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Islamic Dynasties of North Africa- Almoravids and Almohads

posted on: Oct 8, 2021

Islamic Dynasties of North Africa- Almoravids and Almohads
The dynasties of the Almohads and Almoravids. Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica

By: Lyric Ludwig / Arab America Contributing Writer

Throughout history, the Amazigh people have been able to create some of the largest and most influential kingdoms in African history. In antiquity, there was the great Kingdom of Numidia founded by Masensen, a power in both trade and agriculture. Once Roman influence receded in the Maghreb, the Umayyad Caliphate came to power in the region. With this event, many of the Amazigh peoples in modern-day Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Morocco converted to Islam. However, the Amazigh people of North Africa eventually managed to obtain power for themselves in the region after securing independence from the Umayyads. This would lead to a unique chapter in African history in which Amazigh peoples created prospering kingdoms. This article will focus on just a few Amazigh Islamic dynasties.

This video by Kings and Generals gives an in-depth view into the Zirids, Almoravids, and Almohads

     To understand the context of the indigenous Amazigh dynasties following Umayyad rule, one must consider the context of their independence. At the time of Arab raids and conquests in the 7th and 8th centuries, the Maghreb was a religiously diverse region. Many tribes were Christian, Jewish, or of the native pre-Abrahamic religions, and Muslim following its introduction into the region. To summarize many years’ worth of events, the tensions between the Amazigh tribes and the ruling Arabs were political in nature rather than religious. Amazigh soldiers in the Arab army felt as if their people were becoming increasingly subjugated by the Arabs. Events during the revolt itself were catastrophic for the Umayyads, with war breaking out in Iberia and the Maghreb, although the result itself was the rise of many Amazigh and Amazigh-backed states in the region. Although there were many in North Africa in this period such as the Shia Rustamids and Fatimids, Arab Aghlabids, or native Zirids, this article will focus on the two unifying dynasties. The Almoravids and the Almohads.

Islamic Dynasties of North Africa- Almoravids and Almohads
Almoravid textile fragment

     The Almoravids of the 11th and 12th centuries AD were a Berber dynasty known for their religious fervor, as they were extremely fundamentalist and militaristic. Thus, their main achievements are a result of religious fervor channeled into conquest, although they recognized and paid tribute to the Abbasid Caliph. The Almoravids nonetheless existed in a diverse area and helped the Muslims of Spain against the Christian armies in the north of the peninsula. However, cultural differences between the Emirs of Spain and the Almoravids led to certain tensions, with the Almoravids having a great disdain for perceived opulence and splendor. This resulted in the sponsorship of a flourishing architectural style along with the manufacturing of textiles. However, as with many nomadic empires, the Almoravids soon fell to the Almohad dynasty.

Islamic Dynasties of North Africa- Almoravids and Almohads
Almoravid capital in Marrakech

     The Almohads, Amazigh warriors who rebelled from the Atlas mountains were the successors to the Almoravids. The Almohads or “Al-Muwaḥḥhidūn” believed in the oneness of Allah and were also extremely fundamentalist in their beliefs, believing in moral reforms based on Islamic law. While successful in conquest as their predecessors, the Almohads are most known for their defeat at Las Navas de Tolosa by the Christian Kingdoms of Aragon, Castille, and many other crowns and crusaders. This effectively allowed Christians to retake the Iberian peninsula in the years following the battle. Meanwhile, the Almohads could not follow the success of Ibn Tumart, whose fundamentalism alienated neighbors, despite his success. 

Islamic Dynasties of North Africa- Almoravids and Almohads
Almohad architecture

     Culturally, the Almohads had an artistic legacy of their own. Their capitals became centers for Islamic intellectualism and learning. Artistically, the Almohads favored a decorated geometric style and built many beautiful Mosques as well.

Islamic Dynasties of North Africa- Almoravids and Almohads
Painting depicting las Navas de Tolosa, by Francisco de Paula Van Halen

     These two Amazigh kingdoms have a rich history of their own, of which this article only scratches the surface. Historically, these kingdoms provide an important and early historical view into the rise and spread of fundamentalist and militant Islam in both Africa and the Middle East. This era still had its share of Arab warrior migrations from the Middle East, and a vast and cruel slave trade, which should not go overlooked, especially as it still affects countries such as Mauritania. For the Amazigh peoples, these dynasties represented one of the last periods in which indigenous people of the region would have true independence, as colonial powers such as the Turks and French came following the middle ages and renaissance. Today, Amazigh identity is still remembered among its people despite many identifying as Arab. This history shouldn’t be forgotten.

Islamic Dynasties of North Africa- Almoravids and Almohads

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