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Abd Allah ibn Yasin  

Elizabeth Heath

The Almoravids movement of Abd Allah ibn Yasin conquered parts of northwestern Africa and later Spain during the eleventh and twelfth centuries and converted the defeated populations to Malekite (Maliki) Sunni Islam. Little is known of Abd Allah ibn Yasin's life prior to 1035, when as a student he was visited by a Sanhadja Berber chieftain and invited to return home with him to teach his people the true faith of Islam A devout Muslim Abd Allah ibn Yasin was scandalized by the lax and immoral practices of the Sanhadja Berbers He encouraged them to convert to Malekite Sunni Islam imposing a strict interpretation of Qur anic law Eventually he even restructured the Berber s military to conduct jihads holy wars in accordance with the Qur an By 1041 however the Berber chieftains resented the religious scholar s rule and sent him away Abd Allah ibn Yasin and ...


Adrian, of Canterbury  

Ness Creighton

Christian saint, North African–born abbot active in England, was a well-known scholar and the abbot of St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, England. Another form of his name is “Hadrian.”

According to the medieval English writer the Venerable Bede Adrian was a Berber native from a Greek speaking family in North Africa likely in Libya Cyrenaica who had fled the Arab invasions into the region when he was about ten years of age evacuating to Naples which was then controlled by the Byzantine Empire At an unknown age though still quite young Adrian joined one of the Benedictine monasteries in the area and would eventually become abbot of a monastery near Naples called Monasterium Hiridanum also given as Niridanum and both may be errors for Nisidanum the Niridian monastery on the Isle of Nisida in the Bay of Naples Bede describes Adrian as being by nation an African well versed in ...


Anthony, the Great  

Stacey Graham

is widely considered the first anchoritic monk to be influential throughout the Christian Mediterranean world. The Life of Anthony, written by Alexandrian bishop Athanasius (d. 373 CE), became a model both for late antique hagiography and for the anchoritic lifestyle that subsequently flourished in the eastern Roman Empire. Anthony’s fame also had a significant impact on the spread of monasticism in the western Roman Empire, where the Life was read by such patristic writers as Jerome and Augustine.

The main source for Anthony’s life is Athanasius’s Life of Anthony written in Greek between the years 356 and 362 The influence of this work on the genre of Christian hagiography cannot be overestimated It was quickly translated into Latin by Evagrius of Antioch as well as into Coptic Arabic Syriac and other languages of the eastern empire Jerome was directly inspired by it to write the first hagiographies in ...


Augustine of Hippo, Saint  

Louis Munoz

Augustine of Hippo was born in Tagaste (modern Souk Ahras, Algeria) in 354 and died almost seventy-six years later in Hippo Regius (modern Annaba, Algeria) in 429 on the Mediterranean coast. Only four of his seventy-five years were spent outside Northern Africa. However, those few years would influence considerably his thought and his work.

Augustine s Africa had been part of Rome s empire since the destruction of Carthage five hundred years before his birth The language of business and culture throughout Roman Africa was Latin Yet some distinctly African character continued to mark life in the province Some non Latin speech either the Berber tongue of the desert or Punic which ancient Carthaginians had spoken continued to be heard The dominant religion of Africa had become Christianity a religion opposed to the traditions of old Rome but that could not have spread without the unity that Rome had brought ...


Augustine, of Hippo  

James J. O'Donnell

Christian bishop and theologian, was born Aurelius Augustinus on 13 November 354 CE in Tagaste (mod. Souk Ahras, Algeria) in Roman Africa, the son of Patricius and Monnica. The names of father and son are marked by emphatic affiliation with Rome (echoing the imperial title of Augustus and the high dignity of “patrician”), while the mother’s name echoes the traditional Punic culture of Africa and one of its leading deities. Augustine died as bishop of Hippo Regius (mod. Annaba, Algeria) on 28 August 430. He never ceased to surprise his contemporaries, and he has astonished many more to this day.

As the older son in a family of some social pretensions but limited resources Augustine should have grown to manhood as a country squire of narrow horizons But his parents were ambitious and found the money from an influential friend to send him away for education He studied first at ...


Augustine, Saint  

Eric Bennett

One of the most famous theologians of his time, Augustine was raised in a mixed household: his mother was Christian but his father, an official of the Roman empire, was pagan. He spent his early years in what is today called Souk-Ahras, in Algeria Despite the piety of his mother Augustine abandoned Christianity at an early age attracted instead by Manichaeism a system of material dualism that claimed the human soul was like light imprisoned by darkness A precocious learner Augustine considered Christian scripture intellectually crude Inspired by Hortensius a now lost text by Cicero he mastered rhetoric and while still in his teens held a professional chair of rhetoric in Carthage Ever questioning the nature of things Augustine discarded Manichaeism for Academic Skepticism and later Neoplatonism At the age of twnenty eight he left Carthage for the Roman capital of Milan in search of better disciplined students In ...


ʿAziz, al-  

Christine D. Baker

fifth Fatimid caliph of Egypt, was the first of the Fatimid caliphs to begin his rule in the newly founded Fatimid capital in Cairo. Born in Mahdiyya in North Africa, he traveled to Cairo in 974 with the Fatimid court when his father, the fourth Fatimid Caliph al-Muʿizz, moved the Fatimid capital from the Maghrib to Egypt. His full name was Al-ʿAziz billah, Nizar Abu Mansur.

Al-ʿAziz became the Fatimid caliph in 975 but, as the third son of al-Muʿizz, his succession was far from assumed. Al-Muʿizz’s oldest son, Tamim, had been passed over for the succession because he was suspected of intriguing against his father with dissident members of the Fatimid court. Al-Muʿizz’s second son, ʿAbdullah, was the favored heir. But ʿAbdullah died unexpectedly in 975 and al-Muʿizz formally recognized al-ʿAziz as his successor. Al-ʿAziz came to power in December 975 when he gave the khutba Friday sermon ...


Cyril of Alexandria  

Carmen De Michele

Christian theologian and bishop, who initiated a doctrinal dispute with the patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, about the two natures of Jesus Christ, was born in Alexandria in the year 375. He spent several years of his life in a monastery in the Nitrian Mountains until he succeeded his uncle Theophilus as bishop of Alexandria in 412. He confronted the church of the Novatianists, a sect that opposed the power of the church and granted protection and absolution to those believers who returned to idolatry because of persecution. He closed their churches and took over their church treasuries. Cyril further challenged the authority of the civil government by expelling the Jews from the city of Alexandria in the year 415, triggering violent riots.

Cyril was also indirectly involved in the murder of one of the most prominent female pagan philosophers and scientists of antiquity Hypatia A highly respected and influential citizen ...



Anaïs Wion

Ethiopian Christian saint, was born in the region of Serae (in present-day southern Eritrea) on 21 Hamle under the name of Ma’eqebe Egzi. His father, the makwannen (governor) Krestos Mo’a, and his mother, Senna Heywet, entrusted him to the care of his maternal uncle Dan’el, a member of a ruling family of Eastern Tigray and abbot of Qorqor Maryam monastery in Gar‘alta who went by the monastic name of Zakaryas. He conferred on his nephew the monastic vows and his monastic name, Ewostatewos.

There are several hypotheses as to where Ewostatewos first settled after he left Qorqor Maryam One theory suggests that he settled in Serae which became the core of the Eustatean monastic network although it seems strange that Ewostatewos would have freely chosen this remote and non Christianized area to begin his preaching His first foundation would have thus been Debre Serabi Another hypothesis sustained by the very ...



Mussie Tesfagiorgis

renowned Eritrean saint of the Orthodox Tewahdo Church and key member of the Ewostatean religious movement was born in a village called Enkeregerga in the old province of Serae According to oral literature his father Yirdeane Egzie died shortly before Filippos was born When Filippos was still a child his mother Megdelawit is said to have been inspired by a vision received by a local monk to abandon worldly life and enter a monastery to live as a nun sending her son to another local monastery After some time Christ is said to have appeared to Filippos and to have ordered him to go to Debre Tserabi monastery where Abba Bekimos a pupil of the famous Abune Ewostatewos lived Bekimos became his spiritual father and Filippos eventually received recognition as an accomplished priest monk After this Filippos wandered mainly in tropical Barka and the Gash lowlands where he continued preaching ...



Stacey Graham

, first bishop of Axum, was the founder of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. His conversion of the Axumite king Ezana around 330 led to the Christianization of Ethiopia, one of the first kingdoms in the world to officially become Christian.

The sources for the life of Frumentius are few. The main story of his conversion of Ethiopia comes from the continuation of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History (i. 9) by Rufinus of Aquilea, who translated works on theology and church history from Greek into Latin in the fourth and early fifth centuries. While in Syria, Rufinus apparently heard the story from Aedesius, Frumentius’s companion in Ethiopia. Frumentius is also mentioned in a letter written by the Roman emperor Constantius to the Axumite king Ezana in 356.

According to Rufinus Frumentius and Aedesius were traveling with their philosopher kinsman Metropius on a merchant vessel through the Red Sea when the ship put into port ...


Fulgentius, of Ruspe  

Gregory Hays

, Christian theologian, bishop, and saint, was born at Thelepte, in modern-day Tunisia, to an upper-class family. His father, Claudius, died soon after Fulgentius’s birth, and he and his younger brother were raised by their mother, Mariana. As a young man he embarked on an administrative career but abandoned it to enter a monastery, subsequently moving to a second one headed by a longtime friend, Felix. As a Trinitarian Catholic, Fulgentius was involved in the ongoing conflict with other Christians (often referred to as Arians), who held different views on the nature of Jesus Christ and his relationship to God the Father. This group included other clergy, as well as the Vandal regime. On at least one occasion, both Fulgentius and Felix were severely beaten by an Arian priest and his supporters.

Shortly before 500 Fulgentius embarked on a voyage to Egypt the homeland of monasticism However he actually went ...



Ness Creighton

prophet among the Madjkasa tribe of Berbers, was born Mann-Allah ibn Hafiz ibn ʿAmr; he was also known as Abu Muhammad. He first began to teach his religious beliefs in approximately 925. His religion appears to have persisted well after his death for an unknown period of time. However, it seems to have disappeared by the beginning of the eleventh century. Ha-Mim was killed in a battle against the Masmuda Berbers, in 927 or 928, just outside of Tangier. His lineage is given as Ha-Mim son of Mann Allah, son of Hariz, son of ʿAmr, son of U-Jeful, son of U-Zerual.

The Madjkasa Berber tribe is one of the Ghomara speaking Berber tribes of the Rif Atlas Mountains Specifically at this time the Madjkasa occupied territory near Tétouan Ghomara is one of the northern Berber languages and the Ghomara tribes have historically occupied an area in what is now northern ...


Hadrami, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Muradi al-  

Russell Hopley

North African Islamic theologian and jurist, was born in the city of al-Qayrawan to an Arab family with origins in the Hadramawt region of southern Arabia. His nisba al-Muradi further suggests a lineage among the Madhij Bedouin of Maʾrib in the Yemen. Al-Hadrami received his early education in al-Qayrawan, where he was able to study with a number of luminaries, including the influential jurist Abu ʿImran al-Fasi (d. 1039). He quickly drew the notice of his teachers for his formidable intellect and impressive command of the Arabic language. Al-Hadrami subsequently departed al-Qayrawan, possibly prompted by the Bedouin invasions of the mid-eleventh century, and took up residence in the Moroccan city of Aghmat, southeast of Marrakech. Here, he embarked on a career teaching the Islamic sciences, and he is known to have produced at least one student of note, the theologian Abu al-Hajjaj Yusuf bin Musa al-Kalbi al-Darir (d. 1126).

It ...


Husayn, of Bale  

Dirk Bustorf

Ethiopian Sufi holy man, most probably lived at the turn of the thirteenth century. He is one of the most popular holy men of Ethiopian Islam, his fame extending to Somalia and northern Kenya. Alternate forms of his name are Shaykh Sayyid Nur Husayn b. Mal(a)kay of Bale; Shaykh Husayn; in Oromo/Somali, Sheek Nuur Huseen; his honorific name was Sayyid al-Arafin. The shaykh was born in Anaajina, Bale, southern Ethiopia. His mother’s name was Mahida (or Shamsi). Allegedly Shaykh Husayn’s father, the shaykh Ibrahim Malkay, was an Islamic missionary from a Sharific family. Nur Husayn’s grandfather Sayyid ʿAbdallah had migrated to Bale from Marka, south of Mogadishu.

According to legend the mystical quality of Nur Husayn was revealed before his birth and during his childhood Nur Husayn is remembered to have worked many miracles He had four sons with an unknown wife Muhammad ʿAbdallah Sulayman and Nurullah Ahmad as well ...


Ibn al-Farid, ʿUmar bin ʿAli  

Allen J. Fromherz

Egyptian Sufi mystic and poet, was born in Cairo. Most of his early years were spent in the hills to the east of Cairo and in the deserts. Although he started along the same path of his father, an estate lawyer, he felt that dry, legal study of the scripture was insufficient. He abandoned formal schooling. In an act reminiscent of the Christian desert fathers, he spent time in the deserted and empty quarters of Arabia, where he faced trials and had a vision of the Prophet Muhammad. He was praised as a saint when he returned to Cairo and told of his visions. His tomb beneath the mountains near Cairo is a major site of veneration to this day. The diwan, or the collected writings of Ibn al-Farid, is famous primarily for its poetry.

Like many mystic poets and writers Ibn al Farid used images of forbidden pleasures and ...


Ibn al-Mashish al-Alami, Moulay Abdasalam  

Stephen Cory

was a twelfth-century Sufi holy man who has been called the patron saint of Moroccan Sufism. He is best known as the spiritual master of Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, the founder of the influential Shadhiliyya Sufi order.

A sharif (descendant of Prophet Muhammad) of Idrisid lineage, Ibn al-Mashish was one of the first holy men to combine the qualities of Sufi master and Hasanid sharif, an identity that would become increasingly important in Moroccan Sufism during the next two hundred years. Sufism was still a relatively new phenomenon in Morocco at the time of Ibn al-Mashish’s birth. It had been heavily influenced by the arrival of important Sufi masters from al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), such as Ibn al-ʿArif (d. 1141) and Abu Madyan (d. 1198). Sufism had been repressed under the strict Maliki Almoravid regime (r. 1062–1147), but Sufis were granted more freedom by the reformist Almohad dynasty (r. 1130–1269).

The ...


Ibn Rushd  

Allen J. Fromherz

philosopher, scientist, and theologian, was born Abu al Walid Muhammad bin Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Rushd. Known in the Medieval Latin West as Averroes, he was one of the most influential commentators on Aristotle and on Plato’s Republic. A philosopher, scientist, and theologian of remarkable ability, Ibn Rushd famously stated that there was no inherent inconsistency between Greek rational thought and Islam. Born in 1120 in Cordoba Ibn Rushd wrote and studied in North Africa as well as in Muslim Spain al Andalus Although his life has often been portrayed as a struggle between rational thought and the tyranny of the African Almohad rulers who reigned in al Andalus Ibn Rushd s thinking was influenced as much by his time in Africa as his time in Spain Popular depictions of Ibn Rushd as an oppressed liberal thinker and as a European stifled by the close mindedness of the ...


Ibn Tumart, Muhammad  

Allen J. Fromherz

charismatic religious reformer, Mahdi, founder of the Almohad movement, is one of the most important but almost the most enigmatic of medieval North Africans. The basic details of the life of Muhammad ibn Tumart were contested within the sources. Estimates of the date of his birth in the Berber, Moroccan village of Igilliz-n-Warghan or Numarkan in the Anti-Atlas Mountains south of the Sus Valley vary between 1078 and 1098. His name, “Tumart,” is Berber. When he was born, his parents proclaimed, “a tumart inu issak ayiwi,” which means, “Oh my joy comes from you child.” Born into a noble line of Berber chiefs or ugallids, and able to claim Arab heritage as a sharif a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad Ibn Tumart s claimed dual identity would help him later in life as he preached a fundamental interpretation of the Arabic Qurʾan to the Berber Masmuda Mountain ...


Ibn Wahb  

Russell Hopley

Egyptian Islamic theologian and traditionist, was born in Cairo. His full name was ʿAbd Allah bin Wahb bin Muslim al-Qurashi ibn Wahb. Ibn Wahb received his early training in the Islamic sciences under the tutelage of the Egyptian scholar ʿUthman ibn ʿAbd al-Hakam al-Judhami (d. 779), and he traveled thereupon to Medina to study with Malik ibn Anas (d. 795), the eponymous founder of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence. Ibn Wahb is said to have spent some twenty years in Medina studying at the hand of Malik, and this latter figure was sufficiently impressed with him that he gave the young man the title faqih reportedly the only student upon whom he bestowed this honorific Despite the esteem these two figures felt for one another they did have points of dispute between them over for example whether a Muslim should receive instruction from a non Muslim Malik reportedly ...