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.
New World Encyclopedia – Almohad Dynasty
New World Encyclopedia – Almoravid Dynasty