Muhammad ibn Tumart, the Preacher of Maghreb

Faith Muhammad Nassar 29-Jul-2020
محمد ابن عبد الله ابن تومرت / Public domain

History takes on dramatic change through the lives and efforts of devoted people, those to whom Allah (SWT) gave a special passion of the soul and steadfastness of will. Through their efforts, states are overthrown and the face of humanity changes. First of all, these people include the preachers of Islam. The greatest of these people was the Prophet, who, by the will of Allah, brought into the world a global, universal change. Many teachers and preachers of Islam belonged to these same people, who, with their energy and will, kindled the hearts of people, in search of true service to Allah, created madhhabs that determine how to properly honour Allah and fulfil the commandments of the Prophet, and sometimes by the power of their faith deposed the rulers of withered states and created new states in their place. It was to such selfless preachers that Muhammad ibn Tumart belonged, thanks to whose sermon the Almoravid state in the Maghreb was replaced by the Almohad State.

Muhammad ibn Tumart was born in a small village in southern Morocco between 1078 and 1082 into a poor Berber family. His father served as a candlelighter at the local mosque, and little Muhammad often helped him. Everyone called him that – Muhammad, who loves the light. And this light was kindled not only in the mosque, Allah lit this light in his soul. It was then already that Muhammad understood that his mission was to light the light of Allah in the hearts of people.

Muhammad ibn Tumart went to Cordoba, which in the 11th century was part of the Almoravid state, which included Morocco, to get an education there, in the famous centre of sciences of the then Arab world. Muhammad wanted to become a disciple of the famous Imam al-Ghazali. Whether he was able to get to him is not known, but it is known for certain that he was trained by a student of imam al-Ghazali, imam al-Turtushi.

From Cordoba, he went to Baghdad, where he joined the school of the Zahirite madhhab and was imbued with the ideas of Imam Ibn Hazm. Very soon his convictions would take on the finalized shape and he would begin his preaching mission. The main thing that attracted him to the Zahirite madhhab and the teachings of Ibn Hazm was strict adherence to the prescriptions of the Muslim religion. First, monotheism, i.e. complete denial of the attributes of Allah (for example, Life, Sight, Hearing, Will, etc., understood as the eternal properties of Allah), the recognition of which, according to the Zahiris, is the recognition of polytheism. Subsequently, the disciples and supporters of Ibn Tumart were nicknamed al-muwahiddun (“monotheists”), or, in the European manner, “almohads”. Secondly, the requirement of “observance of the purity of Islam”, which logically follows from the non-recognition of “innovations” similar to the “attributes of Allah”, namely, the requirement of a literal understanding of the Quran and the Sunnah, based on the principle of their complete self-sufficiency, a complete denial of any interpretation options for analogies (qiyasa) or based on the opinions of authoritative people (taqlid) or common sense.

First of all, the purpose of this sermon was to denounce the supporters of the Maliki madhhab, which allowed all this (the recognition of the attributes of Allah, and qiyas, and taqlid). And together with the Maliki, the criticism of Ibn Tumart was also directed at the ruling dynasty of the Almoravids, who relied on the Maliki madhhab in the structure of their state and supported it in every possible way. Starting from the general (in which the Zahiris differed from the Malikis), Ibn Tumart moved on to particulars, namely, zealous monitoring of the observance of the sobriety of people (Ibn Tumart destroyed on the spot any bottle of wine he came across), the fight against music, images, a Berber bandage on their faces by men and the lack thereof on the faces of women. In all these violations Ibn Tumart blamed the “debauchery of morals” encouraged by the Almoravids, although it was on these issues that the Maliki and Zahirite madhhabs were absolutely in solidarity.

Nevertheless, the preaching of Ibn Tumart fell on fertile ground. It aroused the wrath of the Almoravid emir, who tried to seize Ibn Tumart, but by that moment Ibn Tumart and his followers were ready for armed resistance. Muhammad ibn Tumart, like the Prophet, retired to a cave, then declared himself Imam Mahdi (the last successor of the Messenger of Allah) and a descendant of Idris (the first emir of Morocco, great-grandson of Hasan, grandson of the Prophet by his daughter Fatima and the Righteous Caliph Ali, his cousin). Together with their followers and disciples, they built a ribat (fortress), from where they began armed resistance to the Almoravids. During the life of Ibn Tumart, it turned impossible to fully defeat the Almoravids, but after his death, the Almohads were successful. In 1147, Ibn Tumart’s favorite disciple Abd al-Mumin defeated the Almoravids and took Marrakesh, after which the Almoravids’ power came to an end and a new state was established in the Maghreb and Spain for 130 years, about the creation of which Imam Ibn Tumart had dreamed so much.

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