Jews of a Saharan Oasis: The Elimination of the Tamantit Community

“Jews spread out from Israel into northern Africa after the Roman destruction of much of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and settled in Saharan oases. Although there was no love for Jews after the birth of Islam five centuries later, Muslim Arabs accepted Jews’ right to retain their own religion in lands they occupied, enabling many Jews to remain in North Africa after Arab conquest of the region. However, after Jews living in Tlemcen (Algeria) or the oasis of Touat became involved in trans-Saharan trade, strong opposition to them arose. Tlemcen, seen by Jews as the ‘Jerusalem of the West,’ was primarily Muslim-occupied, and for economic reasons, the Jews living there became greatly resented for their success in the trans-Saharan gold trade. A Tlemcen scholar, Muhammad al-Maghili, spent time in Touat, and used Islam-based arguments to justify the destruction of their synagogue there and expel them. He also got Jews excluded from the Songhay Empire. This book examines the whole process, with translations of Arabic Islamic writings on Jews and their rights to pursue their religion.”
— Joseph Haberer, Sofar

John Hunwick (Northwestern University) is the author of Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire, Religion and National Integration in Africa and several other books on Islamic Africa. He is co-editor with Eve Troutt Powell of The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam (also available from Markus Wiener).