The Yemeni Maafiris and their Civilizational Role In Andalusia

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Historical sources note that most Arabs who entered Andalusia at the time of the conquest were of Yemeni origin. Researchers often address the military and political aspect of the conquest, neglecting facets related to the social, cultural and scientific life of the Yemenis who settled in Andalusia for hundreds of years. In this article, which is a summary of wider research I conducted during the past few years, I address the scholarly works of the Maafaris in Andalusia.[1]

Who are the Maafaris?

Al-Maafer is a tribe and Mikhlaf[2]‘ region’  in Yemen. The Maafari lineage goes back to the great Maafir bin Yafar bin Malik and ends with Kahlan bin Saba’. The Maafaris are from a Yemeni tribe called al-Ma’fer, and they are from southwestern Yemen. The ancient city of al-Ma’fer, which they inhabited, was situated between Zabid, in Hodeidah governorate, and al-Janad, in Taiz governorate. This region is no longer called al-Ma’fer; however, a small village in Taiz still carries this name today. The name al-Ma’fer, referring to the city and to the tribe, continued to be used until the eighth century AH in reference to that land. Then it was replaced by the name al-Hujariyyah, a large area in Taiz governorate today. The historical references we traced did not explain why al-Ma’fer was renamed al-Hujariyyah.

The time of conquests

Caliph Abu Bakr al-Siddiq sent a message to the people of Yemen, inviting them to Jihad and to participate in the Levant conquest during the spring of May 12 AH/633 AD, and so the Maafaris marched with others under the leadership of Dhul-Qila al-Hamiri until they reached Medina. From there they headed to the Levant. It is worth noting that history books do not include specific mention of their names, because Muslims at the time did not commemorate their exploits. They only took notes of their battles until the plague of Amwas afflicted the Levant in 18 AH/639 AD, and people became too preoccupied to write down their own history. During the conquest of Egypt (639-646 AD), some Maafaris took on leadership positions in Amr ibn al-As’ campaign to conquer the land, including Malik bin Abdul Malik al-Maafari, and Obaid bin Amr al-Maafari. Some notable figures participated in mapping the city of Fustat. They lived near the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As, then moved to East Fustat near Mount Al-Maqt. Their presence in Egypt was so significant that the historian and linguist Murtada al-Zabidi referred to them as “the general public of the people of Egypt”.[3] However, their final stop was Andalusia. Al-Maafari participated in the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb (647 AD-709 AD), then a later generation entered Andalusia with the armies of the Islamic conquest (711 AD-718 AD).

Artwork by Rasha Sharhan

Scholarly life in Andalusia

The religious and ethnic diversity in Andalusia played a major role in people’s acceptance of novelty, so life during that time was characterized by tolerance. We also find that the scholarly movement in Andalusia developed during that time, in terms of its infrastructure, export and impact on the development of civilization. Muslim rulers collected books and had them translated from various languages ​​into Arabic. Places of learning flourished, from Maktabs (elementary schools in the medieval Islamic world) to Madrasas (places of higher education in medieval Islamic culture), that students attended from Africa and Europe. Andalusian students traveled all over the world seeking education and knowledge, and so long educational trips became a tradition. Also, girls received an advanced education because there were no obstacles preventing them from doing so, and so they too were able to take educational trips. Seeking knowledge was the norm in Andalusia. Everyone strived to obtain books and create their own private libraries, alongside the state-owned public libraries.

The beginning of education in Andalusia focused on the study of Sharia and language, moving on to include various subjects, such as philosophy, which ignited debates in the fourth and fifth centuries Hijri. This led to philosophy becoming a recognizable and popular subject in Andalusia, where great philosophers emerged, such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Tufail, Ibn Masarra and Ibn Arabi, among others. Andalusian culture also developed schools of thought in fields such as jurisprudence, where Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi was one of its most important figures.

The role of the Maafiris in the Andalusian scholarship

The role of the Maafaris was prominent in Andalusian scholarship from their arrival until most of them left after the Christians took over Andalusian cities. From the sources, it is clear that some families passed interest in the pursuit of knowledge down from generation to generation. The conditions of a person’s upbringing and their economic status played a significant role in the creation of various scholarly circles in Andalusia. And even though many scholars specialized in several fields, some were particularly distinguished in a single field.

Religion and jurisprudence: According to the sources, the Maafaris had an interest in religious studies, in areas such as ‘the knowledge of readings’, ‘interpretation’, ‘speech’ and ‘jurisprudence’. This appears to explain why many of them went on to assume high positions in the state, such as in the judiciary and advisory roles. As such, we find that members of the same family took over judicial, advisory and Shura positions for their scholarly standing, like Bani Jahaf in Valencia and Beni Mofouz in Bayinah. Among them is also Minister Abdullah al-Maafari  and his son the famous judge Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi al-Ma’afiri.

Linguistics and literature: The Maafaris are also mentioned in terms of linguistics and syntax, and the literary fields, such as poetry, rhetoric, speech and literature. Sources also cite their participation in areas such as history, philosophy and theology.

Absence in other subjects: However, there is no evidence to suggest the presence of the Maafaris in other subjects that prevailed in Andalusia, such as medicine, engineering, astronomy and geography.

Artwork by Rasha Sharhan

Difficulties and recommendations

In my research on the contribution of the Maafaris to the scholarly life in Andalusia, I was faced with difficulties concerning documentation fragmentation, as well as the similarity of the names of some scholars, which required me to audit, examine and compare multiple sources and references. It is worth noting that some of these sources and references are not available in Yemen, but I was able to find them in some European and Arab countries as well as on some websites.

There are many scholars that my research did not give due credit to by explaining and detailing their contributions, such as Jaafar bin Abdullah bin Jahaf, a Valencian judge[4] and Judge Abu Bakr bin al-Arabi Maafari,[5] a Seville judge. He was one of the great jurists and scholars of Islam, and despite the fact that a number of academic papers have been written about him, his legacy is still a fertile field for study.[6] In addition to these two scholars, there are many that we have mentioned in our study, and whose biographies and academic findings are in need of research due to their impact on Andalusian history and thought.

Another topic that merits research is the development of the scholarly movement in Andalusia, including schools and libraries, and the burning of books and destruction of schools throughout that period of history.


[1] This article summarizes al-Tarib’s doctoral degree dissertation in Islamic history and civilization from the Department of History, Faculty of Arts, Sana’a University in 2016. It is entitled ‘The role of the Maafaris in the Scientific Movement in Andalusia: From Conquest until the Seventh Century AH’.

[2] Al-Mikhlaf (pl. Makhalif) is an ancient Yemeni administrative division mentioned in ancient Yemeni inscriptions. The Yemenis used to call the district of their country Mikhlaf, in addition to the name of the tribe or the name of the place or a famous leader or well-known town. And the word is still applied to some places in Yemen today. See Ismail bin Ali al-Akwa, Makhalif al-Yaman, Third Edition, Sana’a, 2009.

[3] Mortada al-Zabaidi, Taj al-Arous Min Jawaher al-Qamus (The Bride’s Tiara from the Jewels of the Dictionary), Kuwait Edition, 1984, vol. 24, p. 252.

[4] See Ibn Adhari, Abu Al-Abbas Ahmed bin Muhammad, Al-Bayan Al-Maghrib in the abbreviation of News of the Kings of Andalusia and Morocco, House of Culture, Beirut, 1983, c3, p. 305.

[5] His biography is recorded in many sources, and was written in detail by his contemporary, the famous Maliki jurist, Judge Ayyad. See Judge Ayyad, El-Gharbia, Editor: Maher Zuhair Jarrar, First Edition, Dar Al-Gharb Al-Islami, Beirut, 1982, pp. 66-72.

[6] See Abd al-Qadir Sultani, ‘Aspects of Jurisprudence Renewal of Judge Abu Bakr Ibn al-Arabi’, unpublished doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Oran, Algeria, 2018, p.4.


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Sanaa al-Tarib

A researcher and university professor. She obtained her PhD and MA in Islamic history and civilization from the history department at Sana’a University. Her book The Maafaris in Andalusia: From Conquest until the Fifth Century Hijri, 1st Edition, 2014, was published by The Yemeni Foundation for Culture and Arts in Taiz.

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