The Almohad movement originated with the preaching of Ibn Tumart (died 1130 ce), a Berber religious reformer who was considered an Islamic messianic figure (al-Mahdi). Ibn Tumart found military support among his Masmuda tribesmen to fight Almoravid rule in the Maghreb (Morocco). One of his closest disciples (the so-called Ten) was ʿAbd al-Mu'min (ruled 1130–1163), a Berber of the Zanata tribe who after Ibn Tumart's death became the political leader of the movement and defeated the Almoravids, establishing a new dynasty (the Mu'minids) and adopting the caliphal title (khalifat Allah, vicar of God).
The name of the movement, al-muwahhidun (Almohads), means "the Unitarians," that is, those who proclaim the absolute unity of God (tawhid). The name had a polemical overtone, as the Almohads legitimized their bid for power by accusing the previous dynasty, the Almoravids, of having indulged in anthropomorphism (tajsim) on the basis of the latter's doctrine on God's attributes. This accusation shed doubts on the Islamic belief of the Almoravids and opened the door to the possibility of declaring them unbelievers, thus encouraging their annihilation or subjugation as legal.
The establishment of the Almohad empire, covering what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the western part of Libya, as well as al-Andalus (the territory of the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim rule), involved armed conflict with the Almoravid rulers, lasting a period of some twenty years from the first attack against the Almoravid capital, Marrakech, until its capture in 1147. Internal purges among the followers of Ibn Tumart also occurred later at the directive of the first MuDminid caliph.
Ibn Tumart's life is described by Almohad sources as closely resembling that of the Prophet Muhammad. Like him, Ibn Tumart emigrated or retreated (hijra) to escape Almoravid persecution, settling with his followers in Tinmal, about 75 kilometers south of Marrakech, in 1123. The original population in Tinmal was massacred, replaced by followers of the Mahdi. One of the Ten who protested the massacre was killed and crucified.
Some years later (c. 1128), the methodical elimination of real or suspected dissidents (tamyiz) within the Almohads themselves took place for reasons difficult to ascertain, given the nature of the sources, but which must have been related to internal tensions within the movement. As pointed out by J. F. P. Hopkins, the tamyiz was immediately followed by a campaign directed against the Almoravid capital, which indicates that the tamyiz could have consolidated the movement's strength or perhaps it aroused such resentment that a diversion of interest became necessary. This great purge was carried out by a close associate of Ibn Tumart, a man called al-Bashir who was alleged to be a soothsayer and dream interpreter, able to distinguish sincere believers from hypocrits.
The conquest of Morocco by ʿAbd al-Mu'min was especially brutal. The famous scholar Ibn Taymiyya (died 1328) later condemned the massacres and persecutions of the civilian population carried out by the Almohads, accusing them of having killed thousands of good Muslims among the Almoravids and their supporters. The Almohads considered it legal to kill those who did not belong to their community of true believers, and this has been interpreted as reflecting a Kharijite influence among the Almohads, Kharijism having spread among the Berber population during the first centuries of Islamic rule in North Africa. However, the will to kill was probably just one aspect of the revolutionary character of the Almohad movement. The most famous episode was the "examination" (iEtiraf) that took place between 1149 and 1150, when ʿAbd al-MuDmin gave to the Almohad shaykhs lists of those who must be killed among the tribes that had previously rebelled. The number of those executed is said to have reached more than 32,000. Official Almohad chronicles state that, thanks to this great purge and the terror it entailed, peace was established and the divergence of opinion eliminated.
In regard to Almohad policies toward Jews and Christians, there were deportations of Christians from al-Andalus to North Africa, as well as forced conversions of Jews and Christians. ʿAbd al-Mu'min, in fact, is said to have abolished the statute of dhimma that allowed the coexistence of Jewish and Christian communities in Muslim territory. Christian communities almost completely disappeared in the territory under Almohad rule. Many Jews emigrated to Christian territory or other regions of the Islamic world (the famous Jewish scholar Maimonides, who died in 1204, settled in Egypt). Forced Jewish converts were obliged by the Almohads to dress differently from Muslims. However, when the Almohad caliphate disappeared and the Marinids assumed power, Jewish communities again sprang up in the Islamic West.
Hopkins, J. F. P. (1958). Medieval Muslim Government in Barbary until the Sixth Century of the Hijra. London: Luzac.
Huici Miranda, Ambrosio (1956–1957). Historia política del imperio almohade 2 volumes. Tetuán, Spain: Editora Marroquí.
Laoust, Henri (1960). "Une fetwa d'Ibn Taimiya sur Ibn Tumart." B.I.F.A.O. 59:157–184.
Merad, A. (1957)."EAbd al-MuDmin et la conquête de l'Afrique du Nord, 1130–1163." Annales de l'Institut d'Études Orientales d'Alger XV:110–163.
Molénat, J.-P. (1997). "Sur le rôle des Almohades dans la fin du christianisme local au Maghreb et en al-Andalus." Al-Qantara XVIII:415–446.
Urvoy, Dominique (1974). "La pensée d'Ibn Tumart." Bulletin d'Études Orientales XXVII:19–44.
Shatzmiller, Maya "al-Muwahhidun." In The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition, 11 volumes. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.
ALMOHADS (Arab. Al-Muwaḥḥhidūn; "Those who Advocate the Unity of Allah"), Moroccan Berbers from Tinmel in the Atlas Mountains. Like their predecessors, the *Almoravids (al-Murabitūn), who ruled major areas of the Maghreb and Muslim Spain, the Almohads comprised a confederation of local Berber tribes. The Almohads were influenced by puritanical notions of Islam to even a greater degree than the Almoravids. They had been essentially inspired by the religious teachings of Ibn Tūmart (d. 1130), whose doctrine was a mélange of a strict conception of the unity of Allah, with a program of moral reform based on the Koran and the Sunnah: the traditional social and legal practice of the early Muslim community.
In 1121, Ibn Tūmart proclaimed himself the mahdī, or spiritual-messianic leader, openly questioned the legitimacy of Almoravid rule, and waged a protracted war against them in the Maghreb. Ibn Tūmart's actions came in the aftermath of a series of military challenges posed to the Almoravids also by the Christians in Spain, who had previously carried out the early phases of their plan of "re-conquest" and de-Islamization.
Under Ibn Tūmart's successor, 'Abd al-Mu'min, the Almohads brought down the Almoravid state in 1147; they captured *Marrakesh and transformed it into their Maghrebi capital. On the other hand, Almoravid domains in Muslim Spain were left virtually intact until the caliph Abu Ya'qūb Yūsuf forced the surrender of Seville in 1172. The spread of Almohad rule over the rest of Islamic Spain soon followed. During the reign of Abū Yūsuf Ya'qūb al-Manṣūr (1184–99) serious Arab rebellions devastated the eastern provinces of the empire, whereas in Spain the Christian threat remained constant. At the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the Almohads were dealt a devastating defeat by a Christian coalition from Leon, Castile, Navarre, and Aragon. They retreated to their Maghrebi provinces, where soon afterwards the Muslim Hafsids seized power in Tunis, the Abd al-Wadids took Tlimsan (*Tlemcen), and Marrakesh, the Almohad capital, fell to the Marinids in 1269.
The decline and eventual fall of the Almohad state was attributed to three main reasons. First, it shared power with no group outside its own hierarchy placing the center of power solely in the hands of the founders and descendants. Secondly, the puritanical orientation of Ibn Tūmart waned gradually among his many followers after his death. Under his successors, precedents had been set for the construction of costly and lavish "non-puritan" monuments. The famous Kutubiya mosque in Marrakesh and the older parts of the mosque of Taza attest to this policy. Neither did the movement for a return to traditional orthodox Islam survive; both the mystical movement of the Sufis and the philosophical school represented by Ibn Tufayl and Averroes (Ibn Rushd) flourished under the Almohad kings. Finally, the Almohads proved to be intolerant toward their Muslim opponents and the Maghrebi Jewish minority, thus alienating diverse segments of the population. In fact, in the pre-Almohad Maghreb the position of the Jews was apparently free of significant abuses. No factual complaints were registered prior to 1147 of excesses, coercion, or malice on the part of the authorities. After the ascendance of the Almohad ruler Abū Yūsuf Ya'qūb al-Manṣūr, however, the Jews began to encounter humiliations; many were forced to convert to Islam and had to wear the qalansuwa, a cap of strange and ugly shape, reaching down to their ears. The Jews, who officially had been converted to Islam but were suspected of secretly practicing their own religion, were compelled to wear special, and rather ridiculous, clothes so that the Muslims easily identified them. At the same time, Jews were not the only victims of Almohad cruelty; the Muslim maliki school of Sunni Islam was banned in Almohad North Africa and its leading works were burned in the public squares.
J.M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (1987); H.Z. Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa (1974); C.-A. Julien, History of North Africa: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco (ed. and rev. by R. Le Tourneau, 1970); M.M. Laskier, The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco: 1862–1962 (1983); R. Le Tourneau, The Almohad Movement in North Africa in the 12th and 13th Centuries (1969).
[Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]