Sidi Ahmed ibn al-'Arif (d. 536/11211)
Given the economic and intellectual ties that bounded North Africa to the Iberian Peninsula in pre-Islamic times, it is logical to expect that these two regions of the Muslim West would influence each other in the development of Islamic doctrines and institutions as well. As long as al-Andalus remained part of the Islamic world, the path of learning for scholars and mystics from Morocco regularly passed through the cities of Iberia. Intellectual contacts between Morocco and Muslim Spain were especially close in the in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when the absorption of the Taifa (factional) states of al-Andalus into the Almoravid and Almohad empires caused many Iberians to seek their fortunes on the opposite side of the Strait of Gibraltar. This southward migration of the Muslim intelligentsia went hand-in-hand with a broad expansion of cultural and intellectual life in the Islamic West as a whole. It was thus no surprise that in this intellectually fertile period many of the Andalusian legists and theologians who visited Morocco also had an interest in Sufism.
One of the most prominent examples of a usuli-oriented mystic and Sunni internationalist in Post-Taifa Spain was Sidi Ahmed ibn Mohammed b. Mousa b. Ataillah Sanhaji Tanji (d. 536/11211), better known to posterity as Ibn al-Arif. Although his origins were from Tangier in northern Morocco, Ibn al-Arif was born and raised in Almeria, where his father had moved in order to become a platoon leader ('arif) in the local guard. As a student he was attracted to the circles of Quran and hadith studies that had made Almeria a major centre of usul-based education. Biographers mention that Ibn al-Arif attained mastery in fiqh, hadith, and Quran recitation while studding under the most renewed scholars of Almeria and Cordoba. After teaching Quranic recitation for a time in Almeria and Saragossa, he took the position of inspector of markets and public censor (wali al-hisba).
It was here, however, that Ibn al-Arif was introduced to Sufism via the mystic Sidi Abu Bakr ibn Asbagh ("Abdelbaqi ibn Mohammed ibn Biryal," d. 502/1087), whose indirect master was named Sidi Ahmed al-Ibiri al-Usuli (429/1014), that gained honourable reputation for himself by introducing al-Harith ibn Asad al-Muhasibi's (d. 243/828) Kitab ar-ri'aya li-huquq Allah (Book of the observance of the rights due to God) into al-Andalus. The second spiritual master of Ibn al-Arif was Sidi Abu Ali as-Safadi (d. 514/1099), the doyen of hadith sciences in al-Andalus, who took the tradition of Sidi Abul Qacem al-Junaid (d. 297/882) from Sidi Mohammed ibn Sa'dun al-Qayrawani (d. 485/1070), the famed student of Sidi Abu Imran al-Fasi (d. 430/1015), the tradition of Sidi Abul Hassan an-Nuri (d. 295/880) from Sidi Abu Omar ibn Abdelbarr (d. 436/1021), who had it from Sidi Abu Omar Ahmed at-Talamanki (d. 429/1014), from Sidi Abu Ahmed ibn 'Awn'Allah and Sidi Abu Ali al-Hassan ibn Abdellah Jarjani al-Makki, who both took from Sidi Abi Said ibn al-'Arabi. This latter has Sidi Salam ibn Abdellah Khurasani, Sidi Abu Abdellah Amrou ibn Uthman al-Makki, and Abul Qacem all-Junaid as masters in addition to his main teacher Sidi Abul Hassan an-Nuri.
Among the advanced students of Ibn al-Arif were Sidi Abul Hassan Ali ibn Ghalib al-Qurashi ("Sidi Boughaleb," d. 568/1153, buried in Fez) and teacher of Sidi Abu Madyan Shuayb (d. 594/1179), Sidi Abul Qasim ibn Qasi of Portugal (d. 546/1151)—the instigator of an anti-Almoravid revolt of Sufi adepts in the western part of the al-Andalus—and Sidi Abul Hakam ibn Barrajan of Seville (d. 536/1121)—the imam of 130 villages in the Andalusian sierra, who was brought to Marrakech and executed for his anti-Almoravid stances. The Almoravid rulers of al-Andalus had also suspected Ibn al-Arif and saw a political motive to lay behind his activities. These fears were exacerbated when a spirited defence of usul methodology sprang up among Sufis and hadith scholars in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.
Rather than viewing this critic of insular Malikism as a part of an ongoing debate within the ulama class, the Almoravid emirs viewed the usul movement as an attack upon the legitimacy of their state. These concerns were heightened after a former Mufti of Almeria, Abul Hassan al-Barji (d. 509/1194) issued a juridical opinion (fatwa) condemning the pro-Almoravid chief justice (qadi al-jama'a) of Cordoba for ordering the confiscation and destruction of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali's (d. 526/1111) magisterial work on the Islamic sciences, I'hya' 'ulum ad-din (Revivification of the religious sciences). In the decades following the promulgation of this decree, accusation of sedition were directed against most of al-Barji's network, including Ibn al-Arif. These accusations plus the revolt of the Shaykh's purported disciple Ibn Qasi caused anti-Almoravid activists in Morocco to consider Ibn al-Arif as an ally. He was eventually arrested and brought in chains to the Almoravid capital Marrakech, where he died of poisoning in 536/1121. Immediately after his death, he was hailed as a martyr by the Almohads and other opponents of the Sanhaja state. In the succeeding generation, Ibn al-Arif's posthumous "political correctness" helped to spread his doctrines from al-Andalus to as far away as Ifriqiya (current Tunisia).