Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) and the Rise of the Almohads

The following is another short excerpt that I have translated from the Buyūtāt Fās al-Kubrā by the fourteenth-century Andalusī historian Ismā‘īl ibn al-Aḥmar (d. 1407). I found this particular passage to be interesting because it reflects the manner in which the legend of the relationship between the Ash‘arite theologian and mystic Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) and the founder of the Almohad movement, Muḥammad b. Tūmart (d. 1130) is developed. Ibn al-Aḥmar’s narrative, written in the fourteenth century, shows that nearly three centuries after the rise of the Almohads it continued to have resonance in the Islamic West. Two elements that I found particularly interesting was the link that is drawn between the Almoravids burning* of al-Ghazālī’s works and the latter’s invocation against them on one hand, and the conscious decision of al-Ghazālī, who probably never met Ibn Tūmart, to use his overzealous student as his agent in bringing about the destruction of the Almoravid polity. This is especially interesting in light of other historical accounts which suggest that it was none other than al-Ghazālī (and his student Abū Bakr al-Turtūshī) who played an important role in legitimizing the Almoravid state in the first place. Moreover, it was quite interesting to see such a prominent role given to the occult sciences in this text, with emphasis being placed on Ibn Tūmart’s receiving special instruction in this body of knowledge by al-Ghazālī.

*(For an important article on the politics of book-burning in al-Andalus, see http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17546559.2014.925134)


 (Coin of the Almohad caliph Abu Ya’qub Yusuf [r. 1163-1184]) Continue reading