Historical discussion of the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties tends to conflate the two by labelling them both as Berber and “fundamentalist.” While both dynasties did, indeed, originate in Amazigh tribes from what is now Morocco, their interpretations of Islam were far from the same. Almoravids upheld the Maliki school of fiqh, whereas the Almohads adopted an early form of scripturalism, critical of the Maliki school, combined with ancient philosophy that committed exegesis through the use of reason. To see them as similar or a continuation of one another is a homogenization of their disparate ideological differences and likely arises from a tendency to view their influence as an incursion on an idealized understanding of Andalusian Islams and Iberia’s relegation to the status of an Amazigh colony under both polities. In this paper, I will briefly examine their theo-ideological differences, and other contingencies that separate the two dynasties. I will also examine their similarities and speculate as to the reason for their conflation among historians.

In the Medieval Iberia reader, the distinction between Almoravids and Almohads is ambiguous, partly because the source materials associated with them are lumped into the same chapter, and the dating of these materials can be a bit unclear. The dating of Ibn Abdun’s Hisba Manual is simply “early twelfth century,” which does not leave much information for the reader as to whether it was a specifically Almoravid or Almohad document. Its emphasis on Qur’anic or hadith stipulations for governing the marketplace leaves things up in the air as to who the document could have belonged to as both groups tended towards reinterpreting these key scriptural sources. That being said, the Almoravids did not break from the Maliki school of fiqh as the Almohads did and a thorough study of legal opinions from that school in relation to the prescriptions of this document might help to make the connection (or non-connection) to the Almoravids clearer. The one account we are provided with that is directly attributable to the Almoravids is Al-Idrisi’s Description of Almeria which says little of their ideological preferences or other distinguishing features. It appears that the Almoravids were very much interested in commerce, manufacturing and trade but the same can easily be said about the Almohads whose trade networks would later extend much farther east across the Mediterranean. The other documents in the chapter tend to focus on Almohad theology, their patronage and their treatment of the Jews. It could be that the source materials for the Almoravids in Iberia are simply not available or not directly attributable to them, which leads to a conflation of the two dynasties by virtue of source issues. Looking at how they are arranged in the Medieval Iberia reader is one example of this conflation.

At the beginning of his chapter entitled “Moroccan Fundamentalists” in Moorish Spain, Richard Fletcher notes that although the Almohads were of a remarkably different sect of fundamentalism from the Almoravids, the two groups are “confusingly similar” and “there is nothing that can be done about it.”[1] Maria Rosa Menocal describes both the Almoravids and the Almohads as fundamentalist Berbers from Morocco.[2] It seems that the term fundamentalism is being used here to imply a kind of intolerance based on literal applications of Islamic interpretations. The argument that these two are largely indistinguishable from each other, however, remains unconvincing and in the interests of not generalizing about these groups, it is important to find their key distinguishing features.

Constable argues that the Almohads are easier to trace based on their theological projections being clearer than the Almoravids who preceded them.[3] Although Menocal (wrongfully) claims that the Almohad’s “narrow interpretation of Islam made their scholars far less avid than many Latin readers of [the] scientific and philosophical library,”[4] their Almohad Creed is an excellent example of how the influence of Aristotelian metaphysics impacted Almohad interpretations of Islamic doctrine. Arguments made in the Creed were meant to be tested against one’s own Reason and lived experience in order to arrive at the truth of the Almohad ontology. Sources suggest that this approach was unique to the Almohads and was not shared by the Almoravids who exhibited their “fundamentalism” by extinguishing practices in al-Andalus that were against Islamic fiqh rulings but remained within that rigid framework.[5]

Their differences in ideology are just one area we can use to nuance our demarcation between them. Al-Marrakushi’s history of the Almohads and Ibn Tumart’s rise and take over of Almoravid territory is a primary source document that helps to illustrate not only that these groups were different but that they were in contention with one another. The Almohads gained momentum quickly under Ibn Tumart’s leadership, conquering Almoravid territory in Morocco and into al-Andalus. In looking at their historical interaction, it sounds redundant to say, but these are obviously not the same group. I would go so far as to say that they are not the same brand of so-called fundamentalism either – a term problematic for its anachronistic connotations.

So, it remains, in what instances could it seem appropriate to put the Almoravids and Almohads in the same historical category together? Such an exercise might be useful from an Andalusian perspective as distinctions between the two groups might have been a moot point. The usurpation of power by the Almohads was still the unification of al-Andalus under a foreign polity – both polities which practiced radically different forms of Islam, not only from each other but from Andalusians themselves. In trying to uphold a narrative of Andalusian exceptionalism or preference for their cultural-religious practices, it would make sense to put two foreign, less cosmopolitan conquerors (who arrived one after the other) next to each other. For historians seeking to understand the differences between these two groups and to highlight the unique experience of Andalusians under each one, their conflation is of little value.

[1] Fletcher 105

[2] Menocal 141 and 195-6

[3] Constable 237

[4] Menocal 198

[5] Fletcher, 108.

The origins of “The Pact of ‘Umar” are unknown but have been attributed colloquially to ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Righteous Caliph. Scholars have suspected that it derives from a later period, possibly under Umar II, because the need for such a document would have been greater under rapid Ummayad expansion of the Islamic empire. Regardless of the original source, this text is often cited by historians as foundational for understanding pan-Islamic relations between Muslims and Christians. The implication is that its spirit was somehow transmitted across the known Ummah to inform interreligious dynamics everywhere Muslims went. It is included in the reader edited by Olivia Remie Constable (Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim and Jewish Sources) because of a similar presumption. Though this text is difficult to historically verify in terms of origin or influence, there are a number of ways it can be used to illuminate interreligious dynamics between Christians and Muslims in general. Ultimately, with regards to how it can be used in studying al-Andalus, I take the approach of Janina Safran in her book Defining Boundaries in al-Andalus. Her approach is not to assume that the text directly influenced relations there, but rather, to look at how jurists might have invoked boundary-drawing through legal opinions and practice enforcement in a similar spirit as the “Pact” itself.

If we accept the text’s assertion that it was written by Syrian Christians petitioning ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, certain points come to the fore. First, it would imply that the contents of the text were consensual, rather than a tool for subjugation of Christians by Muslim masters. This would make the enforcement of these rules among other Christians much easier because Christians had originally sought them. It would also imply a greater voice for Christians with the Caliph than one would first assume. Declaring that they “shall not teach the Qur’an to [their] children”[1] would seem more like an assertion of their religious freedom, rather than a stipulation from an Islamic authority dissuading them from conversion. Additionally, the forbiddance of engraving Arabic inscriptions on their seals would seem to be a linguistic-cultural rejection, in addition to the religious one. The points about differing from Muslims in terms of dress, burial of the dead and even house construction would also signify an anxiety among Christians about establishing demarcations between themselves and Muslims. It implies that, like other points in Christian history[2], Christians were well aware of some of the prerequisites of religious conversion (including economic, social custom and linguistic acquisition of a conquering group[3]) and the Pact of ‘Umar represents their attempts to stave off that influence as long as possible. This boldness is only slightly curtailed by the addendum of two additional stipulations by ‘Umar which might then be seen as a reassertion of Muslim dominance over this list of conditions.

If, however, this document is seen as a Muslim composition, then the boldness of the Christian petitioner falls away. It still remains that a Muslim author claiming its Christian origins would make subjugation of future conquered Christians much easier; however, this gives the document a tone of coercion or propagandas that highlights the dominance of the Muslims. In this case, the additional conditions tacked on by ‘Umar signify their ultimate authority over their dominated subjects. Perhaps one of the most interesting turn-arounds in meaning is the clause about forbidding the teaching of the Qur’an to Christian children. Seen as an act of religious self-preservation for Christians, this clause takes on a completely different meaning under a Muslim authority and raises all kinds of historical questions about why Muslims might have been trying to temper conversion rates (likely for taxation purposes or to avoid biddah). This complicates the narratives of Muslim religious coercion by force and, along with the stipulations about dress, other identifying markers and the selling of fermented drinks, signals a Muslim anxiety about mixing with Christian populations.

While thought experiments might be useful for showing how a different text can be viewed in terms of the memoryscape of the group it is ascribed to, it is difficult to historically corroborate its actual use in places in like al-Andalus. In her book’s introduction, Janina Safran notes that Maliki jurists of the ninth and tenth centuries “do not refer to the ‘Pact of ‘Umar’, nor do they detail comparably specific terms of any other surrender treaty or contract of protection between Muslims, Christians and Jews.”[4] Rather, while jurists did address issues found in the ‘Pact of ‘Umar’, their engagement with these matters ought to be considered independently of its template because overemphasis of the Pact threatens to obfuscate the historical complexities particular to al-Andalus and specific time periods. While differentiating between Muslims and their Christian and Jewish subjects was of immediate concern to jurists, how this was conducted and negotiated was less straightforward than the Pact would have us believe. Finally, as we have seen, the difficulties of establishing basic facts about the text make such extrapolations speculation at best.

[1] “The Pact of ‘Umar” in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. University of Pennsylvania Press: 2011, pp. 43-44.

[2] Markus, Robert. The End of Christianity. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 1990: pp. 27-43.

[3] Katznelson, Ira and Miri Rubin, “Introduction” in Religious Conversion: History, Experience and Meaning. Ashgate Publishing, Surrey England: 2014.; Rambo, Lewis R. and Charles E. Farhadian, “Converting: Stages of Religious Change” in Religious Conversion: Contemporary Practices and Controversies. Cassell: NYC. 1999.; David Baer, Mare. “History and Religious Conversion” in The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2014.

[4] Safran, Janina. Defining Boundaries in al-Andalus: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Islamic Iberia. Cornell University, 2013: pp.15 – 17.

In Arabic class the other night, I was partnered with a fellow Muslim brother and we had to write sentences about things we like and don’t like doing. He opted to craft a sentence about how much he enjoys eating meat. As a vegan by choice, I found this intriguing because when he read it to the class, there seemed to be cheers of approval. It should be noted that our class is predominantly Muslim. This is something I have noticed since I converted to Islam – there seems to be a somewhat surprising connection between being Muslim and being a carnivore. I say surprising because for non-Muslims or new Muslims, it wouldn’t seem to follow that the adoption of a system of metaphysical and ethical philosophy like Islam would have much to do with your eating habits. But this is largely because Islam is improperly named as a “religion” in English when it more accurately can be called a cultural system or way of life (deen). It also doesn’t follow because eating certain ways have very real ethical implications and since Islam has prescriptions for ethical actions, there are naturally things to consider with how we choose to eat – especially in these days of industrial farming.

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My journey as a vegan/vegetarian has been bumpy throughout the years. I have been a full-on vegan (no leather, no honey etc), a raw vegan for periods, a vegetarian, a pescatarian and a full-on omnivore. Before I converted to Islam, I was vegetarian and vegan for periods. When I converted, for a variety of reasons, I started eating meat again but in very limited quantities because I didn’t know anything about where to get proper halal meat. Omitting it or sticking to fish was the easiest option. Many vegans will ask, but why the change? Why even consider starting to eat meat again?

Part of the reason I stopped eating meat is because of the cruelty to animals and its strain on the environment. In theory, halal meat is much more ethical and sustainable than factory farmed meat. Animals cannot be kept in cruel conditions; they have to live happy animal lives, be well-fed and cared for. They cannot be slaughtered in the presence of other animals and a prayer must be said over their bodies in gratitude for the meat you are to receive from their slaughter. Additionally, they are slaughtered by cutting their throat as quickly as possible (dull knives are forbidden because they prolong suffering). And, ultimately you are supposed to limit your intake of meat to be an almost insignificant part of your diet. All of this, when put into actual practice, would ideally lead to the production of free-range, pasture-fed, cruelty-free halal meat. Of course, there are controversies with this in terms of how halal is actually practiced and some interpretations of it vary greatly from others.

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I have often heard from Muslims that eating meat is part of Islamic culture because it means partaking in the bounty with which God has provided us. Others have condoned and encouraged it because of the Qur’anic designation as khalifa which they interpret to mean as having dominion over the Earth, including the animals. Other scholars have interpreted this as a duty-driven position in which we are in responsible for the environment. While I don’t doubt that this is acceptable in Islam, it should be pointed out that the modern commercialization of meat has made the process industrial and harmful not only to the environment, but also to the animals themselves and the consequences of the meat industry itself are not to be overlooked just because eating meat is permissible. I don’t really want to go into all the reasons to be a vegan here but suffice to say that the time has passed for those arguments which claim that the harmful effects on the environment are a myth.

My primary concerns are three-fold: Can Muslims be vegetarian or vegan? Should they be? And if we do become vegetarian or vegan, how can we reconcile the rituals of Eid-ul-Adha (The Festival of the Sacrifice) with our eating habits?

There are numerous fatwas from trusted scholars on the issue of vegetarianism in Islam and though not everyone will agree with me in citing these, I have to say that any fatwa advising the merits of a vegetarian, cruelty-free lifestyle is not necessarily a condemnation of the omni/carnivore way of life or, more aptly, a fatwa against the eating of meat which is something prescribed by Allah.

For the sake of simplicity, I will simply list a few of these sources here:

Hamza Yusuf (from the Science of Shariah): “So traditionally Muslims were semi-vegetarians. The Prophet was, I mean, technically, the Prophet (SAWS) was in that category. He was not a meat-eater. Most of his meals did not have meat in them. And the proof of that is clearly in the Muwatta—when Sayyidina Umar says, ‘Beware of meat, because it has an addiction like the addiction of wine.’ And the other hadith in the Muwatta—there is a chapter called ‘Bab al-Laham,’ the chapter of laham, the chapter of meat. Both are from Sayyidina Umar. And Umar, during his khilafa, prohibited people from eating meat two days in a row. He only allowed them to eat [it] every other day. And the khalifa has that right to do that. He did not let people eat meat every day. He saw one man eating meat every day, and he said to him, ‘Every time you get hungry you go out and buy meat? Right? In other words, every time your nafs wants meat, you go out and buy it?’ He said, ‘Yeah, Amir al-Mumineen, ana qaram,’ which in Arabic, ‘qaram’ means ‘I love meat’—he’s a carnivore, he loves meat. And Sayyidina Umar said, ‘It would be better for you to roll up your tummy a little bit so that other people can eat.’”

Mufti Ebrahim Desai (Grand Mufti of South Africa): “A Muslim may be a vegetarian. However, he should not regard eating meat as prohibited. And Allah Taãla knows best.”

Muzammil Siddiqui (Doctor of Comparative Religion): “You are right that the matter of halal and haram is only the authority of Allah (SWT) as we are not allowed to make any halal haram, we are also not allowed to make any haram halal. Allah has created some animals for our food as Allah says in the Qur’an in surat an-Nahl, “And cattle He has created for you. From them you drive wont and numerous benefits and of their meat, you eat.” (16:5-8)

Muslims do recognize animal rights, and animal rights means that we should not abuse them, torture them, and when we have to use them for meat, we should slaughter them with a sharp knife, mentioning the name of Allah (SWT). The Prophet (SAAWS) said, “Allah has prescribed goodness (ihsan) in everything. When you sacrifice, sacrifice well. Let you sharpen your knife and make it easy for the animal to be slaughtered.”

So, Muslims are not vegetarianists. However, if someone prefers to eat vegetables, then they are allowed to do so. Allah has given us permission to eat meat of slaughtered animals, but He has not made it obligatory upon us.”

Such pragmatism is not shared across the entire Islamic scholarly world, which is to be expected. What I am talking about is not prescriptive for the entire Islamic world anyway. Awareness of the effects of our actions is what I am pointing to as necessary – which answers the question about whether or not I think Muslims should be vegetarian or vegan. As a post-modernist, I abhor any universalizing (which seems counter-intuitive because I subscribe to the teachings of a universalist way of life) so I would never argue that everyone should be vegetarian or vegan. I would argue, however, that Muslims do need to be more conscious about their choices and the repercussions of those choices. Having the intention to reduce our environmental impact and to not participate in the cruelty of the industry is important. We have to be aware of everything we are doing as part of seeking knowledge and engaging in ethical actions, as well as expressing the spirit of Islamic teachings in everything we do, including eating.

So what happens when a Muslim, like me, decides to be vegetarian or vegan? It should be noted that our decisions to eat more consciously and ethically do not outweigh the requirements of our Deen. And nowhere is this point more true than in our participation in Eid-ul-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice, in which Muslims around the world who are able to, slaughter a ram or sheep in the Name of Allah.

This Eid is a marking of the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca by all Muslims around the world. This is a time when Muslims honour the prophetic history of the faith by marking a story told in the Qur’an about how Prophet Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son because God ordered him to do so. When he was about to sacrifice him, God substituted a ram for the boy instead and accepted Abraham’s incredible act of surrender and worship. For those who have completed their Hajj and all other Muslims around the world, a ram or other animal is slaughtered on this day for meat which is then distributed amongst family and the poor. Special prayers are also attended and Muslims mark the holiday by visiting friends and family. It should remain clear to everyone that the slaughter of the animal is purely symbolic and the blood is not meant as a sacrifice for Allah. Rather it is an act of remembrance of Prophet Abraham and is a method by which the community is strengthened, including through the dispersal of meat to the poor who would otherwise not have any to eat throughout the year.

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So what do I think of Muslims that eat meat? Or Muslims who are sometimes vegetarian and sometimes not? Or Muslims who are always vegetarian except on Eid? Not much, to be honest. Everyone is free to follow their own path according to their knowledge and research. For me, that study has led me to find that the meat and dairy industry are no longer sustainable or in accordance with what I interpret to be Islamic sensibilities in terms of how to treat the Earth and the animals on it. I will still participate in Eid-ul-Adha festivities but am conscious enough to know that that participation might change over time.

And Allah knows best.