The Christian Companion: A rhetorical trope in the narration of intra-Muslim conflict during the Almohad epoch

“The Christian Companion”: A rhetorical trope in the narration of intra-Muslim conflict during the Almohad epoch

By Linda G. Jones

Anuario de Estudios Medievales, Vol.38:2 (2008)

Abstract: This paper will explore representations of intra-Muslim conflict between the Almohads and Andalusi Muslim chieftains as reflected in the Almohad chronicle al-Mann bi l-imama by Ibn Sahib al-Sala. Following Foucault’s notion of the “violence of representation”, I analyze the rhetorical strategies the author employs to create binary oppositions contrasting the legitimacy of the Almohads with the illegitimacy of their enemies, focusing especially on the “Christian companions” of the Andalusi rebels, and comparing his narratives of Almohad and rebel violence. I conclude that the representations of violent conflict positively reify Almohad identity as the defenders of the true faith.

Introduction: In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate; the blessings of God be upon Muhammad and his family. And in this year, which was 554 (23 January 1159 to 11 January 1160) Muhammad b. Sa‘id b. Mardanish left the city of Murcia with his army and with his companions the Christians —may God annihilate them— with his corrupt army in their perverse decision to take advantage of the situation —or so they thought—, raving and deluded by the consumption of wine into thinking that in the absence of the Commander of the Faithful ‘Abd al-Mu’min they could defeat the Almohads in the peninsula of al-Andalus and lay siege to the city of Jaén, whose governor Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Kumi had connived with him to violate his bay‘a [oath of allegiance to the Almohad authority], bending himself to [Ibn Mardanish’s] will and to him whose evil judgment induced him to rebellion.

The above passage from the introduction of Ibn Sahib al-Sala’s al- Mann bi l-imama (The Gift of the Imamate) exemplifies the narratives of political enmity, religious rivalry, ideological conflict, and military confrontation which figure prominently in the historiographical sources spanning the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties that governed parts of the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula between the late eleventh and the thirteenth centuries. For the most part, the hostility was an internal affair between the two North African Islamic dynasties seeking to legitimate their power through a combination of mutual religious and ideological disqualification and brute military force. At the same time, the above citation illustrates that the Almohads, like their predecessors the Almoravids, also faced dissent from independent-minded Andalusi caudillos such as al-Mustansir ibn Hud Sayf al-Dawla (d. 540/1146) and Ibn Mardanish (d. 567/1172) who sought to exercise direct rule in al-Andalus rather than submit to the Berber caliphs. As is well known, the Almoravid-Almohad conflict also transpired within the larger context of the military campaigns perpetrated by the Crowns of Portugal, Castile, Aragon, and Navarre to take advantage of Muslim infighting and wrest control of al-Andalus from the Muslims. Hence, this Muslim aggression could be turned outward toward a common Christian enemy. Our concern here, however, will be limited to situations of conflictivity between Muslim rivals in which a Christian appears not as a common enemy whose presence functions as a catalyst to provoke a temporary Muslim unity, but rather as an agent combating on behalf of the Muslim power with whom a Christian ruler has established a pact against a common Muslim enemy.

This paper will explore representations of intra-Muslim conflict involving the Almohads as reflected in the historical chronicle al-Mann bi limama (The Gift of the Imamate). Al-Mann bi l-imama is an unabashedly pro- Almohad account written by the historian and belletrist Ibn Sahib al-Salah (d. c. 1198) who, as Secretary of the Treasury under Almohad caliph Abu Ya‘qub Yusuf I (r. 1163-1184), provided a first-hand eyewitness testimony of the events he narrated. The sole manuscript that has come down to us is the second part of a larger three-volume work on the “History of the Almohad Caliphate”. This surviving portion spans the period which begins in 554 (January 1159-January 1160), the year in which “Muhammad b. Sa‘id b. Mardanish left the city of Murcia with his army and with his companions the Christians” to attack the city of Jaén, and ends in the year 568 (July, 1173) on a triumphant note describing the caliph’s “noble order to attack the Christians,” the ensuing victory of the coalition of Almohad and Andalusi soldiers over their infidel enemies, and the subsequent humiliating petition for peace on the part of the Christian governor of Toledo, el Conde Nuño and the governor of Coimbra, Alfonso Enríquez (ibn al-Rink). Al-Mann bi l-imama narrates the conflicts that arose from the challenges, be they Muslim or Christian, to Almohad power, and the efforts of the latter to retain their hold on the territories under rule.

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