15.09.30, Gómez-Rivas, Law and Islamization of Morocco under the Almoravids

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Ramzi Rouighi

The Medieval Review 15.09.30

Gómez-Rivas, Camilo. Law and Islamization of Morocco under the Almoravids: The Fatwās of Ibn Rushd al-Jadd to the Far Maghrib. Studies in the History and Society of the Maghrib, 6. Leiden: Brill, 2015. pp. ix, 207. ISBN: 978-900-4277-809 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Ramzi Rouighi
University of Southern California
rouighi@email.usc.edu

Camilo Gómez-Rivas writes a stimulating book that raises important questions on the complex relations between al-Andalus and the Maghrib in the Almoravid period (1042-1147). His hard work of translation and interpretation, which enlivens the arcane and highly technical language of jurists, deserves kudos, and will likely gain him a following. When it comes to the arguments it makes, however, this slightly modified dissertation illustrates both the shortcomings of a field and its most exciting promises. This review will try to explain how.

In the small field of Maghrib Studies, the Almoravid period is a small subfield mostly because of the relative dearth of contemporary sources. Among Iberianists, however, the study of the Almoravid period is much better developed, helped by a richer source base. Given that the Almoravid Empire straddled both continents, using Andalusī sources to study the Maghrib is almost a necessity. More than the biases of the sources, however, anyone proposing to study the Maghrib by using Andalusī sources, as Camilo Gómez-Rivas does, also faces the effects of the uneven development of fields. For if Iberianists can rely on a relatively dense and more varied bibliography, their Maghribist colleagues are not as lucky.

Moreover, and this is too well known to dwell on, the nature of the extant sources in Arabic, tied as it is to medieval learned practices and to the vagaries of preservation, has seriously hampered the development of economic and social history. This explains why the configuration of fields relying on such sources is markedly different from that with which Europeanists are familiar. The critique of social historical approaches notwithstanding, the impact of their scarceness in fields like the medieval Maghrib has been significant. For social historians, one way around the problem has been to utilize legal texts, like the collections of legal opinions and decisions. In this, Jacques Berque (1910-1995) was a trailblazer who stood out because he sought to understand particular social formations rather than Islam, as was generally the case among Orientalists of his generation.

Ibn Khaldūn (1332-1406) was the first to propose a theoretically sophisticated interpretation of the history of the Maghrib, linking dynastic cycles, urbanization, and the development of trades. For him, sciences, including the science of law (fiqh), belonged with luxury trades that thrived in the cities and were part of what he identified as civilization. In a famous statement, he opined that civilization moved from the more urbanized Andalus to the more Bedouin Maghrib because of the low level of urbanization there. Organizing his work around the examples of peoples who achieved political greatness, he focused in particular on the Arabs and Berbers. This means that his monumental Kitāb al-'Ibar did not imagine the history of the Maghrib as a region but rather of those peoples among the Berbers like the Zanāta, the Kutāma, and the Ṣanhāja who founded urban dynasties. While tribal solidarity is central to the dynastic cycle, Ibn Khaldūn maintained that in some cases, religious fervor centering on a charismatic leader, can strengthen tribal solidarity, and lead to the establishment of an even more powerful dynasty than would have been otherwise possible. As Gómez-Rivas notes, Ibn Khaldūn used the trajectory of the Almoravids, among other dynasties, to construct his model.

As he also notes, "much twentieth-century historiography adopted the Khaldūnian meta-narrative," and worse, it did so "uncritically," "accountable perhaps to the investment of some historians in identifying al-Andalus with civilization and Berbers with tribalism and religious fervor (situating the loci of opposing values in different continents, Europe and Africa)" (54). As someone who has warned against the Khaldunization of the field, I should welcome the fact that Gómez-Rivas came close to completely ignoring Ibn Khaldūn (mentioning him only twice and only in passing). However, because the author conceives of a process of Islamization of the Far Maghrib through Andalusian legal expertise, his thesis falls well within the Khaldūnian meta-narrative he criticized. In fact, by conceiving of the Almoravids as a Berber dynasty and thinking of it as being "indigenous," his language echoes important elements of French colonial Khaldūnization. That is why engaging with Ibn Khaldūn's original insight, and what modern historians made of it, may have clarified the distinctiveness of the author's arguments. These considerations may appear premature at this point. However, putting the cart before the horse in this particular way has the advantage of drawing attention to the historiographic context.

In Law and the Islamization of Morocco under the Almoravids, Gómez-Rivas argues

"...that the rise of the Almoravid state coincided with an urban transformation of the Far Maghrib, that Andalusi-influenced Mālikī legal institutions developed in these new urban spaces both responding to the needs of the state (the first large-scale indigenous state in the region) as well as, crucially, to the social needs of these urban societies" (150).

To make his case, he analyzes a number of fatwās (legal opinions) written in response to questions from jurists in Marrakesh, the Almoravid capital, by Ibn Rushd (1058-1126), the famed judge of Córdoba and grandfather of Averroes (1126-1198). The first chapter focuses on cases that involve the exchange of gold, commercial disputes, contradictory testimony, the recusal of a regular witness, a man who would not remove his turban when he washed, and rumors of apostasy. Gómez-Rivas uses these cases to underscore the fact that Almoravid regard for Andalusī learning extended beyond an interest in technical expertise into "religio-political" questions "striking at the root of Almoravid identity" (83-84). This is an important point: legal sources suggest a broader Andalusī influence, although just when and how the Ṣanhāja Berber Almoravids experienced changes to their identity is unclear. Likewise, the idea that Almoravid unification responded to a multiplicity of "urban societies" is not developed.

In the second chapter, Gómez-Rivas gathers fatwās Ibn Rushd sent to the Far Maghrib (al-maghrib al-aqṣā), the Morocco of the title. The first question was sent by the Almoravid ruler (who was not in Marrakesh when he sent his question) and pertains to the status of Ash'arites, a theological school making the headlines at the time. After that, he analyzes a question about the virtue of jihād over the performance of the pilgrimage to Mecca, then another about a man who forgot to wipe his head while making his ablutions, and then one about a double murder. These are followed by two cases on the partitioning and privatization of communal land and on accepting gifts that come from plunder. Based on these documents, Gómez-Rivas draws a number of conclusions:

"These texts are but windows onto a greater landscape. They intimate a set of processes of widespread significance for the period: the expansion of land settlement, use, and re-distribution attendant to Almoravid unification; the gradual entry of property into fiscal and commercial systems regulated (if only loosely) by Mālikī practices; and the gradual and adaptive encounter of Mālikī discursive traditions with Ṣanhāja and other Berber and Far Maghribī customs" (111-112).

But then again, they may intimate something entirely different. The small number of examples to shoulder "the gradual entry of property into fiscal and commercial systems (in the plural) regulated by Mālikī practices" is not the only possible issue here. Words like "gradual," "entry," "property," "system," and "regulation" involve specific analytical relations. If, as the author also says, legal texts are such that it is hard to say with precision whether the cases are real or theoretical, it is difficult to agree with him about the greater landscape he sees through them.

Chapter three is based on a different source altogether: the compilation of legal opinions and decisions made by the well-known judge of Ceuta, al-Qāḍī 'Iyāḍ (1084-1149). Although the subtitle of the book is "The Fatwās of Ibn Rushd al-Jadd to the Far Maghrib," Gómez-Rivas adds a chapter from this "student" of Ibn Rushd who helped propagate his ideas. He looks at a well-studied case over water rights, the problem of judicial review, and an examination of Ibn Rushd's correspondence with al-Qāḍī 'Iyāḍ.

"Its analysis serves to illustrate the process, on both micro and macro levels, whereby the institution of Mālikism--a network of jurists backed by the state and whose relative independence afforded it a high level of legitimacy among the population--began its consolidation in the countryside of the Far Maghrib. As described in the two previous chapters, much of this institution was absorbed or imported from its highly structured and established counterpart in al-Andalus, in a manner transformed to meet local needs" (113).

Based on the evidence of "a growing population and increased economic activity, evident in the increased food production and diminishing resources over which producers increasingly came in conflict," the author concludes that "presiding over this growth--in a sense, concomitant with it--was the developing institution of Mālikism" (148).

There is a very short epilogue at the end. The book also has four appendices. The first offers a breakdown of some of the fatwās of al-Wansharīsī's Mi'yār by subject and region. Some of Ibn Rushd's opinions appear in al-Wansharīsī's compilation allowing us to appreciate the continued importance of Mālikism in the Maghrib. The other three indices are translations of the cases discussed in the three chapters.

A lengthy introduction (about a third of the book) gives the historical background, and identifies the stakes, as the author sees them.

"[The book] explores the intersection of two historical currents: i.e., the social history of the Almoravid Far Maghrib and the development of the discursive tradition of legal consultation, through an examination of consultative communications between jurists of al-Andalus and the Far Maghrib" (7).

"[The book] argues that, far from serving merely as a religious ideology for mobilization and military expansion (through jihād), the institution of Mālikism in the Far Maghrib developed to meet the specific practical needs of the urban transformation of the fifth/eleventh and sixth/twelfth centuries" (8).

When it comes to making the case, and thus mustering evidence for urbanization, the establishment of Mālikism in the Far Maghrib, and the activities of the Almoravid state, the three chapters seem to have to bear all the weight. They actually do not. In the introduction, Gómez-Rivas relies on secondary evidence to describe what urbanization meant in practice.

"Urban and Islamic institutional development in the Far Maghrib during the Almoravid period favored a few great cities, chief of which appear to have been Marrakesh, Fez, Ceuta and perhaps Tlemcen. Archeological evidence points to demographic growth at the expense of smaller urban centers, a few of which disappeared altogether" (31).

Some cities experienced demographic growth, but not all, and maybe not the countryside. But, whatever shape it took, urbanization was instrumental in supporting the expansion of the network of Mālikī jurists into the Far Maghrib, what the author calls Islamization.

Islamization is a misnomer. Even if one considers Khārijism and Isma'īlism to be heterodoxies or hetero-praxies, as the author does (31), their followers clearly claimed to be Muslims. Perhaps another way to describe the process is Mālikization. But because, as the author also writes (148), it is not the mere presence of Mālikī jurists that is in question but rather the state's support of it, it is not clear whether we are dealing with Mālikization or Almoravidization. Since the Almoravids relied on the active support and participation of urban elites, whom they appointed to judgeships and other official functions, one may also wonder whether it was Mālikism that was being institutionalized or Almoravid power. And if, as the author writes, Ibn Rushd may not have been as prolific without the Almoravids, are we not dealing with the Almoravidization of al-Andalus too?

The author does not make the argument that the Almoravids made the Far Maghrib into a region, and the fatwās he selected do not suggest as much. He does not discuss the fact that Tlemcen is often included in the central Maghrib or that Ibn Rushd himself does not use the category "Far Maghrib." In fact, Gómez-Rivas does not explain why he chose to focus on the Far Maghrib in particular and what focusing on the Far Maghrib allows us to understand that a focus on another "region" would not. Could not one use Ibn Rushd's fatwās responding to jurists from regions even farther afield to prove their Mālikization? Related to this is the earlier Mālikization of Ifrīqiyā (eastern Maghrib), a region well represented in the collection of fatwās in question. Was Mālikization exclusively an Andalus-Far Maghrib (North-South) phenomenon? Again, the few selected fatwās do not give us a sense of the relative position of the Far Maghrib, the table showing the distribution of a selection of opinions found in al-Wansharīsī (d. 1508) notwithstanding.

One may also wonder whether Ibn Rushd thought that Mālikī jurisprudence was to be spread (against non-Islamic customs) and whether he thought it was superior to other schools of law (madhāhib, sing. madhhab). Was Mālikism an "ism"? As it happens, in the same compilation one finds questions from jurists in Tangier asking Ibn Rushd about the qualities of a muftī (#549, 2:1494 et. seq.). Ibn Rushd's answer was very interesting. He thought that those who followed Mālik by imitation and memorization without making an effort to understand his reasoning should be disqualified from issuing opinions. He also opined that someone with legal training should become a muftī only if he masters the logic behind the formation of the body of Mālikī opinions. On a question about what was required of a person who wanted to become a Mālikī muftī, Ibn Rushd wrote: "This is an invalid question (su'āl fāsid) because the choice is not whether one should become a muftī in the Mālikī madhhab or some other one. If there is evidence for the correctness of a position, he must just follow it and has no right not to do so." Here Ibn Rushd sounds more like a good jurist than a militant Mālikī. The following question he addressed was that of a Mālikī judge in the Far Maghrib who was not intellectually capable of issuing fatwās and who held a position in a country with no one who mastered the law to the point of being a muftī. Here Ibn Rushd advised the man to ask someone near or far for help. This response suggests that there were challenges facing the Almoravids' Mālikization of the Far Maghrib. But beyond the lack of intelligence of some members of the elite, was there any resistance to Almoravid Mālikization?

In spite of its unevenness, which reflects the state of the field, the book succeeds in pointing to exciting research possibilities. Those interested in the medieval Maghrib, its relations to al-Andalus, or the broader Mediterranean will find in it a number of stimulating ideas. Assigned together or separately, its chapters will doubtlessly foster rich and meaningful discussion in any graduate seminar.

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