Arab and Amazigh Dynasties From the 7th to the 13th Century

The 12th century mosque of Tin Mal, the High Atlas Mountain stronghold of the Almohads, fierce persecutors of Moroccan Jews.

Idriss I founded the first Muslim state in Morocco in the late eighth century. His authority extended over central and western Morocco, and he fought against those Christians and Jews who would not convert. The majority of Jews did not recognize him as their sovereign. Jewish soldiers fought three wars against Idriss in the Fez region. Following his victory, most Jews moved into the mountain and desert areas that were not controlled by Idriss I.

His son, Idriss II, created the city of Fez in the early ninth century, developing it from a village that is believed to have been inhabited by a Jewish tribe. He invited Jews to live there together with Arabs. While he restricted the freedom of the Jewish community in accordance with Islamic law, he also created the economic conditions that allowed some Jews to become prosperous.

An Amazigh tribe from the Sahara desert, the Almoravides, created an Islamic empire in Morocco and Spain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They founded their capital of Marrakesh near Aghmat, an Amazigh Jewish settlement. Although Jews were not allowed to enter Marrakesh at night, they had sufficient freedom to move throughout Morocco and Spanish Andalucia. Jewish scholars migrated to the Almoravide empire, producing some of the religious writings associated with the “Golden Age” of the Jews.

In the twelfth century, the Almohads, an Amazigh mountain people, developed a fundamentalist Islamic doctrine and built an empire that spread from Spain to western Libya. Unlike the Almoravides, they did not take the Jews under their protection. Instead, they expelled them from Marrakesh and tried to eliminate their presence from Morocco. Under the Almohad leader Abdel Moumen, the Jews were persecuted to the point that their communities in the oasis communities of the Draa and Sijilmassa were destroyed. Jews in these communities who did not convert were killed. During this time, Maimonides left Cordoba and spent  several years in Morocco. From 1159-1165, he lived in the old city of Fez.  Persecution of Jews was so intense that Maimonides counseled all Jews to leave the country.  By 1224, there may have been no synagogues left in Morocco.