The Almoravids was a Berber Muslim dynasty that became established from the Western Sahara desert in the middle of the eleventh century and extended its reach to rule all of the lands from the Senegal River in West Africa to Ebro River Spain.
Leaders of the Almoravids were charismatic, powerful and vibrant. Just as people of the desert should have lived, the Almoravids had a vivid picture and understood the importance for cooperation between townsmen and farmers of the oasis. .
Before they were called Almoravids, they were mostly nomads that traveled the western Saharan desert at a place known as Mauritania today.
They raised goats, sheep, and camels and sustained a living in the rearing of these livestock. They endured in their effort to survive the rough weather conditions of the desert and its landform.
Because of their rough life, they showed a restrain from luxury. They were warriors and had high moral values that brought with it the loyalty to tribe and confederation in which blood ties became the cornerstone to tribal solidarity.
Although, the Almoravids at the time were Muslims—they did not have sufficient knowledge of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad and the laws of Allah, just as how the Bedouin Arabs of ancient Arabia were devoid of the knowledge of Islam.
They officially became named Almoravids when one of the tribal chiefs traveled to Mecca and brought with him an Islamic cleric, a scholar from a school in south-west Morroco called Dar al-Murabitin (house of those who are bound together).
The Almoravids designed a system of alternating their use of land and the trade of goods they produced.
Farmers produced and cultivated winter grains under date palms of oasis, spring wheat and vegetables. After a certain number of years of this cultivation, they would allow nomads to use these lands to pasture their livestock.
The nomads then traded products from their livestock such as wool or diary with the Almoravids. Because of this cooperation, which took place around Sijilmasa, the oasis city in southeast Morocco, the people of Sijilmasa requested the Almoravids to take charge of their city and expel the tyrannical rulers of the Bani Wanudin tribe.
The Almoravids became successful in ousting the tribe and extended their reach to Audaghust on the south end of the desert. Both Sijilmasa and Audaghust were port cities that were a means to transit gold from West Africa to the Mediterranean world.
With these two cities, the Almoravids became wealthy enough to build an Islamic empire. The way in which the Almoravids expanded their kingdom was to besiege cities and take control of it. They had a succession of Amirs that undertook the conquest.
Conquests and the Islamic Revival
The Almoravids controlled major cities and their produce and routes connecting the cities together
It took the Almoravids 20 years to conquer all of Morocco and Algeria the place known to the Arabs as al-Maghrib.
The conquest beyond the Atlas Mountains did not come steadily but was faced defeat. They gained grounds and then lost it after sometime.
They controlled the countryside first by isolating the urban fortresses and forcing them to submit to their rule. The Almoravids controlled major cities and their produce and routes connecting the cities together.
These excluded mountainous regions which were out of their control. Urban life became fanciful to the Almoravids once it became accessible. It provided them with wealth and capital to build their empire.
Within a few years, Almoravids conquered Morocco and they built an imperial city, Marrakech. This of course looked different from the nomad settlements they were accustomed to, but during the second generation it became familiar. With architectural designs inspired from the cities they conquered in Andalusia.
Now Islam was a vital strength to the Almoravids rise to power. Yahya Ibn Ibrahim, the great chief of Sanhaja confederation of tribes in the Western Sahara desert traveled on pilgrimage to Mecca along side other Sanhaja high chiefs.
In his journey, now returning home, had a commitment to bring Islam his community even though his understanding of the religion was not that much. Ibn Ibrahim heard sermons from a famous teacher, Abu Imran al-Fasi.
What he understood alarmed him and caused him to understand that Islam was differently taught from what he had seen in the great learning centers he had visited. He later understood Islam as a way of life the prophet Muhammad practiced some 400 years ago.
The then caliph and representative of the Muslim world had his base in Baghdad, Iraq. Now Ibn Ibrahim had learned that in the al Maghrib region, the religion was polarized into rival factions such as the Sunni and Shi’ite groups.
The unity of Islam has become divided because of two Caliphs, the Umayyads of Andalusia who were Sunni, and the Fatimids of Ifriqiya, who were Shi’ite.
Abu Imran al-Fasi questioned Ibn Ibrahim thoroughly. He asked about the chiefs of his confederation in Maghrib and the sort of Islam they practiced.
He also asked him about their population. His intent of asking these questions was to understand the scope of his preaching, cancel heresy and introduce the Maliki Islamic school of thought in al Maghrib.
Yahya Ibn Ibrahim was not a fluent Arabic speaker but spoke in Berber dialect, he spoke through an interpreter, a jurist from Ibn Ibrahim’s own tribe who spoke Arabic fluently.
He further said they embraced some of the practices such as the ritual prayers and that was why he and the other chiefs came to Mecca for pilgrimage.
Abu Imran was moved by the Sanhaja chief to teach Islam but he expressed his shock by the ignorance and shallow understanding of faith of these people.
Later on, the Dar al-Murabitin school was formed and was steeped into teaching the Malikite law. This way, the Almoravids came to understand the Islamic religion and they practiced Jihad.
Fall of the Empire
Ali ibn Yusuf who was not raised in the desert was just like his father, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, the Saharan who was more adapted to the urban environment invaded Iberia in 1119 and 1121, but lost in defeat, as the French had assisted the Aragonese to recover Zaragoza.
After Ali ibn Yusuf’s death in 1143, his son Tashfin ibn Ali lost ground rapidly before the Almohads. In 1146 he was killed after attempting to escape defeat in Oran.
His two successors were Ibrahim ibn Tashfin and Ishaq ibn Ali, but their reigns were short. The conquest of the city of Marrakech by the Almohads in 1147 marked the fall of the dynasty, though fragments of the Almoravids (the Banu Ghaniya), continued to struggle in the Balearic Islands, and finally in Tunisia.