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ʿAlawid Dynasty

By:
J. Rollman Wilfrid
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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ʿAlawid Dynasty

The ʿAlawid dynasty is a family of religious notables who gained political dominion and royal status in Morocco during the seventeenth century; they have ruled there continuously since that time. Like the Saʿdī (also: Banū Saʿd, Saʿdiyans, Saadiens), who preceded them as rulers and state builders (1509–1659), the ʿAlawīs are shurafāʿ (sing. sharīf), descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad. In circumstances and stages that remain obscure, they migrated from the Arabian Peninsula to the Tafilalt (hence, they are also called Filalis or Filalians) in southeastern Morocco, sometime during the thirteenth century. They settled near Sijilmāsa (Rissani), the region's capital, and an important terminus of the trans-Saharan trade. As shurafāʿ they soon prospered in this new setting, where veneration of the Prophet and the exaltation of his descendants were emerging as salient forms of popular social and religious practice that gave those with shurafāʿ status privileged access to economic and political recources. Very little is known concerning the ʿAlawīs, activities in the Tafilalt before the seventeenth century, but clearly by then they had evolved into a political movement with dynastic ambitions. Between 1631 and 1664 they established themselves as sovereign rulers of this region and began to expand their control over territories formerly held by the lords of the zāwiyah Dila in the Middle Atlas Mountains.

Under the able leadership of sultāns Mawlā (lit. “my lord”) al-Rashīd (r. 1664–1672) and his half brother, Mawlā Ismāʿīl (r. 1672–1727), the ʿAlawīs extended their political dominion throughout the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Saharan territories that together make up Morocco, appropriating their revenues and human resources to strengthen the new dynasty's military forces, reestablish permanent structures of government, and finance the jihād (holy war) against Christian forces still in possession of strategic points along the country's Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, thanks to Mawlā Ismāʿīl’ s creation of a standing slave army (the ʿAbīd al-Bukhārī) and his effective use of modern artillery, they had won significant victories against the Christian forces and had imposed a degree of control over the country that was unprecedented before the twentieth century. Mawlā Ismāʿīl's relations with European states were both confrontational and conciliatory. He supported operations against European shipping with corsairs based in Moroccan ports, while at the same time undertaking successful initiatives to expand commercial and diplomatic relations with European governments. Working through local networks and by appointing Moroccan administrative officials to posts in territories as far south as present-day Mauritania, he also strengthened and expanded ʿAlawī political and commercial ties and influence in West Africa.

After the death of Mawlā Ismāʿīl, the power and authority of the sultanate was seriously weakened by a prolonged succession struggle (1727–1757) and a widespread rebellion against the ongoing arbitrary and economically burdensome regime he had enforced throughout the country. Despite the upheavals of this interregnum, the ʿAlawīs preserved their role as ruling dynasty and after 1757 gradually reasserted political control under the astute guidance of Mawlā Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh (r. 1757–1790), who defused political discontent by implementing a more decentralized system of government and relieving the population's tax burden by increasing the government's (makhzan) dependence on revenues from Morocco’ s expanding commerce with Europe.

Nonetheless, relations between the ʿAlawid state and society remained contentious, the government’ s military forces were weak and unreliable, and its financial resources were limited. These difficulties were exacerbated throughout the nineteenth century by the damaging effects of natural disasters and European intervention. ʿAlawī sultāns, especially Mawlā Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (r. 1858–1873) and Mawlā al-Ḥasan I (r. 1873–1894), responded to these conditions by initiating military, administrative, and fiscal reforms intended to provide the government with modern armed forces and a more efficient and centralized system by importing European technology and expertise. At considerable financial and political cost these reforms enhanced the scope and power of the state, but were not sufficient to repulse European invasion or prevent the imposition, ultimately, of a Franco-Spanish protectorate in 1912.

The protectorate powers retained the ʿAlawī sultanate and elements of its government as legitimating symbols and structures, and as a buffer against popular resistance. ʿAlawī sultāns reluctantly accepted this subservient role until the 1930s, when Mawlā Muḥammad ibn Yūsuf (r. 1927–1961) began to reassert royal authority and gave his support to the movement for national unification and independence from France and Spain that had emerged under religious and secular leadership. His defiance of protectorate authorities became a powerful symbol of the national will to resist foreign rule and played a crucial role in the sultanate's political revival. His exile by the French administration in 1953 precipitated widespread popular unrest and gave decisive impetus to the culminating stage of Morocco's struggle for political independence. At the same time, it consolidated the dynasty's identification with that struggle and confirmed Muḥammad ibn Yūsuf's leadership role in it. After his triumphant return to Morocco on November 17, 1955, he led its delegation in the final negotiations for independence, which was granted on March 2, 1956. He ruled the country as King Muḥammad V until his death in 1961. He was succeeded by his son, Ḥasan II, the early decades of whose long reign—characterized by his opponents as the “years of lead”—was marked by an increasingly authoritarian government and the consolidation of royal power, as well as serious political opposition, deepening institutional crises, and worsening socio-economic conditions. At his death in July 1999, his son, Muḥammad VI, became king amid widespread anticipation that his reign would be a significant departure from that of his father.

The ʿAlawī sultāns have drawn religious authority and prestige from a variety of sources to legitimate and successfully promote their political objectives. As shurafāʿ they were believed to possess a special grace (barakah), a privileged access to divine favor, which empowered them to be effective intermediaries in spiritual as well as material affairs. As such, they were strategically placed in Morocco's predominantly tribal society to accumulate the symbolic and material capital essential to their larger political and dynastic goals. Their functions and status converged in practice and public perception with those of the popular saints (murābit, salīḥ, sayyid), effectively fusing the power and prestige of their sacred lineage with the latter's reputed ability to work miraculous deeds and broker divine assistance in day-to-day affairs. They also drew legitimacy by asserting their role as ʿulamāʿ (sing. ʿālim, religious scholar); interpreters of the sharīʿah (Islamic law); scrupulous adherents to the Sunnī interpretation of Islam; and ardent patrons of Islamic scholarship, education, and cultural institutions. Similarly, they claimed leadership in the duty of jihād against Christian adversaries and achieved renown in this cause, although their credibility in this role diminished during the nineteenth century when military operations against vastly superior European armies and navies became impracticable and conciliation toward Europe therefore became a compelling state interest.

These overlapping roles combined to provide enormous symbolic and practical power to the person of the monarch and the institution of the monarchy. By themselves, however, they were never sufficient to sustain a broad and lasting acceptance of ʿAlawī political legitimacy or to secure their political dominion. This was realized only with the simultaneous deployment of military force and the apparatus of a temporal state, which alone could guarantee their continuing access to material resources, security against internal opposition, and a measure of success against European intervention.

Over the centuries, the history of the ʿAlawī dynasty has become inextricably intertwined with the history of modern Morocco. Although opposition to the method and legitimacy of their political and economic dominion persists, they continue to embody and unite the Arab, Islamic, and Amazigh traditions that are essential constituents of the modern nation's identity and provide an important link between the diverse elements of contemporary society and these historical and religious traditions.

Alawid Dynasty



Alawid Dynasty
ʿAlī ibn Yūsuf al-Sharīf 1631–1635
Muhammad I 1635–1664
al-Rashīd 1664–1672
Ismāʿīl 1672–1727
Ahmad al-Dhahabī 1727–1728, 1728–1729
ʿAbd al-Malik 1727–1728
ʿAbd Allāh 1729–1757
Muhammad II 1736–1738, claim to throne accepted by only part of country
Muhammad III 1757–1790
Yazīd 1790–1792
Sulaymān 1792–1822
ʿAbd al-Rahmān ibn Hishām ibn Muhammad III 1822–1859
Muhammad IV 1859–1873
al-hasan I 1873–1894
ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz 1894–1908
ʿAbd al-Hāfiz 1908–1912
Yūsuf 1912–1927
Muhammad V 1927–1961
hasan II 1961–1999
Muhammad VI 1999–

See also MAWLā and MOROCCO.

Bibliography

  • Abun-Nasr, Jamil M.A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. 3d ed. Cambridge University Press, 1987. The most comprensive historical survey available in English.
  • Combs-Schilling, M. E.Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality, and Sacrifice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. A scholarly reflection on the monarchy's role in the context of popular ritual practices.
  • Eickelman, Dale F.Knowledge and Power in Morocco: The Education of a Twentieth-Century Notable. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985. A groundbreaking work on the valuation and deployment of learning in Moroccan society.
  • Entelis, John. Culture and Counterculture in Moroccan Politics. Boulder: Westview, 1989. A political scientist explores the sources of national identity, royal authority, and political legitimacy in modern Morocco.
  • Hammoudi, Abdellah. Master and Disciple: The Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. A study of how popular religious patterns of authority underpin royal power.
  • Laroui, Abdallah. A History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977. A revisionist perspective on Moroccan history by one of the country's most important historians.
  • Mansour, Mohamed el. Morocco in the Reign of Mawlay Sulayman. Wisbech, U.K.: Middle East and North African Studies Press, 1990. Informative, in-depth study of this sultān and his time, based on extensive use of Moroccan archival sources.
  • Miller, Susan Gilson. A History of Modern Morocco: City Panoramas Across Five Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Munson, Henry, Jr. Religion and Power in Morocco. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. A thoughtful reinterpretation of this theme by an anthropologist well-versed in Moroccan textual sources.
  • Pennell, C. R.Morocco: From Empire to Independence. Oxford: Oneworld, 2003. An overview of Moroccan dynastic histories that provides a helpful context for understanding the history of the ʿAlawīs.
  • Pennell, C.  R. Morocco since 1830: A History. New York: New York University Press, 2000. A comprehensive study of Moroccan political and cultural history invaluable for an understanding of the country's monarchy in the modern and contemporary periods.
  • Waterbury, John. The Commander of the Faithful: The Moroccan Political Elite—A Study in Segmented Politics. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970. A classic study offering an insightful application of segmentary theory to royal politics and Morocco's political system through the reign of Ḥasan II.
  • Zartman, I. William. The Political Economy of Morocco. New York: Praeger, 1987. A detailed analysis of modern Morocco's political and economic development.
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