Yusuf ibn Tashufin

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Yusuf ibn Tashufin

Yusuf ibn Tashufin (died 1106) was a North African Almoravid ruler and conqueror who created the first Berber Empire uniting North Africa and Spain.

Before 1061, when he was appointed commander of the Almoravid armies in Morocco by his cousin Abu Bakr, virtually nothing is known of Ibn Tashufin except that he belonged to the Berber family which, together with Abdullah ibn Yasin, had founded the Almoravid movement some 10 years earlier. Apparently Ibn Tashufin's appointment was to have been temporary, to enable Abu Bakr to put down tribal uprisings in the Sahara, but since Ibn Tashufin chose not to relinquish command and Abu Bakr agreed to confine his activities to the desert and black Africa, from 1061 on Ibn Tashufin was virtual leader of the Almoravids.

Ibn Tashufin's career is divided in two phases: the conquest of western North Africa to Algiers and the conquest of Spain. The first step Ibn Tashufin took in consolidating the victories previously won in southern Morocco and in pushing toward the north was the foundation of Marrakesh, henceforth to be the Almoravid capital. Beginning in 1063, Ibn Tashufin undertook the subjugation of the cities held by the Zenata Berbers of central Morocco, a campaign which was culminated in 1069 with the final conquest of Fez. Firmly entrenched in south and central Morocco, Ibn Tashufin then led the Almoravid armies over the next 12 years in expeditions to the north and east; by 1082 he had conquered virtually all of Morocco and western Algeria, stopping only when he reached territory governed by a related Sanhaja tribe.

The spectacular victories of the Almoravid armies had not gone unnoticed across the straits in Moslem Spain, which just at this time was under attack from the Christian powers of northern Spain led by Alfonso VI of León and Castile. Weakened and divided among themselves, the party kings of Spain were unable to defend themselves from the Christian advance and after the fall of Toledo in 1085 invited Ibn Tashufin to bring the Almoravid armies to their aid.

In all, Ibn Tashufin crossed into Spain four times. The first expedition, in 1086, resulted in the famous victory of al-Zallaqa, in which Alfonso's armies were decisively defeated. Two years later, in 1088, Ibn Tashufin was defeated by the revived Christian forces and decided that the only way to strengthen the Moslems in Spain was to unite them by force. Accordingly, in 1090 he returned again to Spain, this time campaigning against the Moslem kings on the grounds that they had failed in their duty as Moslem sovereigns. Still a fourth expedition was required, in 1097, which ended in Almoravid control over the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula.

Thus at the end of the 11th century Ibn Tashufin had succeeded in uniting Morocco and Moslem Spain under Berber rule. Since Ibn Tashufin, like the founder of the Almoravids, was an austere man, intent on implementing a strict Maliki version of Islamic law, the territories which he had conquered had also a degree of religious unity at his death in 1106.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Ibn Tashufin. Gailbraith Welch, North African Prelude (1949), gives historical background and biographical details. For Ibn Tashufin's exploits in Spain see Edwyn Hole, Andalus: Spain under the Muslims (1958), and S. M. Imamuddin, A Political History of Muslim Spain (1961). □