Tin Mal’s site seems now so remote that it is difficult to imagine a town ever existing in this valley. In some form, though, it did. It was here that Ibn Toumert and his lieutenant, Abd el Moumen, preached to the Berber tribes and welded them into the Almohad (“unitarian”) movement; here that they set out on the campaigns which culminated in the conquest of all Morocco and southern Spain; and here, too, a century and a half later, that they made their last stand against the incoming Merenid dynasty.

Known to his followers as the Mahdi – “The Chosen One”, whose coming is prophesied in the Hadith (Sayings of The Prophet) – Toumert was born in the High Atlas, a member of the Berber-speaking Masmouda tribe, who held the desert-born Almoravids, the ruling dynasty, in contempt. He was an accomplished theologian and studied at the centres of eastern Islam, a period in which he formulated the strict Almohad doctrines. For Toumert, Almoravid Morocco contained much to disapprove of and, returning from the East with a small group of disciples, he began to preach against all manifestations of luxury and against women mixing in male society.

After being exiled from the Almoravid capital, Marrakesh, in 1124, Ibn Toumert and Abd el Moumen set out to mould the Atlas Berbers into a religious and military force. They also stressed the significance of the “second coming” and Ibn Toumert’s role as Mahdi. Hesitant tribes were branded “hypocrites” and massacred – most notoriously in the Forty-Day Purge of the mountains – and within eight years none remained outside Almohad control.

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