Shiism in North Africa and Islamic Spain

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SHAFAQNA – When people think of Shiism, they think of the Middle East: they think of Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, and to a smaller degree, Pakistan and India. In other words, this is Eastern Shiism: the Shiism that is rooted in the Mashriq or the Middle East.

Most people, however, are oblivious to the fact that there was also a Western Shiism, a Shiism rooted in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and al-Andalus. I speak of al-Tashayyu‘ fi al-Maghrib wa al-Andalus: Shiism in North Africa and Islamic Spain.

Although widely ignored, even by Shiites, the grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad, al-Hasan b. ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and al-Husayn b. ‘Ali b. Abi Talib are reported to have participated in the conquest of North Africa.

Later, their father, ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, would briefly reign over part of the region. In other words, the first three Imams of the Shiites were connected to North Africa.

As Companions of the Prophet, and members of his Household, Hasan and Husayn were not the only Sahabah to reach the region. Miqdad b. ‘Umar, the famous companion of the Prophet Muhammad, and faithful friend of Imam ‘Ali, traveled throughout the Maghrib eventually settling in Ifriqiyyah where he spread the teachings of the Household of the Prophet.

What is more, the troops sent to conquer the Maghrib in 647 CE included an important segment of Shiite Sahabah, the most famous of which were ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas, ‘Abd Allah b. Ja‘far b. Abi Talib, ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-‘Abbas, Abu Dhu’ayb al-Hudhali Khuwaylid (or Khalid) b. Muhrith, Jab Allah b. ‘Amr, Ma‘bad b. al-‘Abbas, Miqdad b. al-Aswad, al-Musayyab b. Hazan b. Abi Wahab al-Makhzumi, and ‘Ubayd Allah b. ‘Umar b. al-Khattab.

If there were Shiite Sahabah in the Maghrib, there were also Shiite tabi‘un, namely, the followers of the Companions of the Prophet, in al-Andalus. These include Hanash b. ‘Abd Allah al-Sana‘ani, ‘Abd Allah b. Sa‘id b. ‘Ammar b. Yasir, Zayd b. al-Hubab, and Bakr b. Sawadah b. Thumamah, among others.

These Companions of the Prophet and Imam ‘Ali were later followed by Companions of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, including Abu Sufyan, al-Hulwani, and Ibn Warsand. They also include: Idris b. ‘Abd Allah, Rashid al-Awrabi, Sulayman b. ‘Abd Allah, Ibrahim b. ‘Abd Allah, Muhammad b. Ja‘far, Dawud b. al-Qasim, Ahmad b. Muhammad Nafs al-Zakiyyah, al-Qasim b. Muhammad Nafs al-Zakiyyah, as well as Musa al-Jawn. Other Shiites Sahabah or tabi‘un in the Maghrib include Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b. al-Hasan, Muhammad b. Sallam b. Sayyar al-Barqi al-Hamdani al-Kufi, and Muhammad b. ‘Imran al-Nafti.

The first Shiite Dynasty to be established was founded Idris ibn ‘Abd Allah, the great-grand-son Imam Hasan, who was raised in the Household of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq. I am referring to the Idrisids or the Adarisa in Morroco. They minted coins that read: ‘Aliyyun Wali Allah or “‘Ali is the Friend of God.” They minted coins that read: ‘Aliyyun khayru al-nas ba‘da al-nabi, kariha man kariha wa radiya man radiya or “‘Ali is the best of human beings after the Prophet despite the aversion of some and the pleasure of others.”

And here is a little gem for you: guess who the Chief of Police was under the rule of Idris II)? None other than Dawud b. al-Qasim b. Ishaq b. ‘Abd Allah b. Ja‘far b. Abi Talib, a Companion of Imam Muhammad al-Taqi, Imam ‘Ali al-Naqi, and Imam Hasan al-‘Askari. This clearly demonstrates close contact and collaboration between Zaydi and Imami Shiites during the early days of Islamic rule in the Maghrib.

Why were the Imams so interested in the Maghreb? Here is another gem for you. Many of the wives and mothers of the Imams were Berbers. Not only were they members of the Amazigh people, they were trained as scholars of Shiism and actually instructed women in the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt or the Household of the Prophet.

The Tamazight-speaking wives and mothers of the Imams played a role in the innovative and highly-secretive missionary activities of their husbands. As such, they appear to have played a vital role in spreading Shiism among the Berbers of the Maghrib and al-Andalus.

Hamidah al-Barbariyyah, also known as Lu’lu’ah, was the Berber wife of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq and mother of Imam Musa al-Kazim.

Najmah Khatun also known as Tuktam, Umm al-Banin, and Tahirah, was the Berber wife of Imam Musa al-Kaẓim, and the mother of Imam ‘Ali al-Rida.

Sammanah, also known as Sayyidah, was the Berber wife of Imam Muhammad al-Taqi, and the mother of Imam ‘Ali al-Naqi.

There also exists a possibility that the mother of Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, known variably as Narjis Khatun, Maryam bint Zayd al-‘Alawiyyah, Malikah, Rayhanah, Saqil and Sawsan, was also of Berber origin.

Considering that the Companions of the Prophet, the Followers of the Companions, and large numbers of disciples of the Imams settled in the Maghrib and al-Andalus, there is little doubt that they spread their seed and, through it, the religious, spiritual and political teachings of Shiism.

Fleeing the oppression of the Umayyads and the ‘Abbasids, the descendants of the Prophet settled in the Maghrib and al-Andalus. They included the Banu Idris, the direct descendants of Idris b. ‘Abd Allah, Ibrahim b. ‘Abd Allah, Sulayman b. ‘Abd Allah, along with Muhammad b. Ja‘far, Dawud b. al-Qasim, and Ahmad b. Muhammad.

Other descendants of the Prophet belonged to the Banu Muhammad Nafs al-Zakiyyah who arrived in Morocco at the end of the seventh century as well as the descendants of Musa al-Jawn who arrived at the end of the ninth century.

Morocco is also the home of descendants of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, Imam Musa al-Kaẓim, and Imam Muhammad al-Taqi. As a stronghold of the progeny of the Prophet, there was certainly no shortage of Shiite sentiment in Morocco or al-Maghrib al-Aqsa.

The Shiite Imams have played a foundational role in the spiritual chains of transmission of the major Sufi paths found in North Africa and al-Andalus: the ‘Alawiyyah, the Idrisiyyah, the Shadhiliyyah, the Qadiriyyah, and the Tijaniyyah.

North Africa and al-Andalus was also the home to Berber Shiites tribes including: the Zanata, the Kutamah, the Miknasah, the Awrabah, the Barghawatah, the Masmudah, and the Banu Lamas.

North Africa and al-Andalus was also the home to many Shiite Arab refugees, the most famous of whom belonged to the tribe of Banu Hashim, and who founded the Idrisid Shiite Dynasty in Morocco. Besides the Banu Hashim, other Arab tribes with Shiite sympathies include the Banu Hilal and the Banu Sulaym.

Another important group of Shiite Arabs in the Maghrib and al-Andalus were the Yemenites. The most important group of Arab Shiites were the Arabized Muwalladun, the descendants of Spanish reverts to Islam.

North Africa and al-Andalus attracted various Shiite sects, including the Bajaliyyah, who were also known as the Musawiyyah and the Waqifiyyah, the Imami Shiites, the predecessors of the Twelver Shiites, the Ismailis, and the Hasanid Shiites.

There were also many Shiite dynasties that flourished in the Maghrib and al-Andalus, including the Idrisids and the Hammudids, who were Zaydis, as well as the Fatimids, the Zirids, and the Hammadids, who were Isma‘ili Shiites. And let us not forget the Bajaliyyah dynasty in Taroundant which was composed of followers of Imam Musa al-Kazim.

The Shiites in the Maghreb and al-Andalus revolted on many occasions. Shiite-inspired rebellions were led by Shaqya, ‘Ubayd Allah Sa‘id, Abu Rakwah Walid ibn Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik, Ibn al-Qitt, Abu ‘Ali al-Sarraj, and Ibn Hafsun, among many others.

North Africa and al-Andalus also produced many famous Shiite scholars, jurists and judges, which included Zaydis, Ismailis, and Imamis, some of whom were converts from Sunnism.

There were many important Shiite centers in the Maghrib, including Volubilis, Fez, Tangiers, Ceuta, Melilla, Chellah, Basrah, Asilah, Taroudant, Igli, Tiyuywin, Moulay Idris Zerhoun and Meknes in Morocco, as well as Naftah, Tala, al-Urbus, al-Nazur, Qustantina, Qayrawan, al-Mahdiyyah, Sabra al-Mansuriyyah, and Bougie in Tunisia.

There were many important Shiite communities in al-Andalus. They could be found in Sevilla, Córdoba, Pamplona, Alange and Zaragoza, as well as Bobastro, Los Pedroches, La Serena, Puerto de Béjar, Salamanca, Zamora, Miknasah, and Nafza. In some instances, the Shiite roots of these communities dated back to the time of the Companions of the Prophet and Imam ‘Ali.  Others were connected to the Idrisids and Hammudids. And yet others were associated with the Fatimid Ismailis.

Although the Shiites in North Africa and al-Andalus were persecuted by the Umayyads, the Almoravids, the Alhomads, and the Catholic Kings, they survived, in Spain, until the 1800s, and survived, in small numbers, in North Africa, until the present, thanks to taqiyyah or pious dissimulation.

Thanks and praise be to God, the literary legacy of the Shiites of North Africa and al-Andalus has survived: some in Arabic, but most in Aljamiado: Spanish written in Arabic characters.

We have Ibn al-Abbar’s poetic epic on the suffering of the Household of the Prophet. We have the Book of Battles, a beautifully-written epic which highlights the heroic feats of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. We have the Book of Lights, a luminous history of the Prophet’s family. We also have the Chronicle and Relation of the Noble Sharifian Descendants, a Shiite maqtal al-Husayn, and biography of the Twelve Imams, published in Spanish in 1639 by a Shiite Morisco.

We also have traditions from Imam ‘Ali, al-Harrani, Kulayni, Bahrani, Saduq, Irbili, Qutb al-Din al-Rawandi, Farid al-Din ‘Attar, al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Daylami, Abu al-Faraj ‘Ali b. al-Husayn b. Muhammad al-Isfahani, Ibn Tawus, Mufid, al-Bakri, Saban, Tusi, Kaf’ami, and Majlisi.

They also contain some fascinating variants of the most famous of Shiite narrations, “The Event of the Cloak” along with accounts of what happened when the Prophet was on his death-bed: including the content of his wasiyyah, namely, his final will and testament.

Aljamiado-Morisco manuscripts also contain a large number of Shiite traditions, both short and long, which are not found in the canonical books of traditions of the Sunnis, the Shiites, or the ‘Ibadis.

These narrations represent “lost traditions,” namely, ahadith which survived only in al-Andalus after many of the major libraries in the Muslim world were destroyed. Some of these traditions are of Imami origin while others are of Ismaili, Zaydi, and Hasani provenance.

In honor of Amir al-Mu’minin, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, I will cite some selections of Shiite traditions, found solely in Spanish, that were preserved by the Moriscos from Spain and North Africa. Some of them will be known to Shiite readers while others will be unknown.

As we read in a Morisco anthology of prophetic traditions:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “My Ahl al-Bayt is the like the Ark of Noah. Whoever embarked on it was saved. And whoever did not was drowned.”

As we read in the Chronicle and Relation of the Purified Sharifian Descendants:

The excellence of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, is so great that no single person can comprehend it. He was the final and last Caliph, may Allah be pleased with him. We shall now list the blessed branches that proceeded from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib which were: al-Hasan, al-Husayn, ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin, Muhammad al-Baqir, Ja‘far al-Sadiq, Musa al-Kazim, ‘Ali al-Rida, Muhammad al-Taqi, ‘Ali al-Naqi, Hasan al-‘Askari, and Muhammad al-Mahdi, the well-known and Awaited One, who is the last of the Imams. This is the lineage and Household of Muhammad al-Mustafa, peace and blessings be upon him, from the loins of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatimah al-Zahra’, the daughter of the Messenger of Allah.

As we read in Textos aljamiados sobre la vida de Mahoma:

The Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, got up, and went to the house of Fatimah. When he knocked upon the door, she was the only one who answered the door.

When she opened the door, Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, saw his daughter Fatimah. She had a thin face, and could barely lift her feet due to hunger. The Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, asked: “Why is your face so thin?” She answered: “O Father! We have not had anything to eat for three days, and al-Hasan and al-Husayn are suffering from hunger and are sleeping.”

The Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, woke them up, and sat one of them on his right thigh and the other on his left thigh. Fatimah sat down in from of him. The Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, then kissed all of them. ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, entered, and kissed the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, raised his eyes to the heavens, and said: “O God, Lord, and Master! These are my Ahl al-Bayt, Lord, purify them from any uncleanliness and purify them with a complete purification.”

Fatimah got up and went to the place where she did her ritual prayers, stood on her feet, and raised her hands to the heavens and said: “O God, Lord, and Master! This is Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, your Prophet, and this is the brother of your Prophet, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, and these are his children, al-Hasan, and al-Husayn. O Lord! Send them a table from the heavens like the one you sent to the Children of Israel. They ate from it and disbelieved in you; however, we believe in you.”

Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “By Allah! Her prayer was not even completed when I saw descend the most delicious piece of meat I have ever seen and which smelled better than musk.” Fatimah took it and the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, came to her. When ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib saw it, he asked: “O Fatimah! Where did you get this from?” The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: “Eat O Abu al-Hasan! And do not ask from where it comes.”

‘Ali knew very well that there was nothing (to eat) in his house. The Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: “Praise be to Allah who has not given me death until he gave me in charity a daughter like Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who, every time Zakariyyah entered upon her, he would find her with sustenance, and he would ask her: “Where did you get this (food) from, O Mary?” And she would tell him: “From the sustenance of Allah whom I love beyond measure.”

This is Hadith al-Kisa’, the Tradition of the Cloak, as transmitted in Spanish, by Moriscos. Although they had been forcibly converted to Catholicism in 1502, they continued to practice their Islam in secret for centuries; they continued to teach their children to love, honor, revere, and follow Ahl al-Bayt, the Family of the Prophet.

As we read in the Chronicle and Relation:

Muhammad Mustafa, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “This is an angel who never descended from Heaven until this evening. He told me that he was sent on behalf of my Lord in order to send me his salutations and to give me glad tidings that Fatimah is the Lady of the Best Women in the Universe and that al-Hasan and al-Husayn are the Lords of the Youth of Glory.”

As we read in the Libro de amuletos:

It is reported that Adam, peace be upon him, said the following when he asked Allah to forgive him for his sin. When Allah, glorified and exalted, said: “Say: read the words that I told you when you were in Jinnah [paradise]” (2:37), Adam responded: “Lord! Forgive me through the authority of Fatimah, ‘Ali, al-Hasan, and al-Husayn.” And Allah forgave him.”

As we read in the Chronicle and Relation:

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said to ‘Ali, peace be upon him: “You are my Companion and my brother in this life and in the Hereafter.”

As we read in the Chronicle and Relation:

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “O ‘Ali! Only a good and just believer will love you and only a hypocrite and an unbeliever will hate you.”

As we read in another manuscript, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “I am the City of Knowledge and ‘Ali is its Gate. Whoever wishes for knowledge must come to it.”

As we read in the same source, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “O ‘Ali! If knowledge were in a room, you would hold the key.”

And while Sunni historians stress that the Prophet died intestate, and Twelver Shiites insist that the Prophet was prevented from making a will or that his will was suppressed by the opponents of Ahl al-Bayt, the Hasanid Shiites of North Africa and Islamic Spain have transmitted the final will and testament of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, along with his final words.

According to traditions transmitted by the descendants of Imam al-Hasan who settled in North Africa and Islamic Spain, Fatimah, ‘Ali, Hasan, and Husayn were surrounding the Prophet during his final moments. They cried: “O Messenger of Allah! Who will be the Caliph after you?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, whispered: “‘Ali will be your Caliph” and he passed away.

And what, you may ask, does the wasiyyah of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, contain? It contains advice, guidance, and words of wisdom, directed to Imam ‘Ali. And yes, it does say something truly remarkable:

“O ‘Ali! You are to me as Aaron was to Moses except that there will be no messenger or prophet after me. I counsel you with this testament. If you preserve it and fulfill it, you will be praised and die a martyr…”

By Dr John Andrew Morrow for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies

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