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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