First Stage: The Preaching of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin

I. The Long March

a) The Meeting of Yahya ibn Ibrahim and Abu 'Imran al-Fasi

That a Juddala amir decided to make the pilgrimage is in itself an insignificant fact in the history of a civilisation which, on this occasion, saw Muslims of all races going to the Holy City, coming from the furthest regions. Nonetheless, this event which seemingly lacks historical interest would become the starting point for a profound change in Maghrib al-Aqsa.

At a date which we fix before 430h/1039 around 1035-1036, Yahya ibn Ibrahim, accompanied by some members of his tribe, undertook the pilgrimage to Makka. On his return from the East, he stopped in Ifriqiyya to complete his religious education with the great masters of the time. He remained for some time at Qayrawan, a great Maliki centre, and attended the lessons of Abu 'Imran Musa b. 'Isa ibn Abi'l-Hajjaj, a famous Maliki doctor, who came from Fes and whose teaching influenced a large number of disciples from Ifriqiyya, Sicily, Morocco and Andalus. In the course of his conversations with the master, Yahya ibn Ibrahim became aware of his own ignorance in religious matters and the superficial character of Islam to be found among his fellow tribe members in the southern regions of the Sahara.

Moved by the desire to bring his people the teaching which he himself had received at the Qayrawan, he asked Abu 'Imran to send with him across the desert one of his disciples who was distinguished in knowledge of the Sunna and in his pious life.

He said to him, "Master, recommend to me someone who can accompany me to my country and who will teach us our religion." Abu 'Imran said to him, "I will do all that is possible to meet your request." (Al-Bayan, 46)

But the venture which Yahya ibn Ibrahim proposed in the midst of distant and desert lands did not interest any of the closest disciples of the master. Life among the camel-driving tribes offered little attraction for an inhabitant of the Qayrawan. Abu 'Imran al-Fasi offered the mission to his disciples, but no one would accept such a heavy task, excusing themselves on account of the hardships of the journey and the isolation of the desert. Nevertheless, convinced of the good intentions and the sincere faith of the Juddala chief, Abu 'Imran al-Fasi recommended to him a faqih among his disciples, Wajjaj ibn Zalwi (or Zallû) al-Lamti, who lived in lived in Malkus on the Ziz in the territory subject to the Maghrawa of Sijilmassa. He had come to study with him at the Qayrawan before building a house called Dar al-Murabitun for students when he returned to his country.

Yahya ibn Ibrahim went to meet Wajjaj and gave him the letter from his old master while informing him of the reason for his visit. Wajjaj chose from among his disciples - the majority of whom where from the Sus and Western Sahara - 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, who was also a Sanhajan from the tribe of Jazzula.

b) 'Abdullah ibn Yasin's stay among the Juddala

'Abdullah ibn Yasin: faqih or political agitator?

Given the task of teaching and making the Juddala respect the prescriptions of the Islamic faith according to the Sunna and Maliki judicial doctrine, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin set to work as soon as he arrived in the Mauritanian Adrar. His role was that of a religious teacher. His mission was to preach a reform in morals which would inevitably encounter obstacles.

It is very little information about 'Abdullah ibn Yasin which permits us to depict his major physical characteristics. The chronology of his life is almost totally lacking. We can concur with J. Bosch-Vila that he was born around 1015 or 1020.1 His mother, al-Bakri tells us, was named Tin-Izmaten (she of the rams) and she belonged to a family of the tribe of Jazzula who were established on the north limits of the Sahara and near the coast, between Wadi Sus and al-Nun. He lived with his family in the village of Tamamanawt, a town located on the edge of the desert of the city of Gana.

Although he received part of his education Wajjaj, Ibn 'Idhari tells us that he also visited Muslim Spain and that lived there for seven years before returning to his country and carrying out his task of reforming Islam. There he studied "many sciences" and then returned to Maghrib al-Aqsa and slowly crossed from north to south as if he were looking for something. At Tamasna, he found uncounted numbers ('umam la tuhsâ) of Sanhaja subject to the amirs of the tribe of Barghawata. The military forces of these amirs in these regions were estimated to be 3000 Barghawati soldiers, supported by 20,000 fighters of the tribes of Jarawa, Zughara, Matghara, Rakuna and others. These military forces seemed very few in the eyes of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin and this gave him the idea of trying to unify the Sanhaja and to lead them in a liberation movement to throw off the Zanata yoke.

He crossed the land of the Masmuda and found them in a state of complete anarchy. Each tribe attacked the others, taking rich booty, killing men and raping women. He spoke with their chiefs and attracted their attention to the unfortunate conditions of their life and the necessity of uniting and obeying an Imam who would ensure peace between them and govern them according to the laws of Islam.

"Do you not know," he said to them, "that Allah is your Lord and Muhammad is your Prophet?" They replied, "We testify that Allah is our Master and Muhammad is His Prophet."

'Abdullah ibn Yasin then said to them, "Then why do you not change this state of affairs and put at your head an Imam who will govern you according to the law of Islam and the Sunna of the Prophet?" One of the Masmuda shaykhs retorted, "No one among us will agree to submit to the orders of a chief who is not of his tribe." (al-Bayan 48)

'Abdullah ibn Yasin wanted to do with the Masmuda what Muhammad b. Tumart would do a century later. He decided to leave their region and he moved towards the land of the Jazzula as far as the village of Malkus in the region of Sijilmassa where he joined the circle of the faqih Wajjaj ibn Zalwi al-Lamti, whose confidence and sympathy he won. It was then that he met Yahya bibn Ibrahim, chief of the Juddala, looking for an Imam capable of teaching sound doctrine to the Juddala tribes, and thus he found the first occasion to realise his goal: to defend the just cause (da'wat al-Haqq).

Thus 'Abdullah b. Yasin appears to us in a new light. His person and his work takes on a different tone than that which we were familiar with before the discovery of the third volume of the Bayan. He is no longer the modest disciple of Wajjaj, chosen to initiate the Juddala masses into the principles of Islam, but an experienced political agitator whose objective was to unify the Sanhaja and to free them from the Zanata yoke for "the defence of the right, the abolition of illegal taxes and the imposition of Qur'anic prescriptions." (al-Bayan, 48)

In the land of the Juddala

Thanks to the support of Yahya ibn Ibrahim who informed the members of his tribe of the reasons why the faqih was among them, some sixty or seventy persons showed themselves disposed to follow 'Abdullah ibn Yasin and to rigorously observe the precepts of the law which he was going to teach them. He began with the Qur'an and the Sunna, which meant for the Sanhaja a reform of the morals which, on account of its restrictions, was difficult to accept. These Berbers were not sufficiently Islamised and practised a doctrine which accommodated their needs and habits. Independent and dissolute, these Sanhaja, masters of the desert, were not well-disposed to someone who had come from afar to reform their morals in the form of a religious re-education. The restrictions of all sorts to which they had to submit rankled a little with the character of these tribes and their acquired habits. Ibn Yasin had come there as a reformer and behaved as such. He was in fact a missionary of Sunni Maliki orthodox Islam. Yahya ibn Ibrahim surrounded his faqih with the prestige of a man of knowledge to convey the unfamiliar doctrines which he taught and which al-Bakri reports to us. His temperament made him capable of carrying forward any undertaking. The work which he achieved bears witness to this.

A reformer and ascetic, he had his disciples submit to a hard and sometimes excessive regime, instructed them, moulded them and removed their bad habits. To the men who had as many as ten wives, as al-Bakri tells us, he only allowed them four, in accordance with the Qur'anic precepts. He attempted, in accordance with these same precepts, to restrain adultery, theft and murder.

Having put together a group of disciples who were entirely devoted to him, he began to dominate the entire Juddala tribe. Yahya ibn Ibrahim himself supported him because he liked him and greatly admired him.

Assured of the devotion of the Juddala, the Imam became a political and military chief. He gave the order to the Juddala tribe to attack and invade the territory of the neighbouring Lamtuna tribe. They blockaded them in the mountain and, having routed them, took as booty all the herds which they had seized. But it seems that the project of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin to unify them by force and to put them under his control failed. The Lamtuna were too strong for the Juddala to be able to completely defeat them. However, the power of the Juddala continued to grow until the death of Yahya ibn 'Umar.

After the death of this chief, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin could not continue to maintain his position among the Juddala for a long time, because he was basically an authoritarian man who imposed himself by force. He had taken advantage of the confidence which Yahya ibn Ibrahim had shown in him and used the tribe to achieve his true aspirations. Despite a deep faith and enthusiasm for defending and spreading it, he had a marked fondness for the goods of this world. He imposed heavy levies on his followers, demanding that each tribe who joined his group pay a third of their possessions in order to purify the rest, and he collected the tithe from all the Juddala. He also had a great fondness for women. All this created enemies for him. Once his protector was dead, his enemies lined up against him, led by a faqih named al-Jawhar ibnSekkum (or Suhayn) who took it upon himself to note his deviations in Muslim law.

The Juddala took place the Imamate from him, attacked his home and seized all his goods, and then drove him out of their territory.

The split and the intervention of al-Wajjaj

The mastermind behind this revolt was al-Jawhar ibn Sekkum. This jurisprudent had noticed some apparent contradictions in the jurisprudence of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, and was joined by other notable men whose names al-Bakri has recorded for us: Ayar and Ibn Takku, who decided to remove from him the use of his personal judgement (ra'y) and refused to listen to his advice. He was removed from the function of administering the wealth of the tribe. Fearing for his life, Ibn Yasin fled.

Destitute and humiliated, he returned to Wajjaj and complained to him about the Juddala. Some historians state that he did not actually return to his master, but wrote to him to let him know what had happened to him with the Juddala.

Wajjaj wrote to several Juddala chiefs, reproaching them for what had happened and telling them that the one who opposed Ibn Yasin opposed the community. They felt full of remorse for what had happened and showed themselves ready to receive him again in their midst. However, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin was afraid and asked the faqih to send him somewhere else. He sent him to the Lamtuna, cousins and rivals of the Juddala.

This first stage of the life of the reformer still remains very obscure. We do not know how long Ibn Yasin was involved in this mission to the Juddala and how long they continued to submit to his authority. According to all the indications which we possess, he was respected as long as amir Yahya lived, who died at an unknown date. We also do not know the date when Ibn Yasin went to live among the Lamtuna, because the manuscript of the Bayan of Ibn 'Idhari which relates these facts, has many unfortunate lacunae in this place. One can nevertheless state that al-Bakri does not attribute this revolt against Ibn Yasin to a particular tribe, contrary to Ibn Khaldun, and in the Bayan this makes it difficult to interpret these conflicts, if one removes it from the whole of the extra-tribal movement of the Murabitun.

II. The Reformer's Emigration to the Lamtuna

a) The Meeting with Yahya b. 'Umar, the Lamtuna amir

The Lamtuna amir at that moment was Yahya ibn 'Umar ibn Bulankayn or Yahya ibn 'Umar ibn Turjut. He was a man with great ambitions, deep religious faith and possessed immense political talent. 'Abdullah ibn Yasin was the Imam he needed. He already had great experience in war and politics and had the imposing bearing, for the uncultured Berbers, of a great scholar in the subject of religion.Even iIf he sometimes lacked accurate knowledge, he had the audacity to invent new legislation without forgetting that his fatwas should favour the chief of the tribe in one way or another.

Fortified with the moral support of al-Wajjaj, Ibn Yasin returned to the Sanhaja milieu in the Lamtuna tribe where he received the total endorsement of two of their chiefs, Abu Bakr and Yahya ibn 'Umar, and undertook his work of reform among them.

Little by little, this community swelled by its own radiance and the dynamic action of its promoter and animator. The disciple of Wajjaj taught its members the precepts of a sensible Malikism, simple and without complications, adapted to the intelligence of these people who found it difficult, like Ibn Yasin himself, to grasp the theological and judicial subtleties of the doctors of the Qayrawan. Up until the nomination of Yahya ibn 'Umar, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin was not only the chief or spiritual director, but also the promoter of a political unity which was already in an embryonic state.

In view of the growing number of adepts and the harmony which existed between Yahya ibn 'Umar and 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, there was a sharing of responsibilities: one fulfilled the functions of religious leader and advisor, and the other military and political leader.

When Ibn Yasin saw that he was surrounded by a group that was sufficiently numerous to undertake direct action against those who had refused to accept his religious reform, he undertook to impose Maliki Islam by force of arms. His destiny of a leader of the masses and a man of action first displayed itself against the Juddala who had rebuffed him.

He quickly returned to their territory accompanied by a Lamtuna army commanded by Yahya ibn 'Umar. He massacred all those who had declared themselves against him and killed a large number of individuals who merited it on account of their crimes or their impudence. Having become master of the situation, the tribes of the region rallied to his cause and he initiated them into his doctrines and had them undertake to obey his orders without question.

The Lamtuna tribe under the standard of the house of Yahya ibn 'Umar b. Turjut had remained unknown up until this moment. Thanks to the zeal and talents of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, it would play a role of major importance in the history of Africa and Spain.

b) The birth of solidarity

Confident in his troops, Ibn Yasin directed them in the jihad which he had not stopped preaching to them to conquer new partisans. According to the Bayan, they attacked a non-Islamic Berber tribe, following a process which later became classic and was in conformity with the Sunna of the Prophet.

'Abdullah ibn Yasin first sent emissaries to the Lamta who invited them to accept Islam. They refused and killed the Lamtuna envoys. The reformer therefore sent his troops who defeated them.

Putting into application the precepts which Ibn Yasin had taught them about property whose origin was suspect, they exacted from this tribe a third of its goods in order to make it lawful to use the remaining two-thirds. Having agreed to this demand, the Lamta were admitted into the growing confederation.

Ibn 'Idhari states that it was after 440h/1048-1048, that 'Abdullah ibn Yasin agreed to unite the three tribes of Banu Warith, Juddala and Lamtuna into a single confederation which occupied the coastal zone of the Atlantic without any tribes between them and the sea. The three were Muslims, inspired and taught by their new reformer; they united to defend the right, abolish illegal taxes and institute Qur'anic prescriptions: "Da'wat al-haqq, radd al-mazalim, qat' al-majarim." (Bakri, 164/311). Such was the motto and fundamental doctrine of this reforming movement. All of the thought of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin rested in this motto, which was convincing enough to bring about the cohesion of a clan and a federation of tribes more accustomed to fighting each other than to uniting under the same banner and for the same ideal.

c) The Banu Turjut

Before the discovery of the Murabitun Bayan, we had little and rather confused information about the lineage of the Lamtuna amirs. This work offers an interesting hypothesis, stripped of all the fantasies of the Rawd al-Qirtas, which, being based on the Iklil of al-Hamadani, connects the Sanhaja of the Sahara to the Yemeni tribe of Himyar - and he recounts the fabulous story of Italukan ibn Talakatin, master of the entire Sahara, who died at the age of the 80 in 222h/857. Ibn 'Idhari quotes the genealogical order from Wanmala, Umayya and Mansur; from Mansur, he states that the Lamtuna amirs proceeded from him by his son Warrasin. He in turn had a son Turjut, who himself had three sons: Muhammad, Ibrahim and Hamid, from whom the descent branches out.

This presentation is in accord with the statements of Ibn al-Sayrafi, secretary of Tashfin ibn 'Ali who, at the time he wrote his history of the Murabitun empire, acknowledged that despite the efforts he made to establish their genealogy, he did not manage to take it further back than Turjut.

Ibrahim ibn Turjut succeeded his father over command of the tribe and in turn he had two sons, 'Umar and Tashfin. We know that 'Umar was the father of Abu Zakariyya Yahya, who received 'Abdullah ibn Yasin after his misadventure in the land of the Juddala. Abu Bakr, his brother, succeeded him at his death in the course of the campaign against the Juddala. Yahya left at least three sons: Muhammad, 'Ali and 'Isa, none of whom succeeded him. It was his cousin Yusuf ibn Tashfin who took command, despite the claims of Ibrahim who tried to recover the amirate of his father but had to return to the Sahara without obtaining it.

Yusuf's father was Tashfin, the second son of Ibrahim ibn Turjut. With Yusuf, the succession to power became stable. It became hereditary with his son 'Ali who was officially named as heir apparent. In his turn, 'Ali named his son Sîr as his successor, and at his death, Tashfin, whose son Ibrahim was also proclaimed his father's successor when young, to see himself dethroned by his uncle Ishaq, son of 'Ali.

Among the other sons of Turjut, one of them, Hamîd had a grandson Mazdali, called Ibn Bublankan or Tilankan or Salankan, who was thus a cousin of Yusuf ibn Tashfin. He had an active role, civil as well as military, during the amirates of Yusuf and 'Ali until his death in 507-508h/1115. Another descendant of Ibrahim ibn Turjut, close relative of Yusuf and his right arm during the conquest of the Taifa kingdoms in Andalus was Sîr ibn Abi Bakr Tashfin. This other Tashfin was the brother of Yusuf's mother and also his cousin, because at the death of Tashfin ibn Ibrahim, Yusuf's father, his brother 'Ali took his place in the family, and so he was the uncle of Yusuf and Sir. He married Hawwa', daughter of Tashfin, brother of Yusuf's mother and was the governor of Seville for twenty-three years. He died there while going with his wife Hawwa' and daughter Fatima to present himself to 'Ali at Marrakech. Fatima gave birth to a small dynasty, the Banu Fatima, whose members occupied important administrative posts. Mazdali had five sons, two of whom, 'Abdullah b. Mazdali and Muhammad ibn Mazdali, occupied important administrative posts: one was governor of Granada, and the other of Cordoba.

As for the branch of the Banu Turjut stemming from Muhammad b. Turjut b. Wartasin, it gave birth to the Banu'l-Hajj, who from father to son were military men and governors in the service of the ruling family of Yusuf b. Tashfin. Thus Abu 'Abdullah Muhammad ibn al-Hajj was the governor of Saragossa.

Ibrahim, the uterine brother of Yusuf ibn Tashfin, had two sons, Abu 'Abdullah and Abu Bakr, who commanded the two armies which tried to free Valencia of the Cid.

d) Jihad against the non-Islamic Berber tribes

While being in charge of military matters, Yahya ibn 'Umar remained subordinate to the spiritual chief who was 'Abdullah ibn Yasin. The new confederation was organised according to the principle of a dual command, which lasted until the arrival of Yusuf ibn Tashfin.

In fact, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, a Jazzula, could not claim any right of command in the confederation, not having the nobility and military prestige of Yahya ibn 'Umar. Nevertheless, he was the true Imam, the one who administered justice, collected the legal taxes and dealt with the wealth of the community. He was the one who indicated what military operations should be undertaken. Yahya ibn 'Umar, deeply religious, mild and amenable, was by his blood the man most entitled to lead the jihad of the men of the confederation and to act as an instrument for the goals which 'Abdullah ibn Yasin wanted to attain.

It is not possible to exactly determine the date at which the Mulaththimun, with Ibn Yasin and Yahya ibn 'Umar as chiefs, launched the jihad against the Berber tribes who had rebelled against the new religious reform. We can simply deduce from the text of Ibn 'Idhari that sometime before 446h/1054 Ibn Yasin sent them to attack a non-Islamic Berber tribe in the region of Dar'a. Before that, as was the custom, he had sent messengers to ask them to accept Islam, They refused. 'Abdullah ibn Yasin ordered that they be attacked and Yahya ibn 'Umar led his Lamtuna against them. The battle lasted three days, and on the fourth, the Lamtuna, stimulated by the ardent exhortations of their Imam, carried the victory, but lost half of their men. They took a lot of booty, from which the Imam took the fifth.

Because of the courage and heroic resistance which they had shown, Ibn Yasin gave them the name of al-Murabitun and called Yahya ibn 'Umar "the Amir al-Haqq".

This account, which we have taken from Ibn 'Idhari, is taken up by al-Hulal al-Mawshiyya who also points out the fact that Ibn Yasin called them the Murabitun after seeing their great resistance and courage against the polytheists, and does not mention any ribat.

e) Al-Murabitun

Nevertheless one remains perplexed by this version so glaringly different from the legendary account of the Rawd al-Qirtas taken up with variations by Ibn Khaldun. Therefore we find ourselves in the presence of two historical traditions: one, represented by al-Bakri, Ibn 'Idhari and al-Hulal al-Mawshiyya, does not include any ribat in the name of the founders of this movement, and the other, which includes Ibn Abi Zar', Ibn Khaldun, and other moderns, supports the existence of this ribat and attempts to situate it in the embroidered legend of the movement. We will try to examine this problem more closely.

The Rawd al-Qirtas takes back the name of the Murabitun to events well before those we which have described. In fact, it states that it was before the resistance of the Juddala to the rectification of their morals that Yahya ibn Ibrahim, instead of making use of his authority as amir, suggested to Ibn Yasin that he withdraw into a ribat. Attracted by the ascetic life of Ibn Yasin, many proselytes arrived and he gave them the name of al-Murabitun because they frequented the ribat. Thus the Bayan tells us that the first place that the Juddala were submitted to the power of their amir Yahya Ibrahim, while he lived.

When he died, they rebelled against Ibn Yasin and forced him to seek refuge with the Lamtuna, having divested him of his authority and his goods. Confident of the loyalty of the Lamtuna and their chief Yahya ibn 'Umar, Ibn Yasin could give free rein to his aspirations of reform and conquest. He sent his troops to attack the non-Islamic tribes who put up a terrible resistance. The Lamtuna lost in this battle, as al-Bakri and al-Hulal al-Mawshiyya point out, half of their troops and only achieved victory on the fourth day of the battle, thanks to the rousing speeches of Ibn Yasin which aroused their courage and resistance.

He gave them the name of Murabitun, as Ibn 'Idhari clearly states in his account of this battle in a chapter which begins: "Some information about the Amir Abu Zakariya' Yahya ibn 'Umar, the Lamtuna Amir and the reason why they were called al-Murabitun." (al-Bayan, 49) Al-Hulal al-Mawshiyya is very explicit and confirms this, saying, "Many among them perished in this battles. Therefore the leader Abu Muhammad 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, called them al-murabitun, because of their great resistance and courage against the polytheists." (al-Bayan, 49)

The word ribat is thus taken in its original meaning of connection or tie. It was in the course of the battles against the Christians that the institution of the ribat developed with its monastic and military character. The Murabitun did not enter into military contact with the Christians until they crossed over to Andalus, but they did not establish any ribat against the blacks of Sudan.

Furthermore their type of nomadic life in the desert did not permit it. Ibn Abi Zar' in his Rawd al-Qirtas is the first to give this interpretation, attributing to the name Murabitun the meaning which it had in the 14th century, while Ibn Yasin, following Ibn 'Idhari, understood it in its initial meaning of attachment to the cause, consistent with the ties of loyalty and adhesion which they showed in the course of this battle.

Some modern authors have suggested that this name of Murabitun should be connected to the fact that al-Wajjaj, according to at-Tadili, had a Maliki school called Dar al-Murabitun (Tasawwuf, 66). This interpretation would be much more likely than attaching it to a hypothetical ribat. It is also striking to note that al-Bakri, the contemporary of these events, did not use the word " ribat" (monastery-fortress). This silence reinforces the idea that it is an incorrect interpretation of Ibn Abi Zar'.

Second Stage: The Birth Of A Dynasty: An Imam And A Military Leader

I. 'Abdullah ibn Yasin and Yahya ibn 'Umar, or the expansion of the Lamtuna

a) The Conquest of Dar'a and of Sijilmassa

Up until this time, the two major groups of Sanhaja of Maghrib al-Aqsa - that of the south which was composed of the tribes of Lamtuna, Juddala, Massufa, Banu Warith, Lamta, and their allies - and those of the north, called Masmuda - were crushed between the Zanata, which was dominant in the north, and the Sudanis in the south. 'Abdullah ibn Yasin attempted to break this encirclement and open routes of expansion for the Murabitun.

In 446h/1054, recognising the great contrast between life in the Sahara and the wealth and civilisation of the Maghrib, especially al-Andalus where he had lived, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin decided to send his followers towards the north. Confident of the unconditional dedication to him which they had already demonstrated and certain of their courage, he said to them:

"You have fought and made the religion of Muhammad triumphant. You have conquered what was in front of you, and you will conquer what is on the other side of you." (al-Bayan, 50)

Then he gave them the order to leave the desert and make for Sijilmassa and Dar'a, whose inhabitants were subject to the Zanata and whose amir was Mas'ud ibn Wannudin. Following the method previously adopted, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin sent emissaries to call on them to convert and to surrender. When they refused, he ordered the attack on Sijilmassa.

The Rawd al-Qirtas states that the first encounter took place in Dar'a on 20 Safar 447h/21 May 1055, although Ibn 'Idhari places the event in 446h, the same date as al-Bakri, and mentions that some people make the date 448h. The expedition was in reply to the pleas of the faqihs and righteous men of Sijilmassa, among whom Ibn Khaldun puts Wajjaj al-Lamti, the spokesman of the fuqaha'. He complained about the state of wretchedness to which the Muslims of their country had been reduced by the tyranny of the Banu Wannudin and the Zanata. He added that when the Murabitun advanced into Dar'a, they would drive out the governor of the city and gain possession of the 50,000 camels which grazed in the area and which belonged to the governor of Sijilmassa, Mas'ud b. Wannudin. Seeing this, Mas'ud gathered together his army and set out to meet them. After a fierce fight, he died along with a large number of his men.

Al-Bakri, Ibn 'Idhari, and al-Hulal al-Mawsiyya do not quote this pious reason to justify the attack on the town. They simply say that following the victory, the inhabitants of Sijilmassa asked for the amân and opened the city gates. Ibn 'Idhari, however, mentions the double version of the death of Mas'ud in combat or his flight.

'Abdullah ibn Yasin collected the weapons, property and animals which constituted the booty having reducted the fifth which he distributed, as the Rawd al-Qirtas states, among the faqihs of Sijilmassa and Dar'a. He abolished the abuses which were contrary to the reform which he was preaching, as well as illegal imposts, like the majârim and the muküs, and he had musical instruments broken and wine poured out. Then, according to the Bayan, he remained for several months in Sijilmassa. Before returning to the desert, he left a governor and a garrison in the town.

The conquest of Sijilmassa was a campaign of reprisals against the Maghrâwa who were oppressing their sister tribes. It became the base of operations for a move towards the Sus and to extend the sway of the Sanhaja towards the Maghrib. 'Abdullah b. Yasin had decided to move on towards the north, but now he was seen to abruptly turn his back on the Maghrib and return to the desert.

Why this retreat? Perhaps it can be explained by the necessity of recovering from the losses sustained in the fight against the Zanata, and by the necessity of fighting the rising power of the black tribes who threatened his rear-guard. In any case, it is probable that these tribal nomads of the Sanhaja did not have a vocation as conquerors. They were only occupied with taking possession of the oases of the south of Maghrib al-Aqsa which were necessary for their economic development. Certain of the possession of these lands covered with pasturage, it was the jihad against the blacks which concerned them.

Awdaghust was a town located at the other end of the desert, forty days journey south-east of Sijilmassa and twelve to fifteen days from Gana. It was the closest gate to the land of the blacks. Built at the foot of a barren mountain and in a sandy plain, it was a prosperous town and an important commercial centre on the caravan routes.

At the beginning of the 11th century, Tarsina, chief of the Lamtuna who lived in the town, entered into a fight against the blacks and lost his life in the course of a fight in which the town reverted to the authority of the ruler of Gana. In 446h/1054-1055, after having taken Sijilmassa, Yahya ibn 'Umar and 'Abdullah ibn Yasin then crossed the Sahara and arrived in front of Awdaghust which they took by storm and opened to pillage, declaring lawful all that fell into their hands: beasts and people.

By the recovery of Awdaghust, the Murabitun extended their domain to the north and to the south of the Sahara. They controlled the commercial traffic of the caravans across the desert. Awdaghust and Sijilmassa represented a triple victory- political, religious and economic - over the blacks and the Zanata Maghrawa of the oases to the south of Maghrib al-Aqsa.

However, two events which were almost simultaneous must have paralysed Murabitun expansion for a time: the insurgence of Sijilmassa and the revolt of the Juddala which must have turned their efforts once against towards the Maghrib.

Taking advantage of their absence, the Zanata returned to Sijilmassa and massacred the Lamtuna garrison which had taken refuge in the mosque. The inhabitants of Sijilmassa very soon regretted what they had done and sent many messages to 'Abdullah ibn Yasin to persuade him to return with his troops, claiming that those who were responsible for what had happened were the Zanata and they asked him to come to avenge it.

Ibn Yasin ordered the Lamtuna and other allies to prepare to attack the town, but the Juddala, who had always shown themselves to be recalcitrant since the time that the hegemony had passed from their tribe to that of Lamtuna, retired towards the Atlantic littoral.

b) New revolt of the Juddala

Faced with the defection of this tribe, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, wanting to subdue this revolt without abandoning his plan for expansion towards the north, divided his forces. One of the armies, under the command of Yahya ibn 'Umar, bolstered its position in the mountain in the fortress of Arji while the other had the task of retaking Sijilmassa.

This fortress which is called Arji (Azuggi) by al-Bakri is located in the middle of approximately 20,000 palm trees. It was built by Yannû ibn 'Umar al-Hajj, the brother of Yahya ibn 'Umar, in the mountain of the Lamtuna, which is Mauritanian Adrar. It is undoubtedly the famous town of Azggi or Azuqqi of al-Idrisi, the city of the "desert Lamtuna" whose ruins, which are 10 km from Atar, are called by local traditions: madinat al-kilâb (city of dogs), because it was defended by extremely ferocious dogs. This mountain, very difficult of access, had abundant water and pasturage.

Is it possible to explain the birth of this element of discord which would weaken the new movement and retard its advance?

At the death of Yahya ibn Ibrahim al-Juddali, chief of the Sanhaja confederation, the Juddala had noticed that 'Abdullah ibn Yasin singled out the Lamtuna tribe and honoured their chiefs more than themselves. The fact that a Lamtuna, Yahya ibn 'Umar, then had command of the confederation and that 'Abdullah ibn Yasin took control of the holy war along with his brother Abu Bakr, along with the losses sustained in the first campaign against the Zanata, might explain the defection of the Juddala.

The position of the forces there was therefore as follows: Yahya ibn 'Umar and the troops remaining to him and subject to the orders of the reformer retired from the region of Jabal Lamtuna in the Adrar. He based himself between Sijilmassa, the land of the blacks and the Atlantic, covering the rearguard of the forces of his brother, Abu Bakr, who was in the Dar'a, in an advanced position, and Ibn Yasin who was in the north and had taken position at Tamdult. He controlled the major routes and formed a barrier which could curb the movements of the dissident Juddala.

c) The death of Yahya ibn 'Umar

When 'Abdullah ibn Yasin gave command of the Dar'a expedition to Abu Bakr, with a considerable contingent of Lamtuna. Massufa, Lamta and Targa, the Juddala, who numbered about thirty thousand, returned against Yahya ibn 'Umar and blocked his retreat. Yahya ibn 'Umar commanded an imposing force and with him was Labi, the sons of Wâra-Dyâbe, the chief of Takrur. The encounter was imminent. The two forces met at Tabfarilla (?), between Taliwin and the Lamtuna mountain. The fighting must have been hard and desperate, judging by what al-Bakri tells us. Among the many dead left on the field of battle was Yahya ibn 'Umar. This was in 448h/1056.

This time, the Rawd al-Qirtas agrees with the Bayan, and gives us an even more exact date, stating that the death of the amir took place in the month of Muharram/ 21 March-19 April.

Yahya ibn 'Umar lost his life at a difficult time for the confederation which had only just come into existence. Only the recovery of Awdaghust could compensate for the loss of Sijilmassa and the defection of the Juddala.

d) Reconquest of Sijilmassa

The recovery of Sijilmassa and a decisive victory over the Maghrawa of Tafilalt was necessary because Abu Bakr and 'Abdullah ibn Yasin could not, in their campaign towards the Sus, the Atlas and the Atlantic plains, leave behind a nucleus of Zanata Maghrawa as important as that of Tafilalt. In order to have access to the rich areas of pasturage of the Middle Atlas, they had to open this route by taking Sijilmassa.

Faced with the refusal of Juddala to enter into the jihad against the Maghrawa, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin took up position at Tamdult while Yahya ibn 'Umar fought the Juddala.

It was only possible to count on Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar who was with his army in the Dar'a, a few days away from Sijilmassa. 'Abdullah ibn Yasin mustered an army composed of members of the Sarta and Targa, who had been in contact with the Maghrawa and had surrendered to them, and set out to join Abu Bakr's forces and to confer on him military command of this expedition.

Reinforced by the troops which Ibn Yasin brought and the support of the Lamta and some Juddala factions already submitted, the Murabitun advanced to attack the rich oasis of Tafilalt and put an the end to the resistance of the Maghrawa.

The Rawd al-Qirtas does not say anything about the recovery of Sijilmassa by the Maghrawa and confines itself to mentioning that at the beginning of 448h/March 1056, Ibn Yasin named Abu Bakr as the Amir of the Murabitun since his brother Yahya had died in the course of the jihad against the blacks of Sudan, something which we have rectified.

II. Expansion resumes under Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar

Having pacified Tafilalt, Abu Bakr b. 'Umar must have taken advantage of staying for several months at Sijimassa to set in motion his future campaign with the aim of conquering the Sus with 'Abdullah ibn Yasin.

a) The conquest of the Sus

The authors whom we have in front of us do not give us a lot of information about the conquest of Sus. It seems very likely that Abu Bakr and his army made for Tamdult, the plain located at the foot of Jabal Bani Lamtuna where 'Abdullah ibn Yasin had been based before, a suitable place for starting the conquest of Sus.

Before moving to conquer the mountain, they undertook a march of about 200 km along the coast in the direction of Wadi Nun, and they followed the caravan route from Sijilmassa to Nûl Lamta, through territory inhabited by the Lamta and Jazzula tribes who, like their brothers scattered at Awdaghust and Sijilmassa, submitted readily to the reform movement.

Nul-Lamta was an important commercial centre and a necessary stage for caravans travelling towards the desert and by the littoral, from Sijilmassa to Awdaghust. It did not take a great deal of effort to occupy it. It is likely that the process of joining the reform movement was the same which happened a little later among the Masmuda. The Lamti population of Nul had to surrender to the first invitation of Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar. We do not find a trace of any resistance or any siege in the historians who recount these events. The Murabitun entered Nul in the final months of 1056 or in January, 1057.

After the surrender of the new factions of Jazzula, their primary objective was the nearby flat lands of the coast: the plains of Sus. In this area, they occupied Massa, near the river of the same name.

In the Sus valley, they took possession of the prosperous towns of the area, as well as the capital, Tarudant. Also living in this region and in Tarudant were a tribe of Rafidites, the Banu Lamâs, known as the Bajaliyya. Abu Bakr sent his vanguard under the command of his cousin, Yusuf ibn Tashfin al-Lamtuni, to fight them. He took the town by storm and killed many Rafidites. The Murabitun took possession of the goods of the conquered, which were divided between themselves as war booty. This conquest was followed by that of Ijli and other fortresses of the Sus region. All of the tribes of the Sus were subdued and the reformers extended their sway over the entire pre-Saharan region from Wadi Ziz to Sus.

b) Recognition of Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar

When Yahya ibn 'Umar died, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin gave command of Dar'a to his brother, Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar, before he sent him to the Sus, after which he himself moved towards Sijilmassa where he attempted to have him recognised as leader of the Murabitun. He received the bay'a of the population of the town in the name of the new amir. When the campaign in Sus was over, Abu Bakr came in person to Sijilmassa, where he again received the oath of allegiance of the population and that of the Zanata clans who lived in the area.

This ceremony took place at the beginning of the month of Muharram 450h/March 1058. Thirteen days after his recognition he left, but not for the Sus as the Rawd al-Qirtas would have it, but for Dar'a in order to collect the taxes, particularly the zakat and the fitra. That area contained populations of Zanata who were opposed to him and upon whom he had inflicted a defeat and imposed surrender. He appropriated much booty for his troops, and then chose from among the Lamtuna a respectable man whom he named as governor of Dar'a. He left him an armed fort before returning to Sijilmassa. This course of events, which conforms to what the Bayan says, is resumed by al-Hulal al-Mawshiyya, but it has no place in the other histories.

This account of the official allegiance which took place twice can be explained by the fact that Abu Bakr was located a long way from the capital, Sijilmassa, and was very busy with the Sus campaign.

c) The expedition of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin in the land of Masmuda

In this same year, 450h/1058, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin left Sijilmassa where he left Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar and made for the land of Masmuda. He exhorted them to put an end to their fratricidal wars of the Time of Ignorance - the pre-Islamic-period which would take them to the fire of Hell, and he advised them to submit to an authority. They stated that each tribe wanted the Amir to be one of its own. However, thanks to his persuasive eloquence and the disunity and rivalries which made them incapable of acting, Ibn Yasin convinced the Masmuda to recognise the Amir of Lamtuna. Before Ibn 'Idhari, no one had mentioned this sally of Ibn Yasin towards the Great Atlas with the aim of attracting the Masmuda and convincing them to join the cause of the reformer.

Modern writers have always followed the Rawd al-Qirtas, which points out the entry of the Murabitun into the Great Atlas following the conquest of Sus and that then took the route from Tarudant to Aghmat, following the contour of the Atlas by the coast as far as al-Hawz and the Nafis valley. They believed that this march was studded with incessant fights. Only Ibn 'Idhari attributes this peaceful recognition of Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar by the chiefs of Urîka, Haylâna and Hazmira to the talents of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin.

d) The taking of Aghmat

After the Masmuda were won over to the reformer's cause, the immediate objective of the Murabitun was Aghmat which was ruled by a Maghrawi, much to the dislike of the Masmuda who were an important part of the population. Their support in this new undertaking was indispensable, and their joining must have favoured the move.

The plain of Aghmat, as well as a part of the Tadla, was controlled by the Zanata Maghrawa and the Banu Ifran. Both the town and the region were wealthy. It was a great commercial centre, surrounded by palm trees and favourable for their cultivation. Aghmat was under the protectorship of Laqqut ibn Yusuf, a Maghrawa lord who was more or less dependent on the amirs of the Banu Ifran of Salé.

Having accomplished his mission among the Masmuda, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin returned to Sijilmassa. Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar went out to meet him when he was a day's journey from the city and thanked him for what he had done on his behalf. The reformer told him to get ready to leave for Aghmat. He left some of his men in Sijilmassa with a Lamtuna contingent and set out 17 Rabi' II of the same year, 450/13 June 1058, accompanied by 400 men on horses, 800 on camel and 2000 foot soldiers.

He arrived in Aghmat after fourteen days' march, 2 Jumada I/27 June. Several Masmuda chiefs came out to meet him when he was two days away from Aghmat and it seems that they handed over the city to him without a shot being fired. Unable to resist, Laqqut decided to escape by night with his Zanata Maghrawa and took refuge in Tadla, where he asked for the protection of Muhammad ibn Tamim, the Ifrani lord of Salé.

The city of Aghmat, which was abandoned by its former master, was besieged by the Murabitun. In the course of six months, up until the first days of Dhu'l-Qa'da/ 20 December 1058, they were certain of the support of the neighbouring Masmuda tribes and received their delegations which came to offer allegiance to Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar. In Aghmat, there must have been representatives of the Hazraja tribes who occupied the mountains located on the upper stream of the Wadi Urika and were in control at Damnat, as well as those of the Haskura tribes who were established in the territory between Dar'a and Urika, south of the Hazraja, and who occupied the major centre of population of Warzazat, 100 km from Aghmat. These Masmuda tribes guaranteed the Murabitun safe passage on the Aghmat-Sijilmassa route, as well as the west road which led to Dar'a and Tafilalt.

After the surrender of the populations of the High Atlas, Sus, Dâdis and Atlantic Dar'a, the Murabitun had to turn against the Zanata, the traditional enemies of Masmuda and Sanhaja. However, the fight against the Zanata was going to be long and hard.

e) The Fight against the Zanata of Tadla

The region of Tadla was formed by the high alluvial plains in the northern slopes of the High and Middle Atlas, respectively cut by the Wadi Tansift and the Umm Rabi'. The Tadla obeyed a fraction of the Bani Ifran, closely united by the lord of Salé at the end of the 10th century. It was the only possible refuge for the Maghrawa amir of Aghmat, Laqqut.

During the final months of 1058, the Murabitun set out from Aghmat for Fes in the direction of Tadla. Crossing the Wadi Tasawat after a few days march, they proceeded towards Damnat which they had acquired. Then, following the north-east direction, they reached Wadi al-'Abîd and moved into the Tadla. After a few fights against the Banu Ifran and the Maghrawa who took refuge there, the Murabitun occupied Hisn Dây (Beni Mellal), a fortress located in the middle of a forest and an important caravan stage between Sijilmassa and Fes. It was certainly at Dây that Laqqut al-Maghrawi was defeated and killed by Abu Bakr's men.

While Abu Bakr was conquering this region, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin decided to follow his ministry of advancing the reform which he was propagating.

f) The expedition to Tamasna, in the middle of the Barghawata:  the death of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin

Having easily convinced the Masmuda of the benefit of his reforms, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin remained for six months in Aghmat. He left 1 Dhušl-Qa'da/ 11 Dec 1058 for Tamasna with the aim of converting the Barghawata by the same means. It seems that Ibn Yasin went into Tasmasna alone or with a few companions to win over the Barghawata by words. But he received a different reception than that of Masmuda and was assassinated some days after his arrival at the beginning of 451h/1059.

The Rawd al-Qirtas, resuming the interesting information of al-Bakri about the Barghawata and their religion, exaggerates by saying that Ibn Yasin engaged in many military encounters and great battles with these heretics to such an extent that the author is obliged to put off the death of the reformer by six months to actually allow him time for these encounters, He has him die on 24 Jumada I 451/8 July 1059. He depicts the scene of his martyrdom for us. Ibn Yasin, mortally wounded in the course of a fight, despite all continues to harangue his men in a speech which appears to be the fruit of the imagination of Ibn Abi Zar'. He points out the exact place where he was buried, at a place called Krifelt.

As soon as he was informed of the death of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, Abu Bakr set out towards Tasmasna at the head of an army to avenge his death. But he did not exterminate all the Barghawata as the Rawd al-Qirtas would have it since we know that in the time of the Muwahhidun this heresy still flourished and created many difficulties for the new masters of the Maghrib.

Thus 'Abdullah ibn Yasin disappeared, this reformer who had seen the conquest of Sijilmassa, the Sus, Aghmat and the desert, and whose greatest title to glory was this Maliki reform which he preached with such great conviction that it brought about the adherence of the great Sanhaja tribes of the desert. Al-Bakri mentions that his grave was covered by a prayer-room which was much frequented in his time, which had the form of a ribat.

However, the fight against the Barghawata was not over. The death of Ibn Yasin left a gap. He had been the Imam and the spiritual leader of the community, the founder and, as such, irreplaceable. In the name of the most strict Malikism, he had revolutionised the social and political life of the nomads. Nonetheless he had a successor. That was someone about whom we only have the name: Sulayman ibn Addû. He was killed fighting the Barghawata, shortly after he was elevated to the spiritual command of the Murabitun.

Therefore Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar became the Amir and the Imam of the Sanhaja confederation of Maghrib al-Aqsa.

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1. We have opted for a date before 430h/1039 which was the year that Abu 'Imran al-Fasi died and coresponds to what is suggested by the Murabit Bayân and which was accepted by Ibn Abi Zar'. The various dates offered by the sources follows: al-Bakri - unstated; Ibn al-Athîr, Kâmil, 448h/1056; Ibn 'Idhârî, Murabit Bayân - before 430h/1039, Bayân - 444h/1052-1053; Ibn Abi Zar' - Rawd al-Qirtas - 427h/1036, Al-Hulal - 440h/1048-1049; Ibn Khaldun -440h/1048-1049.