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ALMOHADS (Arab. Al-Muwaḥḥhidūn; "Those who Advocate the Unity of Allah"), Moroccan Berbers from Tinmel in the Atlas Mountains. Like their predecessors, the *Almoravids (al-Murabitūn), who ruled major areas of the Maghreb and Muslim Spain, the Almohads comprised a confederation of local Berber tribes. The Almohads were influenced by puritanical notions of Islam to even a greater degree than the Almoravids. They had been essentially inspired by the religious teachings of Ibn Tūmart (d. 1130), whose doctrine was a mélange of a strict conception of the unity of Allah, with a program of moral reform based on the Koran and the Sunnah: the traditional social and legal practice of the early Muslim community.

In 1121, Ibn Tūmart proclaimed himself the mahdī, or spiritual-messianic leader, openly questioned the legitimacy of Almoravid rule, and waged a protracted war against them in the Maghreb. Ibn Tūmart's actions came in the aftermath of a series of military challenges posed to the Almoravids also by the Christians in Spain, who had previously carried out the early phases of their plan of "re-conquest" and de-Islamization.

Under Ibn Tūmart's successor, 'Abd al-Mu'min, the Almohads brought down the Almoravid state in 1147; they captured *Marrakesh and transformed it into their Maghrebi capital. On the other hand, Almoravid domains in Muslim Spain were left virtually intact until the caliph Abu Ya'qūb Yūsuf forced the surrender of Seville in 1172. The spread of Almohad rule over the rest of Islamic Spain soon followed. During the reign of Abū Yūsuf Ya'qūb al-Manṣūr (1184–99) serious Arab rebellions devastated the eastern provinces of the empire, whereas in Spain the Christian threat remained constant. At the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the Almohads were dealt a devastating defeat by a Christian coalition from Leon, Castile, Navarre, and Aragon. They retreated to their Maghrebi provinces, where soon afterwards the Muslim Hafsids seized power in Tunis, the Abd al-Wadids took Tlimsan (*Tlemcen), and Marrakesh, the Almohad capital, fell to the Marinids in 1269.

The decline and eventual fall of the Almohad state was attributed to three main reasons. First, it shared power with no group outside its own hierarchy placing the center of power solely in the hands of the founders and descendants. Secondly, the puritanical orientation of Ibn Tūmart waned gradually among his many followers after his death. Under his successors, precedents had been set for the construction of costly and lavish "non-puritan" monuments. The famous Kutubiya mosque in Marrakesh and the older parts of the mosque of Taza attest to this policy. Neither did the movement for a return to traditional orthodox Islam survive; both the mystical movement of the Sufis and the philosophical school represented by Ibn Tufayl and Averroes (Ibn Rushd) flourished under the Almohad kings. Finally, the Almohads proved to be intolerant toward their Muslim opponents and the Maghrebi Jewish minority, thus alienating diverse segments of the population. In fact, in the pre-Almohad Maghreb the position of the Jews was apparently free of significant abuses. No factual complaints were registered prior to 1147 of excesses, coercion, or malice on the part of the authorities. After the ascendance of the Almohad ruler Abū Yūsuf Ya'qūb al-Manṣūr, however, the Jews began to encounter humiliations; many were forced to convert to Islam and had to wear the qalansuwa, a cap of strange and ugly shape, reaching down to their ears. The Jews, who officially had been converted to Islam but were suspected of secretly practicing their own religion, were compelled to wear special, and rather ridiculous, clothes so that the Muslims easily identified them. At the same time, Jews were not the only victims of Almohad cruelty; the Muslim maliki school of Sunni Islam was banned in Almohad North Africa and its leading works were burned in the public squares.


J.M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (1987); H.Z. Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa (1974); C.-A. Julien, History of North Africa: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco (ed. and rev. by R. Le Tourneau, 1970); M.M. Laskier, The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco: 1862–1962 (1983); R. Le Tourneau, The Almohad Movement in North Africa in the 12th and 13th Centuries (1969).

[Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.