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Islam: Islam in North Africa


The term North Africa usually denotes the region that includes the countries of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. Because this region corresponds to what Arab writers call the Maghreb (the "west"), this article shall use both terms here with no distinction of meaning. The unity of this region originates in its continuous settlement: From the dawn of history it has been inhabited by Berbers who came mostly from the banks of the Red Sea and who were later joined by Europeans, Semites, and blacks. North Africa was in contact with all the great civilizations of antiquity and became an integral part of the Islamic world at the end of the seventh century ce. Although it has never become wholly Arabized like Greater Syria and Egypt, it was totally Islamized, with the exception of a Jewish minority that has always been in existence there. Moreover, from the twelfth century ce, the vast majority of the population has followed the Mālikī legal tradition (madhhab ).

In North Africa as elsewhere, Islam may be considered either as a religion or as a form of culture, and according to the point of view adopted, the same facts may be interpreted in quite different ways. In the following pages Islam is referred to not as a culture that has been more or less influenced by the Qurʾanic message but as a religion. Discussion will center on the movements, the works, and the people who have formed the feelings and the religious behavior of the inhabitants of the Maghreb.

Pre-Islamic Religion

The message of the prophet Muammad itself bore the marks of Arab polytheisms, and the Islamization of North Africa was likewise influenced by the religious situation already present there.

The prehistoric substrate

The prehistory of the Berbers remains obscure. The Libyan inscriptions guard their secrets, and funerary monuments and rock drawings can be interpreted in diverse ways according to whether Egyptian, Mediterranean, or Saharan influences are discerned in them. Scholars do agree, however, on two points: The ancient Berbers did not differentiate between magica technique used to harness the powers of natureand religionthe worship of a divinity with a more or less distinct identity. Later their divinities were exclusively local ones.

Thus, say the specialists, it is better to refer not to a Berber religion as such, but to a specific attitude toward the sacred, which the inhabitants of North Africa associate even today with caves, springs, certain trees, certain stones, and so on. This strategy of the sacred was aimed at satisfying basic needs, such as causing rain, curing an infertile woman, or guaranteeing victory. Its presence has been noted by writers as far apart in time and space as the Greek historian Herodotus (sixth century bce), the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battutah (fourteenth century ce), and the Finnish anthropologist Edward Westermarck (twentieth century). The notion of barakah (a polymorphous power linked to holiness), the institution of the zāwiyah (a brotherhood centered on a sanctuary), the ziyārah (cult of saints), the sha (a ritual dance), and the samaʿ (ritual music) have all played an important role in the religious feeling of the Maghreb people until quite recently, despite the fact that official Islam has opposed them for centuries; many anthropologists maintain that such features can only be explained in terms of this fundamental attitude toward the sacred that had already colored the Phoenician religion, Roman polytheism, and Christianity well before the arrival of Islam.

The Phoenico-Punic influence

The Phoenicians reached the shores of North Africa at the beginning of the first millennium bce, founded Carthage, and set up a large number of trading posts along the coast. A seafaring nation of traders, they did not venture far into the interior until well into the fifth century bce. What was their influence on local culture? Historians differ in their assessments, but they all maintain that it was crucial, for the Berbers were also from the East. The punicization of Maghrebi culture did not coincide, however, with the period when Carthage was at the height of its power: It was only after the city was overcome and destroyed (146 bce) that the aquellid s ("kings") of Numidia and Mauritania adopted the most characteristic features of Carthaginian civilization. Both epigraphic and archaeological discoveries have shown that the cult was colored by the Phoenico-Punic religion, that the goddess Tanit was accorded an important position, and that child sacrifice, so loathsome to the Romans, was commonplace. This speeding up of the process of punicization seems to have been a deliberate challenge to imperial Rome. According to Stéphane Gsell, the French specialist on ancient African history, it also prepared the population for Islamization later on.

Romanization and christianization

Roman polytheism as it spread to the peoples of North Africa was inseparable from Romanization, which had been, in many respects, quite remarkable. But, challenged by the Carthaginian divinities and soon undermined by Christian propaganda, the Roman religion never had time to gain a permanent foothold. Many studies have shown that it was profoundly africanized. Latin names only superficially mask pre-Roman divinities: Jupiter has been identified with Amun, Saturnthat most African of godswith Baal-Hammon, Juno-Caelestia with Tanit, Asklepios with Eshmun, and so forth.

The problem of specific local characteristics also arises with reference to African Christianity. The new religion rapidly made converts, especially in the towns, as can be seen from the number of followers affected by the persecutions of the third century ce. Nor can one forget the appearance of such great thinkers as the apologist Tertullian (d. after 220 ce), Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (d. 258), and Augustine the church father (d. 430). However, the most significant phenomenon during this period was undoubtedly the Donatist schism, which deeply divided Roman Africa throughout the fourth century. Whether this was an attempt to found a national church or a movement of social protest, the basic point is that it reveals a permanent aspect of the psychology of the Maghrebians. They seem to accept foreign cultures easily enough but select from them one element that they then transform into a symbol of their own identity. In this sense it may be said that the Donatists foreshadowed the Muslim Khārijīs of three centuries later.

Berber religiosity

North Africa was thus subjected in turn to Egyptian, Phoenician, Greco-Roman, and Christian influences, without any real alteration of its fundamental religious attitude. Foreign religions, which gave the appearance of being accepted without any difficulties, were in fact profoundly transformed on the day-to-day level. Professions of faith, institutions, and cults changed, but what remained intact was a type of religiosity: Characterized by its vehemence, its extremism, and its tendency to intellectual simplification, it is to be found at each stage of the development of Maghrebi Islam.

Excessive intellectualism was linked with a strong attachment to the humblest of popular cults, as though the North Africans refused to see religion as a means of individual salvation: The social always took precedence over the individual, the concrete and useful over the purely spiritual. For them, religion was above all a communal ethic. The simpler and clearer the creed, the better it fulfilled its role. Both local cults and elaborate dogma, however far apart they might seem to be from a purely formal point of view, neverthe-less tended toward the same end: holding the social body together.

A single religious consciousness expressed in diverse religious formsthis is a hypothesis of continuity that many specialists would be reluctant to accept. However, a number of historians have adopted it, at least as a starting point for their work, even if it has proved necessary to alter it later for a clearer explanation of how the Maghreb became Muslim. Islamization, in North Africa as elsewhere, was a dual process. Islam originated as a set of beliefs and behaviors indigenous to the Arabs of the Middle East, but the long and rich experience of the Maghrebi population that received it was also to determine its final form. Three centuries before the appearance of the first Muslim missionaries, the region, with the exception of Carthage, was totally free from foreign influence. Independent principalities, whose internal histories are relatively obscure, had come into being. Epigraphic evidence proves that the Punic religion and Christianity persisted, that Judaism was spreading, and that Donatism and Manichaeism were flourishing again. It was within this extremely complex situation, with its strange syncretisms, that Islam was to develop. The belief that North Africa went directly from Christian orthodoxy to Sunnī Islam is nothing but an illusion.

The Arab Period

This term, inadequate as it might seem, refers to the period from the second to the fifth Muslim centuries (seventh to eleventh centuries ce). With its own distinctive features, the period was Arab only in a very restricted sense. But under this rubric shall be considered first of all the conquest, or the taking of political power by the warriors from the Middle East; second, Islamization, or the adoption of rites and beliefs defined by the Qurʾān; and finally, Arabization, in its dual ethnic and cultural senses as a change in the actual makeup of the population and as the adoption of Arab language and customs. These three developments were far from identical.

The conquest

The first Arab armies arrived in Ifrīqiyā (formerly known as Byzacene) in AH 26/647, but the conquest began only nine years later, when ʿUqbah ibn Nāfiʿ founded the city of Kairouan as a permanent base for his soldiers. ʿUqbah decided to skirt the northern towns that had been fortified by the Byzantines and to follow the inland route of the high plateaus, where the independent principalities had been set up. At first these tactics paid off, for the Arab general, after defeating the Berber chief Kusaylah, was able to cross the whole country as far as the Atlantic Ocean without meeting any further resistance. However, on his way back he found that the Berbers and the Byzantines had united to cut off his lines of communication, and his army, which he had misguidedly divided into small groups, was wiped out. Another leader of the conquest, assān ibn al-Nuʿmān, drew the logical conclusions from this defeat and decided to attack Carthage, which was the center of Byzantine power. He took it by storm in 691, lost it, then recaptured it definitively in 695. It was at that moment that the mountain people of the Aures, who had fought fiercely for their independence against the Vandals and the Byzantines during the past two centuries, rose up in revolt under the leadership of a woman the Arabs called al-Kāhinah ("the sorceress"). Because the conquerors are interested only in our wealth, al-Kāhinah reasoned, let us turn our land into a desert and they will leave. She then gave the order to cut down all the trees, thus causing a terrible deforestation with consequences that are still felt today. Is this truth or legend? In either case, this last-ditch effort did not have the anticipated results. The Arabs did not leave the devastated land, and al-Kāhinah, seeing how things were turning out and herself unable to surrender, advised her sons to go over to the enemy. Military operations continued for another ten years or so in the west of the country. The new general, Mūsā ibn Nuayr, returning to the policy of one of his predecessors, Abū al-Muājir, widely applied the system of walāʾ ("adoption") and took into the Arab aristocracy the sons of the vanquished leaders. This ethnic interpenetration was so rapid that the conquest of Spain, which began in 711, was led by a mawlā ("client") of Mūsā, the Berber āriq ibn Ziyād.

Unlike the centralized monarchies of Egypt, Persia, and Spain, whose destinies were sealed by the outcome of a single battle with the Muslims, the Maghreb was conquered definitively only after a half-century of fighting. There were several reasons for this. Mountainous, compartmentalized, and politically fragmented, the country was always difficult to conquer. The Arabs were faced with several different groups: Rūm (Byzantines), Afranj (Romans), Afāriq (punicized Berbers), nomad and sedentary peoples. Each of these groups had its own defense tactics and had to be countered by an appropriate attack. Berber resistance varied between the policy of Kusaylah and that of al-Kāhinah, and the Arab strategy also wavered between the rigor of ʿUqbah and the liberalism of Abū al-Muājir. Moreover, the conquering armies felt the repercussions of the crises that shook the Muslim caliphate from 660 to 694.

Some historians who are not specialists on Islam believe that the first Arab conquerors were nomads such as the Banū Hilāl, who invaded the country more than three centuries later. This belief is wholly erroneous; they were in fact highly skilled horsemen, trained in the latest cavalry tactics. Most of them came from Syria and were the descendants of people who had been in contact with the Romans and the Byzantines for generations. Thus they came to the Maghreb as heirs of ancient civilizations. As time went on, the neo-Byzantine character of the Arab administration became more and more obvious.


From an ethnic point of view, the process of Arabization seems to have been very limited in scope. According to the most reliable historians, the number of Arabs settled in the country during the first Muslim century did not exceed fifty thousand. The local population, especially in Ifrīqiyā, was already fairly mixed; this characteristic was accentuated by the conquest, for the "Arab" armies in fact included Byzantines, Persians, and, very early on, Berbers, probably nomads, who were later known as Zanātah.

The adoption of Arab customs, habits, costume, and language was doubtless very rapid; the early Arab chroniclers all emphasize the Himyarite (Yemenite) origin of the Berbers, which suggests that a feeling of distant ethnic solidarity existed. The system of walāʾ meant that many Berber clans were linked with the Qahtanites (southern Arabs). The word berber rapidly lost its original etymological meaning and came to designate the inhabitants of isolated mountain regions. Since Islamization, the fundamental distinction in North Africa has been sociocultural rather than ethnicolinguistic.

Cultural arabization was naturally enhanced when political authority was in Arab hands. During the period under consideration the power of the Arabs was solidly established in what is now Tunisia and in that part of Spain bordering on the Mediterranean. These were populated, prosperous regions, easy to defend, where the Punic influence had been deep and lasting. Kairouan and Cordova, the capitals of the two provinces, maintained uninterrupted relations with the other Muslim metropoles and were the starting points for the spread of Arab culture and orthodox Islam.

After the conquest the Maghreb was governed by emirs appointed by the Umayyad caliphs in Damascus. With the Abbasid Revolution of 750, which saw the capital transferred to Baghdad, the empire became more Persian than Arab, more Asian than Mediterranean. The western provinces, which from then on would be more difficult to watch over, began to break away one after the other. In 755 an Umayyad prince who had fled to Spain founded an independent emirate there. In 787 Idrīs I, a descendant of ʿAlī ibn Abī ālib, did the same in Morocco. Finally, in 800, Ifrīqiyā achieved autonomy under the Aghlabid dynasty, with the consent of the caliph.

In the ninth century, the Umayyad and Aghlabid emirates exercised military and commercial control over the whole of the western Mediterranean. Muslim Spain, which became a caliphate in 929, retained its preeminence right up to the great crisis of 1009; its capital, Cordova, was the equivalent of Baghdad or Cairo. The western half of the Maghreb lived in the sphere of Spain's cultural and political influence; the princes of Ceuta, Fez, Tlemcen, and elsewhere, whether Arabs or Berbers, were clients of the caliph of Cordova, and as such they spread Andalusian culture and Umayyad orthodoxy.

As for the Aghlabid emirate, it fell victim to the propaganda of the Shīʿī Fatimids, who maintained that only the descendants of ʿAlī and Fāimah, the cousin and daughter respectively of the prophet Muammad, could legitimately lay claim to the caliphate. One of their dāʿī s ("missionaries") who had come from the Yemen settled among the Kutāmah Berbers in the mountainous region of Little Kabylia. There, surrounded by a population favorable to the ʿAlids and out of the reach of Aghlabid power, he patiently bided his time. The Aghlabid army, weakened by the quarrels that split the reigning family, was crushed at al-Urbus (ancient Laribus) in 909, and the residence of the emirs, Raqqādah, was taken by storm. A year later the real pretender arrived and officially adopted the title of ʿUbayd Allāh al-Mahdi. But for the victorious Fatimids Ifrīqiyā was no more than a base for the conquest of the Abbasid empire. Once they had taken command of Egypt in 969, they abandoned Ifrīqiyā to their Kutāmah allies. Thus two dynasties were born: the Zirids in what is now Tunisia, and the Hammadids in the east of present-day Algeria; both were descendants of Zīrī ibn Manād, the army general who became regent after the departure of the Fatimid caliph, and both were to prosper until the mid-eleventh century.

Applied to this period, then, the term Arab is clearly inadequate. It was indeed princes from the East who founded states and created cities where the army, the administration, and the religious institutions spread Arab culture, but very early on political power was shared; without the Awribah, Idrīs I would never have reigned, and without the Kutāmah, ʿUbayd Allāh could never have laid claim to the caliphate.

There is no doubt that the process of Arabization was very slow. Epigraphic finds have shown that Punic and Roman-Christian influences subsisted for a long time after the conquest, but the importance of such relics must not be exaggerated. The narratives that tell the story of the beginning of the Fatimid dynasty show clearly that the Kutāmah homeland, although it was far from the capital and isolated by its mountainous surroundings, was nevertheless open to the influence of the cities, which were themselves wholly given over to the distinctive values of Arab culture. Arabization was set in motion by Arab governors, but it did not cease when the power passed into Berber hands, as can be seen from the behavior of the Zirid and Hammadid princes, who were direct descendants of the anājah Berbers.


In 660 a serious crisis split the eastern Muslim community. Two opposing clans were struggling for the caliphate: the supporters of Muʿāwiyah and the Umayyad family in general, and the followers of ʿAlī ibn Abī ālib and, by extension, the Hashimites, the Prophet's clan. Later there appeared a more neutral faction who maintained that authority should be conferred by election and that the caliph could be non-Qurayshī and even non-Arab. The last mentioned were known as Khārijīs; the second were called Shīʿah; and the first, ahl al-jamāʿah, that is to say, the supporters of the majority, who were later to become the Sunnīs (orthodox ones). At first all three factions were similarly Arab; but when the conquering Umayyads set up a predominantly Qurayshī administration in Damascus, the Shīʿah and the Khārijīs turned toward the newly converted, and, confronted by Sunnisman official, conservative, moderate Islam that was also an Arab Islamthey took up a non-Arab and sometimes even a frankly anti-Arab stance.

Islam spread more rapidly in North Africa than did the Arab language. This was a paradoxical result of the schismatic propaganda, for the autonomy movement, which was directed against the political power of the Arabs and their clients, endowed Islam with a profoundly national character.

After the death of al-Kāhinah in 701, the conquest was almost completed. The new rulers, seeking to reorganize the country, imposed a regular tax system. But since the decline of the Roman Empire the population had become used to living in small, independent communities. As early as 720 the Berbers of Ifrīqiyā rose up and killed the emir, Ibn al-abāb. In 740 a more serious revolt broke out in northern Morocco and soon spread throughout the whole of North Africa. One of the main rebel chiefs, Maysarah, had lived in Kairouan, where he had come under the influence of the ufrīyah, who were Khārijī extremists. Thus the Berbers rose up in the name of those values of justice, equality, and austerity that had been taught by Islam itself but that, in the Berber view, had been betrayed by the Umayyads. In 740, on the banks of the Chelif River, in the center of what is now Algeria, the flower of the Arab aristocracy fell in the Battle of the Nobles (ghazwat al-ashrāf). Thenceforth, the western half of the Maghreb was independent. The struggle continued to the east, but no decisive battle was won against the rebels. The new rulers of the empire, the Abbasids, despairing of a rapid victory over this distant province, delegated their authority to Ibrāhim ibn al-Aghlab, a brilliant general who had defended Zāb, in the south of present-day Tunisia, against the insurgents; this event led to the birth of the Aghlabid dynasty within the frontiers of what had been Roman Africa.

The Khārijīs were now in command of the central and western Maghreb, but they soon proved to be incapable of establishing a great state. As proponents of absolute equality, they refused any form of hierarchy or discipline; they accepted without discrimination all those who shared their beliefs. They had a taste for theological controversies and, in case of disagreement over a point of dogma, they would depose their imams and, in some cases, kill them. The principalities that they founded after 754 had shifting frontiers and rudimentary structures. Entrepôt towns such as Tāhart in western Algeria and Sijilmāsah in southwestern Morocco were situated at the junction of the important communication routes between east and west, between the Sahara and the Mediterranean, and as such were busy and prosperous despite their political instability. The state of Barghwāah, founded at the same period on the rich Atlantic plains, was just as prosperous, according to travelers in the tenth century; the fruit of the Khārijī revolt, it tended more and more toward a very broad syncretism.

After Khārijīsm, it was Shiism that dominated the political and religious history of the Maghreb. Indeed, the founding of the Idrisid kingdom was probably not fortuitous. There is some evidence for the existence of a real network of Shīʿī missionaries who took to the western routes from Medina or Iraq to spread their good word. They began by questioning students and pilgrims from the Maghreb about the state of mind of their countrymen. If the latter seemed to nurture some sympathy for the ʿAlīds and if they were unhappy with their rulers, then a missionary was sent over to find out firsthand what the situation was and perhaps prepare the ground for the arrival of the ʿAlīd pretender. The success of Idrīs I encouraged several of the descendants of asan ibn ʿAlī to follow his example. In the middle of the eleventh century, nearly a dozen asanid princes were established in the west of Algeria. Some confined themselves to the role of honored guests, while others were regarded as local chiefs, although their ambitions were limited by the fact that they had no armies. Owing to the presence of so many ʿAlid "guests," Shīʿī ideology was able to permeate Maghrebi society, sometimes replacing Khārijī thought, sometimes combining it with older beliefs to produce strange syncretisms. One example may be found in the region of Ghumārah, south of Tetuan, where a pseudo-prophet called Hāʾ Mīm founded a separate cult in conjunction with his aunt, Tangīt. The victory of the Fatimids would be incomprehensible without the preliminary activity of the Shīʿī missionaries. The notion of Mahdi (messiah), the dispenser of justice who brings to a close an era of injustice, may or may not have sounded the echo of ancient beliefs, but henceforth it was to become a permanent aspect of the mentality of the Maghreb, before taking on official status with the Almohads.

The Islam that was spread among the Berbers by the schisms now seems to be very unorthodox, but can one really speak of orthodoxy in relation to that far-off time when no remotely hierarchical institution existed? As long as there was no strong state capable of imposing an official ideology throughout North Africa, there was room enough for different interpretations of dogma, and these ultimately deepened the impact of the Qurʾanic message. The Fatimids were the first to attempt the political and ideological unification of the Maghreb; the Khārijīs were almost completely eradicated, with the exception of the Mzab region in southern Algeria and Jabal Nafūsah to the west of what is now Libya, where communities persist down to the present day. It was with the Almoravids that Mālikī Sunnīsm was to triumph, mainly because islamization had already been achieved through the activity of the schismatics.

Literary works

Berber literature has always been basically oral. Berber prophets such as āli of the Barghwāah or Hāʾ Mīm of the Ghumārah probably employed oral means of communication. Although the eleventh-century Andalusian geographer al-Bakrī asserts that the Barghwāah had a Qurʾān in Berber, no trace of this has been found so far.

If no written document exists to shed light on the syncretisms, this is not so for the Khārijīs. After the fall of Tā-hart, the survivors fled to Mzab with their sacred books, and in this way two important works were saved. The first, Kitāb akhbār al-Rustumīyīn (Memorable Events in the History of the Rustimid Imams), was written by Ibn al-aghīr (d. 894), who was alive at the time of the events he recorded; the second, Kitāb al-sīrah wa-akhbār al-aʾimmah (Lives and Works of the Imams), is a later workits author, Abū Zakarīyāʾ, lived in the eleventh centuryalthough it remains with in the limits of the period under consideration. Both texts are concerned above all with enlightening the faithful; nevertheless they provide some historical information and clues to the psychology of the Khārijīs in the Maghreb.

The early Shīʿī movement did not leave behind comparable works; it is known only through the prehistory of the Fatimid dynasty as it was recorded by Qāī al-Nuʿmān ibn ayyūn (d. 974). This writer was the main ideologue of the Fatimids. In his major work, Iftitā al-daʿwah (Our First Missions), he describes, with remarkable objectivity and accuracy, the region that escaped the political control of the Aghlabids while remaining open to their cultural influence.

The most important works of this period, however, were conceived in Kairouan. Until the eleventh century, profane literature was dominated by émigrés from the East, but local writers won renown in the field of religious culture. At first Ifrīqiyā followed the example of Baghdad and adopted the legal tradition of Abū anīfah (d. 768), but it soon came to favor that of Mālik ibn Anas (d. 796). What was the reason for this preference? It seems that there were several. Students and pilgrims from the Maghreb went more readily to the Hejaz, Malik's home, than to Iraq, where Abū anīfah was born. Because he had lived all his life in Medina, Mālik seemed to guarantee greater fidelity to the tradition of the Prophet. Many of the inhabitants of the Maghreb wished, perhaps unconsciously, to dissociate themselves from the East but without falling into the schisms. Finally, the Mālikī school, which was simpler than the anafī, was better suited to the society of Ifrīqiyā, which was still predominantly rural and thus relatively homogeneous.

But whatever the causes, the results were of major importance. The Mālikī school in Kairouan took decisive steps toward the ideological unification of the Maghreb. ʿAbd al-Salām ibn Saʿīd, known as Sanūn (d. 854), set down in his Mudawwanah (a handbook of Mālikī law) the code of the civil society of the Islamic Maghreb. Doubtless many ancestral or even prehistoric customs persisted, but they were judged by reference to the model laid down in the Mudawwanah. From now on the Mālikī faqīh (jurisprudent) was one of the two most important figures in society. The other was the ʿābid (man of God) who disdained any honors offered him, was always ready to criticize the powers that be, and thus was able to channel popular discontent. The master among these was Buhlūl ibn Rāshid (d. 799), who, along with others like him, was said to have prepared the blossoming of those brotherhoods (zawāyā ) that were so characteristic of Berber religiosity. If Sunnism prevailed in the end, it was thanks to men like him, whose example suggested how to influence the government by means otherand betterthan bloody rebellion. As the society became more urbanized and more stable, such an example found even greater echoes. These ascetics have not left any written works, but their attitude has been described in detail and their sayings recorded in the manāqib (hagiography) literature, beginning with the abaqāt ʿulamāʾ Ifrīqiyā wa-Tūnus (Biographies of the religious scholars of Ifrīqiyā and Tunis) by Abū al-ʿArab Muammad ibn Tamīm (d. 944).

When, in the middle of the tenth century, the Kutāmah Berbers inherited a stable, prosperous state that soon gained its autonomy, they encouraged the growth of a genuinely local literature. The second Zirid emir, al-Manūr ibn Buluggīn (984996), left Raqqādah, the former Aghlabid residence, and went to live in great luxury in abrā-Manūrīyah, where the court life, so typical of Islamic civilization, favored the development of ādāb (profane literature). Here may be mentioned the names of three men whose fame extended far beyond the frontiers of Ifrīqiyā. Ibrāhīm ibn al-Raqīq (d. 1027) was chancellery secretary and a committed Shīʿī; his vast historical work, Taʾrīkh Ifrīqiyā wa-al-Maghrib, served as a reference for all subsequent chroniclers, although very little of it has come down to the present. Muammad ibn Saʿīd ibn Sharaf (d. 1067) was known as both a poet and a historiographer; his treatise of literary criticism, Masāʾil al-intiqād, has been translated into several European languages. asan ibn Rashīq (d. 1064), a poet and anthologist, has left to posterity a book of rhetoric (Kitāb al-ʿumdah ) that is remarkable for the depth of its analysis and the elegance of its style.

The mosques of Kairouan and Sousse, the remains of the palace in Raqqādah, the fortresses of Belezma and Baghāʾī, the citadels of Sousse and Monastir, all bear witness to the wealth of the reigning dynasties and the adaptation of Islamic art to North Africa. The architecture of this period resulted from a harmonious symbiosis of the Byzantine heritage, the influence of Abbasid Iraq, and a spirit of sobriety that was expressed in the asceticism of a man such as Buhlūl.

The Berber Period

The culture of Ifrīqiyā reached its peak in the eleventh century and then spread throughout the Maghreb as a result of the unifying policies of the Almoravid, Almohad, and Marinid dynasties. For want of a better name, the three hundred years from the mid-eleventh to the mid-fourteenth century, when supreme power was in the hands of the Berber dynasties, is known as the Berber period, but the term is as unsatisfactory as the adjective Arab that this article applied to the previous three centuries. Indeed, neither arabization nor islamization had been halted, and on the contrary, it was in this period that they reached the point of no return.

The three Berber dynasties practiced an imperial policy aimed at the unification of the Maghreb; although this attempt failed in the end, it left indelible traces. In the eleventh century there was an obvious difference between the eastern and western halves of the Maghreb. The former was Arab in culture and politically unified, while the latter was fragmented into numerous principalities that were fought over by the rulers of Cordova and Kairouan. Maghrāwah and Miknāsah, alternately serving the interests of one and the other, wore themselves out in a series of fruitless conflicts. Quite suddenly and for various reasons, the caliphate of Cordova disappeared in 1031, and the Zirid and Hammadid emirates in 1052; with this vacuum on the North African political scene, the time of the western Maghreb had come. The Almoravid Lamtunah, starting from the Atlantic region of the Sahara, built an empire around Marrakesh (founded in 1062); this empire, which lasted until 1146, stretched from Andalusia to the Sahara and from Algiers to the Atlantic. The Almoravids were replaced by the Almohads, whose main strength came from the Mamūdah of the High Atlas; extending the empire they had inherited as far as Tripoli, they reigned in Marrakesh until 1276 and, under the name of the Hafsids, in Tunis until 1573. Then came the turn of the Zanātah shepherds from the borders of Algeria and Morocco, who, as the Marinids and then the Wattasids, reigned in Fez until 1550 and, as the Zayyanid-ʿAbd al-Wadids, in Tlemcen until 1554.

Unlike the Kutāmah, the Berber groups from the western Maghreb had not set out at the call of an Arab refugee. In both cases, however, the seizure of power by a Berber dynasty was accompanied by cultural Arabization that owed its fast pace to the luxurious life of the court. Ethnic Arabization was intensified too, because the Banū Hilāl Bedouins, who were responsible for the fall of the Zirid and Hammadid emirates, continued to emigrate to the Maghreb right up to the fifteenth century; the last to arrive, the Banū Maʿqil, Arabized the province of Shangī, which lies to the north of what is now Mauritania.

The Almoravid movement

One of the leaders of the Lamtūnah, on his way back from a pilgrimage to Mecca, attended the lessons given by Abū ʿImrān al-Fāsī, a famous man of law from Morocco. "My countrymen," he told the teacher, "know nothing of true Islam and have need of a guide. Who would you recommend?" Abū ʿImrān replied, "Go on my behalf to see Wajjāj, who knows your region well." Wajjāj in turn directed the Lamtūnah chief to a faqīh from Sijilmāsah called ʿAbd Allāh ibn Yāsīn. When they got back to the Sahara, the warrior chief and the missionary founded a ribā (monastery) where the future leaders of the movement gathered together; for this reason they were given the name al-murābiūn, transformed by the Spanish into Almoravids. Later, under the leadership of Yūsuf ibn Tāshfīn, the disciples of Ibn Yāsīn set out to conquer a vast empire.

This story closely resembles that of Abū ʿAbd Allāh, the Fatimid dāʿī, apart from the fact that this time the missionary was Sunnī. The Almoravid movement in the West, like the Seljuk movement in the East, belonged to the vast counteroffensive launched by the Abbasids in the eleventh century to destroy Shiism and repel the Christian crusade. One of the spiritual fathers of the movement, the Mālikī qāī al-Bāqillānī (d. 1013), was Abū ʿImrān's teacher, and it was with the blessing of the grest jurisprudents of the East that Yūsuf ibn Tāshfīn overthrew the Andalusian princes and took the title of Amīr al-Muslimīn ("commander of the Muslims"), which symbolized his supreme authority in the Muslim West under the suzerainty of the Abbasid caliphs.

In the new Almoravid state the faqīh s held pride of place. Chosen from among the early adherents of the movement, they set out to defend and spread the official ideology. They gave advice to local emirs, kept a close watch on the verdicts of the courts, preached asceticism to the governed and austerity to the governing. Qāī ʿIyād of Ceuta (d. 1149) was the embodiment of this clerical caste. He left many works, two of which were of considerable importance. His Shifāʾ (Book of Healing), which draws a complete portrait of the Prophet, simultaneously gives readers an example to follow at every moment of their lives, thus proving that, contrary to Shīʿī thought, they had no need of an imam to guide them to the truth. In the Kitāb al-madārik (Book of Exploits), he drew up a long list of the celebrities of the Mālikī school. This book completed the work that Abū al-ʿArab had begun by putting together what can be considered a veritable patrology of Maghrebi Islam.

However, in spite of the wholehearted support of the state, Mālikī preeminence was short-lived, and with the coming of the Almohad dynasty the Maghreb was once more to experience a schism. Official Almoravid ideology seems to have lagged behind the sociointellectual evolution of the rest of the Islamic world. Whereas in the East, thanks to al-Ghāzalī (d. 1111), Sunnism had succeeded in integrating dialectical theology (kalām ), logic (maniq ), and mysticism (tāawwuf) ; and while in Andalusia, Ibn azm (d. 1064) was pioneering new directions in juridical thought, the Mālikīyah of the Maghreb remained blindly attached to the school of Kairouan and refused any kind of reform. When in power they applied a reactionary policy in the true sense of the term, refusing to systematize the fiqh in the manner of al-Shafiʿī (d. 820), condemning and burning all the works of al-Ghāzalī, and declaring war on popular piety. They formed an isolated, activist minority that refused the spirit of the sunnah, that is, to choose the middle way and always seek the consensus of the majority. It was not until they had suffered bitterly from the persecution of the Almohads that they discovered the virtues of moderation.

The Almohads

From a political point of view, the Almohad century represented the apogee of North African history, but from a religious point of view it was simply an interlude. The official ideology, which from the very beginning had been opposed by the ʿulamāʾ and later was to be seen as schismatic by a majority of the population, was eventually repudiated by the descendants of those who had established it in the first place. How can its appearance be expalined? Was it a belated offshoot of earlier schisms? An original creation stemming from the Berber mentality? A national religion comparable with what was to become Twelver Shiism in Persia? All of these remain questions without answers.

Muammad ibn Tūmart, the Almohad ideologue, unlike Ibn Yāsīn, was not the propagandist of a movement that was external to his native region. Toward 1107 he left southern Morocco for Cordova, where he immersed himself in the teachings of Ibn azm, then traveled on to Iraq where, according to some biographers, he may have met al-Ghazālī. About 1116 he began to return homeward, stopping off for a long time in Alexandria, Tunis, Bougie, Tlemcen, Fez, and Meknes. In each of these cities he set himself up as the arbiter of morals, antagonizing the local authorities but gaining disciples who, like ʿAbd al-Muʾmin al-Gūmī, became fanatical followers. When he arrived in the Almoravid capital of Marrakesh, he challenged the faqīh s and led them into theological controversies for which they were ill prepared. An advocate of strict monotheism (tawīd) who made no concessions to popular imagination, he accused his adversaries of anthropomorphism (tajsīm ). In fact, Almohad is a Spanish distortion of the Arabic al-muwaid ("unitarian").

Expelled from the capital in 1121, Ibn Tūmart took refuge in Tinmal in the High Atlas; there, surrounded by his followers, and with the support of the Hintātah Berbers, a clan of the Mamūdah, he put himself forward as a candidate for the imamate. He spent seven years organizing a veritable revolutionary army, then set out in 1128 to attack Marrakesh. The Almoravid empire was still in the prime of youth, and the attacking army was repelled with serious losses, although Ibn Tūmart's forces were able to regain a place of refuge without being pursued. Ibn Tūmart died soon after this defeat, but he left behind him a perfectly tuned instrument of warfare. His successor, ʿAbd al-Muʾmin, had only to choose tactics of attrition to overcome the power of the Almoravids.

Ibn Tūmart was closely involved in the ideological training of his disciples and for their benefit wrote a series of theological texts that have come down to the present. Like the Khārijīs, he held that faith (imān ) should not be passive, and he believed that he had to actively follow good and fight against evil. Like the Muʿtazilah, he defined the divine attributes in strictly rational terms, with recourse if need be to taʾwīl (allegorical interpretation). As the leader of an independent school, he applied ijtihād, following his own opinions without reference to a particular legal school. As a pretender to political power, he claimed ʿAlid ancestry and presented himself as the infallible imam (maʿūm ), the Mahdi whose coming had been so long awaited by the weak and the oppressed. Here one is far from the Mālikī school, but the only point that was really unacceptable to a Sunnī Muslim was the doctrine of infallibility, and this was to be abandoned in Marrakesh in 1229 and later in Tunis by the Hafsids. If Ibn Tūmart had contented himself with claiming the right to ijtihād, the faqīh s would have have been able to do no more than question his abilities, without ever going so far as to condemn him for heresy.

The arrival of a man such as Ibn Tūmart in a region that was so far from the great cultural centers shows to what extent the Maghreb had been Islamized; however, it would be a serious error to consider the Almohads a purely local phenomenon; their ideology expressed a general desire to go beyond the narrow legalism of the Mālikī school, to apply logic to both law and theology. This was in fact achieved in the following century. To the extent that there is today a homogeneous Maghrebi people, in spite of their internal diversity, this is the result of the policy of the Almohad caliphs. Ibn Tūmart owed his victory to the support of the Mamūdah in the Moroccan High Atlas, who were then to play a leading role in the empire. However, his successor, Caliph ʿAbd al-Muʾmin, came from western Algeria, and, according to the chroniclers, he brought forty thousand of his countrymen with him to Morocco in order to reinforce his personal power. During his later campaigns, when he came up against the Zanātah, Arabized Berbers migrating along the Algerian-Moroccan borders, he moved them to the regions of Meknes and Taza; he likewise sent the Banū Hilāl, Arab Bedouins from Ifrīqiyā, to the Atlantic plains. He imposed military service on both groups and in return granted them iqāʿ s, tax farms for vast tracts of land. Thus there came into being a caste of soldiers who were superimposed on the local population and who brought with them their Arab culture and language. In this way the Arabization of the plains and plateaus of the Maghreb was completed. Both toponymy and anthroponymy bear witness to the fact that the same groups were to be found everywhere.

This period also saw the development of a pietistic religious movement that had its origins in Almoravid times. Encouraged by the victory of the Almohads, it was nonetheless distinguished from them from the beginning by its aims and methods. Ibn Tūmart's intellectualism was permeated with great fervor, and yet its austerity left no room for the religious sentimentality that the people doubtless needed. Numerous ascetics left for the countryside to spread the word of God to the people in a colorful language that was simple enough to be understood by the least educated. Only a very few of them were real faqīh s, and some were even quite uneducated, but they were all men of God. They settled in lodges (zāwiyah s) far from any town, where they spent their days in prayer and meditation. For the scattered populations that still had no fixed homes, these lodges became centers where they could gather, and in fact they were the forerunners of what are today the mawasim (annual fairs; sg., mawsim ). The biographies of these men, the greatest of whom was ʿAbd al-Salām ibn Mashīsh (d. 1128), can be found in the Tashawwuf of Ibn al-Zayyāt. It was with this movement that Islam truly became the culture of the people of the Maghreb.

Two centuries later than Ifrīqiyā but on a larger scale, the western Maghreb in its turn witnessed a court life that was to familiarize it with Arab-Islamic civilization. By emulating the Andalusian émigrés, Moroccans such as Abū Jaʿfar ibn ʿAīyah (d. 1158), Ibn abbūs (d. 1174), and Amad al-Jarāwī (d. 1212) distinguished themselves in the field of profane literature. A school of historiography also came into being, and through it are obtained the first glimpses of the interior of the western Maghreb. The most important authors in this field were Ibn al-Qattān, who lived during the reign of Caliph al-Muradā (12481266), ʿAbd al-Wāid al-Marrākushī (d. 1230), and Ibn ʿIdhārī (d. after 1213). For the first time, too, a Maghrebi capital, Marrakesh, could be compared with Cordova or Cairo. The celebrated Andalusian philosophers and jurists Ibn ufayl (d. 1185) and Ibn Rushd and Ibn Zuhr (who both died in 1198) lived there for many years and wrote some of their most importantworks there. During the Almohad period the art of the Maghreb reached the height of its greatness and harmony. Rigor, sobriety, and modesty were the characteristics ascribed to the ideology of Ibn Tūmart and to the collective psychology of the Maghrebi people.

The post-Almohad period

The Almohad empire, exhausted by its wars in Andalusia against the combined forces of Christendom, finally gave way to three dynasties that divided the North African territory among themselves. Under the descendants of Abū af ʿUmar, one of the first disciples of Ibn Tūmart, Ifrīqiyā once more became autonomous within its former frontiers. The Hafsids remained loyal to Almohad ideas for a certain time, then dissociated themselves and were reconciled with the Mālikī ʿulamāʾ. The rest of the Maghreb was shared between two Zanātah groups: the Marinids in Fez and the Zayyanids in Tlemcen. The Marinids, who considered themselves the sole rightful heirs of the Almohads, attempted to rebuild the empire but failed, and after 1350 the three dynasties coexisted more or less peacefully.

The Maghreb of the fourteenth century was homogeneous. Various names were used for what was in fact the same political organization, the Almohad makhzan (state government) that had been directly inherited by some and copied by others. The army was dominated everywhere by the Banū Hilāl, the bureaucracy by the Andalusian émigrés who brought with them their refined system of etiquette. The retreat of the Andalusians from Spain marked the third step in the cultural arabization of the country. Fashions in dress or cooking, language, music, architecture, decoration, all the framework of a certain kind of middle-class existence, still bear witness to this cultural influence today. The same names, the same customs, the same way of speaking are to be found in Fez, Tlemcen, and Tunis.

The failure of Ibn Tūmart's extremism left the field clear for a renewed Sunnism that was both faithful to the heritage of the past and open to the new questions that the Almohad crisis had brought to light. The Marinids, who had no ideological pretensions, took the advice of the ʿulamāʾ and, following the example of the Seljuks in the East, set up madrasah s, colleges where the Islamic disciplines were taught from an orthodox viewpoint. These were immediately copied by the Zayyanids and Hafsids. The teaching was organized by the authorities, but its content was defined by the consensus of the ʿulamāʾ, based on a tradition that was nurtured by the vast body of biographical literature of the abaqāt. The growing number of pupils led to a need for manuals; thus began the era of dry, hermetic summaries that soon required long commentaries (shurū ). This was perhaps an inevitable development, but one that turned out to be negative in the long run.

Official Islam

As the reigning dynasties grew weaker, the ʿulamāʾ, without ever becoming truly independent, gained more power and put the finishing touches on an official ideology that was characterized by moderation, simplicity, and positivity. For a long time Sunnī Islam had been faced with a precise problem: the rationalization of law, theology, and mysticism. The āhirī and Shāfiʿī jurists claimed that it was possible to reduce the various Qurʾanic dictates to a few laws. The Muʿtazilī and Ashʿarī theologians wanted to derive all the attributes of God from a single principle. The mystics of the school of Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240) justified their metaphysical monism with the desire to be identified with God. The Mālikī faqīh s, taking a completely different viewpoint, considered this attempt at systematization useless methodological extremism. For them, Islam is above all a divine order (amr ) that is self-evident. The duty of the Muslim is to obey this order; hence the cardinal importance of the notion of bidʿah, innovation in regard to ritual. The Prophet is by definition the perfect believer; why go beyond what he taught his followers? Does this not imply either that he was not perfect or that he did not transmit faithfully the message of God?

Because Islam is above all a sharīʿah (law; lit., "path"), fiqh is the central discipline in Islamic science. The community can always do without theologians and mystics, as in Medina at the epoch of the Prophet, but it cannot live without faqīh s, who form an integral part of the governing elite. And because fiqh fills a social need, it must be founded on a simple ʿaqīdah (profession of faith), that of the salaf ("ancestors"); any attempt to complete it or to clarify it would lead inevitably to endless dissension. Fiqh, the constitution of the Muslim community, is a positive element and must be accepted as such; it is justified by the will of God, which is itself inseparable from the final good of humanity.

Such an attitude is easy to understand in the light of the disastrous consequences that partisan rifts have had throughout the history of Islam, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that as this attitude became more widespread, it tended to discourage any form of intellectual curiosity. Indeed, the last achievements in the exact and natural sciences date from no later than the fifteenth century in the Maghreb.

The history of the Maghreb seems to come to a standstill at the moment when Islam assumed its definitive characteristics. Contemporary scholars were aware of this and attempted to record, in encyclopedic form, the knowledge handed down from past centuries. One such example in the field of law is the Miʿyār (Norm) of al-Wansharīsī (d. 1508). Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406), the greatest thinker ever produced by the Islamic Maghreb, also endowed his famous Muqaddimah (Prolegomena) with an encyclopedic content. This work was the conclusion of a deep reflection on the history of the Maghreb, widened to include the entire Arab-Islamic past. The author, who had been a serious student of Greco-Arab philosophy and who was personally inclined toward mysticism, nevertheless remained absolutely faithful to Mālikī methodology. In two brilliant chapters of his main work, he contrasts the positivism of fiqh with the rationalism of kalām on the one hand, and the monism of mysticism on the other. More important, he reveals the sociological basis for such a contrast: Universal history, according to him, had evolved from ʿumrān badawī (rural civilization) to ʿumrān madanī (urban civilization). In the Maghreb the two kinds of culture exist side by side, resulting in a structural dichotomy. In the city, society tends naturally toward a religion of reason, whereas rural society upholds a naturalist religion: The sultan (the political authority) plays the role of mediator between the two forms of social life; his official ideology, Mālikī fiqh, must necessarily remain at an equal distance from rationalism and naturalism, hence its qualities of positivism and moderation.

The Islam of the ZĀwiyahs

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Maghreb underwent a general crisis. Nomadic life spread at the expense of a ruined agriculture; commerce languished and plunged the cities into profound inactivity. The Spanish and the Portuguese, masters of the seas, conquered many ports on the North African coasts. Faced with such unfavorable developments and already weakened by incessant wars, the three reigning dynasties collapsed.

The Ottoman Turks

This period began with the Portuguese seizure of Ceuta in 1415 and ended with the defeat of the Spanish in Tunis in 1574, and of the Portuguese in Wādi al-Makhāzin near Larache in 1578. Morocco was saved by an outburst of nationalism, the rest of North Africa by the Ottoman Turks.

Ottoman sovereignty theoretically persisted in Algeria until 1830, in Tunisia until 1881, and in Libya until 1911. However, from 1710 on, each of these provinces gained its autonomy. The official language was Turkish, but Arabic remained the language of culture. The Ottomans reintroduced anafī law into the Maghreb; the resulting competition with Mālikī law rekindled interest in long-neglected disciplines such as uūl al-fiqh (fundamental principles of law) and kalām. In Morocco, under the new Saʿdid dynasty, the social and political scene was dominated by the ūfī brotherhoods.

The marabout movement

Popular pietism, which had been launched under the Almoravids and the Almohads, covered the country with a network of zāwiyah s where ascetics livedin theory at leastcut off from the world. In reality they taught children and even adults the rudiments of religion; they used the offerings they received from the population to help the poor and give shelter to travelers; in cases of conflict they served as mediators. The person who was called āli (man of good works), walī (man of God), sayyid (lord), and shaykh (leader) had become an indispensable figure. The last two terms indicate that he was endowed with a spiritual authority that the qāʾid (representative of the central powers) could not easily ignore.

Up to this time the zāwiyah s fulfilled a social need and completed the work of the makhzan. When the latter turned out to be incapable of getting rid of the Portuguese who had settled on the coasts, the zāwiyah s were transformed into ribā s, rallying centers for warriors. (Here the word murābiūn as with Almoravids earlieryields marabout in French and English.) The man who symbolized this transformation was Muammad ibn Sulaymān al-Jazūlī, the author of a celebrated book of prayers concerning the Prophet called Dalāʾil al-khayrāt (The Signs of Blessings); his zāwiyah was located in Afūghvl, near present-day Safi. He died in 1465, before the Portuguese occupation of the city, but his disciples, who later led the struggle for freedom, considered that he had prepared them spiritually for their task. All the zāwiyah s founded later were linked to al-Jazūlī and, through him, to ʿAbd al-Salām ibn Mashīsh.

The marabout movement was based on the legacy of several centuries. To the tasks of education and moral reform it added a political programthe struggle against foreign dominationand this was its originality. The majority of its leaders prided themselves on being sharīf s (descendants of the Prophet through his daughter Fāimah); victory over the invaders gave them a social importance that was based on an assumption of holiness (barakah ). From this time on, being a marabout and being a sharīf were closely linked in the eyes of the people if not in reality.

From Brotherhood to Principality

The parent zāwiyah, which was a center for teaching and meditation, trained missionaries whose task was to spread the good word far and wide. The followers gathered in a special chapel, also known as a zāwiyah, to recite their wird ("litany"). Thus the arīqah (brotherhood) came into being. With the weakening of the central power and the gradual splitting up of the country, the people turned more and more to the shaykhs of zāwiyah s who thus became, sometimes much against their will, the new political leaders. Similar circumstances surrounded the birth of the great North African brotherhoods: the Nāirīyah and Wazzānīyah in the mid-seventeenth century, and the Darqāwīyah, Tijānīyah, and Sanūsīyah during the nineteenth century. The zāwiyah thus took on diverse forms: it could be a monastery, brotherhood, or principality. On the one hand, it united the faithful over and above their traditional splits; on the other hand, it created new splits with its activism. In fact the zāwiyah competed with the political authority and the clerical institution on their respective grounds. In the eyes of his disciples, the shaykh was in possession of a beneficial power that enabled him to work wonders (karāmāt ). When he died he became the object of a cult (ziyārah ) because of his power of intercession (shafāʿah ). From the point of view of its organization, the brotherhood had something of a secret society or, at the very least, a private club about it. The principle of the brotherhood posed a problem for orthodoxy. However, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, every inhabitant of the Maghreb, literate or illiterate, was a member of one or several of them. Because it was a family affair, women and children were included in the brotherhood even if they did not usually participate in the ceremonies. The authorities and the clerics were unable to rise up openly against such a widespread practice.

The zāwiyah and the naturalist substratum

Each brotherhood produced a vast body of hagiographic literature listing the qualities that placed its successive leaders among the chosen and omitting any details of their behavior that were not quite orthodox. Nevertheless the official religious hierarchy remained suspicious. What was the true practice of the zāwiyah ? Those who knew it from the inside were sworn to secrecy, while those who remained outside could say nothing with authority. Were the old pre-Islamic cults lingering on in the zāwiyahs ? The Sunnīs insinuated that this was so but were unable to produce solid proof. And in any case, even if the naturalist cults were kept up in secret, they were reinterpreted in an Islamic language. The notions of barakah, karāmah, shafāʿah, and sirr ("secret") were directly linked to the teachings of the Prophet.

For three centuries the Islam of the brotherhoods, characterized by faith in hereditary grace, a supererogatory cult, and a hierarchical organization (which related it to the Shīʿī daʿwah ), dominated the scene in the Maghreb so overwhelmingly that any outside observer took it for the true Islam, with the doctrine of the jurists being mere rationalization. Later history showed that this was not the case. From the mid-nineteenth century on, scriptural Islam returned in force; then began the long struggle against the zāwiyah s that finally brought them into disrepute. And yet one question remains: If the brotherhoods were so popular, was it not because they fulfilled an affective need that official Islam was unable to satisfy? Whatever the case, they gave rise to a renewal of literary expression. Whereas classical Arabic poetry (the qaidah, "ode") was becoming bogged down in a welter of archaisms and stylistic artifices, the new emotionalism that emerged from the brotherhoods gave rise to malūn, poetry in the spoken language that was meant to be sung. Created by artists versed in the subtleties of classical prosody, malūn produced genuine masterpieces.

The Islam of the SalafĪyah

Throughout the Maghreb, the second half of the eighteenth century was a period of recovery. The power of the central authority was reinforced, trade revived, and the cities prospered again. At the same time as did the Wahhābīyah of Arabia, the faqīh s of the Maghreb began to criticize the most absurd aspects of popular religiosity. Their movement claimed to continue the inspiration of the first Muslims (salaf), hence the name Salafīyah conferred on it by historians.

Pre-Salafīyah and Salafīyah

The Salafīyah were not the first reformers to appear in the modern history of Islam, so how can they be distinguished, apart from chronology? The ʿAlawid sultans of Morocco, Muammad III (d. 1790) and Sulaymān (d. 1822), seeking to return to a simpler form of religion, criticized the subtleties of the jurists and the supererogatory practices of the brotherhoods. Muammad ibn al-Madanī Gannūn (d. 1885) spoke out vehemently against music and ritual dances. The book written by Ibn al-ājj (d. 1336) against all kinds of innovation, Al-madkhal (The Introduction), was reprinted, and numerous clerics published summaries of it. Thus, from the mid-eighteenth century on normative Islam began to regain control, but it was in the minority and it attacked only the most aberrant aspects of the marabout movement, never its basic tenets. This phase is what this article shall call the pre-Salafīyah.

The Salafīyah in the proper sense of the term appeared at the end of the nineteenth century, when several Arab countries, including Algeria (in 1830) and Tunisia (in 1881), came under the yoke of European imperialism. The movement expressed an awareness of the failure of traditional Islamic society in the face of foreign domination, as well as a desire for radical reform in the intellectual and social domains. From this standpoint the Islam of the zāwiyah s appeared as a distortion of true Islam, an alteration that lay at the origin of the decadence of the Muslims. The Salafīyah declared total war on maraboutic Islam.

The North African Salafīyah formed part of the movement that had been launched by the pan-Islamic leader Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (d. 1897) and his Egyptian disciple Muammad ʿAbduh (d. 1905). The review Al-ʿurwah al-wuthqā (The Strongest Bond), which they published for a short time in Paris, was widely read by enlightened Tunisians. ʿAbduh himself stayed briefly in Tunisia and Algiers in 1901/2. The Cairo review Al-manār (The Lighthouse), launched at ʿAbduh's instigation in 1898 by his disciple Rashīd Riā, had an immediate influence on the pupils of the madrasah s. It shaped the minds of such future leaders of Islamic reformism as the Tunisian Bashīr far (d. 1937), the Algerians ayyib al-ʿUqbī (d. 1962) and ʿAbd al-Hamīd ibn Bādīs (d. 1940), and, to a lesser extent, the Moroccans Abū Shuʿayb al-Dukkālī (d. 1940) and al-ʿArbī al-ʿAlawī (d. 1962).

The critique of the zāwiyahs

In 1937 the Algerian Mubārak al-Mīlī (d. 1962) published a pamphlet called Risālat al-shirk wa-maāhirih (Aspects of Polytheism), in which he summarized the main criticisms leveled by the Salafīyah against the brotherhoods. From the point of view of faith, he argued, the practices of the brotherhoods are tainted with shirk ("associationism"). Those who give offerings believe that this is the price to be paid for the intercession of the patron saint of the zāwiyah. However much the shaykh maintains that it is God alone who really intervenes, the donors still believe that it is the saint; they associate another being with God and thus commit the worst of sins.

From a legal point of view, the brotherhood is an innovation. Its members frequent a chapel, not a mosque, and this in order to recite prayers rather than the Qurʾān; they fast during periods other than the month of Ramaān and go on pilgrimages to places other than Mecca. According to the Salafīyah, this is a cult that has elements in common with Islam and yet is distinct from it. New zāwiyah s are created every day, and the Muslim community, instead of being united around the Qurʾān, is splitting up into sects that rise up against one another. Finally, from a social point of view, the zāwiyah is a school of taqlīd (the act of following blindly) and tawakkul (fatalism). The disciple follows the shaykh in the belief that he can work wonders. Thus parasitism is encouraged. The zāwiyah is indeed active, but only in that it recruits people and takes them away from a productive life. In short, for the Salafīyah the zāwiyah s divide the Muslims, disarm them morally, impoverish them economically, and enslave them spiritually. They mark a reappearance of the paganism (jāhilīyah ) that the Prophet had fought against. A return to the religion of the one God is a return to freedom, to a sense of action and solidarity, in other words, to the qualities responsible for the greatness of the ancestors.

From Salafīyah to nationalism

The Salafīyah were at work in a Maghreb that was dominated by European colonialism; they were not members of the ʿulamāʾ, even if they had been taught in such traditional institutions as the Zaytūnah in Tunis or the Qarawīyīn in Fez. They were fighting above all against the leaders of the zāwiyah s, but they also criticized the faqīh s who, prudently favoring middle-of-the-road solutions, had little liking for their vehemence. The Salafīyah drew their strength from the anticolonialist feelings harbored by the majority of the North African people. In response to the question "Why have we been colonized?" the Salafīyah gave a forceful answer: "Because we have been morally disarmed by the brotherhoods." The reply to this criticism came from Amad ibn ʿAliwah (d. 1934) in Algeria and from Amad Skīraj (d. 1944) in Morocco, but because it was purely religious in form it caused little stir.

The triumph of Salafīyah can be explained by the social and political environment of the time. As the cities became poorer, the Islam of the brotherhoods predominated. Then, during colonization, the cities recovered their prosperity and gave rise to a new merchant class whose lifestyle owed nothing to the practices of the zāwiyah s. It was from this class that Salafīyah drew the strength that enabled it to confront the colonial administration, the shaykhs of the brotherhoods, and the prudent ʿulamāʾ. However, because it was at once a religious and a sociopolitical movement, the Salafīyah had to follow the same evolution as the society, which, becoming ever more urbanized and politicized, obliged it to merge first with liberalism, then with nationalism, and finally with socialism. In this way the movement lost its specificity, as illustrated by the careers of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Thaʿālibī (d. 1937) in Tunisia and ʿAllāl al-Fāsī (d. 1974) in Morocco, who began as Salafī thinkers and wound up nationalist leaders.

Political Islam

In the present-day Maghreb, the state completely dominates both the society and the individual. Traditional institutionsmadrasah s, zāwiyah s, abū s (religious foundations)are under the close supervision of their respective ministries. In Morocco the ʿulamāʾ, organized on a national level in a jamʿīyat ʿulamāʾ al-Maghrib (Moroccan ʿUlamāʾ Association) and in each province in a majlis ʿilmi (ʿUlamāʾ Council), are consulted on questions concerning dogma or the life of society in general, but they are allowed no say whatsoever in political affairs. In Algeria, the FLN (National Liberation Front), the sole political party, monopolizes public activity by law; in Tunisia, it is the dominant PSD (Destourian Socialist Party); in Libya, the people's committees, while the ʿulamāʾ. are no more than civil servants.

The new dichotomy

After their liberation from the colonial yoke, the states of the Maghreb adopted the Salafi position as their official ideology. What has become of the Islam of the zāwiyah s? Scholars do not agree on this subject. The religious evolution of the Maghreb seems to have followed two quite separate paths. On the one hand, there are the Khārijī and Shīʿī schisms, which, containing elements of prehistoric polytheism, influenced the Almohads and the practices of the brotherhoods; on the other hand, there is strict monotheism, expressed at first through the Kairouan Mālikīyah, later redefined by the Sunnism of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and revived by the modern Salafīyah. This dichotomy could explain Ibn Khaldūn's opposition between rural and urban civilization. If so, the growing urbanization and industrialization of the independent Maghreb, which requires an increasingly rationalist religiosity, constantly reinforces the Salafīyah to the detriment of residual naturalist practices.

However, urbanization itself creates new needs. The city is never wholly middle class; it also contains a subproletariat that remains close to its peasant roots and an intelligentsia that is socially mixed and vulnerable to unemployment. The former group (the women in particular) indulges in magical practices, while the latter zealously seeks out mystical emotion or political activism. Under these circumstances, there could well be a revival of the zāwiyah s, but they would be used to fulfill a role that is defined more by present needs than by the legacy of the past. This fact is common to all the great cities in the world.

Political temptation

The Salafī ideology, which is spread among the masses by the machinery of the state, retains its original activist character. As the state is not always faithful, in practice, to Qurʾanic prescription, individuals who adopt this ideology find themselves on the horns of a dilemma: Either they envisage it as a purely spiritual exercise or they derive a program of political reform from it. Now this dilemma is not confined to the Maghreb; it takes on a particular form only to the extent that religious experience in the Maghreb has distinct features.

North Africa has never produced intellectual mystics like the Andalusian Ibn ʿArabī, the Egyptian Ibn al-Fāri (d. 1235), or the Persian Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273); rather, it is a land of ascetics, educators, missionaries, and mujāhid s (warriors of the faith), all of whom were close to the ordinary people and sensitive to the problems of the community. In the same way the great Mālikī ʿulamāʾ were inclined to practicality and moderation, with little concern for methodological subtleties. It is most significant that the greatest author born in the Maghreb, Ibn Khaldūn, chose as his field of investigation the history and evolution of societies. In the Maghreb more than anywhere else, Islam seems to have been less individualist and intellectual, much more pragmatic and concerned with the community. One can also assume that it will retain these characteristics in the future, particularly in the absence of any opposing tendency thus far. The practice of the zāwiyah, wherever it remains in evidence, is increasingly purified by the ʿulamāʾ. In people's minds Islam is above all a law (sharīʿah ) that expresses the solidarity of the faithful, as can be seen in the way the majority is still attached to the fasting at Ramaān and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Islam as it is envisaged by the Society of Muslim Brothers (al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn) does have a certain influence on official Salafī thought, but until now it has remained peripheral.

See Also

Berber Religion; Christianity, article on Christianity in North Africa; Judaism, articles on Judaism in the Middle East and North Africa to 1492 and Judaism in the Middle East and North Africa since 1492; Khārijīs; Modernism, article on Islamic Modernism; Rites of Passage, article on Muslim Rites; Shiism; Tarīqah.


For a general historical introduction, see Jamil M. Abun-Nasr's A History of the Maghrib (Cambridge, 1971) and my L'histoire du Maghreb: Un essai de synthèse (Paris, 1970), translated by Ralph Manheim as The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay (Princeton, 1977). The problem of the pre-Islamic substrate is dealt with in François Decret and Muhammed Fantar's L'Afrique du Nord dans l'antiquité: Histoire et civilisation des origines au cinquième siècle (Paris, 1981). See also Marcel Bénabou's La résistance africaine à la romanisation (Paris, 1976) and W. H. C. Frend's The Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa (1952; reprint, Oxford, 1971). These are to be compared with ethnographical studies such as Edward Westermarck's Ritual and Belief in Morocco, 2 vols. (1926; reprint, New Hyde Park, N. Y., 1968), and Émile Dermenghem's Le culte des saints dans l'Islam maghrébin, 4th ed. (Paris, 1954).

Mohamed Talbi's L'émirat aghlabide 184296/800909: Histoire politique (Paris, 1966) summarizes and criticizes the literature concerning the beginnings of Islam. Roger Le Tourneau's The Almohad Movement in North Africa in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Princeton, N. J., 1969) gives a brief survey of the work of Ibn Tūmart and his successors. The Almohad organization is described in J. F. P. Hopkins's Medieval Muslim Government in Barbary until the Sixth Century of the Hijra (London, 1958). For the zāwiyah s see T. H. Weir's The Shaikhs of Morocco in the Sixteenth Century (Edinburgh, 1904) and Jacques Berque's Al-Yousi: Problèmes de la culture marocaine au dix-huitième siècle (Paris, 1958).

The Salafī movement is studied in depth by Ali Merad in his Le réformisme muūlman en Algérie de 1925 à 1940: Essai d'histoire religieuse et sociale (The Hague, 1967) and by Arnold H. Green in his The Tunisian Ulama, 18731915: Social Structure and Response to Ideological Currents (Leiden, 1978). The account given by ʿAllāl al-Fāsi in The Independence Movements in Arab North Africa, translated by Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh (Washington, D. C., 1954), is an important one. A defense of maraboutism is presented in Martin Lings's A Moslem Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaikh Amad al-Alawi, 2d ed. (Berkeley, Calif., 1973).

The anthropological point of view can be found in Clifford Geertz's Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (New Haven, Conn., 1968), which uses Weberian concepts, and Ernest Gellner's Muslim Society (Cambridge, 1981), which is more structuralist. Dale F. Eickelman's Moroccan Islam, Tradition and Society in a Pilgrimage Center (Austin, 1976) is descriptive. Vincent Crapanzano's The Hamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry (Princeton, 1973) is more limited in scope. To the list can be added the self-criticism of Paul Rabinow in Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco (Berkeley, Calif., 1977). The present-day situation is analyzed acutely and competently by Elbaki Hermassi in Leadership and National Development in North Africa (Berkeley, Calif., 1972) and by Mohammed Arkoun in La pensée arabe (Paris, 1975).

AbdallĀh Laroui (1987)

Translated from French by Glyn Thoiron

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