DOI: 10.3390/rel14081051 ISSN:

Ribât in Early Islamic Ifrîqiya: Another Islam from the Edge

Jean-Pierre Van Staëvel
  • Religious studies

After a difficult conquest under the Umayyads, the eastern Maghreb or Ifrîqiya region was turned into the western borderland of the Abbasid Empire in the second half of the 8th century, and its governance was soon delegated to the Aghlabid Emirate (800–909). In this context, the Sahel (or Ifriqîyan coastline) quickly became a major centre of asceticism and pious collective retreat in places dedicated to ribât activities. This practice provided a framework for the life of devout people who kept a watchful eye on the Byzantine enemy while zealously performing their devotions. A genuine frontier society of religious men and devotees, ascetics and traditionalists arose in this burgeoning coastal fringe. Over the last two decades, this topic has given rise to a very rich historiography, notably produced by Tunisian researchers who have profoundly renewed our understanding. Based on these considerable achievements, the present contribution proposes to broaden the analysis in order to show how the rise of this movement of warrior piety, advocating an ideal of jihâd, must be related to a more global phenomenon, considered at the scale of the Abbasid Empire. Remaining in a comparative dimension, this article also proposes several approaches to the specific architecture of ribât sites, especially the place devoted to the community mosque.

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