Almohads and Marinides- David Corcos


We do not intend to dwell on facts well known. Abraham Ibn Ezra's elegy on the destruction of the Jewish communities of Morocco, supplemented by the writings of several unknown authors describing the sufferings of the Jews in the rest of North Africa, frequently has been reprinted and referred to. Some modern historians  believe that the account of these systematic persecutions by another Jewish author, a contemporary of the events, is exaggerated. Yet they are confirmed by Arab writers who will be quoted in the course of this brief exposé.

The Church, ever ready, in the Middle Ages, to find proof that Jews were guilty of the crimes it attributed to them, was happy about these persecutions, at the same time confirm­ing their magnitude. Pope Gregory IX, in a letter addressed to the Christians of Marrakesh about 1235, told them "We rejoice to see the Church of Morocco, until now sterile, become fruitful to day, by the act of grace, and the synagogue of sinners being depopulated"  In this particular case the last phrase should not be read as a metaphor—the synagogue was, at that time, being truely depopulated. The Pope also had hopes of bringing the Almohad Sultans into Christianity. The attitude of these Sultans will later warrant the attempt of Pope Innocent IV to persuade them, with many promises, to place their kingdom under the protection of the Holy See and to replace the Koran by the Gospels in their states.

The Almohads, who showed no mercy to any coreligionist of theirs disinclined to follow their lead, and who destroyed every vestige of Jewish life, took care to spare the Christians in their Empire. No dynasty in Morocco was less hostile than they to Christianity. From Abd-el-mumen (1130- 1163) to Es-said (1242-1248) we find nothing but acts of kindness, expressions of good will and treatise of alliance. St. Francis of Assisi had in 1208, already designed to convert Morocco. In 1210 En-nasser, son and heir to Al-mansur coldly dismissed ambassadors of the King of England who came with the proposal that he help their lord in return for which the king hinted he might become a convert to Islam. "Your king," En-nasser told them, "wishes to leave the Christian religion, so pure and so holy. God knows, and He knows all things, that if I had no religion I would choose it in preference to every other." This is a far cry from the conduct of the same sovereign in the matter of modifying the apparel imposed on the Jews by his father Al-mansur En-nasser, who as we know, replaced their clothes by yellow garments and turbans of the same color. This had been granted as a favor the severity of which may be realized when we are aware that the Jews were at the same time forced to profess Islam. There was not a single synagogue at that time in the towns of Morocco. On the other hand, an episcopal see was set up in Fez and later transferred to Marrakesh because of the arrival of the Marinide! To what should one attribute such discrimination between the two peoples of the Book, if one may use the phrase ? Its justification lay not only in the military aid received by the regime from countless Christian mercenaries; there were other reasons: the influence in the Harem of Christian women, some of whom gave birth to Almohad princes and, above all, the presence of Jews, even of a large number among the enemies of the regime. Indeed, ever since the first Almohad flare up, the Jews, as was natural, showed themselves very hostile to the movement. When Mahdi ibn-tumert sur­rendered in Aghmat, the town was immediately divided into two camps, 'believers' and 'infidels'. It is well known that Aghmat was ruled by Zenata princes before the Almorávides arrived there ; the Jews who were residents of the town and continued to be so were numerous, rich and power­ful. Incidentally, their presence is confirmed by almost every account of the chroniclers in every centre of resistance to the new rulers. It is significant that such centres were found in the eccentric regions of Morocco where a Jewish population existed immediately preceding and following Al- mohad dominion.

  • Berbères, III, p. 272 ff. The queen of Aghmat was the famous Zeineb who became the wife of Yussef ibn Tachfin the Almoravide. The paternal ancestors of Zeineb belonged to the Nefzawa of Tri- politania, of the Zenata race, among the very first Kharijites. Zeineb had great influence on Yussef ibn-Tachfin. This may perhaps explain both the favorable condition, enjoyed by the Jews of Aghmat and the attitude of Ibn-Tachfin towards the Berber Jews, very different from his attitude towards the Jews of Spain. There is much to be said on this subject, but it would take us outside of our present field.

All this leads us to believe that the Marinides, whose acceptance of Islam was far from wholehearted at the time,38 had preferred living in the desert to submission to Almohad rule, as much as to avoid paying taxes. They had no objection to being under the rule of foreign leaders; the Jews also had sufficient influence in the tribes to persuade the chiefs of the Marinides to choose poverty rather than become an in­strument for imposing the rule of persecutors of their Jews.

However, there were Jews in one town in Morocco during the period of the last Almohads. We know that on one oc­casion they were in Marrakesh. This happened in the reign of Al-mamun (1227-1232), the Sultan who sought to coun­teract the acts of his predecessors and temporarily abolished the doctrine and traditions of the Unitarians. He had left Marrakesh when his rival Ihya, son of the Sultan El-nasser, previously mentioned, ascended the mountains with his Almohad troups, seized the town and massacred all the Christians and Jews there. They seized ah the posses­sions of the Jews. The Christians in the town were mer­cenaries in the pay Al-mamun, and the Jews had probably been given permission by the revolutionary monarch to cast aside the mask of Islam, imposed on them until then. On another occasion, in 1308, during the rule of the Marinides, also in Marrakesh, a Berber general, in revolt against the central power, entered the town and massacred all the Christ­ians  but spared the Jews. The attitude had indeed chang­ed!

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