Analysis – The Barghwata Dynasty (744-1058) : A Berber Stark Defiance of Islamic Orthodoxy

By Dr Mohamed Chtatou

The Barghwata dynasty is a remarkable chapter in Amazigh history, both memorable and controversial for its defiance of Islamic orthodoxy in ancient Morocco. This analysis will discuss the nature of its rebellion against Islamic traditionalism in the realms of religion and politics, and explore how the issues of identity and self-preservation help explain the motivations for such a movement and the reasons for its longevity. It will argue that the impetus for the Barghwata Dynasty’s political motivations can be traced to the Kharijite rebellion during the first Islamic civil war in the struggle for succession between Ali and Muawiya I. Furthermore, the Barghwata’s adoption of a “Berberized” Islam can be seen as a cultural liberation added to the political independence of the Berbers achieved by the Kharijite movement. Leveraging orthodox Islamic beliefs to lend legitimacy to their heterodox interpretations, a desire to assert minority identity and inject a socially disadvantaged group with a measure of social and political power seems to be at the heart of the Berghwata’s “heresy.”

Origin and etymology

The Bacuates are none other than the Barghwata, one of the tribes of the Masmouda, settled for centuries in the Doukkala country. While Islam was spreading in the rest of the country, the Barghwata entered in dissidence. Not by rejecting it, but by reinventing its dogmas and rites, with a sacred book in the Amazigh language and a reworked creed.

The Barghwata (also Berghouata or Barghawata) are a group of Berber tribes on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, belonging to the Masmouda confederation. After allying themselves with the Kharijite Sufrite Berber revolt in Morocco against the Umayyad caliphate in 739/740, they established an independent state (744-1058) in the Tamesna region on the Atlantic coast between Safi and Salé, under the leadership of Tarif al-Matghari.

The Barghwata people’s legacy and information were preserved mainly through extern travellers and geographers, such as Ibn Hawqal (circa 10th century), al-Bakri (circa 13thcentury) and the well-known Ibn Khaldun (14th century).

The mysterious kingdom of the Barghwata, an inter-tribal confederation that brought together Berber tribes refusing the Arab yoke in an independent kingdom stretching over the Tamesna region between 744 and 1158, under the aegis of Tarif al-Matghari, is still being talked about.

Archaeologists are still unable to understand the exact nature of this kingdom, its mystical identity escapes the authors as its religious dimension is unknown. Arab historians have done everything to minimize its impact on the defeat of the Islamic invasion, often presenting the Moors (Libyans of the Far West) as pagan peoples without faith or law.

The kingdom of Barghwata developed its own religion inspired by Islam (perhaps influenced by Judaism) with someSunni, Shia and pagan elements and lived in an Islamic syncretism with Berber predominance. It had a sacred book in the image of the Koran, but composed of 80 suras written in Tamazight, they prayed in their language and had a cult following the example of the Muslims, but completely revised and inspired by their pre-Islamic religion. The dietary prohibitions were different, the prohibition of poultry which refers to the culture of the ostrich very widespread in Tamazgha, as well as that of the horse which is of course an Atlantean heritage and the animal symbolizing Anzar (Poseidon).

Some historians believe that the term Barghwata is a phonetic distortion of the term Barbati, a nickname born by Tarif al-Matghari. It is believed that he was born in the region of Barbate, near Cadiz in Spain. However, Jérôme Carcopino and other historians believe that the name is much older and that the tribe is the same as the one the Romans called Baquates/Bacuates, who lived until the 6th century near Volubilis (present day Walili in northern Morocco).

On this particular issue, Lionel Galand points out :

“For a long time, the name of the ancient Baquates, mentioned in Berberia by authors and inscriptions, was compared to that of the Bargawâta of the High Middle Ages, a Berber population that occupied the Moroccan region of Chaouia and mentioned by several Arab authors. One hardly knew where to place the Baquates, and this rapprochement suggested by Slane in his translation of Ibn Haldûn, affirmed six years later by Vivien de Saint-Martin, could only take its full value after new epigraphic discoveries. In 1919, a series of inscriptions attesting to the proximity of the Baquates was found at Volubilis, thus a little to the north-east of the country of the Bargawâta. Thus, M. Carcopino, in his study on Roman Morocco, agrees to link the Bargawâta to the Baquates, which he situates “in the Middle Atlas and on the adjoining plateaus”. The onomastics intervenes more in the continuation of its demonstration. The “double difficulty” to which it attacks and of purely historical order”. “

[“On a longtemps rapproché le nom de Baquates antiques, signalés en Berbérie par les auteurs et les inscriptions, celui des Bargawâta du Haut Moyen Age, population berbère qui occupait la région marocaine de Chaouia et que mentionnent plusieurs auteurs arabes. On ne savait guère où placer les Baquates, et ce rapprochement suggéré par Slane dans sa traduction d’Ibn Haldûn, affirmé six ans plus tard par Vivien de Saint-Martin, ne pouvait prendre sa valeur toute sa valeur qu’après de nouvelles découvertes épigraphiques. En 1919, on a trouvé à Volubilis, donc un peu au nord-est du pays des Bargawâta, une série d’inscriptions attestant le voisinage des Baquates. Ainsi, M. Carcopino, dans son étude sur le Maroc romain, accepte-t-il de rattacher les Bargawâta au Baquates qu’il situe “dans le Moyen-Atlas et sur les plateaux annexes“. L’onomastique intervient plus dans la suite de sa demonstration. La “double difficulté“ à laquelle il s’attaque et d’ordre purement historique“. “]

The Barghwata were Berber Muslim Kharijites. There were 3Kharijite kingdoms in al-maghrib al-Aqsa : the kingdom of Barghwata whose capital was the current Casablanca (former Anfa), the kingdom the Rostémides of Tahert (current city Tiaret in Algeria) and that of the Kingdom of Midrarides at Sijilmassa in the Tafilalt.

They were opposed to the fact that Arabs, because of their ancestry, could benefit as they wanted from advantages or privileges over non-Arabs. For the Kharijites, being the best Muslim is not a matter of ancestry or bloodline and, therefore,all Muslims are equal and should be judged on their deeds.

It is important to know that it was the Idrisids who brought this idea of “sacred Arab ancestry“ (Sherifian blood) to Morocco and the Maghreb.They paid dearly for it because the Berbers drove them out of power in 974 and then theAlmoravid Berbers inaugurated a long era of Berber dynasties in 1060 that lasted until 1549.

The Barghwata were also known as the Beni Tarif, after the founder of the principality. This Moroccan warrior first joined the army of Arabs from the East who advanced to Spain, before joining the Kharijite dissident Maysara and carrying the sword against the Muslim conquerors, plunderers of property and rapists of beautiful women. In exchange for his jihâd, Tarif got land near Rio de Barbat in Andalusia. Most historians see in this name the origin of the Barghwata. Others point out that Tarif is an Amazigh and that the Barghwata come from the Berber dynasty of Bacchus.

In any case, Abu Ubaid al-Bakri, one of the most important chroniclers of the Barghwata, relates that in 740, the Berbers of Masmouda and Zenata (the main Moroccan tribes of origin) designated Tarif as their leader. He was considered the actual founder of the Barghwata principality, but it is his son, Salih Ibn Tarif, who is considered the spiritual founder and creator of the Barghwata religion.

The injustice of the Mashreq

Although the official history retains that a large part of the Amazigh would have converted to Islam, abandoning their previous religions and creeds, some versions report that they often suffered mistreatment from the Umayyad rulers who captivated women and children and who plundered, along the way, the populations of all their goods since the concept of ghanîmah (an Arabic word (“الْغَنيمَة“) meaning “spoils of war”) was then the basis of jihâd.

In the first volume of his book Kitâb al-‘ibar (The Book of the Lessons), Ibn Khaldun reports that the “Berbers of Ifriqiya and Morocco had rebelled a dozen times” in response to what they endured as abuse and mistreatment from the Muslim conquerors.

This situation had pushed Maysara Al-Matghari, this famous Amazigh leader of the time, to go once again to Damascus to meet the Umayyad Caliph Hicham Ibn Abd al-Malik (691-743), in company of Tarif Ibn Malik alias al-Barghwati. The objective was to report to the Caliph the grievances of their population. But the reception did not take place, as the two Amazigh leaders were prevented by the minister Abrash al-Kalabi to meet the strong man of Damascus.

In anger and upon their return to Morocco, the Amazigh delegation decided to lead a rebellion against the Umayyad dynasty. A revolt in which Tarif al-Barghwati took part, between 739 and 742 and on the sidelines of which Maysara al-Matghari will proclaim himself caliph before the Amazighrevolt against him and kill him. They elected Khalid Ben Hamid az-Zenati in his place, pushing Tarif al-Barghwati to exile in the region of Tamesna in 744.

After the incident between the Arabs and Maysara Al-Matghari, Tarif al-Barghwati had gone to Tamesna to set up a new religion, organize beliefs and a jurisdiction. When he had finished his work, he entrusted it to his son Salih and ordered him to convince the Berbers to adopt it. In this regard, Abu Ubeid al-Bakri, in his book “Al Maghreb fi Dikr Bilad Iffriqiya Wal Maghrib“, reports that the Amazigh of Tamesna had elected Tarif al-Barghwati and entrusted him with the management of their community.

The son of Tarif al-Barghwati entrusted the message of the new religion to his son, Ilyas, teaching him its doctrine and its provisions and ordering him not to reveal it until he became strong. So Ilyas took over, just as his father left the country for the Middle East. But he was careful to hide this new religionin a form of Taqiyyah, pretending and practicing the principles of Islam before his community.

After having ruled for fifty years, Ilyas al-Barghwati left his place to his son, Younes, whose arrival to power constituted a definitive break with the attitude of his father and grandfather. He practiced his new religion in front of his community, called on it to adopt it and killed many people in order to spread it.

The Great Berber Revolt (739/740–743)

From the beginning of the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, the Kharijites originally based in Iraq sent representatives to the Maghreb to try to rally the Berber populations. The Berbers, accustomed to the egalitarian community system (ait rab’in governance) and not able to bear Arab domination, ended up finding in Kharijism a formidable means of political contestation.

In 740, the first Berber revolt against the Arab power took place : not at all a questioning of Islam, Kharijism was used as a pretext to question the Eastern caliphate. It is, for its followers, the will to choose “the best” to govern, and not necessarily a descendant of the prophet (which is what Shiism wants), or a candidate chosen by the sages (which is what Sunnism wants). Kharijism is the thesis most appreciated by the Berber peoples, who have relatively democratic sentiments: the leader must be chosen by all, and not imposed.

In 739, Maysara al-Matghari, mandated by the populations of the Maghrib al-Aqsa, led a delegation to Damascus to present the grievances of the Berbers : equality in the sharing of booty and an end to the practice of disembowelling sheep to obtain the fur of the foetuses (sheep being an essential element of the pastoral economy of the Berber tribes).

Complaints reached the Umayyad caliph who did not follow up, which triggered an insurrection in Tangier. Maysara seized the city, killed the governor Omar Ibn Abdallah and proclaimed himself caliph. He succeeded in preventing the landing of an Arab army sent from Spain. The Spanish governor Uqba ibn al-Hajjaj intervened in person but was unable to retake Tangier, while Maysara seized the Souss and killed its governor. Then Maysara, behaving like a tyrant, was deposed and killed by his own people, and replaced by Khalid ibn Hamid az-Zenati. Under his command, the Berbers were victorious over an Arab army on the banks of the Chelif, in early 740.

The Arab troops having been defeated, Hicham sent troops from Syria led by the general Kulthum ibn Iyad. They were defeated by the Berbers on the banks of the Sebou river in October 741. The Egyptian governor Handhala Ibn Safwan intervened in his turn and stopped the two Kharijite armies during two battles at al-Qarn and al-Asnam (Algeria) while they were threatening Kairouan (now Tunisia) in spring 742.

The Barghawata, along with the Ghomara and Miknasa, launched the Berber revolt of 739/40. They were inflamed by Sufri Kharijite preachers, a Muslim sect that embraced a doctrine representing total egalitarianism in opposition to the aristocracy of the Quraysh that had become more pronounced under the Umayyad caliphate. The rebels succeeded in taking control of most of what is now Morocco, inspiring new rebellions in the Maghreb and al-Andalus. At the Battle of Baghdura, the rebels annihilated a particularly strong army sent by the Umayyad caliph of Syria. But the rebel army itself was finally defeated on the outskirts of Kairouan in Ifriqiya in 741. In the aftermath, the rebel alliance dissolved.

Even before this denouement, the Barghawata, as founders of the revolt, had become displeased with the attempt of later followers, especially the Zenata chiefs, in alliance with the increasingly authoritarian Sufri commissars, to take control of the rebellion. Since their main objective, the liberation of their people from Umayyad rule, had already been achieved and was unlikely to be imposed again, the Barghwata saw little point in continuing the military campaigns.

In 742 or 743, the Barghwata withdrew from the rebel alliance and retreated to the Tamesna region on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, where they founded their new independent state and abandoned their Sufri kharijism. The Barghawata ruled in the Tamesna region for more than three centuries (744-1058). Under Salih Ibn Tarif’s successors, Ilyas Ibn Salih (792-842) ; Younes (842-888) and Abu Ghufail (888-913). The tribal kingdom was consolidated, and missions sent to neighboring tribes.

After initial good relations with the Caliphate of Cordoba, there was a break at the end of the tenth century with the Umayyads in power. Two Umayyad incursions, as well as Fatimid attacks, were fought off by the Barghawata. From the 11th century there was an intensive guerrilla war with the Banu Ifran. Even though the Barghawata were then greatly weakened, they were still able to repel the Almoravid attacks. The spiritual leader of the Almoravids, Ibn Yasin, fell in battle against them in 1058. It was not until 1149 that the Barghawata were eliminated by the Almohads as a political and religious group.

Who are the Barghwata ?

Who are these Barghwata ? They reigned from 744 to 1058, without leaving any trace in official history. Their name does not appear anywhere in school history textbooks. It is likely that all the archives concerning them have been deliberately destroyed to silence the existence of a people who disturbed the Arab-Islamic ideologies that had already reached a great extent in the Maghreb. Very few people know that the Barghwata were the last dynasty whose kings were Moroccans from the first to the last. They ruled the Tamesna region from Salé to Safi (what is now called useful Morocco), and above all they had their own prophet, their Koran and their rites. They were also known as the Beni Tarif, after the name of the founder of the principality, who had joined the Kharijite leaderMaysara and carried the sword against the Muslim conquerors. Most historians deduce that the Barghwata come from the Berber dynasty of Bacchus, and that Tarif is an Amazigh. The Berbers of Masmouda and Zenata appointed Tarif as their leader. He was considered the founder of the principality of Barghwata, and his son Salih is considered to be the spiritual founder and creator of the religion of Barghwata.

On the identity of the Barghwata, A. Khelifa, in his paper on the Berber Masmouda confederation says :

This confederation of tribes knew its hours of glory, first with the foundation of the kingdom of Barghwata which was born in the plains of Tamesna and the part of the coast between Salé and Azemmour up to the region of Anfa and Asfi. Ibn Khaldun states that this tribe was powerful at the beginning of the Islamization of North Africa. Towards the beginning of the second century of the Hegira, it was led by a man named Tarif Abou Saleh who had occupied a high command in the army of Maysara El Faqir, El Haqir, the matgharian, known for his sufrite doctrines, who had been the soul of the revolt of 122 H/740. El-Bekri gives many details on the religion of the Berghouata who followed the religious principles of Saleh, their king-prophet who reigned from 127 H/744-45. The dynasty lasted until 420 A.H. / 1029 A.D. when it perished under the blows of the Ifrenids and then under the blows of the Almoravids who exterminated them towards the middle of the eleventh century.

[“Cette confédération de tribus connut ses heures de gloire, d’abord avec la fondation du royaume des Barghwata qui vit le jour dans les plaines du Tamesna et la partie du littoral comprise entre Salé et Azemmour jusqu’à la région d’Anfa et Asfi. Ibn Khaldun affirme que cette tribu était puissante au début de l’islamisation de l’Afrique du Nord. Vers le commencement du second siècle de l’Hégire, elle avait pour chef un nommé Tarif Abou Saleh qui avait occupé un haut commandement dans l’armée de Maysara El Faqir, El Haqir, le matgharien, connut pour ses doctrines sufrites qui avait été l’âme de la révolte de 122 H/740. El-Bekri donne force détails sur la religion des Berghouata qui suivirent les principes religieux de Saleh, leur roi-prophète qui régna dès 127 H/744-45. La dynastie perdura jusqu’en 420 H/1029 où elle périt sous les coups des Ifrénides puis sous les coups des Almoravides qui les exterminèrent vers le milieu du XIe siècle. “]

Beni Tarif espoused a religion in the form of a Koran comprising eighty suras which almost all bore the name of a Prophet, including the names of Adam, Ayoub, Harout, etc. Neither Salih, who was afraid for his life, nor his son, to whom he entrusted his religion, his science, his principles and his “fiqh”, proclaimed themselves to be prophets, and both remained supporters of the Ibadites of the Kharijites (Muslims who advocate democracy and legalism). Exactly as the prophet Muhammad had done before him in the East. Younes even resorted to another verse of the Koran to assert his grandfather’s deserved status as a prophet :

And We did not send any messenger but with the language of his people, so that he might explain to them clearly ; then Allah makes whom He pleases err and He guides whom He pleases and He is the Mighty. (Surat Ibrahîm, verse 4).

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ رَسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ ۖ فَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

His argument is simple : Muhammad being an Arab, he transmitted Islam in Arabic, Salih has all the more right to transmit the message of God to his people in Morocco in his mother tongue Tamazight. Younes even predicted that his grandfather would reappear during the reign of the 7th king of the Beni Tarif as “Al-Mahdi al-Mountadar” (Shiite inspiration).

The religion of the Beni Tarif did not totally depart from Islam. Its precepts were adapted in an Amazigh version, local and independent from the East, by providing itself with a local Koran and a local prophet. The Barghwata probably wanted to show that they had no lessons to learn from the despots of the East and that they could produce their own religious rules. In fact, only twelve tribes accepted the prophecy of the Beni Tarif. The other tribes under their domination, of which there were 17, kept their old confession, the Mu’tazilite Islam.However, the Barghwata behaved with these tribes as allies and did not persecute them in the name of the new religion.

At the level of the population, the rites of the Barghwata were surprisingly similar to ancestral pagan beliefs and witchcraft practices, including the sacredness of the rooster, which they always say at dawn, “la tay wadane afellous” (the rooster calls to prayer). According to the orientalist Nahoum Slouch,the prohibition of eating rooster meat originated with the Jews of the Mashreq in the Sahara. This led Slouch to affirm that “the religion of the Berghouata is Muslim in its form, Berber in its rites and Jewish in its substance and tendencies“.

Barghwati warrior

The Barghwata dynasty lasted from 744 to 1058

The Barghwata, a confederation of tribes mainly from the Masmouda, formed a powerful kingdom between the 8th and 11th centuries. Following the great Kharijite revolt of Maysara, they established an independent emirate in the Tamesna region, on the Atlantic coast between Safi and Salé, under the aegis of Tarif al-Matghari.

The Barghwata dominated Tamesna for more than three centuries between 744 and 1058. Under the succession of Salih Ibn Tarif, Ilyas Ibn Salih, Younes (842-888) and Abu Ghufail (888-913). The position of the tribal kingdom was consolidated and missions were regularly sent to neighboring tribes. Initially having a good diplomatic relationship with the Caliph of Cordoba, this was stopped at the end of the tenth century with the reign of the Umayyads. Two Umayyad incursions, as well as attacks by the Fatimids had jeopardized the stability of Barghwata. Since the tenth century an intense guerrilla warfare broke out with fractions of the Banou Ifrane. Despite the precarious position of the Barghwata, they were able to defend themselves valiantly against Almoravid attacks – the spiritual leader of the Almoravids, Ibn Yassin, was killed by them in a battle in 1058. It was only in 1149 that the Barghwata were eliminated by the Almohads as a political and religious group.

The Barghwata state, ruled by a theocratic royal power, established the rituals of a new messianic religion borrowing from Islam, Judaism and ancient local beliefs, and adopted a holy book inspired by the Koran, but written in Berber and containing 80 surahs. The Barghwata kings took the titles of Mahdi and lih al-Mu’minîn and referred to God by the name of Yakûsh. At the same time, among the Ghomara of the Western Rif, of the same Masmoudic stock as the Barghwata, a false prophet called Ha-Mîm also preached a messianic religion and wrote a “holy book” in Berber, inspired by the principle of Sâlih al-Mu’minîn. But Ha-Mîm did not succeed in creating a kingdom like the dynasty of Tarif al-Matghari and he was executed by the Umayyads in 928.

The Barghwata maintained their supremacy in the region of the Atlantic plains for four centuries and maintained diplomatic and commercial relations with the Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba, which probably saw them as potential allies against the Fatimids and their Zenati allies.

Apart from the invention of Berber Islam, the Barghwatabenefitted from a strong military and a number of shrewd rulers who contributed to the dynasty’s three-hundred year reign.  The Barghwata dynasty lasted from 744 to 1058 and encompassed a swath of land stretching from Salé to Azemmour in Morocco. Tarif, the forefather of its rulers, was most likely a Kharijite—an origin which serves to explain the political origins of the Barghwata’s peculiar heterodox ideology.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Barghwata dynasty was strong enough to entertain sovereign diplomatic relations with regional powers :

By the mid-10th century the Barghawāṭah were influential enough to maintain diplomatic relations with the Umayyads of Córdoba, despite the nonconforming beliefs of the Amazigh and the rigid Sunnism of the Muslim court. Relations between the two powers were strained by the century’s end, however, and the Barghawāṭah were beset by two invasions from Spain (977–978 ; 998–999) and an attack by an agent of the Fāṭimid dynasty from the east (982–983). The Barghawāṭah successfully met these incursions, but in the 11th century they were conquered by their Amazigh neighbours, the Banū Īfran, allies of the Umayyads. The Almoravid invasion followed in 1059, and, though the Barghawāṭah killed the Almoravid spiritual leader ʿAbd Allāh ibn Yāsīn in battle, they themselves were soundly defeated. The remaining Barghawāṭah did not survive the Almohad assault and disappeared after their defeat in 1148–49.

In the struggle for succession after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the forces of Ali Ibn Abi Talib went to battle against those of Muawiya I. A group from Ali’s army revolted when Ali agreed to cease fighting and negotiate between the two sides. The group opposed Muawiya’s cause in the first place as a rebellion against Ali as the rightful caliph, and nowopposed Ali for seemingly being willing to compromise his legitimate authority.

Thus, Tarif and his sons, being from among this breakaway group known as the Kharijites, they were able to help achieve for Berbers of the time a political freedom from the Arab-Islamic order. And during the reign of Tarif’s great-grandson son Younes, this heritage of political independence gave the impetus to Younes’s campaign of cultural liberation as expressed in the invention of Berber Islam.

Younes Ibn Ilyas, who reigned between 842 and 884, was responsible for the Barghwata Dynasty’s most peculiar display of defiance against Islamic orthodoxy. Younes developed and imposed a “Berberized” form of Islam that utilized ideas and beliefs from the Islam of the east with local traditions and emphasis on the power and legitimacy of Tarif’s line of descendants.

While the Kharijite revolt of Younes’s forefathers constituted a break from the Islamic caliphates’ political structure, the invention of a new Berber Islam added a cultural liberation as well. The religion, not a rejection of Islam but a reinterpretation of it, seems to have leveraged certain orthodox Islamic beliefs in order to maintain the historic legitimacy of the religion of Islam while at the same time elevating Berber rulers to prestigious religious statuses alongside the orthodox figures of the Koran.

For example, the religion of the Barghwata acknowledged the prophethood of Muhammad, but cast him as the prophet of the Arabs ; it hailed Salih Ibn Tarif as the mahdî, the one to whom the Berber Koran was revealed in secret and behind whom Jesus would pray at the end of times. As Berber Islam balanced and mixed orthodox and heterodox Islamic beliefs, this controversial period can be seen as a remarkable assertion of Berber identity during a period of Arab-Islamic rule, and the desire for self-preservation of a minority group working within the religious and cultural framework of a majority group holding much more social power than themselves.

Amazigh kingdom

It was in the 10th century that the Barghwata, a confederation of Masmoudi tribes settled in western Morocco, founded the first Amazigh Kingdom. It was the policy of exploitation and humiliation carried out against the Berbers by the Arab governors that pushed them to ally themselves first with the Kharijites, heretics from the East, who preached, against the claim of the Arabs to govern alone, the equality of the Muslims, apart from any social or racial criteria. Later, the Berbers, in order to better assert their independence and their aspiration to found a nation, wanted to give themselves their own religion. They did not abandon Islam entirely, but they transformed it deeply in order to adapt it to their beliefs and their Berber traditions.

Taking advantage of the Kharijite revolt, the Barghwata took up arms against the Arabs, under the leadership of Maysara, a water carrier from Tangier. Their king at that time was called Tarif Abu Salih : it was his son, Salih, who founded the new religion, but it was kept secret for two generations. It was his grandson Younes who revealed it, proclaiming his grandfather the Sâlih al-Mu’minîn, “the righteous among the faithful“, of whom the Koran speaks (rat at-tahrîm 66, verse 4) :

“If the two of you repent to Allah… for your hearts have certainly swerved, and if you back each other against him, then [know that] Allah is indeed his guardian, and his supporters are Gabriel, the righteous among the faithful and, thereafter, the angels. “

إِن تَتُوبَا إِلَى اللَّهِ فَقَدْ صَغَتْ قُلُوبُكُمَا وَإِن تَظَاهَرَا عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ مَوْلَاهُ وَجِبْرِيلُ وَصَالِحُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ ظَهِيرٌ ﴿٤﴾

He claimed to have received the revelation, in Libya, of a holy book which contained eighty suras, bearing, like the Koran, the names of prophets (Job, Jonah, Saul) or animals (the cock, the partridge, the grasshopper). In addition to this book that had to be recited at all prayers, Salih had given his people a code of specific religious laws : the number of canonical prayers was ten and not five as among other Muslims, themonth of fasting was not Ramadan but Rajab, public prayer was on Thursday and not on Friday, magic and divination were authorized, etc.

The dietary prohibitions were more severe than those of Islam: Salih’ forbade eggs, the heads of animals such as sheep, and the flesh of the rooster, held as a sacred animal. Historians believe that it was Younes himself who developed these doctrines. In fact, he was an ardent propagandist, converting those who wanted to rebel against the Arab caliphal power. The orthodox Muslims, Arabs and Berbers, called for a holy war against the Barghwata heretics, but the latter, entrenched in their territory, were able to defend themselves and protect their religion for a long time.

From Taqiyyah to Prophecy

The Barghwata did not renounce Islam all at once. During the first century of the reign of the Beni Tarif, neither Salih, nor even his son, proclaimed themselves prophets. They both remained supporters of the Ibadites of the Kharijites (Muslims advocating democracy and egalitarianism). The chroniclers relate that Salih was afraid for his life. He entrusted his religion, science, principles and fiqh to his son, advising him to keep them secret and not to reveal them until he felt confident and secure. He could then call his people to join his religion and eliminate all those who would oppose it. Just as the Prophet Muhammad had done before him in the East. The Barghwata wanted to recreate a carbon copy of the Messenger of God in the Maghreb. With one difference : Salih, the pious man who managed to gather many tribes around him, kept silent about his faith throughout his life.

Historians agree, however, on one point : at the time of Younes (Salih’s grandson), a kind of Taqiyyah would have reigned. This posture, which consists of concealing one’s faith while waiting for better days and for the community of the faithful to grow stronger, had moreover been adopted by the Shiites, who dominated the Maghreb at that time.

The few bits of information reported by Arab historians only add to the mystery of this ephemeral kingdom. There is no point in looking at the Greco-Roman texts, none of which refer to the Barghwata, nor to the tribes that were in the news at the time (Sanhaja, Masmouda etc.). In his History of the Maghreb, Abdellah Laroui believes that a research work should be entrusted to archaeologists, to shed light on this unknown part of our history. “We are still stuck on basic aspects. We still do not know if the Berghwata were a political, religious, ethnic or spatial union,” said Ahmed Achaaban, who is the first Moroccan archaeologist to have conducted excavations in the Chaouia region. Tamesna, described as a large city, capital of the kingdom of Salih Ibn Tarif, has still not been located.

It was not until the third prince of the lineage, Younes, that the prophecy of the Beni Tarif was revealed. The beginnings of this transformation were first seen in 816, when Younes, accompanied by four Moroccan imams of the Mu’tazilites and Kharijites, left for Damascus where he acquired the sciences of astronomy, astrology, ‘ilm al-kalâm (theology) and argumentation, from a Mu’tazilite Sheikh. When he returned to his father’s principality, he was able to predict eclipses, which brought him closer to the status of a prophet, says the historian Mohamed Talbi. The fact that he was in the midst of uncultured people certainly made his task easier, but how did he manage to make this prophecy prevail ?

According to most chroniclers, he argued that his grandfather was the first of the prophets, taking the Koran as proof. He based his argument on this verse : The righteous (lih) from among the believers, and the angels are furthermore his support (Sûrat at-tahrîm 66, verse 4). The lih al-Mu’minînthus replaced, in the minds of the Barghwata, Amir al-Mu’minîn (the Commander of the Believers), who was Arab, despotic and arrogant. He was even superior to him, the equivalent of Salih in Tamazight being wari a wara (literally : the one to whom no one will succeed). Younous even resorted to another verse of the Koran to assert his grandfather’s deserved status as a prophet (Surat Ibrahîm, verse 4).

His argument is simple : Muhammad being an Arab, Salih has all the more right to transmit God’s message to his people in Morocco. Younes even predicted that his grandfather would reappear during the reign of the 7th king of the Beni Tarif as al-Mahdî al-Montadar. This shows the impregnation of the Barghwata with Shiite inspired Mahdism. According to Mohamed Talbi, Younes proclaimed the prophecy of his grandfather, a revered figure, to give some credibility to his own power.

Younes and his son, Ghafir, had the reputation of tyrant and bloodthirsty kings. The chronicler al-Bakri speaks of 387 towns whose inhabitants were slaughtered and of 7770 deaths among the Senhaja tribe in a single battle. This is probably an exaggeration of the facts, since the authorized chroniclers of the time did not share the belief of the Barghwata. Al-Bakri was Sunni and Abu al-Kassim Ibn Haouqal was Shiite.

Their worship, their Koran and their rites

Historians speak of religion because the Barghwata had their own Koran. According to Abu Salih Zemmour, the Barghwata prayer leader, this Koran contained eighty verses entitled with the names of prophets (Adam, Ayyoub/Job, Younes/Jonas…), stories (that of Pharaoh, of Gog and Magog/Hajouj and Majouj, of the charlatan, of the calf) or animals (the rooster, the camel, the locusts, the snake). But no trace of a written version could be found in the region of Tamesna where they settled. However, al-Bakri quoted an excerpt from the Ayyûb sûrah, the equivalent of the Koranic tiha (first rah of the Koran) of the Barghwata. The text says :

In the name of Yakûsh, the Almighty, who sent his book to people to enlighten them about his Truth. Then they said : Iblis (Satan) knows about this truth. Yakûsh objected. He does not support Iblis.

The word Yakûsh here is the Berber translation of the wordGod, which some have considered to be the god of the Barghwata, while others maintain that it is simply the translation of the word Allah, which the Kharijites among the Muslim Berbers used to believe in. The latter view is shared by Mohamed Talbi, who argues that the religion of the Beni Tarif did not totally depart from Islam. It was an Amazigh version of Islam, local and independent from the East, by providing itself with a local Koran and a local prophet.

This independent tendency was not limited to the texts. Thus, the Barghwata observed fasting during the month of Rajab instead of Ramadan, prayed in groups on Thursdays instead of Fridays, and performed certain prayers without prostration or genuflection (sujûd and rukû), as did the Christians. They also washed both sides of their bellies for their ablutions. They observed five prayers during the day and five at night. Through these manifestations of zeal, according to Mohamed Talbi’s analysis, the Barghwata probably wanted to show that they had no lessons to learn from the despots of the East and that they could produce their own religious rules.

At the same time, the Barghwata were permissive when it came to the pleasures of life. Their religious legislation, for example, allowed men to marry as many women as they could, without any restrictions, and to take them back in marriage after divorce if they wished. Moreover, what attracted the foreigners in their country, according to Leon the African, who spoke about it later, was the extraordinary beauty of their women.

Any Barghwati could marry as many women as his possibilities allowed, but he could not contact a union with an orthodox Muslim woman or with a cousin up to the third degree. He could repudiate and take back his wives. The liar was branded with the title of morhaier (one who deviates from the truth) and generally expelled from the country. As food, the head and belly of animals were illegal.

The greeting was in the Barghwati dialect :

God is above us, nothing of the earth or the heavens is unknown to him“.

At the level of the population, the rites of the Barghwata were surprisingly similar to ancestral pagan beliefs and witchcraft practices, including the sacralization of the rooster. Saleh also prohibited the consumption of eggs or rooster meat, because this animal was considered to be the “Muezzin”. A belief that is still widespread today among the Amazigh people.

Concerning the rites of magic, it seems, according to the historians of the time, that it is in the region of Tamesna, crossed by forests and streams, that the idea of haunted nature was born. As for the reluctance to eat the head of certain animals, including fish, and the prohibition to eat eggs, they are still de rigueur among some tribes of Masmouda who took refuge in the Souss, after the dissolution of the principality ofBarghwata. The defeat of the Barghwata was not an easy task, far from it. What gave them such a strength of resistance ?

Berberized Islam

The historical references that evoke the Barghwati religion are rare. Some historians describe them as “majus (pagan), while others emphasize their alleged “Jewish origins”. These versions and accounts should be taken with caution, as history is often written by the victors.

Abu Obeid Allah al-Bakri relates in his book “The Ways and the Kingdoms” (Al Massalik Wal Mamalik) that the administration and business within the Kingdom of the Barghwata were done in Tamazight, as was the prayer. He also states that the Barghwati said “Abasmen Yakûsh, “ for example, to mean “In the name of God“ (Bismillah) and “Maqqor Yakûsh“ to mean “God is great“ (Allahu Akbar)”. During the prayer, “they would read half of their Koran while standing, and the other half while sitting,” continues Abu Obeid Allah al-Bakri.

Barghwati fighters

Generally, this religion was inspired by Islam and certain religious practices commonly accepted in Morocco at the time and Saleh Ibn Tarif had taken advantage of his religious knowledge by recovering principles and beliefs existing in his region. It was also strongly influenced by the local Amazigh framework, the environment of the time and the ignorance of the Berbers of certain principles of Islam. Salih had thus set up a known doctrine, with its rituals and its Koran written in Tamazight, which they had not hesitated to adopt and to consider as an absolute truth.

The Barghawata kingdom followed a syncretic religion inspired by Islam (perhaps influenced by Judaism) with elements of Sunni, Shiite and Kharijite Islam, mixed with Berber astrological and traditional mythology such as their taboo around eating eggs and chickens.  Under the leadership of the second ruler of the dynasty Salih ibn Tarif who had taken part in the Maysara uprising. He proclaimed himself a prophet. He also claimed to be the last Mahdî, and that Isa(Jesus) would be his companion and pray behind him.

Various minute and seemingly arbitrary adaptations to the beliefs of Islam, such as the month of fasting and the day of religious assembly, seem to support the idea that the Barghwata’s “heresy” was more of a symbolic assertion of their own ethnic identity. Additionally, it is important to note that the Barghwata’s changes to Islam were not always adaptation, but also addition. Therefore, to a certain extent, it seems that the Barghwata’s heterodoxy was partially motivated by a desire to assert a dominance or superiority over the Arab origins of Islam. For example, while orthodox Islam requires five daily prayers Berber Islam required ten and while the Feast of Sacrifice is celebrated on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijja, the Barghwatis celebrated it on 11 Dhu al-Hijja.Moreover, the saliva of their prophet attracted divine blessings and was considered an infallible remedy (a belief that still exists in Morocco today among religious healers).

However, the Barghwata’s particular brand of Islam was not the only reason for the dynasty’s longevity. Indeed, the Barghwata’s reign continued over 100 years after Berber Islam was imposed in their lands. The Barghwata dynasty’s longevity can be partially explained by their fortune of having among them a number of shrewd, intelligent, charismatic—and often ruthless—rulers and a fearsome military. One such ruler was Younes Ibn Ilyas, who claimed that his grandfather Salih was the original prophet of Berber Islam.

Mohamed Talbi, however, proposes that Younes was a calculating and charismatic ruler who invented the religion himself and “projected the evolution of the sect backwards into the golden age of his respected grandfather” in order to lend legitimacy to his claims and sustain the religion beyond his reign. While Younes was also known for his bloody battles, the Barghwata understood the importance of managing relations with neighboring tribes and empires. Abdallah Abu an-Ansar summoned his sizable army every year to announce raids on the neighboring tribes, who were quick to placate him with gifts and pledges of friendship. Having successfully won the fear and respect of the tribes, Abdallah would maintain peace in his lands by withdrawing the threat of raids.


Ha-Mîm is another “prophet” who claimed to have a revelation in Berber land and founded his own religion. According to the Arab sources, his nickname was Muhammad (he would have had a son named thus) and his father was called Abû Khalaf Man Allah. As for the curious name of Ha-Mîm, it is taken from the Koran, more exactly from the two mysterious words, H. M., which appear at the head of certain suras.

He belonged to the great Amazigh tribe of the Ghomara and it is in this tribe, more exactly in the vicinity of Tetouan, in Morocco, that he began to preach around 925. We do not know much about the life of Ha-Mîm nor about his religion. The little information we have comes mainly from the Arab historian aI-Bakri, a Sunni author who does not hide his hostility to heresy and who, therefore, is not objective.

Ha-Mîm claimed to be a prophet and to have been sent by God to reform the Muslim religion which the Arabs had altered. He composed, in Tamazight, a Koran in which appears, according to al-Bakri, the following profession of faith :

“There is no God but God… I believe in H’a Mîm, in Abû Khalaf and in Tingit”.

The religion of Ha-Mîm son of Man Allah, son of Amr appeared among the Ghomara of the Rif at the BeniOudjefoul, between 313 and 325 of the Hegira. Presented as a complementary religion to Islam, it varied in its formal practice : prayer, suppression of the fasting of Ramadan and pilgrimage, transformation of the food prohibitions (pork), modification of the ablutions, realization of a new Koran. Abû Khalâf (or Abû Yaklût) was the father of Ha-Mîm and Tingit (or Tinqit) was his aunt who, according to aI-Bakri, was amagician priestess. The sister of Ha-Mîm, Dadjdju or Dâbbu, was also a magician priestess and the faithful solicited her help.

Ha-Mîm had kept the main religious obligations of Islam such as prayer and fasting but he transformed most of them to conform them to the traditions of the Amazigh or to distinguish himself from the orthodox. For example, he imposed the annual fast but only on the last three days of Ramadan and not on the whole month, and the feast of the breaking of the fast Eid al-Fitr did not take place on the day of the breaking but on the following day. On the contrary, Ha-Mîm had instituted a weekly fast of half a day on Wednesday and of a whole day on Thursday. The number of daily prayers was reduced to two : the sunrise and sunset prayers. The zakâtor legal tax on wealth was set at one tenth of each thing owned. The pilgrimage to Mecca (a symbol of Arab domination over peoples) was abolished. The consumption of wild boar meat was allowed, while fish could only be eaten if its throat was ritually slit. Finally, the flesh of birds, including that of gallinaceous animals, as well as eggs, considered impure, were prohibited.

Such a “heresy” raised the hostility of the orthodox Muslims, Arabs and Berbers, who fought against it. Ha-Mîm died during a fight, in 928 or 931. His sect did not disappear with him, since later in the same tribe a certain ‘Asim ben Djamil gave himself as a prophet. His religion survived him until the 11th century, when his followers were converted by force to orthodoxy by the Almohads.

Berber doxology

In his chapter on the empire of the Barghwata and their kings, al-Bakri has transmitted to us, according to Zemmour ben Salih ben Hachem, interesting details concerning the famous Salih Ibn Tarif who, having received from the Berbers the supreme command after the death of his father, also took the title of prophet, taught his subjects a religious doctrine which they followed until the 5th century of the Hegira and composed for them a Koran in Berber containing 80 suras whose strange titles have partly come down to us.

As de Slane said, the famous Arab geographer al-Bakri had the good idea of preserving some of the formulas that the Barghwata used in their prayers. In this Berber doxology, unfortunately, too restricted, the name of God appears under the form “Yakûsh” :

Bism n Yakûsh : “in the name of God. “

Moqqar Yakûsh : “God is great. “

Our d am Yakûsh : “there is no one like him. “

Iddjen Yakûsh : God is one.

These phrases have, also, been reproduced, in whole or in part, by other Muslim historians and geographers who have spoken of the king-prophet of the Barghwata.

The Berber name of God appears in their works, sometimes with the lexical form given by al-Bakri “Yakûsh“, sometimes with the variant “Bakûsh. The historian en-Nassiri, to whom we owe the Istiqsa, gives “Bismek Yakosay or Yakosayou” which could perhaps be explained by “in your name, O my God !” but which is not in conformity with the text of the al-Qirtas which he copied.

What could be the origin of this word Yakûsh, Ikûsh or sh, applied by the Berbers to the supreme God ? Should we see in this name only an archaic Berber qualifier expressing the idea of existence, providence, unity, magnificence or strength orshould we look for the trace of a cult prior to Islam ?

It does not seem to me that the question can, for the moment, be scientifically resolved. Without doubt, if we only look at the consonants, we are tempted to bring the word closer toYaou, Yehoua, Hyès, Zeus or Yos, to Youh’ or Youkh, the old name of the sun, or even to identify it with Yacchos, god of earthly fecundity, the producer of rain. This last comparison is attractive ; but one could only produce, to motivate a preference in his favor, very vague historical arguments and a reason of homophony which has only a hypothetical value.

Already in the fifth century of the Hegira, the word had become old among the Abadhites and it was no longer possible to determine its original meaning. The meaning of the word Yûsh, is ‘the giver, the dispenser’. The Berbers say “ouch id, ya rebbi” : “give me, O my God. “ According to another opinion, the word Yûsh would mean “the immense”. For the first word that God addressed to Moses, when he revealed the Pentateuch to him, was : “I am Youch“, i.e. the immense. Others claim that the word means “the best”, referring to the expression that the Berbers use when they want to approve or praise someone : yûsh, yûsh. Very good, very good !

On this particular point, both Camps and Chaker argue, quite rightly :

Yakūš et Yuš sont sans doute deux formes dialectales d’un même nom et il s’agit très certainement d’un radical verbal précédé de la marque personnelle de 3ème personne de masculin singulier y (« il »). Le verbe, encore bien attesté dans les parlers berbères modernes (Maroc, Chaouïa, Mzab) sous la forme aš/uš, a le sens de « donner ». L’autre forme du verbe *(a)k(u)š, bien que non attestée en tant que verbe, se perpétue néanmoins en kabyle ou il existe un terme tukši/tikši, signifiant « don » et qui dérive d’un radical *kš. Le nom de Dieu en berbère signifiait donc vraisemblablement « il a donné », « il donne ».

Economic power and military strength

After the carnage of Oued Beht and the village of Timaghine, which enabled the Barghwata to extend their domination at the beginning of the 10th century, Abdellah Abu an-Ansar, a pacifist and cultured Barghwati king, came to power. Unlike his predecessors, Abu an-Ansar was able to unite a number of allies without the need for bloodshed. Al-Bakri tells us that he would gather his men, prepare his army and prepare to launch attacks against the neighboring tribes. When the latter offered him gifts in an attempt to gain his sympathy and he accepted their gifts, he would disperse his men (as a sign of renouncing the planned attack). This description shows how much the tribes surrounding the Barghwata kingdom feared the latter and were anxious to maintain a truce with them.

The strength of the Barghwati army reached, at that time, ten thousand men. The allied tribes who did not renounce their Kharijite cult provided them with 10,000 reserve horsemen. What motivated this solidarity ? These people were not united by a tribal bond, but rather by a national bond (specific to the Barghwata), explains Mohamed Talbi. Their nation consisted of four categories :

First, there were the Beni Tarif, the holders of power and the leaders of the ideological and spiritual alliance of the kingdom.
They were followed by the Masmouda, who enjoyed a privileged social rank.
Next came the tribes from Zenata and Senhaja, whose social standing had been enhanced by their commercial activity.
In the last place were all the tribes of Sudanese origin, allies of the Barghwata thanks to their good control of the flow of caravans from the Sahara.

But what gave the Barghwata this great power, which their peers (principalities of Nekor in the north and that of Meknassa in Sijilmassa) did not have ? There is no single explanation for this phenomenon. At the psychological level, Mohamed Talbi believes that the Beni Tarif offered the tribes around them a Koran in their language, a prophet of their own and rites that are their own brew. A more rational explanation, however, is that the territory of their principality is an area difficult to penetrate and strongly protected by forests, rivers and caves and not to forget, of course, that their land was fertile and provided them with bounteous harvests and immense riches.

In addition to these assets, the Barghwata had some 400 fortifications in their strategic cities, such as Chellah, Fedala or Anfa. But their real power lay in their economic strength. In addition to trading with Spain, they could, according to Ibn Haouqal, trade even with people from Aghmat, Souss and Sijilmassa. All this means, according to historians, that the Barghwata mastered commercial intermediation. This also means that caravans could circulate on their territory without any problem. Trade with Fez, under the Idrissids, for example, was only interrupted in times of war. As far as agriculture is concerned, on the other hand, it is sufficient to quote Leo the African :

“In the time of these heretics, the abundance of wheat was such that people exchanged a quantity of wheat equal to what a camel could carry, for a pair of slippers.

The Barghwata dominated a sensitive region, with strategic access to the sea, which put them at the center of conflicts between the Sunni Umayyad Caliphs, the Shiite Fatimids and their allies in the Maghreb. They therefore tried to eliminate them for economic and political reasons rather than religious ones. Their military power was to be clearly demonstrated when the founder of the Almoravid dynasty, Abdellah Ibn Yassin, tried to annihilate them in 1059. Ibn Yassin ventured into this adventure without preparation. He thought he could defeat the Barghwata because he came from the desert. However, those he came to fight knew better their region that was difficult to penetrate. Abdellah Ben Yassin was killed in this battle and buried in a village called Kerifla, not far from Zhiliga, in the heart of the Barghwata principality.

Of course, the Barghwata’s military prowess was renowned and the dynasty’s consistent ability to defend itself militarily was an important contributing factor to its impressive reign : Zammur al-Barghawati wrote that Salih commanded 3,200 knights, 10,000 horsemen from the Berber tribes, and an additional 12,000 horsemen from among the Muslims. It was not until 1027, three hundred years after the dynasty’s inception, were the Berghwata defeated in battle.


The Barghawata confederation was composed of 29 tribes. 12 of these tribes adopted the Barghawata religion while 17 retained orthodox Islam :

Barghawata religion (syncretic with Islam) tribes :

Gerawa, Zouagha, Branes, Banu Abi Nacer, Menjasa, Banu Abi Nuh, Banu Waghmar, Matghara, Banu Borgh, Banu Derr, Matmata, and Banu Zaksent

Khariji Muslim tribes :

Zenata-Jbal, Banu Bellit, Nemala, Ounsent, Banu Ifren, Banu Naghit, Banu Nuaman, Banu Fallusa, Banu Kuna, Banu Sebker, Assada, Regana, Azmin, Manada, Masina, Resana and Trara

Some of the constituent tribes, such as Branes, Matmata, Ifren and Trara, were fractions of much larger tribal groups, and only the Tamesna-based fractions joined the Barghawata Confederation.

Conclusion : Resilience of the kingdom of the Barghwata

The Bacuates are none other than the Barghwata, one of the tribes of the Masmouda, settled for centuries in the Doukkala country. While Islam was spreading in the rest of the country, the Barghwata entered in dissidence. Not by rejecting it, but by reinventing its dogmas and rites, with a sacred book in the Amazigh language and an altered creed. The Saharan tribe of the Senhaja took umbrage at this, whose members, under the command of the Almoravids Abdallah Ibn Yassine and Youssef Ibn Tachfine, hunted down the heretics in the name of orthodoxy. Once the latter was re-established, a holy man by the name of Abou Chouaïb Ayyoub Ibn Saïd Sanhaji was sent to Azemmour to root the true faith there, today the latter is the patron saint of this city.

The kingdom of Barghwata resisted for more than four centuries, indeed until the middle of 12th century, they knew how to safeguard their sovereignty and their independence. They underwent the successive attacks of Idrisids, Fatimids, Zirids, Zenata and even Almoravides. All these powers did not manage to annihilate them. It is the Almohads who will come to the end of this original Amazigh kingdom, whose people were of a great valour and an incomparable robustness. The Barghwati men and women were distinguished by their beauty and by their extraordinary muscular force. It was Abdelmounen ben Ali El Goumi of the Almohad dynasty who led to the annihilation in 1148 of this peculiar kingdom and gradually erased their traces, importing Arab tribes from Tunisia to replace the tribes affiliated with the Barghwata and changing the name of the region from Tamesna to Chaouia. This campaigb led to the annihilation of several cities (80, according to Ibn Khaldun).

Since then, their history has become a charlatan’s tale, barely mentioned in yellowed books. Today, it finally has the chance to come out of the shadows. Thus, the director of the Royal Institute of History Studies, Mohamed Kabli, assures that the manual of Moroccan history being prepared will reveal for the first time the little we know about the Barghwata. A large part of Moroccans will finally know who their ancestors were.

The Arabs, whose current descendants are in power, did everything possible to erase all traces of the Barghwata. There is always a desire to make people believe that Berbers never had any faith or law, that they were incapable of setting up a kingdom of their own and of uniting against invaders from all horizons. This misconception is still very much alive in the popular imagination of the Arabs.

When one returns to the source of the religious conflict between the Berbers (Libyan believers) and the Muslims (Arab believers), one notes a great theological struggle existing already at the time. In the polemic that the prophet of the Berghwata engages with the Moslems, he leans on the fourth Koranic verse of the surat Ibrahim :

And We did not send any messenger but with the language of his people, so that he might explain to them clearly ; then Allah makes whom He pleases err and He guides whom He pleases and He is the Mighty. “ (Surat Ibrahîm, verse 4).

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ رَسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ ۖ فَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

The message is clear : for Salih Ibn Tarif, Muhammad, because of his ethnicity, could not be the messenger of the Amazigh, in the least.

Henceforth, the Berber religion, having no public visibility, was pushed back to the provinces and the mountains, the indigenous populations from Tamasna to the Atlas and Rif mountains keeping their beliefs and rituals despite their Arabization and Islamization.

Today, the Barghwata Dynasty is often regarded as heretical for their adaptation of orthodox Islam and propagation of Berber Islam. However, this paper argues that the invention of their new religion was not motivated by a desire to reject wholesale the teachings of Islam but to assert their legitimate ethnic and cultural identity and elevate important Berbers to honored religious statuses previously reserved for figures from the Arab-Islamic social order. In this regard, Mohamed El Mansour writes in Zamane :

“Until recently, evoking the kingdom of Berghouta is equivalent to triggering passions. Symbol of an authentic deviation from Islam for some, incarnation of the Amazigh resistance against the Arabs for others, the political debate on this entity, although dispassionate, does not always allow the understanding of the Berghouata phenomenon. Victim of historiography, which has long tried to evict it from history, the “Berber kingdom” is also the martyr of historical research. Neither the impartial documents of the time, nor the current archaeology, allow to analyze in depth the political structure of the Berghouata kingdom. “

[“ Jusqu’à récemment évoquer le royaume des Berghouta équivaut à déclencher des passions. Symbole d’une authentique déviation de l’islam pour les uns, incarnation de la résistance amazighe contre les Arabes pour les autres, le débat politique sur cette entité, bien que dépassionné, ne permet pas toujours pas la compréhension du phénomène Berghouata. Victime de l’historiographie, qui a longtemps tenté de l’évincer de l’histoire, le “royaume berbère“ est aussi le martyr de la recherche en histoire. Ni les documents impartiaux de l’époque, ni l’archéologie actuelle, ne permettent d’analyser en profondeur la structure politique du royaume Berghouata. “]

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