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Murābiṭūn

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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

    Murābiṭūn

    The Murābiṭūn was a Berber dynasty of Saharan origin (ruled in the western Maghrib and later al-Andalus, circa 1054–1147), more commonly referred to in English as the Almoravids. The rise of the Murābiṭūn, their campaign of religious reform, and their successful unification of the western Maghrib constitute an indisputable turning point in the political and religious history of the Muslim West. Although by 1147, the rival Berber dynasty of the Muwaḥḥidūn (Almohads) had violently overthrown the Murābiṭūn, a branch of the family, the Banū Ghāniyah, kept up the Almoravid cause until the mid-thirteenth century.

    Origins.

    Because of disagreement between extant historical sources, as well as the relative lack of dynastic chronicles for the period, many points of early Almoravid history remain unclear. Indeed, even the origin of the name “Murābiṭūn” can be debated. Nevertheless, the origins of the Murābiṭūn are plausibly traced back to the mid-1030s and the return from the ḥajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) of one or more prominent members of the Gudāla, a Ṣanhāja Berber tribe living in the western Sahara. Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm, the chief of the Gudāla (and/or the Gudāla scholar Jawhar ibn Sakkum) made a fateful stop in Qayrawān, where he met the famed Mālikī jurist, Abū ʿImrān al-Fāsī (d. 1039). Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm was seeking a teacher to instruct his fellow tribesmen in proper Islamic practice. Although the Gudāla and their cousins the Lamtūna and the Massūfa most probably embraced Islam in the ninth century, Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm's piety and time spent in the Islamic East made him wish to see his people better versed in the precepts of Islamic law. Abū ʿImrān al-Fāsī directed him to the ribāṭ (pious retreat) of his former student, Wajjāj ibn Zalwī, in southern Morocco. The latter taught and promoted the Mālikī school of jurisprudence at his own school, which he had named Dār al-Murābiṭīn (House of the People of the Ribāṭ). Of his students, Wajjāj ibn Zalwī chose Abdullāh ibn Yāsīn to accompany Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm back to the Sahara.

    Ibn Yāsīn, the spiritual founder of the Almoravid movement, was a Ṣanhāja Berber from the Sūs region of Morocco and had spent several years studying in al-Andalus. Sympathetic and hostile sources alike portray him as a staunch adherent to the school of Mālik ibn Anas, an uncompromising enforcer of the rule of law, and advocate of the Qurʿānic injunction to “command the right and forbid the wrong.” Around the time of Yaḥyā ibn Ibrāhīm's death in the early 1040s, the harsh punishments Ibn Yāsīn meted out to those who disobeyed the law and his power struggle with prominent members of the tribe resulted in his expulsion—or alternatively, his willing exile—from amongst the Gudāla. The oft-repeated story that he and a group of loyal followers then founded their own ribāṭ on an island, whence they brought their enemies to submission, is no doubt fictitious.

    Although Ibn Yāsīn may have briefly returned to his master Wajjāj ibn Zalwī, he soon resumed his work among the Ṣanhāja, this time as the teacher of the Lamtūna. The Lamtūna were a tribe of aristocratic warriors whose men covered their mouths with a face muffler or lithām, giving them the sometimes pejorative nickname al-mulaththamūn (the muffled ones). Here, Ibn Yāsīn gained two unwavering supporters of his plan of religious reform: Yaḥyā ibn ʿUmar, chief of the Lamtūna, and his brother Abū Bakr ibn ʿUmar. Together, they consolidated their authority over the wayward Gudāla and other tribes of the Ṣanhāja.

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