JCJC SHS 3 - JCJC : Sciences humaines et sociales : Cultures, arts, civilisations

Ibadi Kharijism in the Medieval Maghreb (eighth to thirteenth centuries): territories, networks and models. – MAGHRIBADITE

Ibadism, a core minority in Islam

Ibadism, now a forgotten minority, played a significant role in the formation of the muslim world and the history of Maghreb, and now claims its belonging to the originary and democratic form of Islam. This project is an invitation to meditate about the statute of dissidence and the construction of orthodoxy in Islam

A history of Ibadi minorities in medieval North Africa

Is Ibadism a marginal Islam ? Certainly, if we consider that this sweetened heir of the Kharijite nebula is now reduced to a few isolated and dispersed strongholds (Oman, Zanzibar, North Africa). However, this forgotten minority has played a significant role in the history and now claims to be the original form of “Islamic democracy”. Indeed, this is an invitation to meditate about the statute of dissidence and the construction of orthodoxy in Islam. Precisely, this project aims at revisiting the history of North Africa by throwing light on the Ibadi moving archipelago until Maliki orthodoxy triumphed in the 13th century. Priority will be given to an underexploited source of information, to the exploration of the very peculiar counter-memory of the sect, and to the material contexts that trace its successive redeployments. The history of Ibadism still occupies a marginal place in Islamic medieval studies, but may contribute to irrigate them in the following years, in particular thanks to the variety of early unpublished or understudied sources preserved by the community.

Maghribadite project explores the history of Ibadism in medieval times, especially in North Africa. Combining a critical approach of textual resources (edited or not) with an analysis of material culture, this program is studying the evolution of Ibadism focusing on foundation models, territorial settling, political organization, and the insertion of the minority within wider social networks.

The project was launched in november 2010 and will give the light to several publications, among which a first volume dedicated to the outlines of Ibadi history (oct. 2012), and a publication based on the International Congress organized in Madrid (11-13 dec. 2012) on «Ibadism in Islamic medieval societies: political models, forms of social organization and interactions«. A book dedicated to the history and archeology of Sedrata is also about to be achieved. Regarding the investigations led by the research team of Maghribadi they are mainly dealing with the historical memory and the building of identities of Ibadism, its evolution in the context of medieval North African societies, its political and social models and its connection with the Berber element.

The first years dedicated to this investigation gave us the opportunity of opening up new perspectives and to validate some of them. The following two years (2013-2014) will enable us to achieve a biographical and toponomycal database. We also want to achieve the ongoing works. We shall compose a first historical and archaeological balance of what we know about the medieval settlement and space patterns of Wadi Mzab. We also aim at finishing the translation and analysis of the Kitab al-Jawahir of Abu l-Qasim al-Barradi (14th c.), one of the most controverted monuments of Western and Eastern Ibadi memory. And we should complete our investigation on the construction of a historical memory in North African Ibadism. Finally, it will be also an opportunity for opening new activities, a study of what we know about the material culture of Tahert, the capital of the Rustamid dynasty from the eight to the tenth century, and a research on the other oasis of the Sahara in which the Ibadiyya settled in the Middle Ages (Wadi Righ, Souf, Djerid, Fezzan).

A collective volume has been edited by C. Aillet, L’ibadisme, une minorité au cœur de l’Islam, numéro spécial de la Revue des Mondes Musulmans et de la Méditerranée, nº 132, 2012, online edition: remmm.revues.org/7711). Based on a deliberately transperiodic approach, it includes ten articles in French and English. It is the first collective publication dedicated to this Islamic school. Several other papers have been published by our team, and we are currently preparing the publication of the Proceedings of the Madrid congress (dec. 2012), along with a monography on the archaeological site of Sedrata and the basin of Ouargla, one of the main crossroads for the transsaharan trade in the Middle Ages.

Whether Sunnism and Shi’ism appear to be quite familiar, among the three branches of Islam, to a large audience, kharijism is far less known, even by scholars. However, this sect played an important role in the conflicts and debates of Early Islam (7th-9th c.), in particular by challenging the theory of the hereditary and absolute imamate reserved to the Quraysh. In the Islamic Maghreb, kharijism also played a notable role, triggering the Great Berber revolt of the 8th c., and giving rise to the first autonomous powers. The most enduring of them was the Imamate of Tâhert that ruled over Central Maghreb until the Fatimids overthrew it in 909. Kharijism also contributed to the spread of Islam among Berber tribes and within Saharan and Sahelian countries.
Nonetheless, the whole historiography of Maghreb is almost exclusively written from the point of view of the Maliki school, which rise became triumphant from 12th century onwards. Kharijism appears to be rather excluded from the Maghreb historical frame, even in its surviving form, the Ibadism, which study we will mainly focus on. The most surprising is that whether scholars use to complain about the paucity of the sources dealing with the first centuries of the history of Maghreb, Ibadi writings clearly preserve the oldest samples of this memory, the first of them being redacted in the 9th c.
Medieval Ibadism cannot be reduced to the single episode of the Imamate of Tâhert, considered as the symbol of a disappeared golden age. However, its evolution after 909 is almost ignored by the academic field. The excavations Marguerite Van Berchem executed in Sedrata during the Fifties have not been sufficiently completed, supplying only very fragmentary informations about the oasis of Wargla, the area where Ibadism newly deployed from the 10th to the 13th c. Confined to a minority in Ifrîqiya by the Fatimid conquest and the Maliki proselytism, the Ibadi communities had to seek refuge in the Djebel Nafûsa and to move to Djerba and the North Saharan territories (Wâdî Righ, Wargla, Mzâb). The first four establishments (qsûr) of the Wâdî Mzâb were erected during the 11th-12th c. Such a polycentrical system required deep adaptations, including first the removal of the Imamate model and then, in the middle of the 11th c., the foundation of the halqa, a « circle » of exemplary religious men devoted to the legal rule of those dispersed communities, interlinked by their scholars’ displacements. By the same time, between the 11th and the 13th c., the memory of the community origins was elaborated and compiled, taking an idealized form that reflected the advent of an age of “secret” after the glorious episode of the “revelation”. Our investigation closes with the 13th c. military expeditions that led to the decline of Wargla as a culturel center for Ibadism, and to the decrease of its role in the local society.
This important part of Maghribi history has been overlooked, but this project intends to shed light on new sources and new fields of investigation. It will also contribute to the study of islamization processes and the analysis of merchant and scholar networks in the Medieval Maghreb. A solid foundation to this work and a useful tool for further investigations will be provided by the establishment of new scientific instruments, including a descriptive catalog of the Medieval Ibadi sources of the Maghreb, a corpus of the rustumi and khariji coins, a study on the religious architecture of the Mzâb, and a study of the excavations of Sedrata based on Marguerite Van Berchem’ own archives in Geneva.
The project is organized into four thematic axes : the structural mutations and the Ibadi memory of origins ; the Ibadi territorial redeployment and the organization of space (from the case studies of Wargla and the Mzâb) ; scholar and merchant networks and the interactions between Ibadi and other communities ; the construction of knowledge, between oriental and local Maghribi models.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 130,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 48 Months

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