Saturday, January 10, 2009

Berbers and Arabs

A history of the Berber people in Africa
by Frances Stanford


One of the most important influences on the history of the Berbers was the coming of Islam. It permeated all aspects of life and often replaced tribal rituals and practices. The Berbers were very quick to convert to Islam and to provide assistance to the Arab invaders in any way they could. Islam came to the Berber territory in the 7th century, but there were tensions between the Berbers and the Arabs because of the prejudice the Arabs had for the Berber people. In most cases they were regarded as second-class Muslims and were often forced into slavery. This resulted in a revolt by the Berbers in 739.

Many Muslim Berbers supported the Kharijite form of Islam, which afforded them more equality. The Kharijites established some tribal kingdoms, but most of these were short lived. The Berber communities established on the main trade routes, however, became very prosperous.

In the 9th century, the Banu Hilal tribe arrived in Northwest Africa. They had been sent into the area to punish the Berber Zind dynasty for having adopted Islam and abandoning Shiism. The arrival of this tribe was a significant factor in the Arabization of Africa and the spread of the nomad way of life in areas where there had been communities and agriculture.

It was not until the middle of the 20th century that Arabic became the official language of North Africa and this led to a rise in Berber nationalism with respect to the language. Berber is now an official language in Algeria and even though it is not recognized as an official language in Morocco, it is taught in the schools.

At one time in their history, Berbers were discriminated against in society. This is not true today as long as they do not openly display their political affiliations.


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