Berbers and the Islamic State

The Arab conquest of North Africa in the eighth century gave birth to a new political body on the western Mediterranean shores, a Berber-Islamic state, which continued to evolve throughout the entire medieval period and achieved viability, coherence, and stability by implementing Islamic norms of community and statehood, identity and institutions. The process was not a peaceful one, however. The drive to bring the Berber populace into the mainstream of Islamic statehood, through intensified islamization, indoctrination in Islamic theology, and expansion of the judicial system, deepened the awareness of Berber particularism, and refined and defined its expression vis-à-vis the Islamic state and its institutions. The story told here is that of the acculturation and alienation of the Berbers to the Islamic state under the Marinids, a confederation of Zanata Berber tribes, ruling a stable, even imperial state in Morocco and parts of eastern North Africa in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries.

This book studies how the Berbers participated in the process of the state’s formation in the medieval Maghreb, while at the same time resisting uniformity and conformity to cultural norms and institutions, through which acculturation was enforced.

The sources used here offer evidence to challenge the view that no independent Berber intellectual and literary activity existed, and to substantiate expressions of Berber self-awareness in the Arab chronicles.

Maya Shatzmiller is professor of History at the University of Western Ontario and is the author of L’historiographie merinide: Ibn Khaldun et ses contemporains and Labour in the Medieval Islamic World, as well as the editor of Crusaders and Muslims in 12th Century Syria.