Sidi Mohammed al-Mahdi ibn Tumart (d. 524/1130): Father of Almohads
The figure of Sidi Mohammed Ibn Tumart, Mahdi of the Almohads (al-Muwahhidun), continues to loom large over the Maghreb seven hundred years after the passing of the state created by his successor Sidi Abdelmumin ibn Ali (d. 551/1136). Massive monuments of brick and stone, physical reminders of a century and a half of Almohad power (515-674/1100-1259), attest to the vitality of a movement that for a time united the Muslim West from Ifriqiya (Tunisia) to the Atlantic coast of Spain (Andalusia), whose army posed a threat to Salah ad-Din in Egypt, and, but for the untimely death of its first "Caliph," very nearly succeeded in extending Islamic rule once again to the Pyrenees. Muslim historians tell us of the horror Ibn Tumart's movement inspired in its enemies, such as that which compelled a Maliki jurist to flee from the Andalus to Egypt, and thence to India before he felt safe enough to die in peace. Scholars from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century have discussed Almohad politics and administration, as well as the roles played by figures like muhtasibs, mizwars, huffadh, and tullab in spreading the Mahdi's doctrine of tawhid (Oneness of God) throughout the region.
Yet the accounts of these authors largely stop with discussions of wars, Almohad administration, and politics, leaving little to aid a researcher interested in the nature of the madhab al-muwahhidin itself. The two most significant attempts to deal with this subject in European languages, those of Goldziher and Brunschvig, present Ibn Tumart's doctrine as a sort of theological patched clonk, with elements of mua'tazilism, shi’ism, and even kharijism sewn into the fabric of Asharite dogma. Others, like Le Tourneau, consider the main features of Almohad doctrine to have "no originality whatsoever." While there is indeed no doubt, that Sidi Mohammed Ibn Tumart may have been influenced by a number of different intellectual and religious traditions, is it sufficient for scholars to merely assume that his doctrine of tawhid was no more than the sum of its borrowed parts? Is it enough to conclude, like Ibn Khaldun and those who followed him, that the motive force of the Almohad movement was simply Masmuda Berber 'asabiyya? Can one rest content in assuming that the many legists and Sufis who supported the movement in its early years did so out of political considerations alone, or that Morocco in the sixth/twelfth century was so unsophisticated as to be ignited by a conglomeration of imported ideas?
Al-Mahdi Ibn Tumart
Discrepancies about Ibn Tumart's life start at the very beginning. Depending on whether one follows Ibn Khallikan or Ibn Khaldun, the one can conclude that the future Mahdi was either an Idrissi Sharif named Mohammed Ibn Abdellah b. Wagallid b. Yamsal b. Hamza b. Aissa b. Ubayd-Allah b. Sidna Imam Moulay Idriss al-Azhar (d. 213/798) b. Sidna Imam Moulay Idriss al-Akbar (d. 177/762), or a descendant of purely Berber stock, named Mohammed Ibn Tumart h. Tittawin b. Safla b. Masighan b. Igaldis b. Khalid. The Sharifian descent attributed to Ibn Tumart may less farfetched than it first appears, since the historian Abdelwahid al-Murrakushi, among others, mentions that among the Hargha Berbers living at Ighli on the Sus river, Ibn Tumart's family were known as isargkinen, which supposedly meant Sharfa in the Masmuda dialect. The companion and official biographer of Ibn Tumart, Abu Bakr Sanhaji Baydhaq, resolved the discrepancy between the names Mohammed Ibn Abdellah and Mohammed Ibn Tumart with the following story,
The future Mahdi's father was apparently named Abdellah. He was nicknamed "Tumart," however, because his mother, overjoyed at the birth of a boy, was said to have exclaimed in the dialect of Hargha, almari-inu i.sak ay-yiwi! ("Oh my happiness with you, my little son!"). "Tumart's" son Mohammed was probably born sometime between the years 469/1054 and 473/1058.
Sidi Mohammed Ibn Tumart was known for his piety at an early age, and was said to have spent a great amount of time praying and studying the Quran in the local mosque; so much so, in fact, that he was always on hand to light its laps at dusk, which earned him the nickname Asafu (Ember, Light, or Heat). It is known that he left his native town early in life, probably first travelling to Aglimat (then a major centre of religious learning in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains near present-day Marrakech), and from there to the Andalus, where some scholars believe he was influenced by the Muridiya movement represented by the Moroccan Sufi Sidi Ahmed Ibn al-Arif Tanji (d. 536/1121; buried in Marrakech), who was later associated with anti-Almoravid activity in the city of Almeria. The nature of his later writings makes it appear more likely that Ibn Tumart was influenced by the teachings of the Hazmiya—followers of the famous scholar and legist Ibn Hazm of Cordoba, who with their strict dhahiri (internal) adherence to sources of Hadith, became catalysts for the development of a Hadith and usuli-oriented school of theology in the Andalus.
Most traditional Muslim historians agree that Ibn Tumart arrived in the Mashriq by way of Egypt between the years 500 and 501/1085-1086. All agree that during his ten-year stay in the Mashriq he studied under a number of famous scholars, including Sidi Abu Bakr Shashi and Sidi al-Mubarak Ibn Abdelljabbar, from whom he learned usul al-fiqh, usul ad-din, and ilm al-hadith in the Asharite tradition. They also agree that Ibn Tumart attained a high degree of proficiency in these fields. The historian Ibn Khallikan, hardly a supporter of the Almohads, adds that he was religiously scrupulous (wari'), withdrawn from the world (nasik), ascetic (mutaqashif), devoted to piety and ''formidable in appearance." His only possession; were said to be a walking-stick and a sack for his provisions. He was unusually fluent and eloquent in both Berber and Arabic and greatly disliked "those who did not follow the rules of the Shari’a.”
During his journey this young Moroccan student was supposed to have met with the then aged scholar and Sufi, the grand Shaykh Sidi Abu Hamid al-Ghazali's (d. 526/1111), either at Baghdad (an apparently impossible assertion, since al-Ghazali had left the city long before) or at Damascus—al-Ghazali had also the Moroccans Sidi Abu Mohammed Salih ibn Harzihim (d. after. 526/1111 in Sidi Harazem village, Fez) and Sidi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi (d. 543/1128 in Bab al-Mahruq, Fez) as students. While many versions relating this supposed encounter exist, the most common account has Ibn Tumart seated at al-Ghazali's majlis, during which another student tells the master that copies of his recently-completed masterpiece, I'hya' 'ulum ad-din (Revivification of the religious sciences), are being burned at the order of the Almoravid Emir al-Mouminin Ali Ibn Yusuf b. Tashfin. Enraged, al-Ghazali have exclaimed, "[Ali Ibn Yusuf] will be removed from his few possessions and his son will surely be killed. I consider the one charged with this [task] to be none other than one presently attending our majlis."
Even though it is theoretically possible that a meeting between al-Ghazali and Ibn Tumart could have occurred, since, according to some historians, al-Ghazali did leave Syria for Iran until well into the year 500/1085, the curse he is supposed to have directed against the Almoravids (al-Murabitun) is clearly an embellishment. While it is well known that copies of his I'hya' were burned during the reign of Ali Ibn Yusuf b. Tashfin, there is no evidence that this was done at the moment of his accession to power, which coincided with Ibn Tumart's arrival in the East. Quite the contrary, we hear from Ibn Khallikan that al-Ghazali, upon leaving Syria, was so impressed with the ideals of the Almoravid movement that he endeavoured to travel to the Maghrib to meet Emir Yusuf Ibn Tashfin personally, being prevented from doing so only upon hearing of the latter's death after he had arrived in Alexandria.
The historian Ali Ibn Abi Zar' al-Fasi, the Marinid historian of Fez, reports in Rawd al-Qirtas that at the end of ten years' study in the heartland of the Islamic world, “the former rural student, now metamorphosed into a teacher in his own right, once again turned toward his native land, putting trust in God and determined to establish shari'a and the Sunna... He taught [religious] science, demonstrated asceticism, scrupulousness, detachment from the world, and enjoined good and forbade evil." According to al-Murrakushi, Ibn Tumart began preaching his message in Alexandria, where he disputed with the famous Maliki jurist and Asharite Sidi Abu Bakr at-Turtushi (d. 525/1110) over the meaning of the imperative to enjoin good and forbid evil (al-amr bil ma’ruf wa nahy ‘ani-l munkar). We are also told that, during his passage from Egypt to Ifriqiya, Ibn Tumart was so persistent in admonishing the ship's crew that they keelhauled him, dragging him back in only when he failed to drown after half a day in the water.
At the port of Mahdiya, then the centre of little more than a city-state under the Zirid emir Yahya Ibn Tamim, Ibn Tumart began the activities that were to characterize the rest of his career. Still possessing no more than a staff and a pouch of food, he would sit upon the steps of the local mosque and teach usul ad-din, usul al-fiqh, elements of theology, and his moralistic interpretation of Islam to all comers. His fluency and forceful personality soon drew large crowds and the Zirid emir, concerned about the political implications of his activities, convened a council of jurist to examine Ibn Tumart's teachings. Once they were convinced that he had no political ambitions in their kingdom, these Maliki scholars were so impressed with what he had to say that Yahya Ibn Tamim himself felt compelled to ask Ibn Tumart for a blessing. "May God make you beneficial to your subjects," was the reply.
From Mahdiya Ibn Tumart continued west, via Tunis and Constantine, finally settling down for an extended period in Bougie (Bijaya). Establishing himself at the Rayhana mosque, he once again devoted himself to teaching religious fundamentals and exhorting against deviation and unbelief. It would appear that at this time Bougie, then a major centre of Hammadid authority, enjoyed a rather permissive atmosphere, for we hear that Ibn Tumart first aroused the ire of its ruler because of his habit of inflicting physical punishment on backsliders. After a particularly nasty episode during one Eid al-Fitr celebration, in which Ibn Tumart beat with his staff both men and women whom he found mixing together in the public prayer area, the emir was compelled by popular pressure to request him to leave the city. Not one to be easily dissuaded, Ibn Tumart gathered together a large number of his sympathizers, who then ransacked the commercial quarter of Bougie, smashing wine jars and tearing down the shops where alcohol was sold, all the while chanting the phrase, al-Mu'min lammar wa'l-kafir khammar." After this episode Ibn Tumart and his followers moved to the nearby village of Mallala, where it appears they first began to plan direct political action. According to al-Baydhaq, the Almohad da'awa began to take on a more coherent form at this time, and stressed the need for a revival of religious knowledge (a point strongly reminiscent of the teachings of al-Ghazali), the annihilation of sinful behaviour, and the obliteration of unwarranted religious innovation.
If was at Mallala as well that Ibn Tumart first, met the man who was to be his khalifa, Abdelmumin Ibn Ali. Significantly, even though Abdelmumin’s origins were in the Central Maghrib, he claimed to have Arab ancestors and traced his descent from a section of the Bani Sulaym-Qays that was supposed to have settled in the region of Tlemcen at the end of the second century A.H. The importance of this claim, whether or not it is true, lies in the fact that the Almohads used it to establish their legitimacy by presenting Abdelmumin's lineage as the fulfilment of a prophetic Hadith stating that the man who would make Islam victorious would be a member of Qays. The idea that the Caliphate should be a preserve of Quraysh, or at least of Arabs, was apparently so prevalent in the Maghrib at this time that, even the Sanhaja Almoravids claimed affinity with the Arab tribe of Humayr. Further significance in the association of Abdelmumin with this belief lies in the fact that Ibn Tumart himself never claimed that he was destined to be the ruler of an empire, but was rather a mere messenger bringing correct Islamic doctrine to a land that had fallen away through ignorance and corruption.
This sense of the fulfilment of a divine decree and the overwhelming aroma of divine guidance that permeated the Almohad movement in its early years is clearly evident in the account of the first meeting between Ibn Tumart and Abdelmumin given in the pages of al-Baydhaq's Akhbar al-Mahdi.
"The students used to study religious sciences with [Ibn Tumart], and when they departed he would sit by the road under the Kharub al-'Ajuz (Carob-Tree of the Widow), constantly looking at the road and moving his lips in invocation. One day [while] he was sitting, we heard him say, 'Praise be to God who fulfils His promise, makes His slave victorious, and executes His command!' Then he approached the mosque, performed two prostrations, and said, 'Praise be to God at all times! The hour of victory has arrived, and there is no victory without God, the Glorious, the Just. Tomorrow, a student will come to you. Blessed is he who knows him and accursed is he who hates him'."
Al-Baydhaq's account then states that at this time Abdelmumin had been travelling east with his uncle in the pursuit of knowledge. While staying overnight in the Rayhana mosque in Bougie, they heard from Ibn Tumart's supporters about an eloquent scholar from the Far Sus who was now teaching in Mallala and resolved to meet him.
"Know, my brother, that when [Abdelmumin] went to the Imam, he met [Ibn Tumart's] students on the road and accompanied them to the door of the mosque. The Infallible One (al-Ma'sum) raised his head and bade him stand before him, saying, 'Come in, young man.' But [Abdelmumin] wanted to sit among the others, so the Imam, the Infallible Guided One, said, 'Come near, young man.' As he was coming nearer the Infallible Imam came up to him until he was beside him and said to him, 'What is your name, oh youth?' "Abdelmumin,' he replied. Then the Infallible One said, 'And your father is Ali?'" ",Yes,' he replied. The others were amazed at this. Then [Ibn Tumart] said, 'Where are you from?' 'From near Tlemcen,' he replied, 'From the plain of Gumlya'." "Then the Infallible One said, 'From Tajra, no?' 'Yes,' he replied. The others were even more amazed. Then the Infallible One said, 'Where do you wish to go, oh youth?'" "He answered, 'Sidi, to the East to acquire knowledge there'." "The Pure One said, 'You have found in the West that knowledge you wish to partake of in the East'." "When it was time for the students to depart from the lecture the Khalifa wanted to depart as well, but he Infallible One said, 'Stay with us, young man.' and he answered, 'Yes, oh faqih'." "So he stayed with us and when night fell the Pure Imam called me: 'Oh Abu Bakr! Bring me the book with the red cover.'" "So I brought it to him, and he said, 'Light a lamp,' After that he began to read to the Khalifa. While I was polishing the lamp I heard him say, 'The Divine Command that entails the life of religion will be carried out only by Abdelmumin Ibn Ali, Siraj al-Muwahhidin (Lamp of the Almohads)." "The Khalifa wept at hearing these words and said, 'Of faqih, I know nothing of this. I am only a man seeking that which will cleanse me of my sins'." "The Infallible One said to him, 'The cleansing of your sins is the restoration of the world by your hand.' Then he gave him the book and said, 'Blessed are the people you will lead, and accursed are they who oppose you, from the first of them to the last. Great is he who invokes God. God will bless you in life, guide you, and purify you from your fears and worries'."
According to Ibn Khallikan, the book with the red cover was the famous al-Jafr min 'ulum Ahl al-Bayt, mentioned above, which supposedly predicted that after the year 500 a man from the family of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) would call people to the original Islamic message and would be buried at a place with the letters TINMAL. This person would be called al-Qa'im bi Awwal al- Amr and the letters of his successor would be A'BD MUMN. After recruiting Abdelmumin to his cause, Ibn Tumart next struck up a friendship with a learned muhaddith and faqih from the region of Oran (Wahran), the Idrissid Sharif, Abdellah al-Wansharisi, later known to the Almohads as al-Bashir (Herald, Messenger, Bringer of Glad Tidings). This unusual individual, perhaps a Sufi of the Malammatiya, since he endeavoured to hide his knowledge behind a cloak of insanity, was to provide valuable services for the future Mahdi with his powers of judgment and political acumen, and eventually became the first field commander of the Almohad army.
According to Ibn Abi Zar' al-Fasi, Ibn Tumart and his followers reached Fez, the intellectual capital of Morocco, in the year 514/1099, where they preached "Asharite dogma" at the Taryana mosque. With the exception of the Fatimid interlude, since the days of the legist Sahnoun ("Abdessalam ibn Said Tanukhi Qayrawani," d. 240/854), nearly the entire Maghrib from Ifriqiya to Andalusia had adhered to Maliki law. In spite of Imam Malik ibn Anass (d. 179/795) personal inclination toward the use of Hadith in resolving legal questions, the general trend of fifth and sixth-century Maliki jurisprudence, especially in the Andalus, had been to withdraw into an extreme form of sectarianism in which Imam Malik's adherence to the Sunna of Medina was replaced by a form of legal practice based on the precedents established by a select group of scholars, with little regard being given to the sources of law found in Hadith. During Ibn Tumart's lifetime, Morocco was so alienated from the commonly accepted bases of Muslim jurisprudence established by the followers of Imam Shafi'i (d. 204/820) in the Mashriq, that sources tell us of scholars like the Qadi of Elvira, Mohammed Ibn Yahya b. Bawjun (d. 330/915), who openly boasted of his ignorance of Prophetic traditions. While individuals influenced by the eastern ahl al-Hadith like Baqi Ibn Makhlad (d. 272/857) and Abu Mohammed Ali Ibn Hazm (384-456/996-1041) did appear from time to time, by the sixth/eleventh century the effect of their teaching was still so limited that in many regions of Morocco and al-Andalus even the existence of Shafi'i's Risala was said to be unknown.
With the advent of Al-Murabitun (Almoravid) rule in the Maghrib this imitative form of Andalusian Malikism soon became state dogma, and its adherents set to work suppressing all dissenting opinions. They burned al-Ghazali's I’hya' 'alum ad-din because of its Shafiite attacks on 'ilm al-furu'a and confined many Sufis and the followers of Ibn Hazm to Almeria and Mallorca. A Hadith-oriented "Sunni underground," largely maintained by Sufis, continued, however, to exist throughout Almoravid domains. It is possible that the threat of an alliance between Ibn Tumart and Moroccan Sufi followers of al-Ghazali like Sidi Abul Hassan Ali ibn Harzihim (d. 559/1144) may have been the cause of the immediate negative response given to the former’s teachings by the pro-Almoravid ulama of Fez. Such a threat could also explain why Ibn Tumart was so quickly expelled from this centre of Sufi discontent, under the pretext that his teachings would "ruin the minds of the masses."
From Fez Ibn Tumart and his followers travelled to Marrakech, where the incipient conflict between his doctrine and official ideology began to reach a head. After establishing himself at the "Mosque of the Earthen Minaret," (Masjid Suma'a at-Tub), he began to go from mosque to mosque throughout the city, delivering lectures on usul ad-din and kalam, while his followers preached the doctrine of enjoining good and forbidding evil in the markets. All accounts agree that people thronged to hear his lectures, which aroused the notice of Emir al-Muslimin Ali Ibn Yusuf b. Tashfin and his officials. It is said that a summons to the court was issued when Ibn Tumart and his companions, encountering the Sultan’s sister (unveiled in the Desert Sanhaja fashion) and her mounted bodyguard (veiled in the manner of the Tuareg of today) in the street, admonished them with hadiths enjoining members of opposite sexes not to resemble each other and, when they were ignored, threw stones at the royal group until the emira was thrown from her horse.
At this point there is less agreement about what happened next. Al-Baydhaq tells us that when Ibn Tumart was brought before Ali Ibn Yusuf one of the ministers of state said, "The Caliphate has devolved upon [this] emir." Ibn Tumart replied, "Where is the emir? I see [only] veiled slave-girls!" At this Ali Ibn Yusuf lifted the veil from his face and acknowledged the truthfulness of his critic's remark, whereupon Ibn Tumart, added, "The Caliphate belongs to God, not to you, Ali Ibn Yusuf." Ibn Abi Zar' al-Fasi tells us that Ibn Tumart was brought before the Emir al-Muslimin in the "garb of an ascetic" and answered charges of fomenting rebellion by stating, "What has reached you about me, oh prince? For I am a faqir seeking the Hereafter and not the material world. I have no goal in it other than to command good and to forbid evil. You, however, are the foremost of those who commit [evil], for you are responsible for [its commission]. Thus it is obligatory for you to revive the Sunna and destroy innovation (bid’a). Evil acts have become clearly visible in your domain and innovation has become widespread. God has commanded you to transform it with the Sunna. When you are able to do this then you will be known for [good] and responsible for it. God has condemned the community that has abandoned the forbidding of evil. The Exalted has said, 'They have not forbidden evil, but have exalted it. Accursed is that which they do'."
Then the Qadi of Almeria, Mohammed Ibn al-Aswad (infamous among Maghribi historians as the poisoner of the Sufi Sidi Ibn al-'Arif) asked whether royal justice counted for more than the mere suppression of lusts, to which Ibn Tumart replied, "As for what has been said about me, I have said [what has been attributed to me], but behind [my words] are other words. As for your statement that [Ali Ibn Yusuf's] obedience toward God counts for more than his lustful acts and confirms his right to rule, let these words (the accusations of illegitimacy directed by Ibn Tumart against the Almoravid state) be a lesson for him that he may learn and divest himself of these attributes. He is misled by what you say to him and you harm him with your sciences and your [philosophical] proofs. Are you aware, oh Qadi, that wine is sold openly, that pigs walk among Muslims (kept as food for the Christian mercenaries employed by the Almoravids), and that [tax] money is taken from orphans?" Although we are told that Ali Ibn Yusuf was impressed with this moral lesson, his ministers nonetheless branded Ibn Tumart as a Khariji and urged his imprisonment or execution lest his words further incite the populace. Bowing to their wishes but mindful that he had already gained a reputation as a killer and jailer of the pious, the Almoravid ruler simply banished Ibn Tumart from the city.
Defiant as ever, the faqih moved just beyond the city walls and pitched his tent in the Bani ‘Haydus cemetery. When he was again pressed by the authorities to move he replied, "I am not in the region [of Marrakech], but among the dead." Al-Baydhaq tells us that a sympathetic wazir, Yaynatan Ibn Omar, prevailed upon Ibn Tumart to move to a safer place. The Mahdi's retinue next moved to Aghmat Urika, which, though supplanted as a political capital by Marrakech, still retained importance as a centre of learning. Some historians claim that during his three days' stay at Aghmat Ibn Tumart engaged a number of scholars in a series of debates—the famous munazalat of later Almohad lore. Immediately following these debates his supporters in Marrakech informed Ibn Tumart that Ibn al-Aswad and others had finally persuaded Ali Ibn Yusuf to have him arrested. The faqih and his followers were then taken under the protection of a Masmudi Berber leader called Ismail Igig who, with the help of one hundred of his lineage members whisked the small party away to the safety of the Jabal Daran massif (now known as the High Atlas mountains).
The Companions of al-Mahdi ibn Tumart
Ibn Tumart's political activity in the mountains and his followers' eventual defeat of the Almoravides has been described by many writers. More important to the present discussion, however, is the initial makeup of the Almohad leadership. All sources agree that Almohad political structure was pyramidal in nature and that the companions who accompanied Ibn Tumart from the Central Maghrib (called al-Muhajirun al-Awwalun following the example of the Holy Prophet's career (peace and blessing be upon him) formed the nucleus of the movement. The main decision-making body, or "Assembly of Ten" (al-Jama'a al-'Ashara), comprised those (some from among the Muhajirun, some not) who first acknowledged Ibn Tumart as Mahdi when he received his "call" in a cave near his home town of Igli-n-Waraghan (Igli of the Argan Trees) after his return from the East. Al-Baydhaq lists the members of this body as follows:
1) Sidi Abdelmumin Ibn Ali b. 'Alwi b. Ya'li al-Qaysi: Al-Baydhaq claims both patrilineal and matrilineal Arab descent for the future khalifa of Ibn Tumart. His ancestral tribe was purported to be Sulayman Ibn Mansur of Qays 'Aylan and his direct ancestor was said to be an Andalusian Arab fleeing political repression who entered into an adoptive relationship with members of the Matmata Berber tribe and adopted their culture and lineage. While at first glance this claim sounds uncertain, the practice of adoption of outsiders has been common up till this century among Berbers in the Rif and Middle Atlas regions of Morocco. Thus al- Baydhaq’s story is, at least culturally speaking, plausible. It is further claimed that Abdelmumin was a sharif via his mother, Talu bint Atiyya, who was descended from Lalla Ganuna, daughter of Moulay Idriss II, the founder of Fez. Indeed the Bani Ganuna clan of the Gumiya tribe of western Algeria did have a reputation for leadership and literacy throughout the hinterlands of Tlemcen. 2. Sidi Abu Mohammed Abdellah Ibn Muksin al-Wansharisi (al-Bashir): Also of purported Qaysi descent, Sidi Abdellah al-Bashir was, until his disappearance and presumed death at the battle of al-Bahira below the walls of Marrakech (2 Jumada I, 524/12 April, 1109), the chief strategist and advisor of Ibn Tumart in the crucial early years of the Almohad movement. It was he who selected the six tribes of the High and Anti-Atlas mountains that were to provide the manpower nucleus for the Almohad army and administration. His associates considered his perception to be nothing short of miraculous— a belief reinforced by the circumstances of his disappearance when he was "raised" from among them in a column of red dust. 3. Sidi Abu Hafs Omar Ibn Yahya at-Hintati (Omar Inti or Omar-u-Mzal): A Berber shaykh of the Hintata tribe of the High Atlas whose original name was Faska (Festivity), Omar Inti was to become the ancestor of the Hafsid rulers of Tunis. After aiding the Mahdi and proclaiming Ibn Tumart's sanctity, he was given the honorary name of Omar because his bravery reminded Ibn Tumart of the second Caliph of Islam, and bore the Mahdi's shield in battle. One of the greatest Almohad military commanders, he died of plague in 571/ 1156. 4. Sidi Abu Hafs Omar Ibn Ali as-Sanhaj (Omar Asanag): One of the companions of Ibn Tumart who came with him from the central Maghrib, his original name was Yamluk. The piety and sanctity of Omar Asanag was so great that Abdelmumin refused to appoint him to an administrative post out of "fear for his being tainted by it." After his death in 536/1121, his sons assumed the honour of passing first in all Almohad military processions. 5. Sidi Abu’ r-Rabi’a Sulayman ibn Makhluf al-Hadrati (Ibn al-Baqqal or Ibn Ta'zmiyyit): Either an Arab or an Arabised Berber, "Sulayman Ahdari" was personal correspondence secretary for Ibn Tumart. He died at the battle of al-Bahira in 524/1109. 6. Abu Ibrahim Ismail Ibn Yasallali al-Hazraji (Ismail Igig): An Almohad hero of the first rank, he first gained notice by leading one hundred of his lineage brothers in escorting Ibn Tumart out of the clutches of an Almoravid pursuit party. Later he became chief judge and battle leader of the Hargha tribe (the Mahdi's own). He gave his life for Abdelmumin after the latter's accession to the "Caliphate" by taking the place of the khalifa in his bed and offering his body to assassins' knives. 7. Sidi Mohammed Abdelwahid Sharqi: A Berber from Mallala in the region of Bougie, his real name was Yarzijan Ibn Omar. A student of Ibn Tumart, he received permission from his mother to travel west with the future Mahdi and obtained from her enough money for boat passage. He later became an adopted member of the Mahdi's own household. 8. Sidi Abu 'Imran Mussa Ibn Tammara al-Gadmiyuwi: A noted member of one of the "Six Tribes," he was Trustee of the Assembly of Ten (Amin al-Jama'a) and a close personal aide of Ibn Tumart. He was killed fighting the Almoravids at al-Bahira in 524/1109. 9. Sidi Abdellah Ibn Ya'latan Tazi Znati: Standard-bearer of the Mahdi in three battles and muqaddam of the tribe of Ganfisa, he rejected Almohad doctrine after the death of Ibn Tumart and was killed by his own tribe when he attempted to lead them into the camp of the Almoravides. 10. Sidi Abu Yahya Abu Bakr Ibn Iggit: Little is known of him other than that he died at al-Bahira in 524/1130 and that his son later became governor of Cordoba under Abdelmumin.
These ten men, coming from diverse backgrounds in the Maghrib (the three great Berber tribal divisions of Sanhaja, Masmuda, and Zanata are all represented, as well as the eponymous Arab tribe of Qays 'Aylan), were greatly responsible for the spread of Ibn Tumart's da'wa throughout the lands under Almohad control. Their origins clearly indicate that the movement, while indeed drawing to a great extent on the support of High Atlas Masmuda Berbers, was not based solely on tribal ties, but was intended to project a more widespread. Even more thought-provoking is the inclusion by al-Baydhaq in Kitab al-ansab fi ma'rifat al-Ashab of the names of fifty-two early followers of Ibn Tumart, unmentioned by other biographers, who remained in Egypt and Syria while the latter returned to his homeland. A glance at this list reveals tribal or regional names like Lakhmi, Iskandarani, 'Abidi, Yamani, Ibn Hilal, al-Hijazi, ad-Dimashqi, and al-Harwi. Al-Baydhaq goes on to state that Ibn Tumart's friend and protector in the Mashriq was a legist called al-Hadrami, and that Fadl Ibn Rashid, Hussayn Ibn Janah al-Halabi, and Abdellah Ibn Fath al-Makki were his principal aides in Syria. Why did these fifty-two stay behind in the East? Why did they not go to Morocco with Ibn Tumart when their Arab origins, knowledge, and prestige could have greatly aided the propagation of his movement? Were they left in place as a potential fifth column? Certainly one can find many indications, from the nature of Almohad doctrine (discussed below) to the pan-Islamic scope of his claims to Mahdism, that Ibn Tumart intended his movement to reach beyond the confines of the Maghrib. That it did not do so was most likely not a failure of intent, but rather the result of factors that impinged upon Almohad expansion after the death of the movement's founder.
Al-Muwahhidun, The Almohad State
The Almohads gradually took over Morocco, extinguishing the Almoravids there and making Marrakech their own capital. In al-Andalus, there was a vacuum of power after the decline of the Almoravides, in which some local groups like the Taifas of the previous century reappeared (e.g. Valencia, Cordova and Murcia); then in 540/1145 Abdelmumin despatched an army to al-Andalus and soon occupied all the Muslims territory there. A powerful Almohad kingdom, now with its capital at Seville, was constituted; Abdelmumin concurred as far as Tunis and Tripoli, and the Ayyubid Salahu ad-Din (Saladin) sought his alliance and naval assistance against the Franks. According to Ibn Abi Zar's Rawd al-qirtas:
Abdelmumin ruled with wisdom and goodness. He excelled over all the Almohads in his virtue, knowledge, piety and horsemanship. The colour of his skin was white, and his cheeks were reddish; he had dark eyes, a tall stature, long and fine eyebrows, an eagle nose and a tick beard. He was fluent in speech, familiar with the sayings of the prophet, well-read and indeed learned in the things of the faith and of the world, and a master of grammar and history. His morals were beyond reproach and his judgement sound. He was a generous warrior, enterprising and imposing, strong and victorious. Thanks to God's help he never attacked a country without capturing it, nor an army without vanquishing it. He was particularly fond of men of letters and scholars, and was himself a good poet… He was as infallible in his judgement as he was powerful. He was so modest that he gave the impression that he possessed nothing. He liked neither diversions nor distractions and never rested. The whole of the Maghrib was subject to him, and Spain feel into his hands, from the Christians he took Mehdia in Africa and Almeria, Evora, Baeza, and Badajoz in Andalusia…
The structure of the Almohad state reflected on the divine authoritarian nature of Ibn Tumart's original teaching, and was built round a close-knit hierarchy of the caliphs advisers and intimates. The court was a splendid centre of art and learning, above all for the last flowering of Islamic philosophy associated with such scholars as Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Rush (Averroes), both of whom acted a court physicians to the Almohad sultans. The Almohads sultanate was also a blossom-time of mysticism and of the philosophy related to it. The Almohads' public support for the writings of al-Ghazali, which up till then had been condemned and banned in the Maghrib, had far-reaching effects that even influenced Christian scholasticism. By expounding the symbolical character of all revelation, al-Ghazali overcame once and for all the dangerous dichotomy between the purely literal interpretation of the Quran and its philosophical (and virtually rationalistic) interpretation. And in so doing, he opened the way for a general recognition of mystical wisdom—Sufism—from whose riches he had drawn his teachings.
Still it was under the Almohads that Moroccan art received its characteristic stamp. Like the Cistercians, who in the same century were spreading the Gothic style in Europe, they insisted that there be a purification of art, that it be divested of all worldly excesses, and they did this with a full awareness that it was in keeping with their rigorous doctrine of Divine Unity. In this simplification and essentialisation of art form that were also as Berber influence, and this, together with the Arabo-Andalusian heritage, gave rise to that perfect style, which, in reference to the ancient Mauritania where the Berbers lived, is called Moorish. An apparently unimportant but, in reality highly significant, act of the Almohad caliphs was the issuing of a new coinage which was squared in shape instead of round. This was meant to symbolise the end of the historical cycle, and the founding of a definitive and lasting order. But even the Almohads had to undergo the fate of all the Bedouin dynasties. What finally took the edge off their swords was not a diminution of their military might but a weakening of their rather one-sided faith in the mission of their Mahdi. Not only did the majority of scholars in the land remain opposed to the innovations in the law (shari'a), at the court itself, a new spirit was awakening. The unitive doctrine of the Almohads was thus too divested of a visual and literal character to be able to speak to the mass of the faithful.
The Shrine of al-Mahdi ibn Tumart, Aghmat Uriqa
Yet the Almohads could not hold up the Christian advance permanently. A victory at Alarcos in 610/1195 had no lasting effect, and the catastrophic defeat of Las Navas de Tosola in 627/1212 at the hands of a coalition of the Christian kings of the Peninsula, resulted in the withdrawal of the Almohads from al-Andalus altogether. The last sultans reigned only in North Africa, but there too their grip began to loosen. The rising of the Yagamarsan b. Zayyan at Tlemcen in 651/1236 led to the foundation there of the independent Abdelwahid dynasty; and in the next year, Abu Zakariyya Yahya, the governor of Tunisia, proclaimed his independence in Tunis and found the dynasty of the Hafsids. Finally the Almohad capital Marrakech itself fell to the Marinids in 684/1269.
The doctrine of al-Mahdi ibn Tumart
The foregoing discussion of Ibn Tumart’s early career has been presented largely in order to make one point explicit; that the overriding theme of the Almohad message, indeed the common thread linking the diverse writings and statements of the movement's founder, was the affirmation of a moral imperative to action on the part of each individual believer—an idea embodied in the call to enjoin good and forbid evil. This concept, used throughout the history of Islam as a justification for popular opposition to tyranny, has its Quranic root in verses like the following from Surat Al 'Imran:
"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong. They are the ones to attain felicity.” "Be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving clear signs. For them is a dreadful penalty."
Although the specific interpretation of these and similar verses may differ according to the particular doctrine a reader follows, most commentators agree that a definite command to action is implied in their words. Many commentators have often seen the implications of this command to be influential in determining the proper relationships anions individuals within Islamic society in general, as well as providing the basis for the regulative functions of the Islamic state. Imam al-Ghazali, whom as we have seen influenced Ibn Tumart’s thought, laid great emphasis upon the individual Muslim's responsibility to influence others in his I’hya ulum ad-din: "The enjoining of good and the forbidding of evil is the great central support (a-qutb al-a’adham) of religion, and is the important matter for which all the prophets were sent." Ibn Hazm, another theologian whose thought may have had a considerable impact upon Ibn Tumart, discussed the more specific political implications of ethical responsibility in a Hadith transmitted via Sidna al-Hassan al-Basri: "The best of the martyrs of my community is the man who stands against a tyrannical leader, exhorts him to act rightly and to forbid evil, and is killed for it. The place of that martyr is in heaven between Hamza [the uncle of the prophet who died fighting for Islam at the battle of U’hud] and Jaafar [Ibn Abi Talib]."
Muslims have historically differed as to how the correction of deviant behaviour (hisba) should be carried out. Some have claimed that it should be through the exhortations of speech, some that it should be applied only against the self within the heart (seen as a symbol for the spiritual intellect), and others, like the Mu’atazila, Khawarij, and Zaydis (all of whose doctrines may have influenced of the development of Islam in the Maghrib) claim that it is permissible to use physical violence. Imam al-Ghazali (and Ibn Tumart as well) believed that hisba ought to be carried out in five stages of increasing severity:
- Making the offending act clearly known.
- Warning against committing the act with kind words.
- The open criticism and revilement of one who persists in a forbidden act.
- Publicly preventing the commission of the offending act by physical means (such as breaking jugs of wine, spilling wine into the street, ripping silk clothes off the backs of men who wear them, etc).
- Preventing commission of the act by blows or combat.
To Ibn Tumart, who clearly conceived of Islam as a means for the transformation of individual behaviour, the problem of the ethical imperatives implicit, in the determination of right and wrong became paramount. For him the phrase, "Enjoin good and forbid evil," was a clear and unequivocal command from God, obligatory for all Muslims, that left no room for doubt:
"The command of God and His prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) are one. The command [entails] obligations. This is the way (madhab) of all the Companions and one who follows their example."
His concern was not about the nature of this obligation, which was clear to him, but rather about how to determine the execution of the Divine Command in specific instances. Having accepted from his Shafiite and Asharite teachers that the source of the rules and regulations found in Islamic law are to be found in the Quran, books of Hadith, and the consensus of the early Muslim community, how then, he asked, is one to understand exactly what is obligatory—especially when, as in the case of Hadith, these sources are often contradictory?
Ibn Tumart’s answer to the dilemma of understanding in Islamic law can be found in A'azz ma yutlab wa afdal ma yuksad wa anfas ma yudhakhar wa a’hisan ma yu'mal (The Dearest of What Is Sought, the Most Excellent of What Is Earned, the Most Precious of What Is Preserved, and the Best of What Is Done), the first and most important of his writings contained in the 1903 published collection entitled Le Livre de Mohammed Ibn Toumert. Taking his cue, at least indirectly, from the "Book of Knowledge" of al-Ghazali's I’hya', he opens this treatise on ethical imperatives with a discussion of the nature of knowledge. As always, Ibn Tumart is concerned with responsibility —not by asking how things are perceived, but rather by asking how one arrives at the knowledge which makes him responsible for his actions.
Human knowledge in general is seen to be derived from three primary faculties—feeling, intelligence (in the sense of intellectual reasoning), and audition. In the application of these faculties to the development of rules of behaviour, however, they are neither trustworthy nor equally valid. Feelings (I’hsas) are the first to be discarded because of their subjective, nature, whereas intellection (‘aql) is a two-edged sword; it can be used both to clarify and to obscure the explicit intent of a particular Divine command. Audition (istima’, which also has the sense of learning from another) is of value only if the source of information from which one learns is sound. How, then, is certain knowledge (‘ilm bi'l-yaqin) to be acquired? Anyone who has read al-Munqidh mina ad-dalal will quickly notice that the same question prompted Imam al-Ghazali to begin his intellectual quest for universal truths. It is important to remember, however, that Ibn Tumart was essentially a systematizer than a theorist., and specifically confined his interest to the search for a science of legal rather than philosophical certainty—a set of procedures for applying Islamic principles that would serve as a framework for a peaceful, harmonious, and just society.
Critically examining his own environment, he perceived that the reasoning of contemporary Maliki scholars, fanatically sectarian, ambitious and more knowledgeable about the works of their own teachers than about those of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) or the early Muslim community, had become hopelessly misguided. They appeared to him to revel in speculation, dabbled in the philosophy of (Greek) polytheists, quoted unsubstantiated Hadiths, and gave legal decisions more attuned to the needs of their royal employers than to the good of society as a whole. To end what he perceived as an orgy of deviation and speculation Ibn Tumart called for a re-adherence to "consensus" —not that of contemporary religious scholars, but rather, following the lead of the Shafiite method, that of the community of the Prophet's Companions. Such a consensus could only be ascertained by reference to the major sources of Hadith (al-Bukhari, Muslim, Imam Malik, Tirmidhi, Nasa'i, etc.). Since, however, many of the accounts in these volumes contradicted each other, Ibn Tumart anticipated the complications later encountered by scholars like an-Nawawi and chose to rely only on those Hadiths and akhbar that were agreed upon by more than one authority at each stage of transmission (ahadith al-mutawatira).
This adherence to tawatur (agreement) and the concomitant rejection of Hadith a’had (that transmitted via only one pious authority) became for Ibn Tumart the most meaningful foundation for a legally-binding consensus and the touchstone by which the commandment of the Quran were to be interpreted. A logical result of taking such a position, which served to restrict as well as to systematize the foundations of the Law, was a complete rejection of the unbridled exercise of personal opinion (dhann). A discussion of this very point served as the centrepiece for Ibn Tumart's supposed debate with Maliki scholars at Aghmat. Ibn Tumart himself tells us that when he asked his interlocutors to list the sources of truth and falsehood, they were unable to understand the sense of his question. In reply to their perplexity he answered his own query:
"The sources of truth and falsehood are four—knowledge ('’ilm), ignorance (jahl), doubt (shakk), and opinion (dhann). Knowledge is the source of guidance, whereas ignorance, doubt, and opinion are sources of error." To this one of the Maliki legist replied. "You have made ignorance a source of error, yet [in reality] it is a source of nothing; you have made doubt a source of error, yet it [too] is a source of nothing; you have made opinion a source of error, yet the rules of the Law are confirmed by opinion. [Even] the affirmation of faith (shahada) is an act of opinion and [other] laws are based upon it."
Ibn Tumart rebutted this argument by claiming (as did al-Ghazali before him) that the shahada is not an act of opinion but the result of a clear perception of bayyinat, which comes about through the exercise of natural faculties. In accordance with the concepts of sixth/twelfth century Muslim psychology, he did not consider such a perception of "clear signs" to be speculative in nature. Opinion, on the other hand, was widely recognized to involve conscious speculation and therefore could not be the source of certain truth.
Using a structuralist type of logic, Ibn Tumart employed binary oppositions to illustrate his points. The oppositional pair of knowledge versus ignorance, for example, is paired with that of light versus darkness; no meaningful median condition, other than a temporary transitional state, is logically allowed to remain. Using a number of quotations from the Quran as well, he attempted to demonstrate that the same structuralist approach is inherent in God's own presentation of His Message. Ignorance, illustrated in the Quran by the tricks of Pharaoh's magicians (magic is one of the most prevalent examples of unbelief in both the Quran and Hadith), is defined by Ibn Tumart as dissimulation and oppression, and is contrasted with the certain knowledge symbolized by the prophet Moses' use of his staff to confound their schemes. Doubt is equated with bewilderment and blindness and more Quranic quotations are produced that describe this condition as the opposite of 'Urn. Opinion, for its part, is seen to be the argument of the passions ascendant over the Truth—a definition also supported by quotations from the Quran.
Knowledge, then, of the regulations and prohibitions ordained by God and His Prophet must be based on firm foundations. These, for the madhhab al-Muwahhidin, are the Quran (the ultimate and absolute source for the principles of Islamic law); the actions of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him), based only on those Hadiths supported by multiple authorities (Ibn Tumart required no upper limit for the number of these authorities, the more the better); and the consensus of the Prophet's community, also based on mutually-supportive accounts (he agreed with Imam Malik that the actions of the Medinian community remained the most normative throughout the first two generations of Islamic history).
The actual practice of jurisprudence based on these foundations, which Ibn Tumart called al-fiqh fi-Sunna, entailed the knowledge of five fundamentals:
- How knowledge was learned from or transmitted by the Prophet.
- Knowledge of the chain of transmission.
- Knowledge of the grammatical meaning of each consulted text.
- Knowledge of the firmness or weakness of specific Hadiths.
- Knowledge of the rules for applying istinbat and ta'wil (interpretation of ambiguities in the Quran and Hadith).
It is important to note here that despite the claim of some scholars that Ibn Tumart was essentially an adherent of Dhahiri theology (like the school of the Almohads, that of the Dhahiris was a madhhab fiqhi rather than a madhhab kalami), the acceptance, in principle, of the exercise of istinbat and ta’wil indicates an attitude toward deductive reasoning (and by implication, toward analogy, qiyas) much more open-minded than that displayed by Dhahiri ideologues like Ibn Hazm. The great Asharite theologian Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni opposed knowledge to jahl, shakk, and dhann in a way strikingly similar to that described above. When we read in the works of medieval historians that Ibn Tumart's teachers, Abu Bakr Shashi and al-Ghazali were both students of al-Juwayni, the correspondences between Almohad fiqh fi-Sunna and the jurisprudence advocated by these more famous scholars becomes easy to understand. Knowledge, for Ibn Tumart as well as for al-Ghazali and other neo-Asharites, was elevated to the level of a first principle—the source for both faith and all acts of obedience. For Ibn Tumart “those with knowledge" (the ulama) occupy the same rank as the ulu al-albab mentioned in the Quran, and serve the function of guiding Islamic society as the elite "Party of God" (Hizbullah). In later Almohad administration this Hizb Allah, originally identified with the Ahl al-Jama'a al-'Ashara and their students the Ahl as-Sab'in (the Seventy), became transformed into a class of theologian-administrators known as huffadh (plural of hafidh, but meaning in this case "those who have memorized the Mahdi's doctrine", not "those who have memorized the Quran") who were sent to assist in and oversee the activities of political and military appointees.
Practical knowledge, the primary concern of Ibn Tumart, was considered a finite quantity, directly linked to the sources from which it is derived. As such, its value and usefulness is directly related to the accuracy and verifiability of these sources, and thus stands or falls on the soundness of their content. But since knowledge of the rules of God is in itself seen to be the main source of truly "Islamic" behaviour, the question of the verification and analysis of Hadith and reports of the Sahaba becomes crucial. Indeed an important key to the Almohad philosophical and ethical system can be found summed up in a phrase of Ibn Tumart's hidden within a discussion on procedure: “al-idrak um al-istita’a” (Understanding is the mother of ability). Ibn Tumart's discussion of the relationship between a root (asl) and its branches (furu'), far from being imitative and simplistic, can clearly be regarded as logically reasoned and even innovative, so long as the reader is aware that the "knowledge" in question is not a metaphysical concept, but rather is the knowledge of fundamental principles applies to the exercise of legal judgments. It is indeed far from hyperbolic to claim that in the Mahdi's writings the modern scholar is faced with an example of medieval structuralism that would please even a modern anthropologist like Levi-Strauss.
Besides his well-known attack on Maliki taqlid ("Establishment of rules without the shari’a is impossible, establishment of the shari’a without the Prophet is impossible, and establishment of furu’ without asl is impossible"), Ibn Tumart attacked the assumptions underlying medieval rationalism as well. This was not accomplished by doctrinaire sloganeering, but rather by a reasoned discussion of the limits of intellectual thought. He saw the human mind, in contradiction to the ideas of the philosophers, to draw forth from itself no obligatory way of thinking. Because of the mind's ability to conceive of infinite possibilities, supposition and doubt (in the sense of ethical relativism) is inevitable. The mind cannot, therefore, by its very nature reach ultimate perfection in that it is seen to operate as an adaptive rather than as a generative mechanism. Since, to Ibn Tumart, adaptation can proceed indefinitely, the rational mind is seen to produce an "infinite loop" of thoughts, ideas, and possibilities, and is consequently unable to transcend its own limitations. Only God Almighty Himself is al-Bari' (the Creator, surpassing by His nature such limitation), a fact which makes revelation necessary in order to orient mankind, lost in vain cyclical reasoning, toward social harmony and personal salvation. Revelation, then, becomes the essence of Divine guidance (huda), and by its Divine nature is distinguished by justice (al-'adl) and goodness (ihsan). God's knowledge of affairs is absolute; "Every bounty is most excellent and every punishment is just." Consequently, for the true muwahhid the essence of faith (iman) is to know one's finite limits.
For these reasons Ibn Tumart considered it insufficient for a Muslim to merely profess his faith, since according to his logic one's knowledge of the whole necessarily implies an understanding of its parts, while an understanding of the parts entails a recognition of personal responsibility. Responsibility, more than anything else, implies action:
"[Acts of] piety ore accomplished only through faith and sincerity. Faith and sincerity come from knowledge, and knowledge is [gained] by research. Research comes from [an act of the] will, and will comes from desire and awe (rahba). Desire and awe come from [the Divine] Promise and Threat, and the Promise and Threat come from the Law. The Law comes from the truthfulness of the Messenger of God, and the truthfulness of the Messenger is [known] from the appearance of miracles. The appearance of miracles comes from the Permission of God."
Knowledge of the Reality of God entails an intuitive (fitri) acceptance of His laws. These laws, as we have seen in the above discussion, are known by the systematic acquisition of the rules and regulations found in the Quran, the Prophetic Sunna, and the consensus of the Prophet's own community. This knowledge is the fundamental basis for Islamic social organization and takes two essential forms—command and prohibition. Awareness of God's commands entails an awareness of the necessity not only to acknowledge them, but to carry them out. This is the act of acceptance (al-fi'al). Islam requires the performance of obligatory behaviour and recommends useful behaviour. Equivocation in the face of God's commands means that the individual does not submit (la yuslim) to His Reality. Such a person, in his negation of tawhid, is like "a disobedient slave who defies the will of his master," making punishment an obligatory corrective. Likewise, knowledge of what God prohibits entails not only its avoidance but its active rejection as well. This is the act of repudiation (at-tark). The individual must both avoid acts that are clearly prohibited and prevent others from doing them. He must also admonish others against doing what is disapproved, but their denial of these acts need not be forced. Only those acts that are neutrally allowed (muba’h) are free from the ethical imperative. Equivocation in the denial of disapproved acts is seen to be the same act of defiance and disobedience as their acceptance. In neither case can the slave be said to have truly submitted, and as such he is not truly muslim.
In Ibn Tumart's system of ethics understanding is indeed the mother of ability. Ability (al-istita’a) is seen to have ten aspects: number, goods, tools, money, feelings, strength, understanding, intelligence, knowledge, and choice, all of which are easily perceived by the senses and are dealt with in the shari’a. The lack of any one of these aspects within an individual, such as through stupidity, weakness, poverty, or ignorance of God's commands, negates the responsibility associated with it. Such individuals, because of their incomplete mental condition, are not to be held accountable for their actions. The same is not true, however, for those who fully understand (al-'uqala). They "cannot escape either their own responsibility or [the meaning of what is contained in] the Book except by permission from God or His Prophet." Besides keeping a rigorous watch over their own and others' actions, they are enjoined to spread the understanding of God's commandments as well, according to the linguistic correspondence between the received command and the necessary act of submission to it (Islam). The guidance (dalalat) they are enjoined to impart may be given on three levels: by indication (al- ishara), through the written word (al-kitaba), and by way of parables and examples (al-'ibara).
It is interesting and perhaps highly significant that in the opening chapters of Ihya' 'alum ad-dln al-Ghazali, in a discussion about how the meanings of fundamental concepts in Islam have been perverted over time, defines the crucial words fiqh, 'ilm, and tawhid in a way very similar to Ibn Tumart's. Instead of referring to scholarly disputation and arguments over points of legal applications, fiqh was originally to have meant "the science of the path of the hereafter and the knowledge of the subtle defects of the soul, the influences which render work corrupt, the thorough realization of the inferiority of this life, the urgent expectation of bliss in the hereafter, and the domination of fear over the heart." 'Ilm was seen to originally mean "the knowledge of God, His miracles and His works among His servants and creatures." Tawhid, far from being a creation of scholastic theology (sina'at al-kalam), is, for al-Ghazali, "the belief that all things come from God, a belief which ruled out all intermediary causes (al-asbab wal-wasait). Both good and evil would then be seen as coming completely from God." He goes on to compare tawhid to a precious nut or fruit encased in two successive husks. The outer husk represents the verbal profession that there is no god but Allah. The inner husk represents the state wherein the heart neither opposes nor denies the meaning of the shahada (the state of belief and its acceptance). The pith represents the belief that all things come from God—a belief which rules out any consideration of instrumentalities and implies worshipping Him and nothing besides Him. Ibn Tumart’s conception of the meaning of tawhid differs from al-Ghazali’s only to the extent of pointing out that one cannot take the husk of a nut (the original model must have been a pistachio) without desiring the pith as well. The pith, after all, is the essential nutrient. In his commentary of tawhid in the Berber language ibn Tumart writes:
There is no God apart from Him to whom all existence points, and regarding whom all creatures testify that He is absolute and infinite, free from all determination by time, space, direction, boundary, kind, form, shape, measure, relationship or state. He is the First which nothing follows, the Last which nothing proceeds, He is unique, without being anywhere, sublime, without being anyhow, loveable, without being like anything. The mind cannot picture Him, thoughts cannot reach Him, reason cannot describe him… He is free from ignorance and constraint, free from impotence and need. His is greatness and majesty, glory and perfection, knowledge and choice, lordship and power. To Him are life and eternity, and to Him belong the most beautiful names. He is one in His beginninglessness. In Him there is nothing but He Himself, there is not existence apart from Him, neither earth nor Heaven, neither water nor air, neither emptiness nor fullness, no light and no darkness, no night and no day, nothing living and nothing sentient… for in the sight of the Infinite, whatever is finite is nothing.
It is in the context of the moral imperatives of tawhid that the Quranic exhortation amr bi'l-ma'ruf wa nahy 'an al-munkar has both political and social relevance. The positive element (amr bi'l-ma'ruf) meant for Ibn Tumart and his followers that because of their understanding of Islamic theology they had a clear responsibility to impart basic knowledge to as great a number of people as possible. Hence their active interest in teaching and their innovative translations of the Quran, Hadith, and elements of fiqh into the Berger language. The influence of this educational mission was to survive in the Maghrib long after their own disappearance in the hands of Sufis like the ninth fifteenth century Sidi Mohammed ibn Slimane Jazouli (d. 869/1454), who were instrumental in spreading religiously-oriented literacy in rural areas.
The Almohad conception of the Imamate with its related notions of Mahdism and 'isma, can be understood in the context of the above educational imperative as well. In Almohad doctrine a spiritual imam is seen to necessarily exist in every generation in order to maintain the orientation of the Islamic community toward truth and justice. The idea of ‘isma, usually defined in relation to Shiite notions of "sinlessness" or "infallibility," has, in the madhhab al-muwahhidin, the connotation of freedom or liberation:
"There is no Imam who is not 'free' (ma'sum) from falsehood (al-batil) in order to abolish falsehood, for falsehood does not abolish falsehood. He is also free from misguidance (ad-dalal), for misguidance does not abolish misguidance, and likewise one misguided does not abolish misguidance. Likewise the sinful (al-mufsid) does not abolish sin, for sin does not abolish sin. The Imam must by all means be free from these upsets. He must also be free from tyranny (al-jawr), for the tyrant does not abolish tyranny but instead affirms it. He must be free from innovation (al-bid'a), for the careless innovator does not abolish his innovation, but rather affirms it. He must be free from lies, for the liar does not abolish the lie but affirms it. He must be free from ignorant acts, for one who is ignorant does not abolish ignorance... Nothing is repulsed except by its opposite. Darkness is not repulsed except by light (an-nur) and misguidance is not repulsed except by guidance (al-hidaya). Tyranny is not repulsed except with justice. Disobedience is not repulsed except by obedience, and disagreement is not repulsed except by agreement. Agreement (social concord) is not made valid except by the attachment of affairs to the Foremost in Command (ulu al-amr). He is the Imam free from falsehood and oppression, for oppression does not abolish oppression. This is the meaning of God's words, 'Verily I created you an imam for mankind'."
The Almohad idea of the imamate is clearly different from that of the Fatimids, who are usually given credit for the development of a Mahdist tradition in the Maghrib. There is no discussion of esoteric lore here, no 'ilm al-batin. We see, instead, the image of one who is simply intellectually and spiritually more qualified to interpret God's commands for his community. An imamate of grace (ni'ama) such as this, linked only in the most general sense with the idea of lineage precedence (Ibn Tumart's claim of Hassanid descent must be seen as weak at best), has much more in common with the Sufi idea of qutbaniya than it does with any contemporary Shiite idea of legitimacy. Apart from lip-service renditions of common millenarian prophecies, one sees the Almohad Mahdi claiming little more for himself than the right to successorship of the Prophet as the most sincere follower of his Sunna. Perhaps intentionally disassociating himself from Shiism, Ibn Tumart followed Kharijite example in his writings, mentioning only Abu Bakr and Omar among the first caliphs.
The Almohad Mahdi, then, is little different from the mujaddid who Muslims believe comes to revive the religion and the Sunna every hundred years. Such a man, of course, is unique both within his family and among his people. Appointed only by the grace of God, he is known (as is the Sufi qutb) by his adherence to the prophetic example in both its inward and outward aspects to the point at which obedience to him is seen to be equivalent to obedience to the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) himself. He is both a guide and one who is guided (mahdi), and as such is the teacher par excellence —more able than any other to carry out the responsibility of enjoining good and forbidding evil. The new era of justice, mercy, and equality before God that he is seen to inaugurate is no millenarian utopia, but a simple return to the ethics of the first community of Muslims. The negative aspect of Ibn Tumart's message, the forbidding of evil (nahy 'an al-munkar), when combined with the positive ethical imperative of Almohad fiqh fi-Sunna described above, provided the impetus for political opposition first against the Almoravids and later against the Christians of Spain and the Norman invaders of Ifriqiya. The Almoravid rulers and their Maliki intellectual supporters, by wasting their time in philosophical sophistries while activities abhorrent to Islamic morals were allowed to exist outside the walls of their palaces and homes, were condemned by Ibn Tumart for sins of omission whose results were seen to be just as serious as if they had committed evil acts themselves.
It is crucial to note the theological disputes of usul versus furu' or Sunna versus taqlid did not of themselves cause the Masmuda Berbers to come swarming out of the Atlas mountains under the white Almohad banner. It is important to remember as well that while secondary factors like tribal rivalry and inter-ethnic competition did play a certain part in the mobilization of the Masmuda against the Sanhaja Almoravides, the spark that ignited the conflagration was initially the same injustice, corruption, and irrelevance of rulers and institutions to society as a whole that give birth to revolutionary movements even today. The Almohads were, for their time and place, indeed revolutionaries — but in a medieval context. Under the influence of Ibn Tumart's understanding of the social meaning of fiqh, Islam in the West regained the transformative and all-encompassing ethical nature that it possessed in its first generations. As long as a vital sense of the relationship between social understanding and social action was maintained, the followers of the Mahdi from Iglin-Waraghan were indeed justified in proclaiming.