On Sunday a 17 year old girl escaped her prison home in the early hours of the morning with a disconnected cell phone and photos. She used the phone to call 911, and the photos to show police officers evidence that her brothers and sisters were kept chained to their beds. She is a hero of incomprehensible bravery. Her daring escape led to a home welfare check, the first in her family’s well kept secret history. Law enforcement found her twelve siblings inside the “hell house”, three of them shackled and padlocked to their beds. The biological parents of all thirteen were arrested on multiple counts of torture and child abuse.
I am upset by this story. Saddened, angry, grieving. I am not shocked. I wish I could be. But the Turpin family is familiar to me. They are like the families my grandmother recruited as followers to her cult. Every news story I read about this horrific abuse simply reminds me of another family we knew growing up.
I remember the first time I met a family I was absolutely certain used their adopted children as slave labor. I was between seven and nine. The family had eighteen children – nine biological white children, and nine adopted children of color. Each time the mother got pregnant, they took in a new slave to raise it. In 1990s United States of America.
I was fourteen when my grandma considered selling me into marriage for a land trade, but I went to public school and I had so much freedom compared to these kids that I was able to fight for myself. I fucked my boyfriend and destroyed my own bride price. I wasn’t sold.
There’s an awful world for Christian children going on right under all our noses, and most have no clue. The Turpin family hell home is just one example. There are hundreds or thousands of families like theirs all across America.
I wish I could be more shocked. Instead I’m crying because this is too damn familiar. And I’m terrified the rest of the country still thinks this is an aberration.
Abd al-Mu’min was an Algerian Berber of the Zenata tribe, born in 1094 CE. He was studying Fiqh, “full understanding”or the study of Islamic law, when his teacher died. The students had heard of Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Tumart, a fiery preaching scholar who had studied in Cordoba, Baghdad, and Alexandria – three of the greatest cities of learning in the world. They wanted him to be their new teacher. Abd al-Mu’min was sent with a letter to persuade ibn Tumart to settle in Tlemcen. Ibn Tumart wouldn’t be put off his path towards Morocco, but he invited al-Mu’min to become his follower (~1117 CE). As they journeyed, ibn Tumart preached on the steps of mosques and courthouses, destroyed the merchandise of wine and pork merchants, and condemned and even assaulted women for not veiling. They were hustled along from one city to the next.
By 1120 they took to the Sous Valley, on the opposite side of the High Atlas Mountains, to escape arrest. The following Ramadan ibn Tumart announced to his ten followers that he was the Mahdi, a messianic imam of supreme purity and wisdom from the House of Muhammad. They believed him and confirmed this revelation, and helped him establish a tiny emirate in the mountains. Ibn Tumart and al-Mu’min made alliances with the other anti-Almoravid tribes in the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains, and created a hierarchy and system of succession. The first ten followers were ranked highest, followed by a council of forty from important tribes, followed by a third body before the whole mass. They built a fortress high in the mountains called the Tinmel where they lived and trained. Almohad riders disrupted the trade routes between the mountains, diverting gold from west Africa intended for Morocco.
In early 1130 the Almohads made their first direct assault on an Almoravid city, Aghmat. Most of the Almohad leadership was wiped out, including their general. Ibn Tumart died that August in the fortress compound. Al-Mu’min was an outsider in the Sous Valley, from a different tribe and tribal confederation. He was uncertain the others would accept his leadership after ibn Tumart’s death, so he kept it secret for two or three years while cultivating relationships, before officially taking over as the head of the Almohads.
Al-Mu’min was the student who took his master’s teaching and built it into an empire. First conquering the High Atlas and Middle Atlas, he made a caliphate in the mountains that stretched north to Algeria. Reverter de La Guardia I was the Viscount of Barcelona and a mercenary hired by the Almoravids as protector. His Christian army kept the Almohads in check for years, but he died in battle in 1142 or 1144. His corpse was crucified by enemies after. Al-Mu’min and his forces were able to take Marrakesh by 1147, and the war quickly turned in their favor from there. The Almohads made their base at Marrakesh, after tearing down temples and mosques they found too lavish.
They expelled 30,000 residents from Marrakesh – Jews, Christians, or people they thought likely to revolt. Then they turned their expansion efforts eastward, focusing on north Africa. The Almohads conquered Hammadid territory to take Algeria in 1152, and defeated Normans to take Ifriqiya (Tunisia) in 1159. Grenada, Cordoba, and Seville relented to diplomatic shows of force in the early 1160s. Al-Mu’min had a fort constructed in preparation for his arrival in Spain, Ribat el Fath or “Camp of Victory”. He died in 1163 before the campaign could begin. His son Abu Yaqub Yusuf would invade Al-Andalus, and impose a series of Islamic reforms on the entirety of the Almohad caliphate.
Fromherz, Allen J. “The Almohads: The Rise of an Islamic Empire”. I.B. Tauris, 2012.
Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Tumart was born in the Sous Valley of southern Morocco, between the Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains, around 1080 CE. Born to sedentary Berber parents, the boy ibn Tumart earned the nickname “firebrand” for his piety and for his love of helping his mosque lamplighter father with the lamps and candles. Morocco along with much of northwest Africa was territory of the Almoravid Empire. Once he was a young man ibn Tumart left home in search of religious knowledge. In 1106 he went to Cordoba, the capital of theological discourse in the (then known) western world.
Ibn Tumart studied under at-Turtushi, a Maliki jurist and highly respected philosopher. He was influenced by the many works of ibn Hazm (994-1064), a polymath linguist Qur’anic literalist teacher of the controversial Zahiri school. Zahiris rejected analogical deduction, the widely accepted Islamic law practice of using qiyas (analogies) from the Qur’an, Surah, and hadith, confirmed by consensus, to interpret law. Asharite theologians also believed qiyas were too vulnerable to errors in human logic and reason. The best known was the Persian mystic, jurist, and theologian al-Ghazali, known as “the Proof of Islam” for his persuasive employment of neoplatonic, or Greek revival, philosophy. Ibn Tumart definitely read some of his works and according to hagiographies met the great man as ibn Tumart journeyed to Baghdad to continue his theology studies, devout as ever.
Al-Ghazali wrote an Islamic philosophy book Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din which mixed neoplatonism with patriarchy. Around 1108, the Muslim intellectual and religious leaders of Cordoba burned the text, which suggested women were inferior to men, should cover their faces with veils in public, and ought not to have property or inheritance rights. Ibn Tumart had explored anti Almoravid views in the past, studying under Sufist jurists in Spain. The burning of Al-Ghazali’s work created a formative impression on the young adult ibn Tumart. He returned to Morocco by way of Egypt, reaching Cairo in 1117 or 1118. While in Egypt ibn Tumart learned more of Asharite jurisprudence as an alternative to Maliki.
As he journeyed ibn Tumart preached against the equality of sexes, lax imposition of Qur’anic morals on public behavior, and the corruption of the Almoravid government. The founding generation of desert warriors had left a thriving kingdom of metropolitan cities to their grandchildren – coddled and urbane. Fending off Abbasid wars from the east and Christian wars from the north, the Almoravids had been forced to raise taxes to pay for peace. They had come to power nearly a century before on promises to “Promote good, forbid evil, and abolish un-Islamic taxes”, but now they were failing on all three counts, at least by the estimate of ibn Tumart.
Once he reached Fez, ibn Tumart made his presence felt. He chucked rocks at an African princess, the sister of the Emir of Fez, knocking her off her horse for appearing in public without a veil. When he was dragged before the Emir, ibn Tumart refused to bow to the man whose face was covered in the style of many Saharan desert dwelling tribes saying, “I see only women here.” His followers joined him in ransacking and destroying butcher’s stores that sold pork and setting fire to wine shops. The Maliki jurists urged execution, but the Caliph’s viziers counselled tolerance. Ibn Tumart was banished from Fez with his followers, and his life. This mercy would be the undoing of the Almoravids. The paradox of tolerance would bring about the end of the first feminist Muslim empire nearly a thousand years ago.
Aderinto, Saheed, editor. “African Kingdoms: An Encyclopedia of Empires and Civilizations”. ABC-CLIO, 2017. Google Books.
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White America likes to forget Black people are here, and have been here since the founding. Last night Democratic candidate Doug Jones, best known for prosecuting the KKK members responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, won secessionist Jeff Session’s old Senate seat over Republican Roy Moore, a child molestor who said America was last great during slavery. White Alabamians voted for the child molester who wanted to bring back slavery. Black Alabamians voted for the former prosecutor who didn’t.
There are over a million Black citizens of Alabama, something most portrayals of that state completely obscures. Despite immense voter suppression efforts, they turned out in force to vote and demand better for themselves, and in the process save us from ourselves. Black voter turnout was higher in Alabama for this special election than the 2008 presidential election, when Barack Obama the first Black presidential candidate was up for a vote.
I’m from the South, so I know most depictions are inaccurate. Hollywood writers don’t know the difference between a redneck, a hick, and a good ol’ boy, and they think “Southern” is a single accent. They also think only the historical South had any Black folks – during slavery or Jim Crow. A lot of that is the same white obsession with Black subservience: white folks out West might think the Confederacy was tacky, but they sure do love casting Black people as slaves and maids. White America forgets Black America, or it gets nostalgic for the antebellum.
New York and Chicago writers visiting the South on assignment for newspapers and magazines to write about the hopes and heartaches, racism and regrets of white Trump voters rarely mention the Black populations in these impoverished towns; if they do it’s often in passing, as a statistic. Even neo Nazis (from Seattle) get in depth profiles in the New York Times which humanize and individualize them far more than press on Black Americans, from any region. What they get is pitying poverty porn, compassion-less condemnation, or simply nothing at all.
The Midwest is not a land of only white corn and pig farmers; Ferguson and St. Louis are there. It’s the most segregated part of the country, with the most police shootings resulting in fatalities. There are Black people in the Midwest and there have been. It’s just unrecognized by white America, which thinks of that region like a John Deere ad. I think Black America is surprised Doug Jones won last night because they know voter suppression, and they know how many extra voters it takes to overcome that corruption. But I think white America is shocked because the ones from out the South didn’t know there still were or ever were a million Black Alabamians.
We need to not forget, and hold other white folks in our circles accountable not to forget. Not just this vote, or last November’s vote. Not all the good things we get from Black people, I fear that plays right into every wrong dynamic. We need to remember that Black people are America, to retrain our minds to include Black people in our mental concept of “everyday Americans”, to look around the rooms we’re in and ask ourselves ” Why aren’t there any Black people here? How is this exclusive or uninviting or inaccessible, and what can we do to change?” Black Alabama just gave the entire United States a viable, incredibly narrow potential path to flipping the Senate in 2018. That would not have been possible without them. The ramifications of last night’s vote may have altered the course of history for the better. Let’s show some gratitude and common decency.
Charles Manson died this week, at last. He was an older and more shriveled version of the same hateful racist he’d always been, the swastika tattoo on his forehead wrinkled with decades. Fan boys and apologists are quick to point out he didn’t personally stab and dismember the nine murder victims of the Manson Family. As if that made him innocent in their deaths. Although they aren’t the same, my mind has linked my grandmother with Charles so strongly that when I heard of his demise I instantly wondered, Did she die too? Because there are ways they are the same.
They were born the same year. They both led cults. They persuaded their followers to acts which produced a far greater body count than the number they directly killed on their own. And the first time I learned Manson’s total was “only” nine, my genuine first response was an unholy guffaw and “My grandma’s killed more people than that!”
My grandma didn’t murder anyone. She left sponges in surgical patients as a nurse. She ran into and over a disabled pedestrian as a driver. She oversaw dangerous home births and didn’t transfer to the hospital when things got dicey as a spiritual midwife. She advocated for “a complete withdrawal from the Satanic medical system” in her books as a cult author. And killed more people than Charles Manson in the process, all with the outward demeanor of Little Old Lady – short and round and nonthreatening in every way.
Muslim Spain was comprised of distinct eras and groups. The Almoravid period started with Yusuf ibn Tashfin’s military success against King Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile at Seville in 1091 CE. Although most English-language material produced about the Almoravids discusses their time in Spain and legacy there, the Muslims Berbers spent far more time in northwestern Africa, particularly the p western Sahara and Maghreb. Between 1053 and 1059 they dominated the trade routes and passes of the Atlas Mountains. In 1057 the Almoravid founder Abdullah ibn Yasin was killed in battle with the Berghouata confederation, which included the last Jewish Berber tribes.
Abu Bakr ibn Umar and his cousin Yusuf ibn Tashfin conquered the commercial city of Aghmat in Morocco, and defeated the emir in battle. His widow Zaynab an-Nafzawiyyah inherited his trading fortune – a vast underground cave of gold, silver, and precious gems – becoming one of the wealthiest women of the medieval world. Prior to their marriage she had been a concubine of another tribal leader. The 12th century text Kitab al-Istibsar says “In her time there was none more beautiful nor intelligent nor witty…” Zaynab reportedly had the power to refuse marriage offers and rejected any suitor who did not have the ambition to rule a great empire. She finally selected Abu Bakr and married him in September 1068. He had the designs for the city of Marrakesh drawn up as a gift to her, paid for with her fortune.
In 1070, a series of revolts broke out in the Saharan Almoravid territories. Abu Bakr appointed his cousin Yusuf as viceroy to manage affairs at home while he led troops to settle things on the borders of civilization. He also made the exceptional decision to divorce Zaynab and have Yusuf marry her in his stead (after the standard three months of legal separation to ensure no pregnancy.) Zaynab divorced Abu Bakr in January, 1071 and married his cousin that May. Yusuf named Zaynab his Queen, which was not an automatic title for the wife of an Islamic king. It denoted respect and her greater influence in state affairs. In fact, Zaynab was so shrewd and her military strategies so successful on the battlefield she earned the sobriquet “The Magician”. Yusuf continued the construction of Marrakesh for his wife Zaynab.
The Saharan situation had settled by 1072, and Abu Bakr let it be known he was coming home to resume is place. Zaynab reasoned that Abu Bakr could be persuaded to continue the current arrangement, and recommended Yusuf approach him with a combination of firm tone and lavish gifts. It worked; Abu Bakr stayed on the peripheries of the empire, in the desert as he desired but well accommodated. Yusuf and Zaynab kept the palace, the throne, and each other. The Muslim power couple had two known sons, al-Mu’izz Billah and Fadl. Zaynab’s high status set the trend for all Muslim women in the Almoravid empire. Education of girls was nearly as common as education of boys. According to oral histories of Moroccan women passed down until today, at least two women were known to be doctors in the Almoravid period.
Abdullah ibn Yasin was a Sunni Maliki scholar of the Berber Jazulah tribe. In 1040 CE he founded a new religious movement called the Almoravids, based on “encouraging good, forbidding evil, and abolishing un-Islamic taxes.” By partnering with Muslim men of noble (Umayyad) birth and military skill, Abdullah was able to spread his new fervent brand of faith first in Senegal, then the Maghreb, and eventually Spain. Abdullah died in Morocco in 1059, and was succeeded by the cousins Abu Bakr ibn Umar (politically) and Yusuf ibn Tashfin (spiritually and military). Yusuf was a highly competent general, commanding one of the world’s greatest armies with 2,000 black horsemen (who severely intimidated European chroniclers); 6,000 shock troops from Senegal on white Arabian mounts; camels; and 15,000 foot soldiers. The Moroccan Berber Almoravids conquered Fez (1075), Tangier (1079), Tiemcen (1080), Algiers and Ténès (1082), and Oran and Ceuta (1083). North Africa from the Atlantic almost to Egypt was theirs. Umar and Tashfin cofounded the city of Marrakesh as the base of their Morrocon, Almoravid empire.
Al-Andalus had declined from the Golden Age of religious tolerance and a strong central government to finance civic art and architecture projects. After a thirty years regency under a well liked, charismatic imam the country had refused their relatively unknown caliph in favor of local allegiances. The ethnic makeup of Al-Andalus had changed over the last decades, as more Berbers moved north from Africa, often in response to Iberian cries for military aid under Christian attack. In the taifa kingdoms eras, Spain had gone from being mostly Hispano-Muslim to mostly Berber in a single generation, and each region insisted on electing someone from their own district as imam. The Christian kings played the the taifa kings off of each other, gaining territory and gold in the Muslim civil war. None played the game so well as the King of Lèon and Castille Alfonso VI.
Alfonso’s father Ferdinand I had divided his vast Spanish March territory among his children, bequeathing small kingdoms to his sons and the patronage and incomes of all the monasteries in the land to his unmarried daughters. Alfonso warred with his brothers, and signed peace treaties brokered by his sisters. The Christian countries made vassals of the taifa kingdoms, so that each paid protection money called parias. The wealth and treasures of the Muslim world rapidly migrated north in a few short years, as tributes of ivory and woven carpets joined stacks of dinars and numos de auro (coins of gold) in payments. A system started under Ferdinand was expanded the most by Alfonso. This was essentially a protection racket, and forced the Muslim kingdoms to impose taxes on their people much higher than permitted by Qur’anic law.
Intra Muslim tensions may have been high – high enough for a fitna and taifa sepatation – but those were nothing compared with the threat of Christian annihilation. That was what the last sovereign taifa king decided, the king of Seville Al-Mu’tamid ibn Abbad. Al-Mu’tamid held vast territories but the tax burden to Lèon depleted his treasury and he could not support his kingdom’s needs despite very high taxes. He decided to stop paying the parias, knowing it would invoke a military response from Alfonso VI. Al-Mu’tamid wanted to bring in the Almoravids as allies. His son Rashid urged caution, thinking they might want to stay once they got to Spain.
“I have no desire to be branded by my descendants as the man who delivered Al-Andalus as prey to the infidels. I am loath to have my name cursed in every Muslim pulpit. And, for my part, I would rather be a camel-driver in Africa than a swineherd in Castile.”
– Caliph Al-Mu’tamid ibn Abbad of Seville, 1091
Rashid was right, of course. Al-Mu’tamid was forced to flee Spain within the year. The Almoravids stopped Alfonso at Seville, and stopped the progression of the Reconquista on several fronts over the next decade. Tashfin expanded the Almoravid empire into Al-Andalus. The focus of this Islamic movement was primarily on Muslims, Muslim behaviors, and Muslim taxes, so Hispano-Jews were not directly targeted by discriminatory laws or policies that we know of. The all-Jewish community of Lucena was required to pay a tribute of 10,000 dinars. This consequence of conquest or minority status was not exceptional or all that different from the parias the Muslims had been paying, or the extra taxes Jews paid in Christian kingdoms.
Further ReadingGreer, Margaret R., Walter D. Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan. Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Legardère, Vincent. Les Almoravides: Le djihâd andalou (1106-1143). Editions L’Harmattan, 1999. Translated from French.
Conrad, David C. Empires of Middle West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. Infobase Publishing, 2009.