Banu Hilal

The Banu Hilal (Arabic: بنو هلال or الهلاليين) was a confederation of tribes of Arabia from the Hejaz and Najd regions of the Arabian Peninsula that emigrated to North Africa in the 11th century. Masters of the vast plateaux of Najd, they enjoyed a somewhat infamous reputation, possibly owing to their relatively late (for the Arabian tribes) conversion to Islam and accounts of their campaigns in the borderlands between Iraq and Syria. With the revolutionary movement of the Qarmatians in Bahrain and Oman, they participated in the pillage of Mecca in 930 in their fight against the Fatimid Caliphate. When the latter became masters of Egypt and the founders of Cairo in 969, they hastened to confine the unruly Bedouin in the south before sending them to Central North Africa (Libya, Tunisia and Algeria).

A rare Arabic manuscript of the orally-transmitted epic-poem about the Bedouin Banu Hilal, by Hussein Al-Ulaimi, 1849 CE, origin unknown


According to Ibn Khaldun, the Banu Hilal were accompanied by their wives and their children when they came to the Maghreb. They settled in Tunisia after winning some battles against some Berber tribes, eventually going on to coexist with them.

Patrilineal genealogy table

Ibn Khaldun described their genealogy, which consisted of two mother tribes: themselves and the Banu Sulaym. In Arabia, they lived on the Ghazwan near Ta'if while the Banu Sulaym attended nearby Medina, sharing a common cousin in the Al Yas branch of the Quraysh. At the time of their migration, Banu Hilal comprised six families: Athbadj, Riyah, Jochem, Addi, Zughba, and Rbia.


From the Arabian Peninsula, they first migrated to the south of Egypt before heading to the central North Africa. Abu Zayd al-Hilali led between 150,000 and 300,000 Arabs into central North Africa, who assimilated and intermarried with the indigenous peoples.[1] The Fatimids used the tribe, which began their journey as allies and vassals, to punish the particularly difficult to control Zirids after the conquest of Egypt and the founding of Cairo. As the dynasty became increasingly independent and abandoned Shia Islam, they quickly defeated the Zirids and deeply weakened the neighboring Hammadid dynasty and the Zenata. Their influx was a major factor in the linguistic, cultural Arabization of the Maghreb and in the spread of nomadism in areas where agriculture had previously been dominant.[2] Ibn Khaldun noted that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.[3]

The Banu Hilal later came under the rule of various subsequent Berber dynasties, including the Almohad Caliphate, Hafsid dynasty, Zayyanid dynasty and Marinid dynasty. Finding their continued presence intolerable, the Almohad Caliphate defeated the Banu Hilal and forced many of them to leave Tunisia and settle in Morocco. Upon the arrival of the Turks, the Banu Hilaleen rose against the Ottoman Empire alongside Berbers in the Aurès region and south of Algeria.

Social organization

Originally, the Banu Hilal embraced a nomadic lifestyle, rearing cattle and sheep. Despite several tribes living in arid and desert areas, they became experts in the field of agriculture. The Hilaleen do not embrace any specific ideology and are not very conservative, though the majority of the population does embrace Islam. Initially Shia, after their conquest of the Sunni Maghreb majority of Banu Hilal converted to the Maliki school of Sunni Islam. Other tribes Arabized the Berbers to a considerable extent in Algeria, where intermarriage occurred frequently during their shared history.

Taghribat Banu Hilal

The accounts and records that the folk poet Abdul Rahman al-Abnudi gathered from the bards of Upper Egypt culminated in the Taghribat Bani Hilal, an Arab epic describing the journey of the tribe from Arabia to the Maghreb. The tale is divided into three main cycles. The first two bring together unfolding events in Arabia and other countries of the east, while the third, called Taghriba (march west), recounts the migration of the Banu Hilal to North Africa.[4]


  1. Idris El Hareir, Ravane Mbaye. The Spread of Islam Throughout the World. UNESCO. p. 409.
  2. The Great Mosque of Tlemcen,
  3. Populations Crises and Population Cycles Archived May 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Claire Russell and W. M. S. Russell
  4. Musique et spectacle: Le théâtre lyrique arabe - Esquisse d'un itinéraire... Par Mohamed Garfi, p. 38.
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