Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Almoravids - The Beber Empire of Spain and Africa

Almoravid Empire
Spain, in during the period of exploration, was the bastion of Christianity. But before it came to be, it was hugely inhabited and ruled by the Muslims. First, controlled by the Umayyad Caliphate which later moved to Spain itself and became the Cordoba Caliphate. It was later divided by Christian Kingdoms and smaller Islamic Kingdoms known as Taifas. However, when the Reconquista began, the Taifas asked helped from a dynasty that dominated Morocco – the Almoravids.

The Almoravids were Islamic Berber Dynasty that ruled a huge area of Morocco and Spain during the 11th and 12th century. It appeared as a result of Islamic rejuvenation in the region. But as opportunities and conditions became favorable to the Almoravids, they marched their way for a creation of a huge empire.

The Almoravids rose from the re-implementation of Islamic ideals to the locals. In area of Morocco occupied by the Berbers, the imposition of Islam was not strictly implemented. Many of the Berbers reverted back to their previous or mixed Islam with their own beliefs. Then, in 1040, an Islamic scholar from the Sanhaja Berber tribe, Abd Allah Ibn Yasin, began a crusade return the Berbers back to true and pure Islam. Ibn Yasin studied the Maliki school of Islam. The Maliki School adhered strongly to the teachings of the Quran. Ibn Yasin and his followers called themselves al-murabitum, meaning volunteers of the faith. The word al-murabitum was then corrupted and became pronounced as Almoravids.

The Almoravid Bebers proved to be great warriors. In 1059, Ibn Yasin, the founder of the Almoravids, fell. It then became the responsibility of his successor, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin to continue the spread of Islam. Under his rule the Almoravids expanded their area of control from Morocco towards neighboring kingdoms.  Ibn Tashfin also set up a new capital for the growing Almoravid Empire. In 1062, he establish the city of Marrakesh to be the center of the Islamic Empire. He then continued to expand the reaches of the Empire. During the 1060’s some parts of modern day Algeria fell to their hands. In 1069, the cultural and economic center of Fez also fell to the clutches of the Almoravids. In 1076, the gold rich Empire of Ghana surrendered to the Almoravids. In 1082, they finally took control of the port city of Algiers. In 1084, they managed to find a bastion in the strategic Strait of Gibraltar when the port of Ceuta became under their jurisdiction.

But what truly allowed the Almoravids to step further into Europe was an event in the heart of Spain. In 1080’s, the Christian king of Leon, Alfonso VI, began the conquest of unifying the whole of Iberian Peninsula under his control and in the name of Christianity. The Reconquista began. Alfonso’s forces marched down south to attack the fragment Islamic Kingdoms, known as Taifas. In 1085, the major city of Tolledo fell to Alfonso. The ruler of Seville, al-Mutamid, and other Taifas asked military intervention from the almoravids in the name of Dar ul-Islam. And so, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain and helped the Taifas. Later on, he showed his military prowess in the Battle of Zallaqah or Sagrajas, defeating King Alfonso VI. After the battle, Ibn Tashfin returned to North Africa. However, he then returned in 1088 and took the city of Aledo.

In 1090, he decided to incorporate all of the Taifas into his Almoravid Empire. In 1090’s, one by one, every Taifas fell under the almoravids. In 1090, Granada fell. In 1091, Seville followed. In 1094, the Taifa of Badajoz surrendered. By the time of the first years of the 12th century, all of southern Spain was under Yusuf Ibn Tashfin’s domain.

The domination of the Almoravids, however, would not last long. As, in 1106, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin passed away, so to the strength of the Almoravids died out slowly. Yusuf Ibn Tashfin son, Ali Ibn Tashfin succeeded his father. In 1118, he lost Zaragosa to the King of Aragon, Alfonso I. Rebellions then followed both in North Africa and in Southern Spain. Much of the rebellion was caused by the strict implementation of Quran by the Almoravids. It was also due to the lack of toleration by the Berber dynasty. In 1143, Ali Ibn Tashfin died and was succeeded by Tashfin Ibn Ali. But two year later, he died due to an accident. By the time of his death, the Almoravids was being pushed out of Spain. Furthermore, a new North African dynasty, the Almohads also rose in North Africa. The Almohads helped the Taifas to expel the Almoravids. By 1147, the capital city of the Almoravids, Marrakesh fell to the Almohads. It ended a hundred year old Berber Dynasty.

Although short, the Almoravids were a game changer to the history of Spain and North Africa. They cemented Islam as a religion in the region. Also, without the Almoravids, Spain’s Reconquista might have ended earlier. Without, the now, culturally vibrant Moroccan city of Marrakesh would not have been established.
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Ramirez-Faria, C. Concise encyclopedia of World History. New Delhi: Atlantic Publisher & Distributors, Ltd., 2007. 

Robinson, F. (ed.). The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Islamic World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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