Ma al-'Aynayn

Mohamed Mustafa Ma al-'Aynayn (c. 1830–31 in Oualata, present-day Mauritania – 1910 in Tiznit, Morocco; complete name Mohamad Mustafa ben Mohamad Fadel Maa al-'Aynayn ash-Shanguiti Arabic: محمد مصطفى بن محمد فاضل ماء العينين الشنكيطي) was a Saharan Moorish religious and political leader who fought French and Spanish colonization in North Africa. He was the son of Mohammed Fadil Mamin (founder of the Fadiliyya, a Qadiriyya Sufi brotherhood), and the elder brother of shaykh Saad Bouh, a prominent marabout (religious leader) in Mauritania.

Early years

In 1859, Ma al-'Aynayn—a nickname he received as a child, meaning "water of the two eyes" in Arabic, in reference to the Qadiriya Sheikh Sidi Ahmed El Bekkay who immigrated to Oualata a few centuries earlier—settled in the oasis of Tindouf in present-day Algeria. The son of a famous Marabout, he quickly became known as a great scholar. His nomadic encampment attracted many students of Islamic law. In 1887 he was appointed as Caid of Tindouf by the sultan of Morocco Hassan I.

In 1898, Ma al-'Aynayn began building a Ribat in Smara, in the Spanish Sahara (present-day Western Sahara). His goal in creating the Ribat, which was previously just a water center for travelers, was to launch attacks on European colonial forces and particularly the French. The Moroccan sultan Abdelaziz assisted him in building the Ribat, as he sent craftsmen, materials, financing and arms, and also appointed him Caid. In 1902, he moved there creating among other things an Islamic library.

The anticolonial revolt

Increasingly disturbed by Western penetration of the area, which he viewed both as an intrusion by hostile foreign powers and as a Christian assault on Islam, he began agitating for resistance. Local Saharan tribes performed ghazi raids against the foreign forces, but French troops drew ever closer, conquering one local ruler after another. In 1904, Ma al-'Aynayn proclaimed a holy war, or jihad, against the colonizers. He proclaimed that the trab al-beidan (a desert area that includes today's Mauritania, southern Morocco, Western Sahara and large swaths of northern Mali and southern-western Algeria) was under the Sultan's rule. The Sultan of Morocco did not have direct control over Ma al-'Aynayn's forces but this display of effective cooperation helped assemble a large coalition of tribes to fight the colonizers. Ma al-'Aynayn set about acquiring firearms and other materials both through channels in Morocco and through direct negotiations with rival European powers such as Germany, and quickly built up a sizable fighting force. A member of his Gudfiyya brotherhood in 1905 may have assassinated Xavier Coppolani, who was leading the French conquest of Mauritania, thereby delaying the conquest of the emirate of Adrar for a few years.

Defeat of Morocco and Final years

In 1906 the Sultan Abdelaziz ratified the Algeciras Conference, granting colonial powers substantial concessions over Morocco, Ma al-'Aynayn's deemed this a betrayal, and supported in 1907 the Sultan's brother and rival Abdelhafid (at the time opposed to the French). The flow of arms from Morocco dwindled as a result. The French forces under then-colonel Gouraud pushed forward in the French Sudan, and Ma al-'Aynayn was forced to retreated to Tiznit (Morocco) in 1908-1909 determined to fight along Abdelhafid in dethroning his brother, which they succeeded in doing. Around this time, he proclaimed himself Mahdi in Tiznit.

In 1910, anarchy spread through Morocco, as the new Sultan grew ever weaker under European pressures. Ma al-'Aynayn, concerned that Morocco would fall in European hands, decided to extend Jihad north of Tiznit at the head of an army of 6,000 men to overthrow the new Sultan Abdelhafid. He was defeated by French General Moinier, on June 23, 1910. He would die several months later at Tiznit, on October 23 of the same year.

Legacy of Ma al-'Aynayn

A few years after Ma al-'Aynayn's death, his son El-Hiba, known as The Blue Sultan, continued the war against the French, but was ultimately defeated.

Ma al-'Aynayn enjoyed tremendous prestige and his name is invoked by both the Morocco and the Polisario Front. For Moroccans, he embodied the idea of unity of Morocco and the Sahara. Many descendents of Ma al-'Aynayn hold high profile offices in Morocco as well as in the Polisario Front and in Mauritania.

Ma al-'Aynayn, is buried in Tiznit, Morocco where his tomb became a pilgrimage site.

See also


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