Ibn Tumart
(1078/1098-1130)
   He was a religious reformer and the founder of the Almohad movement, which was at the core of one of the most powerful empires in the history of the Maghrib. Mohammed Ibn `Abd Allah Ibn Tumart was born in the Hargha tribe village of Ijilli N'Warghan, located in the southeast of Taroudant on the north side of the Anti-Atlas Mountains in the Sous region. At an early age, he displayed a remarkable passion for religious studies. In his late twenties, he left to pursue religious studies and training in the east, or al-Mashriq. There he became familiar with currents in theology, jurisprudence, and philosophy, especially the teachings of al-Ghazaali, while also gaining competence in the intricacies of the Arabic language. Ibn Tumart developed a rigorous affirmation of the Islamic dogma of the unity of God (al-tawhid, hence the name of the muwahhidun, unitarians, or Almohads). He preached the strictest puritan rules for the conduct of private and public life and a return to the study of the Qur'an and the hadith (practices and sayings of the Prophet) as the exclusive source of shari`a law. Public morality required an austere and strict application of the canonic law. He called for a rigid segregation of both sexes and imposed the veiling of women. There was to be no music and no wine drinking, and prayer should be in jama`a, or public. At a later stage, he declared himself to be the infallible imam, the God-guided leader and savior, the Mahdi. On his return to the Maghrib between 1110 and 1115, he wandered westward from town to town in the manner of an itinerant missionary preaching to simple people and to the learned in mosques and schools. Slowly advancing from Alexandria through Tunis to Constantine and then to Bijaya, in some places he was reverently listened to and accepted by the religious and scholarly circles as of one of their own, and in others he was chased away and considered an undesirable agitator. However, he gained the allegiance of a few followers who remained loyal disciples throughout his entire life, among them al-Baidhaq, who became his biographer, and `Abd al-Mu'min, the first ruler of the Almohad dynasty.
   Ibn Tumart and his disciples continued preaching from Bijaya to Tlemcen, to Taza, and further on to Fès and finally Marrakech, the capital of the Almoravids. There their proselytizing activities gained them the reputation of political agitators. This led to their expulsion first from Fès and then from Marrakech, and then they withdrew to Aghmat, only to move on to Ibn Tumart's native land, seeking refuge with the Masmuda peoples of the High Atlas Mountains. Among the Masmuda, he found the support of the Hintata tribe leader, Faska Ou Mzal, named after one of the Prophet's disciples, Abu Hafs `Umar, the ancestor of the Hafsid dynasty in Tunisia (1236-1575). In the Atlas, Ibn Tumart started to preach not only his rigorous version of Islam but also open revolt, or jihad, against the Almoravids. After several attacks by the Almoravids, Ibn Tumart moved his capital to an impenetrable location in the High Atlas, Tinmal. There he integrated the notion of the Mahdi leadership into a hierarchy of consultative assemblies in which an assembly of 10 notables focused on ideological matters, and a larger assembly was devoted to political and military organization among the tribes. Their first offensive against the Almoravids in Marrakech met with heavy losses, although the siege lasted about 30 or 40 days, and at last they had to retreat back into their mountains. Soon Ibn Tumart died and was buried in Tinmal. After his death, some historical versions say he had his companions swear allegiance to `Abd al-Mu'min, whereas other interpretations of the account suggest he left no designated successor. By 1146, with the takeover of Marrakech, `Abd al Mu'min was in charge of the Almohad Empire. Although Ibn Tumart was an accomplished Arabist, his preaching was in Berber, and the first version of his book Kitab al-tawhid and also known as Kitab a`azz ma yutlab, where he laid down the Almohad doctrine and practices, was also in Berber. Ibn Tumart's doctrine augmented the moral motivation for the Almohad conquest of the Maghrib and al-Andalus.

Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) . . 2014.

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