Islamic Studies Berbers
Omar Chaoura Bourouh
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0068


Berbers or Imazighen are the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa. While there is no consensus among scholars about their origins before they settled there over five thousand years ago, historians and anthropologists seem to agree that the still-existing Berber groups in various regions, mainly in North Africa and the Sahara, characterized by distinct dialects and cultural practices, belong to the same ancestry: Imazighen or “the free men.” Centuries of foreign invasions, Islamic conquests and expansion, and modern European colonialism had resulted in the mixing of Berbers with foreign populations and influencing and even suppressing their language and culture. During the postcolonial period, however, various Berber groups have been promoting the revival of their language and culture, at times resulting in conflicts and confrontations with the regimes in their countries.

General Overviews

While there is no single comprehensive resource on the whole of Berber history, society, and culture, there exist several relevant works that provide extensive and detailed (and now specialized) coverage of Berber history, language, events, and institutions. One authoritative work on the origins and history of Berbers remains that of a 14th-century North African historian and sociologist, Ibn Khaldun 1925. Ibn Khaldun identified the main Berber branches and analyzed their political and social histories. While not focusing specifically on Berbers, Hourani 1991 (cited under Bibliographies) analyzed in great detail the formation of Berber political entities from the Islamization period of the 7th century to the late 20th century. A more recent general overview of Berber history is provided by Brett and Fentress 1996 and Shafiq 1989. Historical studies also include Abun-Nasr 1987, which focused on the Islamic history of Berbers, and Bousquet 1957, which provided insight on Berber social organization and political institutions. Other relevant works include Camps 1996, which is a brief overview of Berber states and communities and how they evolved to constitute the current maghrib or North Africa; Lacoste and Lacoste 2004, which examined various aspects of ethnic identities of North African peoples; and Maddy-Weitzman 2011, which analyzed the historical development of Berber movements in North Africa.

  • Abun-Nasr, Jamil M., ed. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511608100Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Excellent resource for students and scholars interested in the history of Berbers in particular and the history of the maghrib (North Africa) in general from the Islamic conquest in the 7th century to the late 20th century.

  • Bousquet, G. H. Les Berbères: Histoires et institutions. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1957.

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    A classic general historical and sociological study of Berber groups, languages, and institutions. Original publication in French.

  • Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress. The Berbers. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996.

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    This is a well-written and well-illustrated general history of Berbers by two experts on the subject. The book is a valuable resource for students and scholars, as it also provides a rich bibliography on all aspects of Berber history, culture, and institutions.

  • Camps, Gabriel. Des rives de la Mediterranèe aux marges meridionales du Sahara: Les Berbères. Paris: Edisud, 1996.

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    A brief history of Berber kingdoms and the transformation of Berber societies into what is now known as Arab maghrib, written by an authority on the subject of Berber history and culture. Original publication in French.

  • Ibn Khaldun, Abd al-Rahman. Histoire des Berbères et des dynasties Musulmanes de l’Afrique septentrionale. 4 vols. Translated from Arabic by Le Baron de Slane. Paris: Librarie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1925.

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    A seminal work on the origins of Berbers, their social structure, and their political systems produced by the 14th-century historian and sociologist Ibn Khaldun, who gained the title of “the historian of Berbers.” Original publication in French.

  • Lacoste, Camille, and Yves Lacoste, eds. Maghreb: Peuples et civilisations. Paris: La Decouverte, 2004.

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    A valuable and varied collection of articles about the peoples of North Africa and their religion, culture, language, and civilizations written by experts in various fields of knowledge and research and various backgrounds: sociologists, anthropologists, ethnologists, and historians. Original publication in French.

  • Maddy-Weitzman, Bruce. The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.

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    A rich historical analysis of the origins of Berber identity, the domination of Berbers by successive colonial rules, and the current struggles of Berber movements for recognition by North African states.

  • Shafiq, Muhammad. Lamḥah an thalathah wa-thalathina qarnan min tarikh al-Amazighiyin. Rabat, Morocco: Dar al-Kalam, 1989.

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    This book is a brief history of Berbers that spans over thirty-three centuries. The author discusses the origins of Berbers and their linguistic and cultural characteristics over centuries of foreign domination and influence. Original publication in Arabic.

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