The Islamic Expansion in al Maghreb

         The Vandals’ invasion and the Byzantine’s short prevalence in Morocco were but episodes of the country’s rich history, which continued with the invasion of the Arabs and the islamisation of the native population of Al Maghrib..
The hord of the Arab conquerors showed in al-Maghreb for the first time in 647, when Egypt's Governor, Abdullah Ibn Saâd, penetrated Ifriquiya, leading an expedition of 20,000 men, and stroke down the Byzantine garrison of Tunisia. That was the beginning of the Arabs’ incursion in al Maghreb, their mission was the preaching of the new faith of Islam. Other expeditions, with same mission, followed between 668 and 696.
Okbat Bnou Nafie followed suit, and after fortifying his position by bulding the stronghold of al Kairawan in Tunisia, he continued up north-west and marched agaisnt al Maghreb. He progressed with his troops as far as Mazagan (Essaouira). Then he returned back to Tunisia, where he and his troops fell in an ambush prepared by the Tunisian Djerawa warriors, led by the Jewish Queen, Al-Kahina (Dahya bent Thebt).  Okba perished in the battle-field and was succeeded, under the khalifat of Mouawiya, by Dinar, the Berber freedman who ordered the demolition of the Tunisian stronghold of al Kairawan. The other Arab leaders who succeeded in the expeditions of North Africa were Zohaïr Bnou Kaïss who, during the khalifat of Abdelmalik Ibn Marwan, broke the resistance of Kosseila. Hassan Bnou Noaman Al Ghassani made an end to the Byzantine’s supremacy in North Africa and quelled the Berber resistance. Backed by a naval fleet, Hassan expelled the Byzantines from Carthage and from other littoral towns of North Africa, the he wheeled against the Djerawa Berbers, who were governed, as mentioned before, by the prophetess, Al-Kahina (Dahiya Bent Thebt), a queen that imposed a mystical influence over her people. The Tunisian heroine perished near a well that still bears her name, Bir Al-Kahina (693).
Hassan the re-conqueror and pacifier of Ifrikya, was succeeded in 696 by Mousa Ibn Noussaïr, appointed by the khalif, Al Walid Bnou Abdelmalik, as the new Emir of al-Maghreb. Mousa extended the boundaries of his North African provinces as far as Tangier. This brought Islam definitely and permanently into contact with another racial group, the Berbers.
         When the first Muslim expedition showed in North Africa, most of the native population settling along the sea-coasts was Christian. Some Berber Christian pastors, such as Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and St. Augustine, became princes among early Christian priests. The other Berber clans living in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and in the boundaries of the Sahara were either Jews or animists. Many people of the Berber clans embraced Islam, and many others kept their religion and died for it.
With the conquest of Morocco, the way was open for the Arabs to penetrate the neighboring European country, Spain. The invasion of the Spanish country was coordinated with the Vandal governor of Sebta, the count Justinian, uncle of the legitimate Vandal king of Spain, Achila, deposed by the count Don Rodrigo. Before the invasion, Mousa sent his agent, Tarif Ibn Malek to Spain to gather military information about the Visigoths.
                In 711 Mousa Ibn Noussaïr appointed his Berber lieutenant, Tarik Ibn Zaïyad, governor of Tangier. Tarik was backed with an army of eleven thousand men, all Berbers, and was assisted by twenty-seven Arab scholars, whose duties were to instruct the Berber troops on the precepts of Islam. That same year, Tarik crossed to Spain, in command of his Berber troops. Once in the Spanish coast, he set fire to all the ships used for the crossing of the Straits, cutting away any intention of retreat to Tangier, and made his famous speech to infuse courage in his troops to face the enemy.
The raid of Tarik evolved into an important expedition of conquest of the Iberian Peninsula (al-Andalus). This expedition constituted the last and most impressive military campaign ever accomplished by an Islamic army. It concluded with the annexing to the Muslim world of the largest European territory, ever, held by Arabs.
As the Arabs spread westwards, the focus of interest traveled with them into the Maghreb al-Aksa, or Morocco. This was a land of great rolling plains, and of vast expanse of upland pastures, all blessed with generous rainfall and countless perennial streams. The Arabs were, at last, able to form permanent settlements, to which, the conquest of Spain, the opulence which ensued afterwards, and the remarkable growth of Muslim scholarship, brought all the benefits of affinity to their seats of learning and cultured ease.
        The constant flow of men and ideas across the Strait kept the Arabs of Africa abreast of the great achievements of their kinsmen in Europe, and made of Morocco a vital bridge, linking for a while, the western Islamic provinces with the Middle-East. From the East came scholars, merchants, and craftsmen seeking a share in the wealth and culture of the West. A ceaseless flow of the oppressed, victims of political and religious despotism, and fugitives from justice; came form Spain and from elsewhere. Skilled agriculturists and erudite scholars were in the number. Thus was al-Maghreb al-Aksa, nourished by two converging streams of fresh and invigorating blood. How richly their confluence blessed the country is strikingly illustrated by the city of Fes.


The Idrissids (788-1040)

Moulay Idriss Ibn Abdullah Ibn Al Hassan (788-791)

         Despite the occupation of Morocco by the Muslim Arabs, it is, however, with the arrival of the Idrissids, a Sharifian Arab family, which descends from the lineage of the Prophet Mohammed, that Islam was implanted throughout Morocco.
Moulay Idriss Ibn Abdullah, great-grandson of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, fled, in company of his freedman Ar Rachid, the slaughter of the Shiites in Fakh, a town close to Mecca (June 12, 785), which followed the insurrection of the Alids (Shiites) against the Abbasid’s authority. Moulay Idriss participated in one of these revolts, during the reigning of the Abbasid khalif, Haroun Rachid. The revolt was suppressed, and Moulay Idriss fled, first to Egypt, where he benefited of the complicity of its Governor, Ali Bnou Suleiman Al Hachimi, then he proceeded to Kairaouan, Tlemecen, and Tangier. In 788, he left Tangier for Walili (Volubilis), a stronghold of the Auraba Berber clan of Zerhoun, where he was welcome by Ishaq Ibn Abdulhamid Al Aourabi, chief of this clan.
The august Ali’s progeny descent of Moulay Idriss alienated the sympathy of the Auraba Berber tribe who proclaimed him Imam in their capital Volubilis. Moulay Idriss succeeded in laying the bases of a kingdom, which was to bear his name, the Idrissid. His power, of more spiritual characteristics than temporal, extended over all Morocco, as far as Tlemecen to the East. The Idrissids were the first Shiite dynasty in Islamic history; and they drew their power in Morocco from the Berbers.
Moulay Idriss forced pagan Berbers, Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, and harassed the half-pagan Berghouata tribe in the south-western Atlantic slopes. But Moulay Idriss was himself tracked by the Abbasid khalif, Haroun Rachid. The Abbasid khalif, jealous or worried about the prowess, and the ever-growing power of Moulay Idriss I, dispatches his Jewish emissary, Suleiman Ibn Jarir Achamakh to kill him. Achamakh using his wits gained the confidence of Moulay Idriss I and became his inseparable adviser. In 791 Suleiman, taking advantage of the absence of Rachid, the boon companion of Moulay Idriss, plotted against the life of the Imam, and poisoned him, through a perfume. On passing away, Moulay Idriss I left his Berber wife, Kenza pregnant. His posthumous son Moulay Idriss II had the honor of founding the first Moroccan kingdom.

        Moulay Idriss Ibn Idriss (803-828)

         To avoid the inconveniences of regency, Moulay Idriss II, a young boy of eleven, was proclaimed Imam in the year 803. Volubilis continued receiving Berber and Arab emigrants from everywhere. But the old city was, soon, saturated, and there was not enough space to hold more people, at a time, when a capital worth the prince's ambitions was needed. Arab families coming from Tunisia and from al-Andalous constituted the entourage of the prince, Moulay Idriss II, and a number of these families assumed important functions in his court. The young Moulay Idriss II was overwhelmed by his Arab entourage, falling, deeply, under their influence. Confused with the Berber tribe, which, once, had honored his father and made of him an Imam, this son of a Berber woman broke with his Berber kinsmen, and leaned on Arabs’ guidance. His regent was the Arab, Abou Khalid Yazid, and his own guard was composed of 5,000 Arab men. The Aouraba Berbers, former allies of his father, conceived certain bitterness, and a strain became transparently manifest in Volubilis. Ishaq, the chief of Aouraba was assassinated; his influence worried the Arab chiefs. This incident worried the Arabs who, fearing a Berber reprisal, advised Moulay Idriss of quitting Volubilis, which became unsafe for them. Persuaded of Volubilis drawbacks, Moulay Idriss decided to build a new settlement, and he instructed his vizier, Oumaïr Ibn Mouseab, to find the ideal place.
Moulay Idriss’s military expeditions were carried on beyond the High Atlas, bringing Islam to the remote settlements of Morocco. In 812, he set out and important military expedition against the Berbers of the South. He captured the city of Aghmat, located on the northern foothills of the High Atlas, and subdued the tribe of Massmouda. Moulay Idriss II passed away in 828. His sudden death resembled that of his father who was poisoned. When he died, Moulay Idriss II left nine sons and no will. The Idrissid Empire was divided, according to the advises of Kenza, the mother of Moulay Idriss, among the nine brothers, in respect for the old Auraba's Berber tradition of the political power partition.
 Since 917, the Idrissid monarchs faced the hegemony of both the Fatimids of Ifriquiya, and of the Omeyades of al Andalous. In 917, the Fatimid Shiite, Obeid Allah, using his ally, the Meknassa Berber tribe, attacked the Idrissid capital, Fes. The presence of the Shiite Fatimids in al Maghreb caused unrest among the Sunni Omeyade lords of al Andalous and in 956, the Omeyade khalif, Abdurrahman III Annacir, drove out the Fatimids from Fes and laid his authority over Morocco. The Idrissid kingdom was, thus, split between the Fatimid Empire of the East and the Omeyades of al Andalous. Yahiya Ibn Mohammed, grandson of Moulay Idriss, was the last of the eminent Idrissid dynasty to face the hegemony of the two powers. He was assassinated in 991 in Fes by the population of this city.

FES (808)

         The province of Fes extends over 17.945 Km2, and includes the pre-Rif, the plains of Saïss and the plains of Sbou. The population of the province is of about 1,230,000 inhabitants. The city itself has a population of about 762,000 inhabitants. The economy of the province is based on farming, livestock rising, agro-industry and handicraft. This last activity engages around 180,000 persons who make their living from this occupation. Fes, the oldest of Morocco's imperial cities, was considered as one of the most important religious, intellectual and cultural centers, not only of Morocco, but also of all North Africa. The city was renowned for its traditional crafts, and the high reputation acquired, once, by its Qaraouyine University made it be know as the "Athens of Africa".
         The founding of the city of Fes dates back to Thursday January 4, 808. According to some chroniclers, Mousseab, an Arab counselor of Moulay Idriss II, was instructed by Moulay Idriss to find and appropriate land where to build a new capital. While exploring the plains of Saïss, Mousseab found the land, which met all requirements. A fertile land abounding in water sources, rivers and forests. The land belonged to a Berber tribe of Zouagha, the Bani Al Khaïr, and it was bought from them in 806. Moulay Idriss II consecrated three years to unify and populate his new capital city, which was named Fes.
         In 818, the new city received an important contingent of Corduan immigrants who established in the city as political refugees. In the year 818, the population of the Corduan quarters of al-Rabad rebelled against the authority, and the Omeyade Emir, Al-Hakam I, ordered the demolition of the overpopulated Rabad, and expelled more than twenty thousand proscribed Rabadis. Eight thousand families found asylum in Morocco, some established in the North, (J'bala), others sought refuge in Fes where they founded the Andalusia Adoua or quarter.
Other Arab families made their way, from Tunisia, to the newly built Imperial City of Morocco. This time the refugees were rich educated craftsmen and merchants who were driven out of Kairaouan. They came to Fes around the year 826, and settled in the West Bank of the river, in what became known as the Karaouyine district.
         Fes became a political matter of dispute, fought over by the Tunisian Fatimids and by the Omeyades of Spain. In 917 the Idrissid Sultan, Yahiya IV, was compelled to acknowledge the authority of the Fatimid over Morocco. Fatimid governors established in Fes from where they supervised the Idrissids’ administration of the kingdom, until 953.The Idrissid Sultan fled Fes to the strongholds of the Rif Mountains, from where he fought the Fatimids and defended the country's independence. Fes was restored by the Idrissids to be lost to Omeyades of al Andalous in 956. The Omeyade of al-Andalous secured the city from the Fatimids, depriving them of the African gold brought to Fes along the Saharan trade routes. In 999, Ziri Ibn Atiya, Emir of Maghraoua tribe and ally of the Omeyades of al-Andalous, fortified the city with high ramparts, and edified the gates Bab Ftouh and Bab Guissa. This sovereign made build the actual minaret of the Karaouyine mosque.
         It is true, that none could pretend to become King of Morocco without having been recognized by the electoral school of the city of Fes, and receive the beïa (allegiance) of its nobility. After a six-years siege, the Almorabide Sultan, Youssef Ibn Tachfin, took possession of Fes in 1062. At that time, the scholar Abou Obeid Al-Bikri described Fes as two separated cities; each surrounded by a wall and separated by a fast-flowing river, crossed by many bridges, whose waters propelled hundreds of water-mills. Youssef demolished the walls which separated the quarters of Karaouyine from that of al-Andalous and built the Kasbah of Boujloud outside the city. He enlarged the Karaouyine Mosque and built the gate of Bab Chemaïne. The Almorabids enlarged the city and surrounded it with new ramparts, especially in the north.
Overshadowed by Marrakech, the newly founded capital of the Almorabids, Fes suffered, for a while, an economic crisis. But the city remained the privileged cultural, intellectual and economic center of the kingdom.
         In 1145 the Almowahid Sultan, Abdelmoumen, besieged the city for nine months. And once Fes was captured, the Almorabid’s Kasbah of Boujloud and the ramparts were demolished. Abdelmoumen exclaimed: "Our ramparts are our swords and our Justice! ''. The city, by then, had acquired an important economic and cultural status, and became a center for both learning and trade. The Fassi merchants dealt with Spain, Genoa, Normandy and with the Middle East.
During the first half of the 13th century the Merinids, taking advantage of the Almowahid's power decline, captured Fes in 1250, and made of it their administrative capital. For two centuries, the Merinid monarchs lavished their blessings upon Fes, transforming the city into a splendid monument of the Moorish architecture, and made of it the most important trading center of North Africa. The establishing of the Merinid Sultans in Fes was a strategy for extending their authority over North Africa and for controlling the traditional roads linking the north with the south and joining the Continent with Spain. Fes, situated in the crucial hub of these roads, was given a new administrative center, Fes el Jedid (New Fes). The Merinid Sultan, Abou Youssef Yaâcoub Al Manssour (1258-1286), laid the foundations of the New City or "Fes J’did". The Grand Mosque was built first, followed, afterward, by the souks and baths of Bab Semmarine. A royal quarter was raised with its royal palace, and was fitted up with annexes for the suite, the domestics and the imperial guard.
Abou Youssef Yaâcoub Al Manssour defined and set the trends of the Merinids' architecture. He equipped the new city with water conduits and with a draining canalization. He made build the Medersa Seffarine (ex Medersa Halfaouyine), the tower of “Borj el Mektoub” of Bab Ftouh, and restored Bab el-Guissa.
The European quarters of Dar Dbibagh were built by the French colons, just after the signing of the protectorate treaty in 1912.

        The Karaouyine: (856)

         It is during the ruling of Yahiya Ibn Mohammed; grandson of Moulay Idriss II, when art and science flourished in Morocco and Fes reached its high prestige. In the year 856 AD, Fatima Oum Al Banin Al Fihrya, having inherited of an important fortune, after the death of her father, made a generous donation for the building of a mosque in the Karaouyine quarter. The Karaouyine Mosque went through several transformations, and it holds the oldest minaret of the Islamic world. The Andaloucian Omeyade khalif, Abdurrahman Annacir made build this minaret in 956 AD, after imposing his authority over Fes. The tower and its adjoining room, were successively used as an astronomy observatory, and held very old Clepsydras (water clockwork). Some of these clocks were built by the eminent astronomers, Ibn Al-Habbak, Al-Karastony and Al-Jabi.
The eleven centuries old Karaouyine extends over an area of 5,000 square meters, and it is fit up, in its surroundings, with Medersas (schools with shelters for the students). Fourteen big doors, illustriously modeled, lead to the prayer hall, which contains 16 naves and is supported by 270 pillars. Its octagonal stalactite or circular copulas, its white marble-columned pavilion, the arched vaults, and the fringes of its portals are all master works, which reflect the genius of the Maghrebian architects and craftsmen. The souvenirs of the Alhambra of Grenada come to memory when glancing into the large inner courtyard and its two marble-pillared pavilions, reminiscence of the Court of lions, sheltering two ablution marble fountains, which are symmetric to a third one in the center. One of these pavilions was a gift of the Saadian Sultan, Abdullah A’sheikh. The Karaouyine was the only monument in Fes fed on water from five different sources, intended to cover, all the year around, the needs in water of the edifice and its dependencies. Few water conduits were so judiciously conceived, and the mosque was never short in water, even during the hard draughty seasons. A large number of historians consider the Karaouyine as the oldest university in the world. Its foundation was traced back to the year 858, while that of Al-Azhar University of Egypt dates to 955, Bologna University dates to 1119; Oxford to 1229, and the Sorbonne to 1257. The Karaouyine University lodged illustrious students and eminent scholars such as Ibn Tofaïl, Ibn Rochd, Ben Mimoun and the bishop, Gerbert of Aurillac, the famous alchemist who introduced the Arabic ciphers to Europe, and became Pope in 999, under the name of Sylvester II. The Karaouyine Mosque contains priceless relics, including an Almowahid chandelier dating back to 1203, and a minbar (pulpit) of the same epoch, made in Cordoba. The Karaouyine library was established during the 10th century, and was reorganized during the 14th by Abou Innan, who transformed it into a large hall, housing manuscripts transferred from the library in the Sultan's palace. With its collection of 30,000 volumes, including 10,000 manuscripts, the library is considered as the largest one in Arab world, and its reputation attracts eminent specialists of the Islamic culture. Among its valuable manuscripts is the rare copy of a 9th century Quran, made by the historian Ibn Khaldoun in the 14th century.

        Medersa Attarines (1323)

         In 1323, the Merinid Sultan Abou Said Othman ordered the building of a school in the proximity of the Karaouyine, at the entrance of the grocery market. Finished in 1325, it was named the Medersa Attarines (the grocer's school). The building of the school was supervised by the Chamberlain, the Sheikh Ben Aba Mohammed Abdullah Ben Qassim. Its timber framework is made of palm-wood beams, which, though pliant, have proved strong enough to withstand the test of time. The ornamentation and decorum of the Medersa were exclusively executed in finely carved stucco, combining rigid geometrical designs, representing polygonal stars and delicate floral motifs. The prayer hall has some very old stained glass windows and a bronze chandelier, decorated with Quranic inscription, and has the name of the Emir, Abou Saïd engraved on it.

         Medersa Bou Inania: (1350)

         Built by the Sultan, Abou Inane Ibn Al-Hassan in 1350, this Medersa was first known as Al-Moutawaquiliya. Named Al Bou Inania after the Sultan Abou Inane, this Medersa was the largest and the most important of all the Medersas in Fes. Supplemented with a Mosque-Cathedral, this Medersa possessed a chair for Fridays' preaching, and a school of theology and science. The wonderful stuccowork, the cedar-wood paneling, the bronze, marble and onyx decorations, and the windows with moukarnas decor (stalactites) are all classical Merinid architectural features. Under the green-tiled roof, the walls of the inner courtyard are decorated with mosaic and stucco. The prayer hall has superb stained glass windows and a magnificent minbar (pulpit). Abou Innan endowed the Medersa with a water clock whose function was to strike the prayer time. The clock had thirteen cymbals placed on carved cedar-wood supports, bellow thirteen windows from which the clockwork made a clapper emerge and strike the cymbal. This hydraulic carillon was engineered by the eminent astronomer and philosopher, Ali Ibn Ahmed at-Tilemsani, known as Ibn Al Fah'ham (1357). The Medersa Al Bou Innania is the last architectonic work executed during the Merinid epoch.

         Medersa Cherratine (1670)

         The Medersa Cherratines was built in the corders' quarter, near the Karaouyine. It was built just over the foundations of the former Merinid Lebbadine’s Medersa, which was demolished by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Rachid, because its students waged serious disorders. The sultan made built a new imposing Medersa in 1670: the Cherratine. This Medersa is immense, and is considered as the largest of all the known Medersas, with enough rooms to shelter more than hundred and thirty students, but its decoration is poor and monotonous.
Medersa Seffarine

         Bordering the Karaouyine mosque stands the Seffarine (former Halfaouyine) Medersa, the first to be built by the Merinids, in 1280. Abdelkrim Al Khattabi, the leader of the Rif uprisal against the Spanish and French in 1925, was one of the many famous alumni of this Quranic School, which is located in the quarter of the copper and brass-workers.