn
[Al-Bakrī, Al-masālik wa-l-mamālik, #1430:] There is a Sanhāja tribe known as Banū-Lamtūna, who are nomads ranging over the Sahara for a distance of two months in either direction, between the lands of the Sūdān and the lands of Islam. They spend the summer in a place called Amalūs and another place called Tālīwīn. They are the closest neighbours to the Sūdān lands, about 10 stages away. They know nothing of ploughing or sowing or bread. Their wealth is livestock, and their staple meat and milk. One of them might spend his whole life without seeing or eating bread, except that traders from the lands of Islam or the lands of the Sūdān pass by them and feed them bread or present them with flour. They follow the Sunna in making jihād against the Sūdān.
[Ibn-abī-Zarc Al-anīs al-mutrib, 76:] Their first king in the desert was Tayawlūthān [likely = Tīnarūtan of Awdaghust, in al-Bakrī].., king of the whole desert. More than twenty kings of the Sūdān were subject to him and they all paid him jizya. His ruled over an area three months journey long and three months wide, all of it populated, and would ride at the head of 100,000 men on thoroughbred camels. He was a contemporary of the imām cAbdarrahmān in al-Andalus. His ruled long and lived to the age of about 80, dying in the year 837.
He was succeeded by his grandson al-Athar.., who ruled the Sanhāja until his death in the year 900.
He was succeeded by his son Tamīm.. who remained king of the tribes of Sanhāja until the year 918, when the elders of the tribes of Sanhāja rose against him and killed him. Their cohesion was broken, and after him they could not agree on anyone. The had different views and lived under various arrangements for120 years until there arose the amīr Abū-cAbdallāh Muhammad ibn-Tīfāt, known as Tarasnā [Tārashnī in al- Bakrī] al-Lamtūnī.
[Al-Bakrī, #1431:] Their leader was Muhammad, known as Tārashnī, a man reputed for virtue, piety, making the pilgrimage and jihād. He was killed in a place called Qanqāra in Sūdān country. The Qanqāra are a Sūdān tribe living west of the town of Bānkalābīn, inhabited by a Sanhāja Muslim community known as Banū-Wārith. [Ibn-abī-Zarc 76:] The Baqāra [= Qanqāra] are Sūdānic tribes west of the town of Tātaklāsīn [= Bānkalābīn]; they profess Judaism... The Banū-Wārith are honest people and true Muslims. They accepted Islam at the hands of cUqba ibn-Nāfic al-Fihrī at the time of the conquest of the Maghrib. They wage jihād on the Sūdān who do not profess Islam. [Al-Bakrī:] Beyond the Banū-Lamtūna is a Sanhāja tribe called Banū-Judāla, who border on the ocean with no other tribe in between.
[Ibn-abī-Zarc, 76-80:] When the amīr Abū-cAbdallāh ibn-Tīfāt al-Lamtūnī [Muhammad Tārashnī] died, he was succeeded as ruler of the Sanhāja by his in-law Yahyā ibn-Ibrāhīm al-Judālī... The amīr Yahyā ibn-Ibrāhīm was chief of the Sanhāja and led their campaigns against their enemies until 1036, when he appointed as his deputy his son Ibrāhīm ibn-Yahyā as chief of the Sanhāja and war-general. He departed for the East to make the pilgrimage to the sacred house of God and visit the tomb of his Prophet.. Arriving there, he performed the pilgrimage and visit to the tomb, then started back. On the way he passed through Qayrawān and there met the upright jurist Abū-cImrān Mūsā ibn-abī-Hajjāj al-Fāsī, who had left Fez and settled in Qayrawān to study with Abū-l-Hasan al-Qābisī. From there he had gone to Baghdad and studied under the learned qāī Abū-Bakr a-ayyib, from whom he learned much. Then he returned to Qayrawān, where he died in 1939..
When Yahyā ibn-Ibrāhīm al-Judālī reached Qayrawān he found Abū-cImrān al-Fāsī teaching there; so he sat and listened to him. Abū-cImrān saw his love of goodness and liked his character; so he asked him his name, country and genealogy. Yahyā told him, and described to him how vast was his land and how many people lived there. Abū-cImrān asked him: And what school of law do they follow? He answered, They are plunged in ignorance and have little religious knowledge. So the jurist questioned him on the duties of religion, and found that he knew nothing and had not memorized one word of the Qurān and the Hadīth, but was eager to learn, with a sound intention, belief and faith, though ignorant of what pertained to his religion. So he asked: What prevents you from learning? He replied: Master, the people of my country are all ignorant, and there is nobody among them who can read the Qurān. But in spite of this they love and desire what is good and would eagerly learn if they found someone to teach them the Qurān and religious knowledge, to instruct them in their religion, to call them to act according to the Qurān and the Hadīth, to teach them the law of Islam and to explain to them the practice of the Prophet... If you desire a reward from God for teaching them what is good you would send one of your students with me to teach them the Qurān and instruct them in religion. They would benefit from him, listen to him and obey him; for this you would be generously rewarded by God for having been the cause of their right guidance.
The learned elder Abū-cImrān urged his pupils to undertake this mission, but they refused and were afraid to enter the Sahara, and not one of those acceptable to the elder would agree. He had despaired of them he said, I know in the country of Nafīs in the land of the Masāmida a sagacious, pious and blameless jurist. He came to meet me here and learned much from me and I know that his character is as I have described it. His name is Wajjāj ibn-Zalwā al-Lamtī of the people of the farthest Sūs. At present he is leading a life of worship, teaching and summoning men to what is good, in a ribāt there. He has many students who are acquiring knowledge from him. I will write to him so that he may choose one of his students to send with you. So go to him, for you will find what you desire with him...
Yahyā ibn-Ibrāhīm al-Judālī took Abū-cImrāns letter and went to the jurist Wajjāj ibn-Zalwā in the town of Nafīs. He greeted him and handed over the letter. This was in March-April 1039. The jurist Wajjāj ibn-Zalwā read the letter, then gathered his students and read it to them and urged them to do what the elder Abū-cImrān al-Fāsī had commanded. His invitation was accepted by a man belonging to the Jazūla named cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn al-Jazūlī. [Al-Bakrī, 165:] The name of his mother was a Jazūla woman named Tīn Yazāmāran, from a village called Tamāmānāwat on the edge of the Sahara near the town of Ghāna. [Ibn-cIdhārī, al-Bayān al-mughrib, 48:] cAbdallāh ibn- Yāsīn had gone to al-Andalus when it was ruled by the Party Kings and stayed there seven years. There he learned many subjects and then returned to the western Maghrib. [Ibn-abī-Zarc:] He set off with Yahyā ibn-Ibrāhīm and arrived in the country of Judāla. The tribes of Lamtūna and Judāla met him with pleasure and honoured and reverenced him extremely in their joy...
Ibn-Yāsīns first jihād, among the Sanhāja
[Ibn-abī-Zarc:] When Ibn-Yāsīn arrived in the land of Sanhāja and settled in their midst he observed how generally they were given to forbidden practices; for example, men would marry six, seven or ten wives, or whatever number they desired. He reproached them for this and told them: This is not according to the Sunna; the Sunna of Islam is that a man may have four wives at once, although he has freedom in respect of the [slave-women] his right hand possesses.1 Then he began to teach them religion and explain the Law and the Sunna, commanding them to do good and forbidding them to do evil.
When they saw that he was intent on making them abandon their wicked ways they shook him off, turned away from him and shunned him, for they found his actions odious. He also discovered that most of them did not pray or know anythong about Islam except the shahāda, and were entirely immersed in ignorance. When cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn saw their opposition and the way in which they kept to their fancies he wished to leave them and go to the land of the Sūdān who had adopted Islam, for Islam had made its appearance there. But Yahyā ibn-Ibrāhīm al-Judālī would not let him go and said: I shall not let you go away, for I brought you here so that your learning might benefit me, my religion and my people, for whom I am responsible even though they are on the wrong path. But, Master, may I make you a suggestion if you wish to obtain the benefits of the hereafter? He replied: What is it? He said: Here in our country there is an island in the ocean. When the water is low we reach it on foot, and when it is high we reach it by boat. On this island there is what is undoubtedly legitimate food from wild trees, bush meat, fish and many kinds of birds. Let us settle there and live there off these legitimate things and worship God until we die.
cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn said: That is better. Let us go and settle there in the name of God. They did so, with seven men of Judāla. He built a rābita there and stayed there with his companions worshipping God for three months. The word spread that these men sought Paradise and deliverance from Hellfire, and so the number of those who came to visit and those who repented increased. cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn began to teach them the Qurān, to win them over to what is good, to plant in them a desire for the divine reward, and to warn them against his painful punishment. They became very loyal to him and before long a thousand disciples from among the nobility of Sanhāja had gathered round him. He called them murābitūn2...
Then he called upon them to make jihād on the tribes of the Sanhāja who opposed them,.. beginning with the tribe of Judāla. He made a raid on them at the head of 3,000 Murābits. The Judāla were routed and he killed a great number of them. The rest accepted Islam anew. Their conduct improved and they carried out all the obligations which God had imposed on them. This was in September 1042. [Al-Bakrī, #1433:] They then raided the Lamtūna, besieging them in their mountain, and defeated them, taking their property as booty. [Ibn-abī-Zarc:] Then he went to the tribes of Masūfa and waged war on them till they submitted and swore allegiance in the same way that the tribes of Judāla and Lamtūna had done. When the other tribes of Sanhāja saw this they quickly repented and swore allegiance to confirm their obedience.
Yahyā ibn-Ibrāhīm al-Judālī died. cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn wished to put another in his place to direct the wars... So he assembled the leaders of the tribes of Sanhāja and appointed Yahyā ibn-cUmar al-Lamtūnī as their commander. But cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn was the commander in fact, for it was he who ordered and forbade and gave and took. The commander was in charge of military affairs, while cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn attended to matters of religion and justice and collected their alms and tithes.
[Al-Bakrī, #1433:] cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn stayed among them, but would not eat their meat or drink their milk because their property was not pure. He lived on wild animals he hunted. Then he commanded them to build a town which they called Aratnannā and that no building should be higher than another, and they complied. They continued to listen to him and obey him until they turned against him over matters too long to relate. It seems they found some contradictions in his judgements; so one of their jurists named al-Jawhar ibn-Sakkam, with two other elders named Ayyār and Īntakkū, stood up against him and deprived him of voice in public affairs, took over his treasury, expelled him, destroyed his house and looted its contents.
Ibn-Yāsīns second jihād, over the whole Sahara
[Al-Bakrī, #1434:] cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn left the Sanhāja tribes secretly and went to Wajjāj ibn Zalwā, the jurist of Malkūs. The latter reproached the Sanhāja for what they did to cAbdallāh and taught them that whoever opposes the command of cAbdallāh had withdrawn from the community and his blood could be shed. He commanded cAbdallāh to return to them, which he did. [Ibn-cIdhārī, 47:] When cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn settled among the Lamtūna they submitted to him and obeyed him. By employing trickery against those of the Judāla who had rebelled against him he killed them and ordered that all those who merited death among them should be killed. (LH 218) [Al-Bakrī, #1434:] He killed those who had rebelled against him and many others who deserved death because of crimes or immorality. He established his authority over the whole Sahara, and all the tribes obeyed him, joined his movement and observed the Sunna as he directed. Then they turned against the Lamta and demanded one third of their possessions so that he could purify in that way the two thirds that remained with them. That is the procedure cAbdallāh established regarding questionable property. The Lamta obeyed him and joined the movement.
[Ibn-cIdhārī, Al-bayān al-mughrib, 49-50:] In the mountains bordering the Lamtūna were some Berber tribes who were not Muslim... cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn called them to Islam and the Sharīca of Muhammad and to pay the zakāt that God had ordered. They refused and killed his messengers. So he ordered the Lamtūna to raid them. Setting out against them, moved into their mountains and fought them for three days, during which the Lamtūna lost more than half their men, with no sign of either side winning. On the fourth day cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn gathered his Lamtūna companions and told them, We have ranged ourselves on the side of Gods truth and our Prophet Muhammads sunna; I see that you are tired of fighting these idolaters, but God did not command us to leave them; so seek your Lord Gods help and he will give you victory over them. So on the fourth day, after taking a ghusl bath, the Lamtūna set out determined to fight. The battle raged fiercely until their enemies were defeated. They wiped out their men and took as booty their property and their women and children. In the division of spoil the amīr Yahyā ibn-cUmar too a fifth.
[Al-Bakrī, #1435:] The first land they took which had opposed them was Darca. The people there fought back bravely and strongly as none other did. They chose to die rather than retreat; it was never heard of among them to flee from an attack. They fought on horseback or camels, but the majority were infantry in formation. The first line held long spears to knock down and pierce. In the second row each man held several javelins, which they could throw and hardly ever miss their mark. They set one man ahead of the ranks holding a banner. They all stood as long as the banner stood aloft, but if he lowered it to the earth they all sat down and remained firmer than the mountains. They did not pursue those who fled before them. They killed dogs and never kept them as pets.
[#1436:] Yahyā ibn-cUmar was a most devoted follower of cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn and obeyed him in whatever he commanded. The story is told by many that cAbdallāh said during one of those battles: Amīr, you deserve a punishment. Yahyā replied, For what? cAbdallāh said, I will not tell you until after I punish you and take Gods due from you. The amīr obeyed, submitting his bare body. The jurist struck him many times with a whip and then said, An amīr does not enter the battle himself, because his life is the life of his army and his loss is the loss of the army.
[#1437:] The Murābits raided the town of Sijilmāsa after they had addressed its people and their leader, Mascūd ibn-Wānūdīn al-Mahgrāwī, and they refused their demands. They attacked them with an army of 30,000 saddled camels, killed Mascūd and took over the town of Sijilmāsa, settling a contingent there. [Ibn-abī-Zarc, LH 81:] He remained there until he had pacified it and established order, changing the objectionable practises which he found there. He smashed musical instruments and burned down shops where wine was sold. He abolished non-Qurānic levies and taxes and left only what the Book and the Sunna required. He placed a Lamtūna governor in charge and retired to the desert. [Al-Bakrī, #1437:] The people of Sijilmāsa turned treacherously on the Murābits in the mosque and killed many of them. That was in 1054. But the people of Sijilmāsa regretted what they did and sent messengers several times to cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn asking him to return with an army, since the Zanāta were attacking them. So cAbdallāh ordered the Murābits to attack the Zanāta a second time, but the Judāla refused and disobeyed him, going off to the ocean coast. So cAbdallāh ordered the amīr Yahyā to set up a base in the Lamtūna mountains, which are a secure place, with plenty of water and pasture; they are six days journey long and one day wide. There is a fort there called Arkā, surrounded by some 20,000 palm trees. It was built by Yānnū ibn-cUmar al-Hājj, brother of Yahyā ibn-cUmar.
[#1438:] So Yahyā went into the Lamtūna mountains and cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn went towards the town of Sijilmāsa with 200 Sanhāja men, stopping in a place called Tāmdūlt, where there is a fort with water and many palm trees, overlooked by a mountain with a silver mine that is well known there. An army gathered around cAbdallāh from the Sira and the Tarja, who have forts around there. Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar was in Darca with Amad ibn-Āmadajnū, and cAbdallāh made him amīr in place of his brother Yahyā who stayed behind in the Lamtūna mountains.
The Judāla army of about 30,000 men came back and besieged Yahyā ibn-cUmar in the mountains, in the year 1056. But Yahyā had a numerous army, and he had alongside him Labbī ibn-Wārjābī, chief of Takrūr. The armies met in a place called Tabfarīlī, between Tālīwīn and the Lamtūna mountains. Yahyā ibn-cUmar was killed God have mercy on him and many men were killed with him. People say that they hear voices of muadhdhins from that place at the times of salāt; so they avoid it and no one enters it. His sword and shield were not taken, nor any of their weapons or garments. Thereafter the Murābits did not try attacking the Judāla again.
[#1439:] In the year 1054-5 cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn raided Awdaghust, a well settled locality and big town with markets, many palm trees and henna trees as large as olive trees. It was the residence of the king of the Sūdān called Ghāna before the Arabs entered Ghāna. Awdaghust has solid buildings and beautiful houses. It is two months journey away from Sijilmāsa and 15 days away from the town of Ghāna. Zanāta and Arabs lived there, who were always quarrelling and scheming against each other. They had much property and many slaves. One man could have a thousand or more servants. The Murābits freely used their women and took as booty all they found there. cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn killed there a half-caste Arab from Qayrawān named Zibāqara, known for his piety, goodness, Qurān recitation and having made the pilgrimage. The Murābits took vengeance on the people of Awdaghust only because they were under obedience to the king of Ghāna and subject to his authority.
[#1440:] cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn raided Aghmāt in the year 1057 and took over the land of the Masāmida in 1058. In July 1059 he was killed in a place in Baraghwāta land called Kurīfalat. Today on his tomb stands a much visited memorial and a hostel [rābita] with residents. cAbdallāh ibn-Yāsīn was killed only after he had taken over Sijilmāsa and its provinces, all of Sūs, Aghmāt, Nūl and the Sahara.
[#1441:] One of the proofs of cAbdallāhs good character which people mention and have no doubt about is that on one of his trips his men were thirsty and complained to him. He said, May God be pleased to give us relief from our situation. He went on with them an hour and said, Dig in front of me. They did and found water close to the surface. So they drank and watered their animals with very sweet and good water till they were satisfied.
They also tell that he stopped at one place near a pond of water full of frogs constantly croaking. When cAbdallāh stopped at the pond, the sound [stopped and] could not be heard.
Now the Murābits will not pray behind anyone unless he had prayed behind cAbdallāh, even if there is present one better at reciting or more pious who did not pray behind him.
cAbdallāh used to marry many women, marrying and divorcing in one month a number of them. Whenever he heard of a beautiful woman he would contract for her, but he never paid more than four mithqāls in dower.
[#1444:] The amīr of the Murābits today, the year 1067-8, is Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar, but their power is divided, not coordinated, and they stay in the Sahara.
[Ibn-cIdhārī, Al-bayān al-mughrib, 53-59:] When Ibn-Yāsīn was killed by the Barghawāta, the amīr Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar was in charge of the Sanhāja and other tribes, and all the Masāmida tribes accepted his leadership. He set out with them to fight the Farghawāta until he too his revenge...
In the year 1067 Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar consolidated his authority as amīr. All the regions accepted his leadership and he set governors over them, making Aghmāt his capital. There was a beautiful woman in that town named Zaynab an-Nafzāwiyya. She was well known and respected among the Masāmida and other tribes, and many of their elders and princes asked for her in marriage. But she refused, saying, Only he who rules the whole Maghrib shall marry me. People called her stupid and strange and marvellous stories circulated about her, such as that the jinn speak to her. Some called her a witch and others a diviner. The amīr Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar was informed of her beauty, asked for her hand and married her. She promised to bring him much wealth, and brought him blindfolded to an underground house where she opened his eyes and he saw rooms full of gold, silver, gems and rubies. He was amazed at all he saw, and his wife Zaynab told him, All this belongs to you and is your property; God has given it to you by putting it in my hands, and I now turn it over to you. After he looked at it all by candle light, she put the blindfold on him again and led him out, without letting him know the way. He consummated his marriage with Zaynab in September 1068...
In the year 1068 the amīr Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar sent out a large army under the command of his cousin, Yūsuf ibn-Tāshfīn, with many Lamtūna, Masāmida and other Berber chiefs, to fight the leaders of the tribes living in the Maghrib... In this year Aghmāt was overcrowded; so the leaders complained many times to the amīr Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar, until he told them, Mark out a place where I can build a city, if God wills... The amīr Abū-Bakr rode with his army and the leaders of the tribes until the site of Marrakesh, which was empty with no one living there... In the year 1070 the foundations of Marrakesh were begun...
In the year 1071 the amīr Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar was sitting on the walls watching the construction of the walls and buildings, when a man on a horse with dishevelled hair stopped before him and said, May God support the amīr! The Judāla have attacked your brothers and killed the men, took their property as booty and defeated them. When he finished speaking, the amīr Abū-Bakr said, We belong to God and to him we return. Hew summoned the Lamtūna elders and strong men and told them, The Judāla have attacked your brothers and killed them. I am going against them, if God wills, to take revenge...
When the amīr Abū-Bakr set off for the desert, he made Yūsuf ibn-Tashfīn his deputy and divided the army between Yūsuf and himself... When Abū-Bakr ibn-ccUmar decided to go on that expedition, he said to his wife Zaynab, I am leaving you behind because of dissensions and wars. I cannot go away from you while you are under my protection, for if I die, I am responsible for you. My view is that I should divorce you by repudiation. She said, Your view is right. So he divorced her, and is to have said to his cousin Yūsuf ibn-Tāshfīn, Marry her, for she is a woman who enjoys prosperity from God. It is also said that she asked him to divorce her, and he agreed...
Yūsuf used to write to the amīr Abū-Bakr about all that he was doing, and Abū-Bakr was grateful for this. Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar fought the Judāla in the desert until he got his revenge. Yūsuf ibn-Tāshfīn, in the meantime, married Zaynab an-Nafzāwiyya in May 1071 after she finished her cidda. He had relations with her and they were happy with each other. She told him that he would rule the whole Maghrib; she encouraged him, managed his affairs and gave him immense wealth. This enabled him to organize a large cavalry force, to collect much wealth from the tribes and raise a Berber army. By himself and with the help of his wife Zaynab he advanced daily, until the people of the Maghrib conformed to his dictates, and his rule was unparalleled...
In 1072 with his own money Yūsuf bought a company of Sūdān slaves and ordered another company of infidel slaves from al-Andalus, equipping them all with horses. The Andalusians were 240, and the Sūdānese about 2,000. His body guard became more formidable and his authority more weighty. In this year he imposed a heavy tribute on all the Jews in his dominion...
In the same year the amīr Yūsuf got news that his nephew, the amīr Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar had started to return from the desert to the Maghrib, and this made him extremely sad, sensing that he would have to part with his authority after having tasted its sweetness and having organized an army and built up his power. Zaynab recognized this from his look and said to him, I see that you are worried and sad at the coming of your cousin to the kingdom he entrusted to you. By God, Abū-Bakr shall never have a taste of it. So take courage and cheer up... When he comes near and sends an advance party to you, do not go out to meet him, but recognize him with a magnificent present. He will never fight you, because he is a good man and will not countenance the shedding of Muslim blood. He will confirm your command and you will be secure in your kingdom, God willing. He replied, By God, I will never go against your advice in anything.
In the year 1072 the amīr Abū-Bakr ibn-cUmar arrived at Marrakesh from the desert and found Yūsuf had taken over his kingdom and enjoyed ruling, with the whole Maghrib subject to him. He realised that he was overthrown and resolved to hand over the command to him...
Abū-Bakr spoke with Yūsuf about the interests of the Muslims and then said, Yūsuf, you are my cousin and are just like my brother. I must help our brothers in the desert, and can see no one more capable or more deserving to rule the Maghrib but you. I renounce my own claims and put you in charge of it. Continue to rule over your kingdom, for you are worthy and fit for it... This was the result of the advice of Azynab an-Nafzāwiyya, Yūsufs wife, for she emboldened him to take this step, so that he ruled over the Maghrib with the greatest happiness, prosperity and victory over his enemies. His army was never defeated nor his banner ever thrown back by any king.
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1Qurān 4:3; 24:5.
2Meaning to fight together in close ranks; see the interpretation of P.F. Farias de Moraes, The Almoravids: some questions concerning the character of the movement during its period of closest contact with the western Sudan BIFAN, 29 (1967), 794-878.