Ribat of Monastir, Tunisia

A ribāṭ (Arabic: رِبَـاط; hospice, hostel, base or retreat) is an Arabic term, initially designating a small fortification built along a frontier during the first years of the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb to house military volunteers, called murabitun, and shortly after they also appeared along the Byzantine frontier, where they attracted converts from Greater Khorasan, an area that would become known as al-ʻAwāṣim in the ninth century CE.

The ribat fortifications later served to protect commercial routes, as caravanserais, and as centers for isolated Muslim communities as well as serving as places of piety.

Islamic meaning

Historical meaning

The word ribat in its abstract refers to voluntary defense of Islam, which is why ribats were originally used to house those who fought to defend Islam in jihad.[1] They can also be referred to by other names such as khanqah, most commonly used in Iran, and tekke, most commonly used in Turkey.[2]

Ribat of Sharaf, Iran

Classically, ribat referred to the guard duty at a frontier outpost in order to defend dar al-Islam. The one who performs ribat is called a murabit.

Contemporary use

Contemporary use of the term ribat is common among jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda[3] or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.[4] The term has also been used by Salafi-Jihadis operating in the Gaza Strip. In their terminology, ʻArḍ al-Ribat "Land of the Ribat" is a name for Palestine, with the literal meaning of "the land of standing vigilant watch on the frontier", understood in the context of their ideology of global jihad, which is fundamentally opposed to Palestinian nationalism.[5]

As caravanserais

In time, some ribats became hostels for voyagers on major trade routes (caravanserai).[6]

As Sufi retreats

Sufi brotherhoods

In time, some ribats became refuges for mystics. In this last sense, the ribat tradition was perhaps one of the early sources of the Sufi mystic brotherhoods, and a type of the later zawiya or Sufi lodge, which spread into North Africa, and from there across the Sahara to West Africa. Here the homes of marabouts (religious teachers, usually Sufi) are termed ribats. Such places of spiritual retreat were termed Khānqāh (Persian: خانقاه). Some important ribats to mention are the Rabati Malik (c.1068–80) which is located in the desert of central Asia and is still partially intact and the Ribat-i Sharaf from the 12th century which was built in a square shape with a monumental portal, a courtyard, and long vaulted rooms along the walls.[6] Most ribats had a similar architectural appearance which consisted of a surrounding wall with an entrance, living rooms, storehouses for provisions, a watch tower used to signal in the case of an invasion, four to eight towers, and a mosque in large ribats.[7]

Ribat was originally used as a term to describe a frontier post where travelers (particularly soldiers) could stay. The term transformed over time to become known as a center for Sufi fraternities. The ribats were converted to a peaceful use where Sufis could congregate.[8] Usually the ribats were inhabited by a shaykh and his family and visitors were allowed to come and learn from him.[2] Many times the tomb of the founder was also located in the same building.[2] The institutionalization of these centers was made possible in part through donations from wealthy merchants, landowners, and powerful leaders.[9] Some of these compounds also received regular stipends to maintain them.[2]

These institutions were used as a sort of school house where a shaykh could teach his disciples the ways of the specific ṭarīqah (Arabic: طَـرِيْـقَـة, Sufi brotherhood or fraternity). They were also used as a place of worship where the shaykh could observe the members of the specific Sufi order and help them on their inner path to ḥaqīqah (Arabic: حَـقِـيْـقَـة, Ultimate truth or reality).

Female Sufis

Another use of ribat refers to a sort of convent or retreat house for Sufi women. Female shaykhas (شيخة), scholars of law in medieval times, and large numbers of widows or divorcees lived in abstinence and worship in ribats.[10]

See also

List of Early Muslim ribats


  1. ^ Northedge, Alastair. "ʿAbbāsid art and architecture". Encyclopedia of Islam. 3.
  2. ^ a b c d Schimmel, Annemarie (1975). Mystical Dimensions of Islam. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 231–232. ISBN 0807812234.
  3. ^ Long, Mark (Winter 2009). "Ribat, al-Qaeda, and the Challenge for US Foreign Policy". Middle East Journal. 63 (1): 31–47. doi:10.3751/63.1.12. S2CID 143772587.
  4. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2015-06-04.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "Radical Islam In Gaza" (PDF), International Crisis Group, Middle East Report N°104, 29 March 2011, pp. 6-7 with note 61. Re-accessed 22 Oct 2023.
  6. ^ a b Ettinghausen, Richard; Grabar, Oleg (1994). The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250. Yale University Press. pp. 277–278. ISBN 0300053304.
  7. ^ Khalilieh, Hassan S. (1999). "The Ribât System and Its Role in Coastal Navigation". Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. 42 (2): 212–225. doi:10.1163/1568520991446811.
  8. ^ Hillenbrand, Robert (1994). Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and Meaning. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 331.
  9. ^ Auer, Blain. "Futuh". Encyclopedia of Islam. 3.
  10. ^ Hoffman, Valerie (1995). Sufism, Mystics, and Saints in Modern Egypt. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-1570038495.