Algeria Table of Contents

The successor dynasties in the Maghrib--Merinids, Zayanids, and Hasfids--did not base their power on a program of religious reform as their predecessors had done. Of necessity they compromised with rural cults that had survived the triumph of puritanical orthodoxy in the twelfth century despite the efforts of the Almoravids and Almohads to stamp them out.

The aridity of official Islam had little appeal outside the mosques and schools of the cities. In the countryside, wandering marabouts, or holy people, drew a large and devoted following. These men and women were believed to possess divine grace (baraka) or to be able to channel it to others. In life, the marabouts offered spiritual guidance, arbitrated disputes, and often wielded political power. After death, their cults--some local, others widespread--erected domed tombs that became sites of pilgrimage.

Many tribes claimed descent from marabouts. In addition, small, autonomous republics led by holy men became a common form of government in the Maghrib. In Algeria, the influence of the marabouts continued through much of the Ottoman period, when the authorities would grant political and financial favors to these leaders to prevent tribal uprisings.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress