Idrisid dynasty
Idrisid state, around 820 CE, showing its maximal extent.
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)
• 788-791
Idris ben Abdallah
• 954-974
Hassan ben al-Qasim
Historical eraMedieval
• Established
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Berber revolt
Zenata kingdoms
Caliphate of Córdoba

The Idrisid dynasty or Idrisids (Arabic: الأدارسة al-Adārisah) were an Arab Muslim dynasty from 788 to 974, ruling most of present-day Morocco and parts of present-day western Algeria. Named after the founder, Idris I, the Idrisids were an Alid and Hasanid dynasty, descended from Muhammad. The Idrisids are traditionally considered to be the founders of the first Moroccan Muslim state, setting the stage for subsequent dynasties and states centered in this region.[1][2]: 81  Their reign played an important role in the early Islamization of Morocco and also presided over an increase in Arab immigration and Arabization in major urban centers.[3]: 52 [2]: 83–84 

Fleeing the Abbasid Caliphate to the east in the aftermath of the Battle of Fakhkh, Idris I first established himself in 788 at Volubilis in present-day Morocco with the help of local Berber allies. He and his son, Idris II, subsequently founded what became the city of Fez further east. Fez became the capital of an Idrisid state which ruled most of present-day Morocco and part of western Algeria. After Idris II's death, the realm was divided between his rival sons. After a period of conflict, the dynasty's authority resumed and remained relatively stable between 836 and 863. In the late 9th century, however, they faced repeated challenges and local opposition. In the 10th century the region came under the political domination of Zenata tribes who fought proxy battles on behalf of two rival powers in the region, the Fatimid Caliphate and the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba. The Idrisids were definitively expelled from Fez in 927, but held onto to a reduced territory in the north of Morocco from their base at Hajar an-Nasr. They were finally defeated and removed from power in 974, and a brief attempt to regain power in 985 also failed.


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.[3][4] The Abbasid Caliphate after 750 had no more success in re-establishing control over Morocco.[3]: 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.[3][2]

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. He was the great grandchild of Hasan ibn Ali.[5][2]: 81  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).[3]: 51 

The powerful Awraba Berbers of Volubilis took in Idris and made him their 'imam' (religious leader).[3]: 51 [2]: 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.[3]: 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. Idris 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.[3]: 51–52 [2]: 86 

The successors of Idris II

The dynasty's power would slowly decline following Idris 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 Al-Qasim ruled Tangier and its surroundings. 'Umar ruled over the Sanhaja and the Ghumara in the Rif region.[6] Isa was given control of the coastal Tamesna regions near the Bou Regreg, including Shallah (Chellah), and was based at Wazeqqūr (a town near modern-day Khenifra).[6][7] Yahya was given Hiṣn Daī (a site probably near modern Beni Mellal).[6][7][8] Hamza was given Walili. 'Ubayd Allah (or 'Abd Allah) was given the south, including the territory of the Lamta tribes and a town named Tamdult.[6][7] Agadir (later Tlemcen) was left under the control of Muhammad Ibn Sulayman, Idris II's cousin and the son of Sulayman, the brother of Idris I whom the latter had left in charge of the city, constituting the Sulaymanid dynasty.[6][7][9]

Soon after this territorial division Isa revolted against his brother Muhammad. Muhammad entrusted his other brother Umar to punish him. Umar successfully drove Isa from power, who was forced to take refuge in Chellah.[6] Umar then turned north to punish his other brother, al-Qasim, because the latter had 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.[6] 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.[6]

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.[10]
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.[10]

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.[3]: 52  During Yahya's reign more Arab immigrants arrived and the famous mosques of al-Qarawiyyin and al-Andalusiyyin were founded.[6] 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.[3]: 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.[6] 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.[3]: 52 [6]

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.[6] 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[6][11] or 921.[3]: 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.[6]

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.[6] 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[3]), the nephew of Masala ibn Habus, to confront Musa, defeating him in 933 and forcing him to fall back into line.[6][3]: 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.[6]

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.[6] Al-Qasim al-Gannoun ibn Muhammad ruled here from 938 until 948 in the name of the Fatimids.[6][11] 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.[6] He eventually left for Al-Andalus, leaving his brother Hasan ibn al-Qasim al-Gannoun as the new leader in 954.[6][11] In 958 the Fatimids sent a new general, Jawhar, to invade Morocco. His success forced the Idrisids to again accept Fatimid overlordship.[6][3]: 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.[3] 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.[6] The remaining Idrisids in Morocco acknowledged Umayyad rule.[3] 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[11] 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.[6] 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.[2]: 91 [3]: 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.[2]: 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.[6] 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.[6][12] 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).[13][14] Several prominent sharifian families in Fez traced their lineages to Idris I,[15]: 488  and some of these played a role in maintaining or rebuilding the Zawiya of Idris II in the city.[16]


According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "although Idrīs I had Shīʿite sympathies, the state founded by his son was Sunni in matters of religious doctrine."[17] Primary source material and contemporary scholars have described them as a Sunni Muslim dynasty.[3]: 50 [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] The Idrisids were political opponents of the Abbasid Caliphate.[21] 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.[22] Amira Bennison argues that Idrisid coinage suggests that Idris I portrayed himself as a religious leader whose legitimacy was based on his descent from Muhammad, which Bennison describes as a "proto-Shi'i or 'Alid position."[23]

The Awraba Berbers who welcomed Idris I in Volubilis were Muʿtazila and Idris relied widely on the support of Muʿtazila Berber tribes to found his state.[24][25] He is also likely to have had ties to Muʿtazila figures in the Hijaz and further east, as he was accompanied on his journey to the Maghreb by a Muʿtazila khatib from Basra who aided him in gaining the support of the tribes.[24] It is unclear, however, to what extent the community he established was Muʿtazila in character.[24]

The dynasty


Idrisid rule in northern Morocco:

Genealogical Chart of the Idrisids

Family tree of the Idrisids
Prophet Muhammad
Ali al-MurtadaFatimah al-Zahra
Hasan al-Mujtaba
Hasan al-Muthana
Abdullah al-Kamil
Idris I al-Akbar
r. 788-791
Idris II
r. 803-828
r. 828-836
Umar ibn IdrisAl-Qasim ibn Idris
Ali I
r. 836-848
Yahya I
r. 848-864
Ali II
r. 874-880/883
Idris ibn UmarYahya III
r. 880/883-904
Muhammad ibn al-Qasim
Yahya II
r. 864-874
Yahya IV
r. 904-917
Hasan I
r. 925-927
Al-Qasim I
r. 937-948
Ahmad I
r. 948-954
Hasan II
r. 954-974


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 789–917925–927937–974 Succeeded by—Umayyad overlordship Preceded byUmayyad dynasty Caliphs of CordobaHammudid branch 1016–10231025–1027 Succeeded byUmayyad dynasty(Restored) Preceded by—Disintegration of the Caliphate of Cordoba Taifa kings of MalagaHammudid branch 1026–1057 Succeeded by—Annexed to the Taifa of Granada Preceded by—Disintegration of the Caliphate of Cordoba Taifa kings of AlgecirasHammudid branch 1039–1058 Succeeded by—Annexed to the Taifa of Seville Preceded byMarinid dynasty Sultans of MoroccoJoutey branch 1465–1472 Succeeded byWattasid 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. ^ a b c d e f g h Rivet, Daniel (2012). Histoire du Maroc: de Moulay Idrîs à Mohammed VI. Fayard.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Abun-Nasr, Jamil (1987). A history of the Maghrib in the Islamic period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521337674.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b c Eustache, D. (1971). "Idrīs I". In Lewis, B.; Ménage, V. L.; Pellat, Ch. & Schacht, J. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Volume III: H–Iram. Leiden: E. J. Brill. p. 1031. OCLC 495469525.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Eustache, D. (1971). "Idrīsids". In Lewis, B.; Ménage, V. L.; Pellat, Ch. & Schacht, J. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Volume III: H–Iram. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 1035–1037. OCLC 495469525.
  7. ^ a b c d Garcia-Arenal, Mercedes; Moreno, Eduardo Manzano (1998). "Légitimité et villes idrissides". In Cressier, Patrice; Garcia-Arenal, Mercedes (eds.). Genèse de la ville islamique en al-Andalus et au Maghreb occidental (in French). Casa de Velázquez; Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC). pp. 257–284. ISBN 978-84-00-07766-2.
  8. ^ Park, Thomas K.; Boum, Aomar (2006). "Beni Mellal". Historical Dictionary of Morocco. Scarecrow Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-8108-6511-2.
  9. ^ Brett, Michael (1978). "The Arab conquest and the rise of Islam in North Africa". In Fage, J. D. (ed.). The Cambridge History of Africa. Cambridge University Press. p. 553. ISBN 978-0-521-21592-3.
  10. ^ "Discover Islamic Art - Virtual Museum - object_ISL_ma_Mus01_F_2_en". Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (2004). The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748621378.
  12. ^ Huici Miranda, A. (1971). "Ḥammūdids". In Lewis, B.; Ménage, V. L.; Pellat, Ch. & Schacht, J. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Volume III: H–Iram. Leiden: E. J. Brill. p. 147. OCLC 495469525.
  13. ^ Achouar, Amina (2005). Fès, Meknès. Flammarion.
  14. ^ Gaudio, Attilio (1982). Fès: Joyau de la civilisation islamique. Paris: Les Presse de l'UNESCO: Nouvelles Éditions Latines. pp. 123–131. ISBN 2723301591.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Mezzine, Mohamed. "Mulay Idris Mausoleum". Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  17. ^ "North Africa - The Rustamid state of Tāhart". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  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. ^ 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.
  22. ^ De Geschiedenis van Marokko & Noord-Afrika (Sofyan al Kandoussi, 2019), p.179 (Dutch history book on Morocco and North-Africa)
  23. ^ Bennison, Amira K. (2016). Almoravid and Almohad Empires. Edinburgh University Press. p. 233. ISBN 9780748646821.
  24. ^ a b c Ess, Josef van (2018). Theology and Society in the Second and Third Centuries of the Hijra. Volume 4: A History of Religious Thought in Early Islam. Brill. pp. 291–292. ISBN 978-90-04-38159-9.
  25. ^ "Qantara - The Idrisids (789- 974)". Retrieved 2021-01-05.
  26. ^ Hammudids, A. Huici Miranda, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. III, ed. B. Lewis, V.L. Menage, C. Pellat and J. Schacht, (Brill, 1986), 147;"HAMMUDIDS, dynasty which reigned over various towns in Muslim Spain from 407/1016 till 450/1058. Sulayman al-Musta'm [q.v.], on his second succession to the caliphal throne in Shawwal 4O3/ May 1013, had to distribute large fiefs among the Berbers who had raised him to power. He allotted to 'Ali b. Hammud the governorship of Ceuta and to his brother al-Kasim that of Algeciras, Tangier, and Arzila. The two were genuine Idrisids [q.v.], their great-grandfather Hammud being the great-grandson of Idris II."