The Marinide Berbers—Zenata- David Corcos

At the beginning of the Xth century the Miknassa founders of the city of Taza, with Musa ben Abi-l'Afia  at theirdavid-corcos

head, supplanted the Idrissides in North Morocco and seized Fez. The Maghrawa replaced them after 990  and their Emir, Ziri ben Attiya, was able to form a Zenata kingdom with Fez as the capital.

  • Musa ben Abi-l'Afia always passed for a Jew in the eyes of Ma- roccan Moslems; this was due to the fact that he was an enemy of the first Cherif dynasty of Morocco, the Idrisides.

 The Zenata were expelled from there by the Almorávides in 1063  It was under the Zenata rule that Fez knew what may be termed the Golden Age of Moroccan Judaism. As evidence of this fact, one need only call to mind such Jewish names as Dhünas Ibn-Labrat, Hayuj, Samuel Ibn Hofni or Isaac al Fassi, to mention only the most famous. The Jews at that time, as El-Bekri wrote, were "more numerous in Fez than in any other town in the Maghrib; from there, they journey (in the interest of their trade) to every country in the world."

  • הרג בתי גוררין ותאותי – יחלל בית נורא עלילה
  • ואחריו בדרעה קם אויב – ידרס כל בית התפלה
  • וגם שמו עליהם חקים – רעים וקשים בלי חמלה

                  יאות לי על זה חנר שק – ואקרע לבבי ביגוני אחי מר לי   

The key of the riddle is line 21. The man of the 'Meghilla' Esther is Haman, persecutor of the Jews; he is also, in the context of the account of the persecutions about which Muhammad al-Meghilli or Maghili, of the Maghila tribe the author is speaking. Besides, these persecutions did in fact extend from Toowat to Draa, as the 'Kinah' specifies.

El-Bekri, p. 334. A dark spot in this picture: The Beni-Ifren Zenata, powerful in Salee, attacked the Maghrawa Zenata and captured Fez in May 1032. Their Emir, Abü'l-Kemal Témim persecuted the Jews in the town, brought about the slaying of more than six thousand and appropriation the wealth of the remainder, and turned over their wives to his soldiers (Qirtâs, transi. Beaumier, p. 150). On the capture of Fez and the massacres see Berbères, III, p. 222, where the Jews are not mentioned. Abu'l-Kemal's act may be explained not only by his "fanaticism and his ignorance" (cf. Qirtâs) but also by his habit of attacking, twice every year, his neighbors of Salee the more or less Judaized Bergwata. It is undoubtedly, this persecution which is refer­red to by the Gaon Samuel ben Hofni (d. 1034) in a MS text found in the Cairo Geniza. cf. JQR VII, 1916-17, p. 485, note 31.

The Zenata of the first race, or, to state more clearly what Ibn-Khaldùn had in mind, of the first period, that is to say, the Beni Ifren, the Miknassa and the Maghrawa, had not all penetrated into the depth of the Maghrib, the Maghrib el,aqsa of the Arab writers. A considerabel number of these tribes had remained in other parts of North Africa, as nomads wandering between Tripoli and the Muluya. When the Al- moravides invaded Morocco, these Sanhaja Berbers (of the Branes group) met with strong resistance from their hereditary enemies, the Zenata. Consequently, immediately after the conquest of Northern Morocco the Zenata had to seek refuge beyond the Muluya where they found members of their race, such as the Methgara, champions of Kharijism in the first years of the Arab invasion, the Maghila, and others. The Beni-Illul, an ancient Jewish tribe, had settled in Nedromah, 15 centre of the Berber cult of Joshua ben Nun.  The largest section of Berbers from the Maghrib al-aqsa who-aqsa who had professed Judaism at the time of the first Arab invasion, still lived on both banks of the Muluya. I refer to the Behlula, the Ghiata, the Fazaz, the Fendlawa and the Mediuna17 who, incidentally, had not all changed their religion even after the period of which we speak. The majority of them, however, had been forced to become converts by Idris I. between 788 and 791. If one bears in mind the state of Islamization of the Berbers even to-day, their sincerity in accepting a religion imposed on them by a handful of strangers at the point of the sword, can be imagined. The Zenata, shepherds, nomads and soldiers, formed an even more elusive element of the population than the other Berbers. During the period under review, a few groups who, as a result of a well-known process of evolution, had taken to a sedentary way of life their brethren, still nomads in the central Maghrib, in the steppes and in the desert. This explains how Ibn- Khaldun, with his predilection for synthesis, was able to write in the XlVth century that the Mediuna, "a Jewish tribe from the Maghrib al-'aqsa" already long since sedentary, were brethren of the Marinides  who had not yet reached that state and were still nomads, as we have seen.

The Marinides, in the course of their history and before becoming the masters of Morocco, in their journeyings South, East and West of North Africa, met other members of their race so strongly marked by Judaism that traces still remain to the present day. It is therefore as much to the politico- religious reaction against the Almohads as to the influence felt throughout their constant wanderings that we must attribute the benevolence of the first Marinides towards the Jews, an attitude, which, without question, goes beyond the bounds of simple tolerance.

Apart from the frequent name Znati or Zenati, the meanings of which originated from Zenata tribes, a name found only among Jews of Morocco and Algiers, many of whom were and still are the Jews of North Africa we have among them the names of former Zenata tribes, such as the Mediouna (Mediouni), the Ghaiata (Ghaiat, sometimes turned into Khaiat, meaning tailor in Arabic), the Bahloula (Bahloul), the Maghila (Maghili), the Beni-Ifren (Ifrani or Oufrani or even Loufrani, a gallicized form) etc. It should be noted, and this seems of importance, that other family and first names at one time almost exclusively found among the Zenata, largely persist only among African Jews, Moslems having generally abandoned them: as e.g. Tabet, Ziri, Illul and Alloul, Ouazana, Ifrah, Ifergane, Iflah etc.

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