Almost 60% of Moroccans can trace their ancestry to the Amazighs, the indigenous people of all of the Maghreb. Although many have lost their linguistic and cultural ties with the many Amazigh tribes that dot the Maghreb landscape, the importance of the Amazighs to the history, society and culture of the region cannot be denied. Although a number of Arab scholars may argue the contrary, the Moroccan identity embodies an amalgamation between an indigenous culture, that of the Amazighs, and an imported culture, that of the Arab-Islamic East.
From the Barghwata movement to the current identity movement, the Amazighs have played a central role in shaping Morocco’s religious, cultural and social climate. In particular, the Amazighs reconciled Arab-Islamic customs and beliefs with indigenous beliefs and traditions. Just as the Arabic influence and the Arabic language contributed to Amazigh culture and religion, Amazigh society also contributed to the cultural and intellectual life of Islam and Morocco as a whole.
Fusion of religious and cultural beliefs
The amalgamation of religious and cultural beliefs between the Arab world and the Berber world – widespread in Moroccan society – emerged predominantly nearly two centuries after the initial Islamic conquest of North Africa with the emergence of the Barghwata movement. to 9e century. Established in opposition to the ruling Umayyad Caliphate, the Barghwata sought to distinguish Amazigh identity.
Yunus, second descendant of Salih Ibn Tarif, believed in maintaining an Amazigh religious identity. In 842 CE, Yunus proclaimed that his ancestor Salih was the prophet of the Berbers and then composed the Berber Quran. Influenced by his pilgrimage to the East in 816 CE, Yunus aimed to make Islam an independent Berber belief system; however, like Norris (HT Norris: The Berbers in Arabic literature, 1982) note:
“to achieve this, he used ideas and beliefs that had entered the Maghreb from the East with the Muslim conquest… Other beliefs had a marked kinship with Jewish beliefs.”
While the doctrine itself borrowed heavily from Shiism, Barghwata adopted an ancient Berber view of prophecy where only the king can assume such high status.
The legacy of the Barghwata movement as a devout religious person seeking to influence the religious identity of Morocco will continue with the great Berber dynasties of the 11e century. As historian Alfred Bel (The Muslim religion in Berberia: Establishment and development of Islam in Berberia from the 7th to the 20th century, 1938) once noticed, the Amazigh dynasties were sects before being empires; each sought to leave its mark on the faith by attacking the heresies and heterodoxies that existed in Moroccan society.
The Almoravid dynasty began as a religious movement, the Imazighen followers of an austere and orthodox doctrine of Islam. The Almoravids came out of their ribats to anchor Malikite orthodoxy over the whole of lowland Morocco and made themselves known to Arabize Moroccan society. In a similar vein, the Almohad dynasty emerged from the High Atlas Mountains to accuse the Almoravids of impiety. Founder Ibn Tumart, a member of the Masmuda tribe, studied in Andalusia and Baghdad, where he became a believer in the unity of God. Theology and philosophy flourished under Almohad rule, especially in Spain. Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Arabi and Ibn Mimun (Maimonides), among other Almoravid philosophers, wrote extensively on mysticism and Sufism during this period.
Amazigh dynasties and the development of culture
Following in the footsteps of the Almohad dynasty, the Marinid dynasty will contribute to the development of Andalusian culture in Morocco and southern Spain. Unlike their Orthodox predecessors, the Merinids had liberal religious beliefs and allowed different schools of religion to practice freely within the dynasty. In addition, the Merinids allowed the Jewish or Sephardic population to freely exercise their religious rights. In fact, although the Amirs are Muslims, most government officials were Jews. The existence of religious tolerance in Morocco to this day dates back to the Marinid dynasty.
The Amazighs have had a significant impact on judicial practices in Moroccan society. Although the Arab-Islamic dynasties encouraged the adoption of Sharia law, preservation of customary law azref in rural areas allowed Amazigh cultural practices to continue in Moroccan society. In particular, customary rights to land and water, as well as family law, have not been challenged by the Makhzen. This allowed nomadic and semi-nomadic societies to maintain their social structures and way of life.
Finally, the Amazighs also made important contributions to the art, music and architectural tradition of Morocco. In the city of Fez as well as in a number of Spanish provinces such as Seville and Granada, evidence of Marinid and Almohad influence on architectural style is abundant. The Mérinides, for example, built the Marinia Madrasa in the heart of Fez.
The Amazigh oral tradition has also played an influential role in the historical and artistic tradition of the country. Amazigh poetry, written in couplets and usually sung, addressed concepts of love, life, lullabies, ballads, and religion. Amazigh dances and music, another means by which the oral tradition has been preserved, are also important elements in Moroccan society, especially in the Atlas Mountains. Many popular Amazigh tales and enigmas share important places in the consciousness and collective identity of the Moroccan people.
Unique Moroccan identity: tamaghrabit
The reconciliation between Arab-Islamic beliefs and Amazigh beliefs still exists today with the modern Amazigh identity movement. The modern nationalist movement has therefore sought to emphasize this mixture of the two ethnic groups which has resulted in a unique Moroccan identity – tamaghrabit– neither Arab nor Amazigh. The revival of Amazigh culture, linguistic tradition and history – which are an integral part of this nationalist movement – can be characterized as a response to increasing Arabization.
During the colonial period, French attempts to separate national identity between Arabs and Amazighs were in fact seen as a threat to national integrity and ultimately contributed to the formation of a combined Moroccan independence movement, which began in Arab metropolises and spread to rural Amazigh regions. Although the Arab elite initially refused to recognize Amazigh identity, they soon realized that Amazighs were a significant minority in Amazigh society.
The modern Amazigh cultural revival represents according to Maddy-Weitzman (The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States, 2011) a “full national story with old and modern icons, including a flag, anthems and sites of collective memory. It reflects a general trend in a number of Arab countries that challenges hegemonic Arab nationalism – the renaissance of identity politics to assert the ethnocultural value of historically marginalized groups such as the Kurds, Syrian Christians, Amazighs and Bedouins. .
This cultural revival has brought to light the importance that Amazigh ethnic groups have played in shaping the historical and cultural tradition of Morocco.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu