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Religion and Politics in the Pre-modern Maghrib

Panel VIII-13, sponsored byMiddle East Medievalists, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The papers in this panel examine political and religious change in pre-modern Morocco and al-Andalus in a number of different settings. The first paper discusses the transformation of Seville’s political community following the Almoravid conquest of al-Andalus in the eleventh century. It draws on the writings of influential scholars Abū Bakr b. al-ʿArabī and Ibn ʿAbdūn, and elucidates the development of a new vision of political community for Seville under the rule of Maghribi empires. In the second paper, we move from Moroccan dynasties invading the Iberian peninsula to Iberian invaders in Morocco. In discussing the competition for control over coastal Morocco in the fifteenth century, this paper evaluates the contrasting strategies for achieving political legitimacy pursued by the contending powers, the Portuguese kingdom and Moroccan Marīnid sultanate, while analyzing the worldview and mindset of each side. The last two papers move into the eighteenth century, following the fall of al-Andalus, when political leadership in Morocco was controlled by dynasties claiming descent from the lineage of the Prophet Muḥammad (shurafā’). With political and religious power at stake, the question of how to verify claims of sharifian lineage were front and center. The third paper focuses on this problem and on how the process used to verify sharifian claims was transformed between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, drawing on the writings of the Naqīb al-Ashrāf (Chief of the Prophet’s Descendants) in Fez, Sulaymān b. Ḥawwāt. Figures like Ibn Ḥawwāt were torn between political pressures exerted by Moroccan rulers and their inclination to follow more traditional scholarly practices in the process of verification (taḥqīq). The final paper analyzes how the `Alawī sultan, Muḥammad ibn `Abd Allāh (Muḥammad III), transformed the political and economic situation of Morocco to establish stability after thirty years of civil war. By examining European sources, such as the memoirs of the French diplomat Louis Chénier, and the writings of early modern Moroccan historians such as al-Zayānī, al-Ḍu`ayyīf, and al-Nāṣirī, this paper argues that the new political stability achieved by Muḥammad III, which involved weakening the power of the central Moroccan administration, would later contribute to the domination of Morocco by European powers.
  • By 1757, Morocco had experienced thirty years of fitna, a period of unrest that had been created by divisions within the country’s military (most notably among the slave soldiers known as Abīd) as well as conflicts between the Abīd and other people of influence. As different factions within the Abīd grasped for power, they backed one or another of the many sons of the former sultan, Mawlay Ismā`īl, with each faction seeking to establish a government that would bend to its own wishes. Thus, the country must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Mawlay Ismā`īl’s grandson, Muḥammad ibn `Abd Allāh (Muḥammad III, r. 1757-1790), was able to create a functional administration that was not beholden to the Abīd and could finally bring peace to Morocco. Muḥammad III reigned for thirty three years and, although he had to put down several rebellions, for the most part his government brought much needed stability. In the process he implemented a number of changes that would equip the beleaguered `Alawī dynasty to last another 233 years in power, to the present day. These changes included tax reductions, streamlining the Moroccan administration, reducing the size of the military, and improving trade relations with Western powers. The sultan also reinforced the spiritual significance of the `Alawī dynasty as a necessary intermediary to hold together the conflicting elements of Moroccan society in a coherent and peaceful state. But at what cost? In this paper I will analyze the changes implemented by the government of this important sultan and argue that the compromises he made in resolving the fitna created a weakened Moroccan government that would prove unable to keep the forces of colonialism at bay. In the coming century, Britain, France, Germany and Spain would all meddle and compete with one another to extend their influence in Morocco. Although Muḥammad III was able to stabilize the country in the short term, his longer term influence is more significant, as he laid the groundwork for the creation of the political system in modern Morocco. My analysis will draw from the writings of Moroccan historians such as al-Zayānī, al-Du`ayyif, and al-Nāṣirī, as well as contemporary European observers such as Louis Chénier and Georg Høst. I will also evaluate and critique the interpretations of Muḥammad III’s reign by modern historians such as Ramón Lourido-Díaz and Jacques Caillé.
  • One of the first authoritative works on the legitimate descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad in Morocco was written on behalf of the Merinids in the 15th century. Later, under the Saʿdians, registers of approved descendants of the Prophet were introduced; in the 17th century, the ʿAlawī sultan Mawlay Ismāʿīl launched a large-scale campaign to identify the Prophet’s true descendants (shurafāʾ, ashrāf). In this context, Ibn Raḥmūn, in his capacity as the Head of the Prophet’s Descendants (naqīb al-ashrāf), was tasked with compiling a countrywide list of approved shurafāʾ. Also, many other texts dealing with the descent of individual groups of shurafāʾ were written at this time, only some of which have been systematically researched so far. Under the reign of Sultan Sulaymān (r. 1792-1822), the verification of the legitimate descendants of the Prophet in Morocco experienced a new flourishing, after a supposed period of negligence under his predecessor Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh (r. 1757-1790). Sulaymān b. Muḥammad al-Ḥawwāt (d. 1816) lived through the reign of both sultans and was, as a sharīf himself, eventually appointed the Chief Naqīb al-Ashrāf in Fez. In his al-Sirr al-ẓāhir fī-man aḥraza bi-Fās al-sharaf al-bāhir min aʿqāb al-Shaykh ʿAbd-al-Qādir, he deals with the descendants of ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (d. 1166) in Fez, the renowned Iraqi scholar to whom the Sufi brotherhood al-Qādiriyya traces its origins and whose assumed prophetic lineage was the subject of controversy from the 12th well into the 19th century. This paper addresses the following questions: What was al-Ḥawwāt’s motivation for writing his al-Sirr al-ẓāhir, and how does this text differ from texts written between the 15th and 17th centuries? Is this text solely the result of his activity as Naqīb al-Ashrāf? If not, into which contemporary discourses must the text be placed beyond that? These questions are answered with the help of an in-depth analysis of the argumentative and narrative strategies employed in al-Sirr al-ẓāhir – in comparison to some of the numerous earlier and later texts on al-Jīlānī’s descendants from the Maghreb. In addition, the paper draws on al-Ḥawwāt’s autobiography and his numerous treatises on other groups of the Prophet’s descendants. With this, I would like to present a case study that examines the extent to which the conspicuous tendency toward verification was instigated solely by rulers or whether the writing of such texts must be placed within a broader scholarly and/or Sufi discourse surrounding practices of verification (taḥqīq).
  • Having taken Ceuta in 818/1415, the Portuguese established a hold in Maghribī territory that would only be deepened in the ensuing decades, in such a way that, by 928/1521, one could, de facto, speak of two Portuguese protectorates in Western Maghribī territory, the first mainly set in Ceuta – Al- Qaṣr Al-Ṣaghīr – Tangier – Asīlah, and the second around the Doukkala region, set in the cities of Safī – Azammūr – el-Jadīda. All these encroachments in Marīnid (and, from 876/1471 on, Waṭṭāsid) sovereignty were made possible by the relative fragility of the Fez-based political center of the sultanate, whose control over coastal cities was flimsy, as much as by the intense internecine turmoil that beset these polities. This paper would, thus, aim at considering how both the Portuguese kingdom and Marīnid sultanate built their kingship legitimacies, this confrontation providing the necessary backdrop against which these parallel processes will be read. Special attention shall be given, on the Portuguese side, to how the royal intitulatio evolved to reflect the Portuguese conquests of tracts of Maghribī land, and on the notion of “service to God”, against the backdrop of a source-attested late medieval revival of the Crusade tradition and of the ideological tenet centered on the prolongation of the Iberian-based “Reconquista” process of earlier centuries, only this time in a Maghribī setting. On the Marīnid side, the notion of baraka, drawn from the repertoire of Sufi holy men, and its careful construction via meticulous stagecraft, public displays of generosity towards the subjects and public appearances of the sultan, will be considered so as to determine whether it reinforced or hindered the prestige of a politically declining dynasty. This paper shall thus confront Marīnid and Portuguese sources alike, mostly chronicles and chancery records, each one naturally predicated in its own politico-religious tradition of state-building, so as to i) highlight how building a legitimacy contributed to a better or worse control of the polity by each party, and ii) showcase the unique ideological mechanisms employed by both Muslims and Christians so as to claim dominion of the very same tract of land, thus baring each one’s singular worldview and mindset.
  • During the central decades of the 18th century, Tunisia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, witnessed an unprecedented intensification of the relationship between the Ḥusaynid rulers and the ʿulamāʾ. Madrasas were founded and built – doubling their number in Tunis alone – and members of the ruling dynasty married into scholarly families. The main protagonists of this development were ʿAlī b. Muḥammad, more commonly known as ʿAlī Pasha (r. 1735-1756), and ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn (r. 1759-1777). These two rulers did not limit themselves to acts of patronage for scholars, however, but also wanted to be perceived by their subjects – and presented by their panegyrists – as active participants in the scholarly life of the period. This strategy of political representation, which so far seems to have escaped the attention of researchers, is reflected both in contemporary historiographical works, e.g. Ḥammūdah b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz’s al-Kitāb al-Bāshī, and in panegyric poetry, e.g. by ʿAlī al-Ghurāb. It appears to have had no precedents in the history of Ottoman Tunisia and was abandoned after the death of ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn. All this begs the question: What might have prompted the rulers of Tunisia to intensify their relationship with the ʿulamāʾ to such an unprecedented degree at this particular historical moment? I propose that the answer mainly lies in a long-term process in the history of Ottoman Tunisia that saw the central government continuously increase its control over the rural and peripheral areas of the regency. This process, which reached a high point in the 18th century, would have been accompanied by a growing demand for legal and administrative specialists, which in turn could explain the attention lavished on scholars and educational institutions. Tunisia’s scholar princes and their intensive patronage of the ʿulamāʾ therefore are an important – but so far overlooked – chapter in the story of the profound social and political changes that transformed the Maghrib in the Ottoman period.