Biography of Abd al-Mumin
Bith Date: c. 1094
Death Date: 1163
Place of Birth:
The Berber Abd al-Mumin (ca. 1094-1163) was the founder of the Almohad dynasty in North Africa and Spain.
Little is known of the background of Abd al-Mumin except that he was born about 1094 in a village close to Tlemcen (in present-day Algeria) and was a member of the Berber Zenata confederation. As a young man, he studied religious science at Tlemcen. About 1117, while on a visit to Bougie seeking to further his knowledge, Abd al-Mumin became a student and disciple of lbn Tumart, the founder of the Almohad reform movement. For 13 years Abd al-Mumin was one of the principal supporters of lbn Tumart, accompanying him into banishment in the Atlas Mountains, where he served on the council of advisers to Ibn Tumart and took part in Almohad military expeditions.
Some time before Ibn Tumart died in 1130, he designated Abd al-Mumin to succeed him in leading the Almohad community. But probably because Ibn Tumart had ruled by dint of his personal religious and charismatic qualities, neither his death nor Abd al-Mumin's succession was announced for 3 years. Possibly also of significance was the fact that Abd al-Mumin did not belong to the Masmuda confederation of Berbers, from which the main body of the Almohads was drawn. In 1033 Abd al-Mumin proclaimed himself caliph (amir al-muminin), which signified, over and above his leadership of the Almohads, his independence of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad.
Abd al-Mumin's 30-year reign as caliph is noteworthy for the propagation of the Almohad reform movement by conquest and for the establishment of a unified Berber empire in North Africa and Spain. The first target for conquest was the Almoravid state in Morocco, against whose immorality and espousal of the Maliki school of law the Almohad movement had been directed. A long campaign, which consisted first of raids and eventually of siege operations against the Almoravid center, culminated in the conquest of the capital, Marrakesh, in 1147. This, however, did not signal the conquest of Morocco, as two simultaneous Berber uprisings in the south and on the Atlantic coast proved. Abd al-Mumin ruthlessly suppressed these uprisings, and he used them as an occasion to purge those of his followers whose loyalty was suspect. Thousands are said to have been slain.
Having built a strong, reliable base in Morocco and western Algeria, Abd al-Mumin undertook the conquest of Spain and of present-day Algeria and Tunisia. Moslem, that is, southern Spain was captured from the Almoravids in a series of campaigns between 1146 and 1154, when Granada fell; Algeria was taken from its Berber and Arab rulers by 1151; and in 1159 Abd al-Mumin led an expedition against Tunisia, parts of which had been occupied by the Normans of Sicily. Thus, by 1160 Abd al-Mumin had built in North Africa and Spain the largest empire ever ruled by Berbers, united by both religious and political affiliation.
In the opinion of some scholars, Abd al-Mumin ultimately compromised, if not betrayed, the religious principles of the Almohad movement by securing the succession to the caliphate for his son, thus establishing a dynasty based on heredity rather than piety. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Abd al-Mumin deserves equal credit with Ibn Tumart as a founder of the movement which dominated political and religious life in the Moslem West until the early 13th century.
- There is no detailed study of Abd al-Mumin. Relevant material may be found in Henri Terrasse, History of Morocco (2 vols., 1949-1950; trans., 1 vol., 1952).