The Conquest of Morocco

I. Introduction

In Rabat, the capital city of the Arab Islamic Kingdom of Morocco, a young, educated computer engineer named Ayoub sits cross-legged on a traditional couch holding a hot cup of mint tea in a house church meeting. Ayoub has heard the message of the gospel clearly many times. While he enjoys the peaceful and loving words of the gospel he still remains an unconvinced Muslim. After all, Islam is also a religion of peace. The only difference is that Mohammed is the Seal of the Prophets and Islam, as the last religion, is the only religion now accepted by God.[1]

No contradiction is immediately apparent since Ayoub, like all 34 million Moroccans, has been taught in his public school that the first inhabitants of Morocco were Imazighen who lived in the complete ignorance of idol worship and tribal disorganization. The Book of Moroccan History approved by the Moroccan Ministry of Education to be taught to all high school students in their third year states, “The old Berbers worshipped nature, and idols made of stone and the like, as they believed in magic and sorcery. They sanctified and worshipped different animals as the large horned sheep, the serpent, and the monkey.”[2]

Ayoub was also taught that these Imazighen accepted Islam as it advanced in a peaceful way through devoted merchants from the Arabian Peninsula. He learned that Oqba ben Nafia, the Arab disciple of the Prophet Mohammed who “opened” North Africa and Morocco to Islam, was a “great hero”.[3] However, a study of the history of the conquest of Morocco shows that the first disciples of Islam advanced and conquered the native Imazighen people with violent force according to the most appropriate interpretation of the teachings of the Koran and the example of their Prophet.

II. The Pre-Islamic Christianity of Morocco

 “This Holy Seed”, first published in 1993, provided the first comprehensive Christian history of the Imazighen (Berber)[4] people of North Africa in one volume. The author wrote, “The people of this land deserve to know their remarkable Christian history. Such a heritage cannot be lost to them.”[5] These same people deserve to know the truth of how their ancestors came to call themselves Muslims and bow toward Mecca.

The Christian history of the Imazighen of Morocco and all of North Africa dates back to the time of the disciples of Christ much like the Muslim history of the same people dates back to the Sahaba (disciples) of Mohammed. The reason that these North African tribes were such early converts of both religions is most likely due to their proximity by land and sea routes. “The Good News traveled both westwards, from Palestine and Alexandria, and simultaneously southwards from Italy: it had probably reached all the major ports of Mediterranean Africa within fifty years of Christ’s death.”[6] “From small beginnings the churches experienced phenomenal growth,” Daniels continues, “and within two hundred years were well-nigh setting the pace for the entire world.”[7]

The new Imazighen believers were not only great in quantity but also in quality. “No province produced more brilliant examples of constancy in martyrdom.”[8] Space is not sufficient to develop the stories of valiant believers and great theologians of other North African states like Perpetual of Tunisia, Tertullian of Libya, and Augustine of Algeria. Tertullian, in his An Answer to the Jews, wrote, “The varied races of the Getules (Imazighen) and the vast territories of the Moors, inaccessible to the Romans but subjugated to Christ.”[9] In the Moroccan context Vincent O’Malley recounts the story of Marcellus in the modern day city of Tangier, Morocco. He was martyred for refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods on the occasion of the celebration of Emperor Maximian’s birthday in 298 A.D.[10]

Marcellus died less than two short decades before the Edict of Milan of 313 would give religious liberty to the persecuted North African believers. Sadly, the same edict “opened the door to the elevation of Christianity, and specifically of Catholic hierarchical Christianity, to be the religion of the state.”[11] Three centuries later the once vibrant faith of the Imazighen Christians was no longer recognizable. By the time Islam appeared on the horizon North Africa had been weakened economically by Vandal raiders and theologically by Byzantine heresies such as the worship of Mary, the selling of forgiveness, and the veneration of saints. “The simple and forthright teachings of Christ were heard no more in North Africa.”[12]

III. A Storm Brewing in the East

A. The Teaching of the Koran

Modern Moroccans follow a pacifistic form of Islam known as Maliki Islam.[13] This denomination of Islam tends to focus on the more peaceful revelations that make up the Koran. A Moroccan will readily quote Sura al-Baqara (Cow) 256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error.” [14] Another very popular verse for the kind natured Moroccan is from the six-verse long Sura Al Kafrun (The Infidels), which concludes, “And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. You have your religion, and I have mine.”[15]

While the existence of pacifistic verses is undeniable, so equally undeniable are the verses calling for violence by the sword of Islam. Sura Atawba (Repentance) says, “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”[16] Sura Alma’ida (The Table) describes the punishment for those who would oppose Islam, “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger… is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land.”[17] These verses are only two samples of 109 Koranic verses that call the followers of Islam to violence.

The arguments of the peaceful Muslim, then, tend toward interpretation. Can it be said that the peaceful verses cancel out the more violent verses? Did Koranic violence only apply to self-defense or as a penal punishment such as the death penalty in the United States? Under the Muslim Doctrine of Abrogation later Sura’s cancel earlier revelations.[18] Sura Atawba (Repentence), the most violent, is well known to be the last revelation given to the Prophet Mohammed.[19] As a result the doctrine of abrogation does no favors to the pacifists. While doctrinal issues can be debated, the most reliable method of interpretation for an ancient text is to observe how the writer and his immediate followers lived out his teachings. How, then, did Mohammed and his disciples live? How did they advance Islam into North Africa and Morocco?

B. The Battles of Mohammed

Moroccans, in general, are convinced that Islam is a religion of peace. They commonly tell a story of how Mohammed had a peaceful attitude toward a belligerent Jewish neighbor. The whole story of Mohammed’s attitude toward unbelievers in general and Jews in particular is very different. During Mohammed’s early years in Medina he prayed toward Jerusalem and had hoped that the Jews would recognize him as a prophet. When it became obvious that such recognition would not be given by the Jews as a whole, he “began to retrace his previous steps, and to make the Jewish unbelievers feel that his aims and claims could not be contravened with impunity.”[20]

Many shorter histories of Islam and Mohammed include very few details about his violent battles. One book, The Great Islamic Conquest, serves as an example. In a whole chapter about Mohammed the only reference to violence is this one sentence that portrays Mohammed as being on the defensive. “As Muhammad’s teachings did not embrace pacifism, the Muslims of Medina fought back. The ensuing struggle eventually resulted in Mecca’s submission to Muhammad in 630.”[21]

The first aggression under the flag of Islam was by Saad Ibn Abu Wakkas under order from the Prophet Mohammed who shot an arrow at a Koreishite caravan.[22] The Moroccan Imazighen people would become very familiar with the arrows and swords of the Mohammedans. Following this first arrow, the story is told of the first blood drawn. Mohammed gave the order himself to Abd Allah Ibn Jahsh. ‘Go in the name and with the blessing of God to Nakhla, and there lie in wait for the Koreishite caravans.’[23] Abd Allah carried out this order by violating a traditional sacred month of peace. He and his band killed two men, dispersed the rest of the caravan and carried the loot back to Mohammed in Medina.

Mohammed and the people of Medina were emboldened by the first taste of booty. At this point Mohammed himself led an expedition of 300 men to attack a large caravan of the Koreishi tribe in the Battle of Badr. The story is given in great detail by Ibn Ishak and is well known among the Muslims.[24] Mohammed and his Muslim band continued to engage in bloody battles with the pagan and Jewish caravans “until 630 when Muhammed and his mostly-Muslim army entered Mecca. By then much of Arabia had converted to Islam.[25]

C. The Initial Advances of Islam

The people most capable of understanding the authorial intent of the Koran are those who were personal disciples of Mohammed. Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of Islam, serves as one example. The Caliphs who succeeded Mohammed had been close ‘companions’ of the Prophet. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr (632– 34), was no exception. He was “the father of Muhammad’s beloved wife A’isha and had been one of his earliest supporters.”[26] After uniting the Arabian Peninsula under his Caliphate by force, he commanded Khalid ibn al-Walid, nicknamed The Sword of Allah by Mohammed, to attack Iraq and the Levant.[27]

Khalid ibn al-Walid was one of the bloodiest and successful generals in history. It is well reported that he never lost a battle as he conquered the Byzantine Empire in modern day Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria by the sword.[28] “To Khalid,” wrote historian Michael Rank, “a battle was not merely the means to the end of a military victory; it was a method of total violence meant to completely annihilate enemy forces. Terror in the hearts of his enemies always made up for any disadvantage.”[29] Prince Ukaid of Domat ul Jandal, commented of Khalid, “No man is his equal in war. No people face Khalid in battle, be they strong or weak, but are defeated. Take my advice and make peace with him.”[30]

Khalid Ibn al-Walid did not, however, die in battle. On his deathbed as an old man he cried out, “I’ve fought in so many battles seeking martyrdom that there is no spot in my body left without a scar or a wound made by a spear or sword. And yet here I am, dying on my bed like an old camel.” [31] The Imazighen, it would prove, were unprepared to face the fervor and fury of the Muslim generals who fought for both loot in this life and death by martyrdom.

IV. The Islamic Invasion of Morocco

            While Islam was bursting out of the Arab desert in the mid 7th century, the Imazighen to the fertile plains of the west in present-day Morocco had never heard of nor seen a Muslim. However, within fifty years an Imazighen going by the Arab name of Tariq Ibn Ziyad stormed the Iberian Peninsula in 711 A.D with 7,000 Imazighen and Arab raiders in the fabled Muslim conquest of Andalucía that threatened the heart of Christian Europe.[32] The question remains, what happened to cause such a dramatic rate of conversion to Islam in North Africa?

A. Oqba’s March to the Sea

Only twenty-six years after Mohammed’s first Battle of Badr, his Muslim generals turned toward the unprepared cities and tribes of North Africa. In 682, Uqba Ibn Nafi led a band of warriors on horseback all the way to the Atlantic coast of Morocco.[33] A later Arab historian named En-Noweiri writes of his march,

“From Tangier, Oqba moved towards the south in the direction of the Sous al-Adna until he reached a town called Taroudant. There he encountered the first Berber troops and put them to flight after a bloody battle. His cavalry set about chasing the fugitives and penetrated the Sous al-Adna. The Berbers then gathered in such numbers that only Allah could count them. But Oqba attacked them with unprecedented ferocity. He totally massacred them and helped himself to some of their wives, who were of an unparalleled beauty. It is reported that one of their girls was sold in the East for a thousand gold coins.”[34]


Oqba was acting upon two doctrines that are still part of the language of Muslims and their history books. The first, the Doctrine of “al-Ftah” (opening), refers to the special place in honor and glory that will be to him who opens new lands for Islam by the sword.[35] The second, the Doctrine of Fai’, Oqba had learned personally from the Prophet Mohammed. According to Muhammad ibn Tāhir, “fai’ is booty taken from a country which submits to Islām without resistance. It was the special privilege of the Prophet to take booty as well as plunder, a privilege not permitted to any other prophet.”[36] This privilage was obviously extended to his disciples as the.

Oqba’s strategy was effective in al Maghreb (the West). He attacked one tribe at a time with cavalry charges and larger arms than the Imazighen had access to. The conquered tribe was given a clear choice: convert to Islam or pay the heavy tax.[37] Oqba was full of religious passion. Upon reaching the Atlantic he cried out, “Lord, if this ocean did not prevent me, I would go to far countries fighting for your religion and killing those who do not believe.”[38]

Moulay Idris soon followed Oqba yet surpassed him in longevity and influence on modern Moroccans. Idris, fleeing assassination in the east, founded the Kingdom of Morocco in 789 A.D. next the Roman city of Volobolis, the last refuge for Moroccan Christians. Ibn Khaldoun wrote of Idris, “His mosque is adjacent to their quarter and streets. His sword is (suspended) unsheathed atop the main minaret of their residence.”[39] The mosque came with the sword. The two have never been and, in fact, cannot be separated.

B. The Resistance of the Imazighen

The Imazighen tribes did not all quickly submit. They had little chance in the end against the superior weapons of the Muslims. The Imazighen foot soldiers went to battle fighting with slingshots and often carrying their families, tents, and flocks with them.[40] This made them slow and easy to route by the smaller Arab forces on horseback. There were many brave Imazighen leaders of both pagan and Christian backgrounds who would shed their own blood to postpone the inevitable subjugation.

One such brave Imazighen leader was a professing Christian named Kosaila of the Awreba tribe. Oqba captured this mighty man and paraded him as a trophy through North Africa. In 683, however, he escaped and brought a large international coalition of Imazighen and Byzantine soliders to bear on Oqba. After killing Oqba Kosaila formed a free region in North Africa for five years before being killed himself in battle by a wave of fresh Arab forces from the East in 688 A.D.[41]

Following the death of Kosaila another tribe of Jewish origin known as the Jerawa carried the banner of resistance. Their leader, a woman named Kahena, successfully rebuffed repeated Arab onslaughts for three years. However, her untimely death in 693 A.D. left her people without a strong leader to muster the tribes. For a century certain Imazighen tribes defied their Arab invaders and paid in blood. “In one battle alone,” Daniels recounts, “180,000 Imazighen lost their lives. Many more were taken into slavery or left destitute.”[42]

C. Reasons for Conversions

The stories of bravery and resistant among the Imazighen seemed to be the exception. Many of the tribes became quick converts of the Muslim fanatics who demanded only a simple, foreign sentence as entrance into this religion of peace. This seemed to be a mild demand to the Imazighen who were staring at the reality of death or heavy taxes.[43]

It became a way of life to curry favor with the new rulers. Old disputes between tribes finally had a third party judge to settle the score. The tribes who seemed the most Muslim would doubtless find themselves in a position of strength over their old enemies. “The motivation was strong to learn the language of the arbitrator and the judge.”[44] Some of the more pagan tribesmen like Tariq Ibn Zayd also saw their opportunity to share in the glory and loot that the Muslims enjoyed as conquerors.

The main reasons for rapid, mass conversions to Islam among the Imazighen included fear, greed, and opportunism. These motivations stand in stark contrast to the early Christians of the Imazighen tribes who gave up their lives and fortunes to follow their sincere belief in God and His Son Jesus Christ some 700 years previous.

Once in the religion of Islam, it was an offense punishable by death to leave. As Imam al-Baidhawi wrote during the first century of Islam, “Whosoever turns back from his belief (irtada), openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel.”[45] While Imazighen were ushered in mass through the front door of Islam by force the Law of Apostasy has kept the back door closed for thirteen centuries.

D. The Progressive Arabization of Morocco

The take over of the minds and hearts of the people of the Maghreb was anything but immediate. The newcomers accomplished the total Arabization of the Imazighen tribes in a way that the Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines never did. The means of this huge cultural shirt were varied.

First, the Arab fighters came mostly as single men. They each hastily married a harem of Imazighen wives.[46] Their children would be Imazighen yet diligently raised in the Islamic religion. After many generations of intermarriage the effect of cultural hybridity created a whole new people and culture of what is now known as the Arab Islamic Kingdom of Morocco.

A second means of Arabization was in the adoption of Imazighen tribes by Arab patrons. It was common that an Arab ruler would give his name to the tribe that he adopted. Such a system gave a “degree of prestige and commercial opportunities which were eagerly coveted.”[47]  These Muslim patrons were eager to represent a tribe as fanatic about Islam as the Arabs. As a result, “Readers of the Koran were appointed to instruct the people in the faith.”[48]

A third means of Arabization came in the penal code. Four centuries after the takeover of the Muslims, a decree in Morocco to stamp out the remaining embers of Christianity was put into law stating, “The Christians may not increase the height of their churches. If the outside has not been completed, they will be prevented from finishing it in any case.”[49] Abd el-Moumen, a 12th century Muslim reformer, evidently detested the leniency afforded previous generations and gave a choice to all non-Muslims in Morocco from his throne in Tunisia: conversion or death.[50] Thus, the final embers of the light of Christ were violently snuffed out of Morocco only to recently begin to show signs of life among converts from Muslim background.

Finally, a mass, violent immigration by Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, poor Bedouins from Arabia, to the fertile plains of Morocco in the 11th century served to overwhelm the Imazighen population. Ibn Khaldun, a respected North African historian of the 14th century, commented on the coming of these bedouins, “When the Banu Hilal and the Banu Sulaym pushed through to Africa and the Maghrib in the eleventh century and struggled there for three hundred and fifty years, they attached themselves to (the country), and the flat territory in (the Maghrib) was completely ruined.”[51] Unlike the French colonizers of the last century, these Bedouins left their desert environment for the rich land of Morocco to stay.  Khaldun continues, “The Berbers, the original population of the Maghrib, have been replaced by an influx of Arabs, (that began in) the fifth [eleventh] century. The Arabs outnumbered and overpowered the Berbers, stripped them of most of their lands, and (also) obtained a share of those that remained in their possession.”[52]

Today it is often impossible to tell the difference between an Arab and a native Imazighen. Even Ibn Khaldoun erroneously noted, “The Arabs and the Berbers are the two races known to have resided in the Maghrib for such a long time that one can hardly imagine they ever lived elsewhere, for its inhabitants know no other human races.”[53] Through compulsory education all Moroccans have learned Arabic and the Islamic faith. Ancient and recent Arab kings and rulers have even outlawed the Imazighen language. The Imazighen tribes either opportunistically received or valiantly resisted the indomitable flood of violent Islam drop by drop over the course of four centuries until the river was full.

V. Conclusion

The history of how Moroccans became and stayed Muslim is clear for Ayoub. The Muslim invaders from the east were anything but peaceful businessmen looking only to buy and sell with the native Imazighen of Morocco. Islam did not become the religion of the people by thoughtful persuasion or righteous seeking after the truth of God. Reliable sources show that warriors welding swords on horseback rather than merchants distributing Korans from caravans brought Islam to the Imazighen people of Morocco. The Muslim invaders acted in perfect harmony with the example of their Prophet and the teaching of the Koran by militarily forcing the people of Morocco into Islam.

What is the purpose of the dissemination of such information to a generation who has little true knowledge of this history? Was it not a Muslim, Ibn Khaldoun, who wrote, “God guides to the truth”?[54] The way forward for Ayoub is to seek truth. Truth has been established by God to set people free while lies keep people enslaved.[55] The reader can be free to compare the contents of this paper with the consistent kindness and reason of Christ and his disciples who never carried a sword to force a creed on any people. Arabs and Imazighen both need the eternal freedom that only the Son gives. Consider the words of Christ, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”[56]


[1] Abduallah Yusef Ali. The meaning of the Holy Qur’an, 3:19.

[2] Mohammed Ali Arrahmani and Mohammed Ameen Mohammed, Book of Moroccan History, Vol. III, (Casablanca, Casablanca Publishing House, 2000), 15.(Translation by ALB)

[3] Ibid, 38.

[4] The term “berber” (a latin word meaning “uneducated man”) is used by the Arab writers both past and present to refer to the original tribes of North Africa. The term preferred by these native tribes is Imazighen (a native word meaning “free man”). This paper will use Imazighen unless quoting an Arab writer.

[5] Robin Daniels, This Holy Seed: Faith, Hope, and Love in the Early Churches of North Africa. (Chester, UK, Tamarisk Publications, 2009), 9.

[6] Daniels, This Holy Seed, 229.

[7] Ibid, 8.

[8] F. J. Foakes-Jackson, History of the Christian Church to AD 461 (J.Hall & Son, Cambridge, 5th edition 1909), 263.

[9] Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, 7.

[10] Vincent J. O’Malley, Saints of Africa (Our Sunday Visitor, 2001).

[11] P. Schaff, & D. S. Schaff, History of the Christian church Vol. 3, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 30-31.

[12] Daniels, This Holy Seed, 192.

[13] Orin Hargraves, Culture Shock: Morocco (Portland, Oregon. Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company 1995), 80.

[14] Abduallah Yusef Ali. The meaning of the Holy Qur’an, 2:256.

[15] Abduallah Yusef Ali. The meaning of the Holy Qur’an, 109:4-6.

[16] Abduallah Yusef Ali. The meaning of the Holy Qur’an, 9:29.

[17] Ibid, 5:10.

[18] T. P. Hughes, In A Dictionary of Islam: (London: W. H. Allen & Co. 1885), 152.

[19] Raouf Ghattas and Carol B. Ghattas, A Christian Guide to the Koran (Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 2009), 114. Referring to Ibn Kathir, Tafseer al-Quran al-Azzem.

[20] Koelle, S. W. Mohammed and Mohammedanism Critically Considered, (London: Rivingtons, 1889), 131.

[21] David Nicolle, The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632–750 (Osprey Publishing, 2014), 286-287.

[22] Koelle, Mohammed and Mohammedanism Critically Considered, 142.

[23] Ibid., 143

[24] Ibid, 150.

[25] Michael Rank, From Muhammed to Burj Khalifa, (Five Minute Books. 2013), 219.

[26] Nicolle, The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632, 309.

[27] Ibid, 313.

[28] Rank, From Muhammed to Burj Khalifa, 318.

[29] Ibid, 407.

[30] Ibid, 323.

[31]Ibid, 400.

[32] Nicolle, The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632–750, 985.

[33] Ibid, 1039-1041).

[34] Daniels, This Holy Seed, 192.

[35] Hughes, In A Dictionary of Islam, 128.

[36] Ibid, 134.

[37] Daniels, This Holy Seed, 193.

[38] Ibid, 194. Quoting: En-Noweiri, Nihayet el ‘Arab, chap.6; de Slane p.333

[39] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. (Osmora Inc. Kindle Edition, 2014), 9445.

[40] Nicolle, The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632–750, 576.

[41] Ibid, 590.

[42] Daniels, This Holy Seed, 194.

[43] Ibid, 199.

[44] Nicolle, The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632–750, 1309.

[45] Samuel Zwemer, The Law of Apostasy in Islam. (New York: Marshall Brothers, 1924), 33.

[46] Daniels, This Holy Seed, 201.

[47] Ibid, 210.

[48] William Muir, The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall. (Edinburgh: John Grant. 1915), 355–356.

[49] Daniels, This Holy Seed, 198.

[50] Ibid, 199.

[51] Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, 945.


[52] Ibid, 1590.

[53] Ibid, 922.

[54] Ibid, 1024.

[55] Referencing the words of Christ in John 8:32.

[56] John 8:36

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