The Islamic reformer Ibn Tumart

The man who changed the course of Islamic history

Ibn Tumart is considered the spiritual founder of the Berber dynasty of the Almohads in the twelfth century. His once revolutionary ideas sent shockwaves through the entire Arab world, ultimately resulting in violent tensions. By Mohamed Yosri

A few years after his departure for Andalusia and the Islamic Orient, Ibn Tumart found his way back home. The simple young man who had set out with the intent of acquiring knowledge, returned once again to the barren deserts of Sous. His return heralded the dawn of one of the Maghreb's golden ages; a remarkable era that witnessed the formation of a great empire, founded by this young man whose ambitions knew no limits.

From Cordoba to Baghdad

Ibn Tumart began his journey in what is now Morocco, setting out for Andalusia, the cities and towns of which served as important centres of learning for students of science and religion, welcoming them to study in its major schools and institutes.

Once there, he headed to Cordoba, hailed as a mecca of science and knowledge and the ancient capital of the Umayyad Caliphate. For some time, he studied under the tutelage of a number of renowned scholars, such as Judge Ibn Hamdine, one of the greatest scholars of Andalusia at the time.

While in Cordoba, Ibn Tumart was greatly influenced by the revolt of the clergy against the renowned book The Revival of Religious Sciences by Persian theologian Imam al-Ghazali. The scholars, led by Ibn Hamdine, succeeded in obtaining an order from Prince Ali bin Yusuf to burn this book in the streets of Cordoba.

Many postulate that Ibn Tumart's intellectual progression changed course completely after this incident. He refused to complete his studies with the Andalusian scholars and decided to turn to the Islamic Orient to seek knowledge from its famed scholars.

Ibn Tumart (source: Wikimedia)
"Mohammed Ibn Tumart was born around 1077 into the tribe of Al-Masmuda, which settled in Sous, in the far south of what is now Morocco. He had a simple, modest upbringing. Nevertheless, he would set into motion one of the greatest revolutions in Islamic history and become the founder of a vast empire," writes Mohamed Yosri

Egypt was the first stop on his journey. He settled in Alexandria and attended the lessons of Imam Abu Bakr at-Turtushi, studying his book Kitab Siraj al-Muluk (The Lamp of Kings), with its extensive discussions of power, governance and the inevitability of founding an Islamic state based on justice and equality.

Filled with these revolutionary ideas, he performed the haj pilgrimage in Mecca, and then headed towards the Levant, passing through en route to what is now Iraq. In Baghdad, he met with a number of senior Islamic scholars, including, it is said, Hujjat al-Islam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. Various historical sources affirm al-Ghazali's powerful influence over Ibn Tumart.

The historian Ibn Abi Zar' al-Fasi noted in his book, Rawd al-Qirtas, that al-Ghazali one day questioned his student on the status of his book The Revival of Religious Sciences in the Islamic West, to which Ibn Tumart replied that it had been burned in public in Cordoba. Ibn Abi Zar notes that al-Ghazali was angered at this and called upon God to put an end to the Almoravid dynasty. Ibn Tumart asked him to pray that he would be the one to fulfil his prayer; al-Ghazali agreed.

Ibn Tumart now began to prepare himself to return to his homeland. However, the man who would return to Sous was not the same simple young man who had left it a few years previously.

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