Second Stage: The Birth Of A Dynasty: An Imam And A Military Leader
I. 'Abdullah ibn Yasin and Yahya ibn 'Umar, or the expansion of the Lamtuna
a) The Conquest of Dar'a and of Sijilmassa
Up until this time, the two major groups of Sanhaja of Maghrib al-Aqsa - that of the south which was composed of the tribes of Lamtuna, Juddala, Massufa, Banu Warith, Lamta, and their allies - and those of the north, called Masmuda - were crushed between the Zanata, which was dominant in the north, and the Sudanis in the south. 'Abdullah ibn Yasin attempted to break this encirclement and open routes of expansion for the Murabitun.
In 446h/1054, recognising the great contrast between life in the Sahara and the wealth and civilisation of the Maghrib, especially al-Andalus where he had lived, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin decided to send his followers towards the north. Confident of the unconditional dedication to him which they had already demonstrated and certain of their courage, he said to them:
"You have fought and made the religion of Muhammad triumphant. You have conquered what was in front of you, and you will conquer what is on the other side of you." (al-Bayan, 50)
Then he gave them the order to leave the desert and make for Sijilmassa and Dar'a, whose inhabitants were subject to the Zanata and whose amir was Mas'ud ibn Wannudin. Following the method previously adopted, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin sent emissaries to call on them to convert and to surrender. When they refused, he ordered the attack on Sijilmassa.
The Rawd al-Qirtas states that the first encounter took place in Dar'a on 20 Safar 447h/21 May 1055, although Ibn 'Idhari places the event in 446h, the same date as al-Bakri, and mentions that some people make the date 448h. The expedition was in reply to the pleas of the faqihs and righteous men of Sijilmassa, among whom Ibn Khaldun puts Wajjaj al-Lamti, the spokesman of the fuqaha'. He complained about the state of wretchedness to which the Muslims of their country had been reduced by the tyranny of the Banu Wannudin and the Zanata. He added that when the Murabitun advanced into Dar'a, they would drive out the governor of the city and gain possession of the 50,000 camels which grazed in the area and which belonged to the governor of Sijilmassa, Mas'ud b. Wannudin. Seeing this, Mas'ud gathered together his army and set out to meet them. After a fierce fight, he died along with a large number of his men.
Al-Bakri, Ibn 'Idhari, and al-Hulal al-Mawsiyya do not quote this pious reason to justify the attack on the town. They simply say that following the victory, the inhabitants of Sijilmassa asked for the amân and opened the city gates. Ibn 'Idhari, however, mentions the double version of the death of Mas'ud in combat or his flight.
'Abdullah ibn Yasin collected the weapons, property and animals which constituted the booty having reducted the fifth which he distributed, as the Rawd al-Qirtas states, among the faqihs of Sijilmassa and Dar'a. He abolished the abuses which were contrary to the reform which he was preaching, as well as illegal imposts, like the majârim and the muküs, and he had musical instruments broken and wine poured out. Then, according to the Bayan, he remained for several months in Sijilmassa. Before returning to the desert, he left a governor and a garrison in the town.
The conquest of Sijilmassa was a campaign of reprisals against the Maghrâwa who were oppressing their sister tribes. It became the base of operations for a move towards the Sus and to extend the sway of the Sanhaja towards the Maghrib. 'Abdullah b. Yasin had decided to move on towards the north, but now he was seen to abruptly turn his back on the Maghrib and return to the desert.
Why this retreat? Perhaps it can be explained by the necessity of recovering from the losses sustained in the fight against the Zanata, and by the necessity of fighting the rising power of the black tribes who threatened his rear-guard. In any case, it is probable that these tribal nomads of the Sanhaja did not have a vocation as conquerors. They were only occupied with taking possession of the oases of the south of Maghrib al-Aqsa which were necessary for their economic development. Certain of the possession of these lands covered with pasturage, it was the jihad against the blacks which concerned them.
Awdaghust was a town located at the other end of the desert, forty days journey south-east of Sijilmassa and twelve to fifteen days from Gana. It was the closest gate to the land of the blacks. Built at the foot of a barren mountain and in a sandy plain, it was a prosperous town and an important commercial centre on the caravan routes.
At the beginning of the 11th century, Tarsina, chief of the Lamtuna who lived in the town, entered into a fight against the blacks and lost his life in the course of a fight in which the town reverted to the authority of the ruler of Gana. In 446h/1054-1055, after having taken Sijilmassa, Yahya ibn 'Umar and 'Abdullah ibn Yasin then crossed the Sahara and arrived in front of Awdaghust which they took by storm and opened to pillage, declaring lawful all that fell into their hands: beasts and people.
By the recovery of Awdaghust, the Murabitun extended their domain to the north and to the south of the Sahara. They controlled the commercial traffic of the caravans across the desert. Awdaghust and Sijilmassa represented a triple victory- political, religious and economic - over the blacks and the Zanata Maghrawa of the oases to the south of Maghrib al-Aqsa.
However, two events which were almost simultaneous must have paralysed Murabitun expansion for a time: the insurgence of Sijilmassa and the revolt of the Juddala which must have turned their efforts once against towards the Maghrib.
Taking advantage of their absence, the Zanata returned to Sijilmassa and massacred the Lamtuna garrison which had taken refuge in the mosque. The inhabitants of Sijilmassa very soon regretted what they had done and sent many messages to 'Abdullah ibn Yasin to persuade him to return with his troops, claiming that those who were responsible for what had happened were the Zanata and they asked him to come to avenge it.
Ibn Yasin ordered the Lamtuna and other allies to prepare to attack the town, but the Juddala, who had always shown themselves to be recalcitrant since the time that the hegemony had passed from their tribe to that of Lamtuna, retired towards the Atlantic littoral.
b) New revolt of the Juddala
Faced with the defection of this tribe, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, wanting to subdue this revolt without abandoning his plan for expansion towards the north, divided his forces. One of the armies, under the command of Yahya ibn 'Umar, bolstered its position in the mountain in the fortress of Arji while the other had the task of retaking Sijilmassa.
This fortress which is called Arji (Azuggi) by al-Bakri is located in the middle of approximately 20,000 palm trees. It was built by Yannû ibn 'Umar al-Hajj, the brother of Yahya ibn 'Umar, in the mountain of the Lamtuna, which is Mauritanian Adrar. It is undoubtedly the famous town of Azggi or Azuqqi of al-Idrisi, the city of the "desert Lamtuna" whose ruins, which are 10 km from Atar, are called by local traditions: madinat al-kilâb (city of dogs), because it was defended by extremely ferocious dogs. This mountain, very difficult of access, had abundant water and pasturage.
Is it possible to explain the birth of this element of discord which would weaken the new movement and retard its advance?
At the death of Yahya ibn Ibrahim al-Juddali, chief of the Sanhaja confederation, the Juddala had noticed that 'Abdullah ibn Yasin singled out the Lamtuna tribe and honoured their chiefs more than themselves. The fact that a Lamtuna, Yahya ibn 'Umar, then had command of the confederation and that 'Abdullah ibn Yasin took control of the holy war along with his brother Abu Bakr, along with the losses sustained in the first campaign against the Zanata, might explain the defection of the Juddala.
The position of the forces there was therefore as follows: Yahya ibn 'Umar and the troops remaining to him and subject to the orders of the reformer retired from the region of Jabal Lamtuna in the Adrar. He based himself between Sijilmassa, the land of the blacks and the Atlantic, covering the rearguard of the forces of his brother, Abu Bakr, who was in the Dar'a, in an advanced position, and Ibn Yasin who was in the north and had taken position at Tamdult. He controlled the major routes and formed a barrier which could curb the movements of the dissident Juddala.
c) The death of Yahya ibn 'Umar
When 'Abdullah ibn Yasin gave command of the Dar'a expedition to Abu Bakr, with a considerable contingent of Lamtuna. Massufa, Lamta and Targa, the Juddala, who numbered about thirty thousand, returned against Yahya ibn 'Umar and blocked his retreat. Yahya ibn 'Umar commanded an imposing force and with him was Labi, the sons of Wâra-Dyâbe, the chief of Takrur. The encounter was imminent. The two forces met at Tabfarilla (?), between Taliwin and the Lamtuna mountain. The fighting must have been hard and desperate, judging by what al-Bakri tells us. Among the many dead left on the field of battle was Yahya ibn 'Umar. This was in 448h/1056.
This time, the Rawd al-Qirtas agrees with the Bayan, and gives us an even more exact date, stating that the death of the amir took place in the month of Muharram/ 21 March-19 April.
Yahya ibn 'Umar lost his life at a difficult time for the confederation which had only just come into existence. Only the recovery of Awdaghust could compensate for the loss of Sijilmassa and the defection of the Juddala.
d) Reconquest of Sijilmassa
The recovery of Sijilmassa and a decisive victory over the Maghrawa of Tafilalt was necessary because Abu Bakr and 'Abdullah ibn Yasin could not, in their campaign towards the Sus, the Atlas and the Atlantic plains, leave behind a nucleus of Zanata Maghrawa as important as that of Tafilalt. In order to have access to the rich areas of pasturage of the Middle Atlas, they had to open this route by taking Sijilmassa.
Faced with the refusal of Juddala to enter into the jihad against the Maghrawa, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin took up position at Tamdult while Yahya ibn 'Umar fought the Juddala.
It was only possible to count on Abu Bakr ibn 'Umar who was with his army in the Dar'a, a few days away from Sijilmassa. 'Abdullah ibn Yasin mustered an army composed of members of the Sarta and Targa, who had been in contact with the Maghrawa and had surrendered to them, and set out to join Abu Bakr's forces and to confer on him military command of this expedition.
Reinforced by the troops which Ibn Yasin brought and the support of the Lamta and some Juddala factions already submitted, the Murabitun advanced to attack the rich oasis of Tafilalt and put an the end to the resistance of the Maghrawa.
The Rawd al-Qirtas does not say anything about the recovery of Sijilmassa by the Maghrawa and confines itself to mentioning that at the beginning of 448h/March 1056, Ibn Yasin named Abu Bakr as the Amir of the Murabitun since his brother Yahya had died in the course of the jihad against the blacks of Sudan, something which we have rectified.