Preparing the Almohad Caliphate: The Almoravids*

Buresi, Pascal

Until the fifth/eleventh century, the Muslim West constituted a periphery under the influence of the Eastern Islamic world. This does not mean that the western provinces of the Dār al-Islām were closely controlled by the capitals of the Middle East, but that until that date, Arab elites retained significant authority over local populations. This was also the case in al-Andalus where the dynasty of the Umayyad emirs (138/756-316/929), then the caliphs (316/929-422/1031), reinforced this Arab supremacy. However, during the fifth/eleventh century and for several centuries thereafter, indigenous Berber dynasties seized power and founded original political structures that operated differently from those in the East. The first two dynasties that led the way to Western emancipation from the Eastern Arab matrix were the Almoravids (462/1070-541/1147) and the Almohads (541/1147-667/1269). The Almoravids respected the symbolic authority of the Eastern caliph by claiming only derived authority and functioning as an emirate. The Almohads, for their part, following the overthrow of the Almoravid dynasty, adopted a universalist claim to lead the entire community of believers; in doing so, they built an original and dogmatic political and religious system. The Almohad sovereigns also took the supreme titles of Islam as their own, those of imām, caliph, and prince of believers. In addition, they claimed possession of characteristics of holiness and divine election including impeccability (ʿiṣma), Mahdism, and proximity to God (wilāya). The article demonstrates that, despite opposition between the two dynastic systems, the Almoravid experience paved the way for the political and religious emancipation of the Muslim West under the Almohad caliphate.


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Al-ʿUsur al-Wusta

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August 17, 2022