Idrisid dynasty

The Idrisids (Arabic: الأدارسة al-Adārisah) were an Arab Muslim Dynasty in Morocco, ruling from 788 to 974. Named after the founder Idris I, the great grandchild of Hasan ibn Ali, the Idrisids are considered to be the founders of the first Moroccan state. The Idrisid dynasty was an Alid dynasty—that is, descendants of Ali ibn Abi Talib (died 661).[1]

Idrisid dynasty

Idrisid state, around 820 CE, showing its maximal extent.
StatusRuling dynasty of Morocco
CapitalWalilli (788–808)
Fez (808–927)
Hajar an-Nasar (927–985)
Common languagesArabic, Berber languages
IslamSunni or Zaydi-Shia (disputed)
Historical eraMedieval
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Berber revolt
Zenata kingdoms
Caliphate of Córdoba


Founders of the Idrisid state: Idris I and Idris II

By the second half of the 8th century the westernmost regions of the Maghreb, including present-day Morocco, had been effectively independent of the Umayyad Caliphate since the Khariji-led Berber revolts that started in 739-40.[2][3] The Abbasid Caliphate after 750 had no more success in re-establishing control over Morocco.[2]:41 The overthrow of eastern authority meant that Morocco was controlled by various local Berber tribes and principalities which emerged around this time, such as the Barghwata Confederacy on the Atlantic coast and the Midrarid Emirate in Sijilmasa.[2][4]

The founder of the Idrisid dynasty was Idris ibn Abdallah (788–791),[5] who traced his ancestry back to Ali ibn Abi Talib (died 661)[5] and his wife Fatimah, daughter of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. After the Battle of Fakhkh, near Mecca, between the Abbasids and supporters of the descendants of the prophet Muhammad, Idris ibn Abdallah fled to the Maghreb. He first arrived in Tangier, the most important city of Morocco at the time, and by 788 he had settled in Volubilis (known as Walili in Arabic).[2]:51

The powerful Awraba Berbers of Volubilis took in Idris and made him their 'imam' (religious leader).[2]:51[4]:81 The Awraba tribe had supported Kusayla in his struggle against the Ummayad armies in the 670s and 680s. By the second half of the 8th century they had settled in northern Morocco, where their leader Ishak had his base in the Roman town of Volubilis. By this time the Awraba were already Muslim, but lived in an area where most tribes were either Christian, Jewish, Khariji or pagan. The Awraba seem to have welcomed a Sharifi imam as a way to strengthen their political position. Idris I, who was very active in the political organization of the Awraba, began by asserting his authority and working toward the subjugation of the Christian and Jewish tribes. In 789 he founded a settlement south east of Volubilis, called Medinat Fas. In 791 Idris I was poisoned and killed by an Abbasid agent. Even though he left no male heir, shortly after his death, his wife Lalla Kanza bint Uqba al-Awrabi, bore him his only son and successor, Idris II. Idris' loyal Arab ex-slave and companion Rashid brought up the boy and took on himself the regency of the state, on behalf of the Awraba. In 801 Rashid was killed by the Abbasids. In the following year, at the age of 11 years, Idris II was proclaimed imam by the Awraba.[2]:51

Even though he had spread his authority across much of northern Morocco, as far west as Tlemcen, Idris I had been completely dependent on the Awraba leadership. Idris II began his rule with the weakening of Awraba power by welcoming Arab settlers in Walili and by appointing two Arabs as his vizier and qadi. Thus he transformed himself from a protégé of the Awraba into their sovereign. The Awraba leader Ishak responded by plotting against his life with the Aghlabids of Tunisia. Idris reacted by having his former protector Ishak killed, and in 809 moved his seat of government from the Awraba dominated Walili to Fes, where he founded a new settlement named Al-'Aliya. Idriss II (791–828) developed the city of Fez, established earlier by his father as a Berber market town. Here he welcomed two waves of Arab immigration: one in 818 from Cordoba and another in 824 from Aghlabid Tunisia, giving Fes a more Arab character than other Maghrebi cities. When Idris II died in 828, the Idrisid state spanned from western Algeria to the Sous in southern Morocco and had become the leading state of Morocco, ahead of the principalities of Sijilmasa, Barghawata and Nekor which remained outside their control.[2]:5152[4]:86

The successors of Idris II

The dynasty's power would slowly decline following Idriss II's death. Under his son and successor Muhammad (828–836) the kingdom was divided amongst seven of his brothers, whereby eight Idrisid statelets formed in Morocco and western Algeria.[6] Muhammad himself came to rule Fes, with only nominal power over his brothers. His brother Isa, who was given control of the coastal Tamesna regions near the Bou Regreg from his base at Chellah, quickly revolted against him. Muhammad entrusted his brother Umar, who had received the territories around the Rif, to punish Isa. Umar successfully drove Isa from power, who was forced to take refuge in Chellah, and then turned north to punish his other brother al-Qasim at Tangier because he had earlier refused to join him and Muhammad against Isa. Al-Qasim fled to Asilah and settled nearby, while Muhammad gave Umar governorship of Tangier as a reward. Upon Umar's death in September or October 835 his son Ali ibn Umar was granted all of his father's domains in turn. Muhammad himself died seven months later in the March or April 836. His son Ali ibn Muhammad inherited his position and ruled for 13 years (836–849) in a competent manner, ensuring the stability of the state. After his death in 849 he was succeeded by his brother Yahya ibn Muhammad (or Yahya I), who also enjoyed a peaceful reign.[7]

Idrisid dirham, minted at al-'Aliyah (Fes), Morocco, 840 CE. The coin features the name of Ali: a son-in-law of Muhammad, the fourth Caliph, and an ancestor of the Idrisids.[8]

During this time Islamic and Arabic culture gained a stronghold in the towns and Morocco profited from the trans-Saharan trade, which came to be dominated by Muslim (mostly Berber) traders. The city of Fes also flourished and became an important religious center.[2]:52 During Yahya's reign more Arab immigrants arrived and the famous mosques of al-Qarawiyyin and al-Andalusiyyin were founded.[7] Even so, the Islamic and Arabic culture only made its influence felt in the towns, with the vast majority of Morocco's population still using the Berber languages and often adhering to Islamic heterodox and heretical doctrines. The Idrisids were principally rulers of the towns and had little power over the majority of the country's population.[2]:52

Decline and fall

After the death of Yahya I in 863 he was succeeded by his less competent son, Yahya II, who divided up the Idrisid realm yet again among the extended families. Yahya II died in uncertain circumstances in 866 after fleeing his palace. After an episode of disorder in Fes his cousin Ali ibn Umar took over power.[7] In 868, under the leadership of the Abd al-Razzaq the Berber Khariji Sufri tribes of Madyuna, Ghayata and Miknasa of the Fes region formed a common front against the Idrisids. From their base in Sefrou they were able to defeat Ali ibn Umar and occupy Fes. Fes refused to submit, however, and another Yahya, the son of al-Qasim, was able to retake the city and establish himself as the new ruler, Yahya III. Thus the ruling line had passed from the sons of Muhammad to the son of Umar and now the sons of al-Qasim.[2]:52[7]

Yahya III ruled over the entire Idrisid realm and continued to attack the Sufris. In 905 however he died in battle against another family member, Yahya ibn Idris ibn Umar (a grandson of Umar), who then took power as Yahya IV.[7] At this point, however, the Fatimids in the east began to intervene in Morocco, hoping to expand their influence. In 917 the Miknasa and its leader Masala ibn Habus, acting on behalf of their Fatimid allies, attacked Fes and forced Yahya IV to recognize Fatimid suzerainty, before deposing him in 919[7][9] or 921.[2]:63 He was succeeded by his cousin Musa ibn Abul 'Afiya, who had already been given charge over the rest of the country. The Idrisid Hassan I al-Hajam, a grandson of al-Qasim, managed to wrest control of Fez from 925 but in 927 Musa returned, captured Hassan and killed him, marking the last time the Idrisids held power in Fes.[7]

From Fes, the Miknasa began pursuing the Idrisid family across Morocco. The family took refuge at the fortress of Hajar an-Nasr in northern Morocco, where the Miknasa besieged them.[7] Soon after, however, civil war broke out among the Miknasa when Musa switched allegiance to the Umayyads of Cordoba in 931 in an attempt to gain more independence. The Fatimids sent Humayd ibn Yasal (or Hamid[2]), the nephew of Masala ibn Habus, to confront Musa, defeating him in 933 and forcing him to fall back into line.[7][2]:63 The Idrisids took advantage of the situation to break the siege of their fortress and defeat the Mikanasa Zenata troops. Once the Fatimids were gone, however, Musa once again threw off their authority and recognized the Umayyad caliph. The Fatimids sent their general Maysur to confront him again, and this time he fled. He was pursued and killed by the Idrisids.[7]

After this Idrisids settled among the Jbala tribes in the Rif region of north-west Morocco where they partially rebuilt their power base from Hajar an-Nasr, alternately acknowledging either the Umayyads of Cordoba (under Abd ar-Rahman III) or the Fatimids as overlords.[7] Al-Qasim al-Gannoun ibn Muhammad ruled here from 938 until 948 in the name of the Fatimids.[7][9] His son and successor, Ahmad, known as Abul-'Aysh, recognized the Umayyads instead but ran afoul of them when he refused to let them occupy Tangier. He was besieged there and forced to retreat, retaining only the areas around al-Basra and Asilah while the Umayyads occupied the rest of northern Morocco.[7] He eventually left for Al-Andalus, leaving his brother Hasan ibn al-Qasim al-Gannoun as the new leader in 954.[7][9] In 958 the Fatimids sent a new general, Jawhar, to invade Morocco. His success forced the Idrisids to again accept Fatimid overlordship.[7][2]:75 Soon afterwards, however, when Jawhar and the Fatimids were busy taking control of Egypt, the Umayyads made a comeback. In 973 their general, Ghalib, invaded Morocco.[2] The Idrisids were expelled from their territories and al-Hasan, along with many other Idrisids or their sons, were taken as hostages to Cordoba in 974.[7] The remaining Idrisids in Morocco acknowledged Umayyad rule.[2] Al-Hasan was later expelled from Cordoba and fled to Egypt, which was now under Fatimid rule. In 979 Buluggin ibn Ziri, the Fatimid governor of Ifriqiya (after the Fatimid Caliphs had their capital to Cairo), returned to defeat the Umayyads and impose Fatimid overlordship in the western Maghreb again. In 985[9] he returned to Morocco with Fatimid support, but that same year he was defeated by another Umayyad general sent by al-Mansur and then assassinated on the way to Cordoba.[7] This brought a final end to the Idrisid dynasty. The Umayyads kept control over northern Morocco until their caliphate's collapse in the early 11th century. Following this, Morocco was dominated by various Zenata Berber tribes.[4]:91[2]:82 Until the rise of the Sanhaja Almoravids later in the century, the Maghrawa controlled Fes, Sijilmasa and Aghmat while the Banu Ifran ruled over Tlemcen, Salé (Chellah), and the Tadla region.[4]:91


Despite having fallen from power, the Idrisids nonetheless spawned many sharifian families which continued to be present for centuries to come. Some Moroccans today still claim descent from them.[7] In the 11th century an Idrisid family descended from Umar (son of Idris II), the Hammudids were able to gain power in several cities of northern Morocco and southern Spain.[7][10] In Fes and in the town of Moulay Idriss (near Volubilis), the tombs of Idris II and Idris I, respectively, eventually developed into important religious complexes and pilgrimage sites (e.g. the Zawiya of Moulay Idris II).[11][12] Several prominent sharifian families in Fez traced their lineages to Idris I,[13]:488 and some of these played a role in maintaining or rebuilding the Zawiya of Idris II in the city.[14]


According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "although Idrīs I had Shīʿite sympathies, the state founded by his son was Sunni in matters of religious doctrine."[15] The Idrisid dynasty is also said to have been influenced by the Mutazila.[16] Primary source material and contemporary scholars have described them as a Sunni Muslim dynasty.[17][18][19] Certain contemporary academics have described them as Shi'a or Zaydi Shi'a to one extent or another, most likely because of their political affiliation.[20] Others have criticized this claim for conflating Shia theology with a political movement in a historical period where there was no Shia theology distinct from Sunni theology in this area as of yet.[21] The Idrisids were political opponents of the Abbasid Caliphate.[22]

The dynasty


Idrisid rule in northern Morocco:


Al-Hasan ben KannunAbu l-Aish AhmadAl Qasim GuennounFatimidsHassan I al-HajamFatimidsYahya ibn Idris ibn UmarYahya ibn Al-QassimAli ibn UmarYahya ibn YahyaYahya ibn MuhammadAli ibn IdrisMuhammad ibn IdrisIdriss IIIdriss I


Royal house
Idrisid dynasty
Preceded by
Emirs of Morocco
Succeeded by

Umayyad overlordship
Preceded by
Umayyad dynasty
Caliphs of Cordoba
Hammudid branch

Succeeded by
Umayyad dynasty
Preceded by

Disintegration of the Caliphate of Cordoba
Taifa kings of Malaga
Hammudid branch

Succeeded by

Annexed to the Taifa of Granada
Preceded by

Disintegration of the Caliphate of Cordoba
Taifa kings of Algeciras
Hammudid branch

Succeeded by

Annexed to the Taifa of Seville
Preceded by
Marinid dynasty
Sultans of Morocco
Joutey branch

Succeeded by
Wattasid dynasty

See also

Notes and references

  1. Benchekroun, Chafik T. (2018). "Idrīsids". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Brill Online. ISSN 1873-9830. The Idrīsids (al-Adārisa) were an ʿAlid dynasty—that is, descendants of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661)—that reigned in the western part of the north Maghrib from 172/788 to 375/985 (although only intermittently in the fourth/tenth century).
  2. Abun-Nasr, Jamil (1987). A history of the Maghrib in the Islamic period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521337674.
  3. Blankinship, Khalid Yahya (1994). The End of the Jihad State: The Reign of Hisham Ibn 'Abd Al-Malik and the Collapse of the Umayyads. State University of New York Press. p. 207. ISBN 9780791418277. At this point, the rebels had control of all modern Morocco, most of which was not to see rule by the universal caliphate again.
  4. Rivet, Daniel (2012). Histoire du Maroc: de Moulay Idrîs à Mohammed VI. Fayard.
  5. Idris I, D. Eustache, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. III, ed. B.Lewis, V. L. Menage, C. Pellat and J. Schact, (Brill, 1986), 1031.
  6. Idrisids, D. Eustache, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. III, 1035.
  7. Eustache, D. (2012). "Idrīsids". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill.
  8. "Discover Islamic Art - Virtual Museum - object_ISL_ma_Mus01_F_2_en". Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  9. Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (2004). The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748621378.
  10. Huici Miranda, A. (2012). "Ḥammūdids". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill.
  11. Achouar, Amina (2005). Fès, Meknès. Flammarion.
  12. Gaudio, Attilio (1982). Fès: Joyau de la civilisation islamique. Paris: Les Presse de l'UNESCO: Nouvelles Éditions Latines. pp. 123–131. ISBN 2723301591.
  13. Le Tourneau, Roger (1949). Fès avant le protectorat: étude économique et sociale d'une ville de l'occident musulman. Casablanca: Société Marocaine de Librairie et d'Édition.
  14. Mezzine, Mohamed. "Mulay Idris Mausoleum". Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  15. "North Africa - The Rustamid state of Tāhart". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  16. "Qantara - The Idrisids (789- 974)". Retrieved 2021-01-05.
  17. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period, (J. Abun-Nasr, 1987), p.50
  18. Al-Bayan Al-Maghreb (Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi, 13th century), Vol.1, p.118 (Arabic - Dr. Bashar A. Marouf & Mahmoud B. Awad, 2013)
  19. Tarikh al-Tabari (Al-Tabari, 9th century) – English translation: The History of al-Tabari vol.26, p.37-38
  20. Meis Al-Kaisi, "The Development of Politico-Religious Movements: A General Overview", Arabic Heritage in the Post-Abbasid Period, ed. Imed Nsiri, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019), 124.
    Ludwig W. Adamec, The Historical Dictionary of Islam, page 145, "Idrisid Dynasty (788-985). First Shi'ite dynasty in Islamic history, founded by Idris ibn Abdullah....".
    C.E. BosworthThe New Islamic Dynasties, page 25, "The Idrisids were the first dynasty who attempted to introduce the doctrines of Shi'ism, albeit in a very attenuated form, into the Maghrib...".
    Ignác Goldziher and Bernard Lewis, Introduction to Islamic theology and law, Princeton University Press (1981), p. 218
    Mara A. Leichtman, Shi'i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal, page 216;"Senegalese Shi'a also refer to the spread of Shi'i Islam to Senegal through the Idrisid dynasty and evidence of Shi'i roots in Morocco through 'Alaouis (Hydarah 2008:132-135). Cornell writes that Moulay Idris and his successors, descendants of the Prophet's grandson Hasan, brought with them to Morocco from the Arabian Peninsula "a form of archaic Shi'ism that was similar in many respects to Zaydism" (1998:200)."
  21. De Geschiedenis van Marokko & Noord-Afrika (Sofyan al Kandoussi, 2019), p.179 (Dutch history book on Morocco and North-Africa)
  22. Hillenbrand, Carole, ed. (1989). The History of al-Ṭabarī, Volume XXVI: The Waning of the Umayyad Caliphate: Prelude to Revolution, A.D. 738–744/A.H. 121–126. SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-0-88706-810-2.


  • Ibn Abi Zar, Rawd al-Qirtas (contains a chronicle of the dynasty).
  • Charles-André Julien, Histoire de l'Afrique du Nord, des origines à 1830, Payot 1994.
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