Religious Legitimacy and Political Intrigue: The Almohad Caliphate's Contest for Spain in the Writings of Ibn Sahib al-Salat

Spencer Duncan

Advisor: Sumaiya A. Hamdani, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Sam Collins, Huseyin Yilmaz

Horizon Hall, #3223
April 23, 2024, 04:30 PM to 06:30 PM


This dissertation explores the complex interplay of religious legitimacy, political rivalry, and warfare between Muslims and Christians in medieval Spain through the lens of Ibn Sahib al-Salat’s manuscript, Al-Mann bil-Imama. The purpose of this dissertation is to provide context and to explain the scarcity of Muslim sources regarding the Crusades and the Reconquista. By providing context on the Muslim sources, this text presents a nuanced portrayal of the Almohad Caliphate, one of the many regional Muslim dynasties that precipitated the Christian advances in the Muslim world throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This scholarly thesis argues that Ibn Sahib al-Salat’s choice of titles, anecdotes, and moral pronouncements are used to navigate the complicated religious and political relationships of the fractured Muslim world. 

 To prove the Almohad Caliphate’s claim to authority, Ibn Sahib al-Salat illustrates how the Almohads engaged with Christian rivals such as Gerald the Fearless and Sancho Jimenez as well as Muslim rivals such as the competing Almoravid dynasty and taifa rulers Ibn Mardanish and Ibn Hamusk. To prove the legitimacy of the Almohad rulers, Ibn Sahib al-Salat chronicles the Muslim calls for jihad in response to Christian victories in Spain. He invokes the rare messianic title of the Mahdi, and he frequently uses titles popularized in the early days of Islam that are associated with the prophet and his companions like “caliph” and “Commander of the Faithful” to establish political and religious authority in an unstable region at a volatile time. To further protect the Almohad claim to dominion, Ibn Sahib al-Salat diminishes and dismisses the Almohads’ rivals by recounting the dishonorable warfare from what he regards as hypocrites and infidels. 

Ibn Sahib al-Salat’s manuscript illustrates how the Almohads constructed their identity and justified their rule through a combination of military conquests, religious rhetoric, and the deliberate delegitimization of their enemies. This dissertation presents details to better understand the broader context of Muslim-Christian relations and intra-Muslim conflicts during a critical period of Islamic history, offering insights into the complex fabric of medieval Islamic polity and society.