The Barghawata Confederacy were a small group of Berber Muslim tribes that banded into a confederacy for safety against their more ambitious neighbours. Their kingdom was based on the Atlantic coast of present-day Morocco. At first, they allied with the Masmuda confederacy, who were the owners of Morocco in the 8th century AD. Then in 744 AD, after supporting the Sufri Kharijite rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphate, they managed to establish a wholly independent nation. This kingdom, while small and economically and militaristically weaker than its Saharan neighbours, was very stable thanks to a strong series of leaders. Their state lasted until 1058 AD, when it was absorbed into The Almoravid Kingdom.
The Berber revolt of 739 and 740 is credited as being a major turning point for egalitarian Islam in Northern Africa, and its subsequent spread across the Middle East. It mainly consisted of the Barghawata, the Ghomara, and the Miknasa tribes launching an open rebellion against the ruling Umayyad Caliphate. They were mainly led by a sect of Sufri Kharijite preachers, who preached a doctrine of pure egalitarianism, in contrast with the aristocracy of the Quraysh, which was the doctrine of the Umayyads. The man at the head of the revolt was named Maysara al – Matghari. He was a very devout Sufri muslim, with prior experience as a general under the Umayyad’s themselves. His knowledge of the opponent’s army helped the Barghawata Confederacy immensely. They waged a brutal campaign of guerilla warfare against the Umayyads, successfully taking over large fortresses and garrisons in the dead of night. Indeed, it was these guerilla strategies that would then later be perfected by the Almohads.
The rebels managed to take control of all of Morocco by 740, but were then soon defeated in battle against a large Umayyad force in Kairouan, Ifriqiya in 741. However, the battle weakened the Umayyads as well, and thus they gave up control of Morocco entirely to the alliance. After a small period of peace, internal tensions among the alliance itself arose. This was mainly due to the Barghawatas growing resentment of the tribes that had joined the revolution later. Particularly the Zenata people still adhered to a form of Sufri authoritarianism, like the Umayyads, and had made constant attempts to take over power from the Barghawatas, the founders of the rebellion.
Since the Barghawata’s original goal of freeing Morocco from the Umayyads had been achieved, and there was little chance of the Umayyads ever trying to attack them again, they decided to leave the alliance. This led to the complete dissolution of the rebellion alliance.
The Barghawata Confederacy took over 7 large fortresses and their lands in the Tamesna region. In 744 AD they officially ended hostilities with the Umayyads, forming their own independent state under the leadership of Tarif al-Matghari. They also abandoned their Sufri Kharijitism.
The blue area depicts the approximate limit of the Barghawata Kingdom
The Barghawatas converted to Islam in the early 8th century AD. However, they soon adapted a large part of astrological and pagan Berber mythos, as well as elements of Sunni, Kharijite and Shi’a Islam. This, and their relative isolation in the Moroccan mountains, led to their religion evolving in a very unique way. They believed in the Prophet Mohammed and his teachings, but also traditional Amazigh (Berber) beliefs. For instance, they believed that the saliva of Salih and his family contained baraka, or blessedness.
One very unique aspect of the Barghawatas is the fact that they apparently had their own version of the Qur’an, in the Berber language, comprising more than 80 suras, or hymns, added to it. These were mainly the works of the second leader of the dynasty, Salih ibn Tarif, who took part in the Maysara revolts. Salih proclaimed himself to be a prophet, and said that in death Isa (Jesus) himself would be his companion.
His additions to the Qur’an were widely accepted in the Barghawata region, and were considered to be just as sacrosanct as the rest of the verses. While there have been many men since that have claimed to be a prophet, only Salih ibn Tarif managed to get people to widely accept an addendum to the Qur’an itself.
However, it must be noted that information on the Barghawata people is very limited. Thus, it is entirely possible that the addendum wasn’t to the Qur’an itself, but rather a separate book of hymns, taught with an equal reverence.
A unique Qur’an would be a big historical artifact, as modifying the holy book is not allowed under Islam.
History and Role in the rise of the Almoravid Dynasty
The Barghawatas fielded a very powerful military force, focused mainly around tactical guerilla warfare, followed by a larger army. They put this tactic to effective use, and were able to thwart any attempt at taking their lands. They were also ruled by a succession of strong leaders, who saw to the prosperity of the kingdom. None of them were interested in military conquests, instead strengthening relations with the neighbours via diplomatic missions. They also consolidated all the tribes in the kingdom, giving them one identity, enabling a long period of peace in their lands. Their forces were mainly used defensively, and to provide security to their traders. However, this era of peace ended at the end of the 10th century.
There was a break in relations with the Caliphate of Cordoba, who were under the rule of the Umayyads. This break led to two massive Umayyad incursions in their lands, followed by attacks by the Fatimids. These were all successfully fended off due to their strong and well-trained military. From the 11th century onwards, the Barghawatas raged an intense guerilla warfare campaign against the Zenata people and against the Almoravid Dynasty, who at this point had launched a successful revolt against the Umayyads, and taken over the entire Trans Saharan trade route, rendering them massively wealthy. The Barghwatas fought the Almoravids fiercely, and the Almoravid faith leader, Abdullah ibn Yasin, another self-proclaimed prophet, fell in battle against the Barghawatas in 1058.
Decline and Impact
The fall of the Almoravids’ self-proclaimed prophet was the last great triumph of the Barghwata force. The retaliatory attack from the Almoravids wiped out the much smaller defensive army of the Barghwata confederation. Soon after the entire Moroccan coast was absorbed into the Almoravid Dynasty. Even then, the Barghwata people still banded together in small mountain strongholds, and held out for survival. It took the successors of the Almoravids people, the Almohads, finally wiping them out in 1149 as an organised political and religious group.
Though the confederation of the Barghawatas was small, and its people not prized for their art or their knowledge, its impact was still felt on the world stage. The revolt that freed Morocco from the Umayyads, also inspired other similar revolts throughout North Africa. The development of their unique version of Islam is also a fascinating note in their history. The Barghawata people were very united, and are among the few states in history that did not crumble from the inside.
The Barghawatas speculatively lived in small stone dwellings, often in the valley of desert hills.
Tarif, el conquistador de Tarifa: Enrique Gozalbes Cravioto, 1998
Encyclopedia of Islam. I, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers.