ALMORAVIDS (Arab. Al-Murābiṭūn; "Warrior-Monks"), confederation of Berber tribes of the Sanhajah group who lived in the Moroccan Sahara Desert. Their religious fervor and fighting capabilities enabled them to establish a formidable empire in the Maghreb and Muslim (Andalusian) Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries. Their theological Islamic zeal is attributed to Yahya ibn Ibrahim, their spiritual leader, as well as to the 'alim (religious scholar) 'Abd Allah ibn Yasin. Imbued with Islamic zeal, the Almoravids conquered Morocco and major sections of western Algeria between 1054 and 1092. In 1062 they turned *Marrakesh into their base of operations and religious capital. Thenceforth, their main leaders embraced the title of Amir al-Muslimin ("commander of the Muslims") but nevertheless continued to recognize the legitimacy of a still higher authority in Islam: the Abbasid caliph in Iraq upon whom the title Amir al-Mu'minīn ("commander of the faithful") had been bestowed. It was toward the end of the 11th century that the Castilian Christians who held on to parts of Spain began challenging the authority of the Almoravids and encroaching on their territories. The Almoravid leadership succeeded in temporarily repulsing the Christians and foiling their plans to conquer such key cities as Córdoba and Toledo.
With the exception of Valencia, Muslim Spain remained under Almoravid control. Notwithstanding, perhaps the weakest aspect of Almoravid rule in Spain and the Maghreb is the fact that they were a Muslim Berber minority in charge of a Spanish-Arab empire. With the passage of time, they found it increasingly difficult to protect all their territorial possessions from the Christian reconquest, especially in the aftermath of the fall of Saragossa in 1118. Moreover, in 1125 the *Almohads (those who advocated the "Unity of Allah"), a confederation of rival Berber tribes, began to rebel against them in the Atlas Mountains. Following a protracted struggle and relentless fighting, the Almohads defeated the Almoravids in 1147; they transformed Marrakesh into their own capital and extended their authority into Muslim Spain.
In addition to the powerful military force that they created at their zenith, the Almoravid period is also interesting for its art and architecture. What characterized Almoravid art was its puritanism. As Saharan military monks, the Almoravids rejected the lavish decoration that had dominated the late Umayyad architectural style, and they built on a practical rather than a monumental scale. Piety and asceticism prevented them from erecting elegant palaces and magnificent monuments. The most famous architectural site that remained from the time of the Almoravids is the Great Mosque at Tlemcen, Algeria, built in 1082 and reconstructed in 1136.
The position of the Jews under Almoravid domination was apparently free of major abuses. Unlike the problems encountered by the Jews during the rule of the *Almohads (the Almoravids' sucessor dynasty), there are no factual complaints of excesses, coercion, or malice on the part of the authorities toward the Jewish communities.
J.M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (1987); J. Clancy-Smith (ed.), North Africa, Islam and the Mediterranean World (2001); A. Julien, History of North Africa: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco from the Arab Conquest to 1830 (ed. and rev. by R. Le Tourneau, 1970); C.R. Pennell, Morocco since 1830: A History (2000).
[Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]