Thursday, December 11, 2014

Almohads: Religious Berber Empire of North Africa

Almohad Caliphate
10th and 11th century, Spain fell under the control of two Muslim Empires. The Almoravids became a powerful Beber Empire in the middle of the 11th century. However, just a hundred years after their rise, the Almoravids saw another contender for their position as a powerful Berber state. In the mountains of the Atlas, from an Islamic preacher and theologian, a new Caliphate would be born - the Almohad Caliphate.

The start of the Almohads could be traced from the mountains of Atlas in Morroco. In a part of the ailing Almoravid Empire, an Islamic scholar named Ibn Tumart preached against the immorality and blasphemy of the declining state. Ibn Tumart was from the Hargha clan of the Masmuda Confederation of the Berbers. He traveled to the centers of Islam – Mecca, Damascus, and Baghdad. During his travels he became a believer of al-Ghazali who preached against immoralities and the return to the original form of Islam. After his travels and studies, he returned to the Almoravid Empire. As he returned, he proceed to the capital, Marrakesh. There, he began to preach against the immoralities and the belief of the Almoravids that Allah was anthropomorphic or god with human qualities and even a human. Ibn Tumart saw it against his belief and lambasted the idea in the streets of Marrakesh. There were those who followed Ibn Tumart. They became known as the Unitarians or Muwahhidun, later on, in Spain, it became corrupted and became Almohads. His attacks against Almoravids, off course, brought repercussions. For his own safety, Ibn Tumart escaped to a village in the High Atlas Mountains, in the village of Tinmal in 1125. There, he strengthen his political and religious stature by proclaiming himself as the Mahdi or the guided one. With the continuing decline of the Almoravids, Ibn Tumart decided to launch a military campaign to oust the Almoravids and save the lands from the wrong ideas of Islam. He did not saw the end of the Almoravids. In 1130, during one of his campaigns, he became seriously ill and passed away.

The question afterwards, who would rule the Almohads? Who would continue the legacy of the Mahdi Ibn Tumart? Within the Masmuda Confederation, each one had placed their claim to the position. Infighting seemed imminent until they decided that none from the Masmuda would succeed Ibn Tumart. To save the unity of the Almohads, they decided to place the responsibility of leadership to an outsider of the confederation but a close apostle of Ibn Tumart. His name was al-Mumin, a Zanata Berber. Al-Mumin would lead the Almohads to glory and expansion. His first act, he decided to declare himself a caliph or a deputy of the Mahdi. Ever since, the authority of the Almohad caliph came from this anointing of power from the Mahdi Ibn Tumart.

Al-Mumin knew that he had to prove himself as a leader because he was an outsider. He needed victories in order to cement his position. He wasted no time to prove himself. For a decade he led the Almohads to victory against the continuously failing Almoravids. By the 1140, he captured the Rif and Taza regions of Morocco and reached the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Five years later, he won a victory against the Almoravid ruler Tashfin ibn Ali in the Battle of Tlemcen. During the battle, the Almoravid leader perished. It became a huge blow against the crumbling Almoravids and a momentous victory for the Almohads and al-Mumin. After the battle, al-Mumin continued his military campaign and his victories. All of his campaign culminated with the fall of the Almoravid capital of Marrakesh in 1147. Al-Mumin won a victory and cemented his position as the undisputed leader of the Almohads. The fall of Marrakesh, however, was not without blood. Immediately, after the fall of the city, Christians, Jews, and Almoravid Muslims were persecuted. Their churches, synagogues, and Almoravid mosque were destroyed. The city of Marrakesh was cleansed of all of its immorality and blasphemy and became the capital of the Almohad Caliphate.

But the conquest of the Almoravid capital did not mark the end of al-Mumin’s military campaign. It only marked the continuing rise and expansion of the Almohad Caliphate. In 1147, al-Mumin sent an expeditionary for to cross the Straits of Gibraltar, towards the al-Andalus region to destroy the remnants of Almoravids and set up the authority of the Almohads. The conquests of the al-Andalus region would last for more than a decade. Meanwhile, in North Africa, in 1151, al-Mumin decided to expand the domains of the Almohads eastwards, towards the lands of modern day Tunisia, known then as Ifriqiyah. However, al-Mumin’s ambition brought him in odds with the Normans of Sicily who also had a stake in the area. Nevertheless, he continued the conquest of Ifriqiyah and succeeded in driving out the Normans as well as ending the ruling Hammadi Kingdom with the capture of their capital city of Bougie in 1152. But the complete capture of Ifriqiyah had to be postponed after the fall of Bougie due to disturbances back in the Morocco. Eventually, the Ifriqiyah campaign resumed and completed by 1159.

With his leadership secured and the Almohad Caliphate expanding, al-Mumin wanted to set up a dynasty and made the position of caliph hereditary. Members of the Masmuda Confederation agreed but they must be given government positions and given greater power. Al-Mumin agreed. And when the first Caliph of the Almohad passed away, the position fell to his son Abu Yaqub Yusuf.

Abu Yaqub’s reign faced series of rebellions. There were still opposition against the ideas of a hereditary caliphate and rebellions rose up. Abu Yaqub Yusuf was unable to take the title of caliph until 1168 when internal struggle ceased. Then, he also faced series of rebellion within the Maghreb region. The rebellions were brought by the religious persecution of the Almohads towards the different schools of thought of Islam. Different schools of thought like the remaining Almoravids and Malikites. The way of the Almohads imposition of their belief made them unpopular and loathed. Abu Yaqub Yusuf had to spend most of his reign in quelling this rebellions, some as close as the Rif Mountains.

Nevertheless, the Almohads still saw new victories in conquest under Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf. It was under his reign in 1165, that the Andalusia region of Spain finally fell to the Almohads. After decades of battle, the last Almoravid leader in the region, Ibn Mardanish was defeated.

But the Almohads control of the al-Andalusia became marred by rebellions and wars against Christian Kingdoms in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. Once again the intolerance of the Almohads brought discontent among the inhabitants of al-Andalus. This discontent later developed into series of rebellions that brought the Caliph back and forth in the region. Eventually, in 1184, during one of his campaigns, Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf passed away leaving his son to continue maintain strong Almohad control throughout the large Caliphate.

Abu Yaqub Yusuf al-Mansur succeeded his father in 1184 and would rule until 1199. Under his rule continuing rebellion distrubed the Caliphate. One of this first threats came from Ifriqiyah. A member of the Almoravid family of Banu Ghaniya, named Ali bin Ghaniya was expelled from his domain in the Balearic Islands. He found himself in the city of Bougie and took the city. He desired to take over the Ifriqiyah region, then the whole Maghreb region, and topple down the Almohads. The unpopularity of the Almohad brought him supporters from the local Berbers and Arabs, especially those from the Arab group of Banu Maqil. The rebellion was not easy to quell. In 1187, Caliph al-Mansur led an army to retake Bougie and finish the rebellion. He managed to weaken the rebellion after a battle in Gafsa. The power of the Almohad Caliphate was then re-instituted throughout the Ifriqiyah Region. Ali bin Ghaniya, however, managed to escape and settle in Sijilmasa in the center of the Maghreb region. Then 1188, Ali Bin Ghaniya passed away but his brother succeeded him. The rebellion continued and drained much of the energy and power of the Caliphate for the more than two decades. The Ghaniya rebellion was only quelled in 1209 to 1210 in Jabal Nafusa.

While the Banu Ghaniya ravaged the eastern frontiers of the Almohad Caliphate, back in the north, the Reconquista intensified. King Alfonso VIII of Castile attacked Seville and threatened the Almohad rule in the Iberian Peninsula. Al-Mansur marched his forces back to al-Andalus region to stop the Castilians. Eventually, the two sides faced each other in the Battle of Alarcos. Alfonso’s forces were defeated and pushed back to their borders. Al-Mansur managed to capture the cities of Guadalajara and Salamanca. Al-Mansur only stopped pressing on when rebellions in home once again turned his attention.

Just four years after his victory in Alarcos, Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf al-Mansur passed away in 1199. He was succeeded by his son, Muhammad al-Nasir. He marked the decline of the Almohad Caliphate. Under his reign, the Almohads would see the collapse of their authority in Andalusia. In 1212, the Reconquista of the Kingdoms of Portugal, Castile, Leon, Navarre, and Aragon defeated the Almohads in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. It pushed back the Almohads throughout the Iberian Peninsula, only leaving Granada to Muslim hands. 

In 1213, al-Nasir passed away and successive of weak Caliphs reign. The Almohad Caliphate began to disintegrate. During the reign of al-Mamun, the doctrine that Ibn Tumart was the Mahdi was abandoned. Then, it brought complications. If Ibn Tumart was not the Mahdi; then, they had no right to call themselves the caliph. Hence, the main source of their authority disappeared along with the abandoning of the belief. Ever since, the Almohads continued to decline. In 1236, Ifriqiyah became independent from the Almohads. Within the Magreb Region, different factions fought for supremacy. In 1269, the Marinids took the Almohad capital of Marrakech, marking the end of the Almohads and the rise of the Marinid Sultanate. 


Bibliography:
Isichei, E. A History of African Societies to 1870. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Gerli, E. M. (ed.). Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Oliver, R. (ed.). The Cambridge History of Africa v. 3. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Shillington, K. (ed.). Encyclopedia of African History. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005.

Stapleton, T. A Military History of Africa: The Precolonial Period - From Ancient Egypt to the Zulu Kingdom (Earliest Times to ca. 1870). California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013.

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