Open main menu

Abu Yazid Makhlad ibn Kaydad al-Nukkari (Arabic: أبو يزيد مخلد بن كيداد‎; c. 883 – 19 August 947), known as the Man on the Donkey (Arabic: صاحب الحمار‎, romanizedṢāhib al-Himār), was an Ibadi Berber of the Banu Ifran tribe who led a rebellion against the Fatimid Caliphate in Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia and eastern Algeria) starting in 944. Abu Yazid conquered Kairouan for a time, but was eventually driven back and defeated by the Fatimid Caliph al-Mansur Billah.

Early lifeEdit

Abu Yazid's father Kayrad was a Zenata Berber trans-Saharan trader from Taqyus or Tozeur in the district of Chott el Djerid, then still known by its ancient name, Qastiliya. His mother Sabika was a Black African slave, bought by Kayrad at Tadmakat.[1][2] Abu Yazid was born c. 883, south of the Sahara Desert, either in Gao or in Tadmakka (modern-day Essouk). [3] Coupled with his mother's descent, this brought him the sobriquet "the Black Ethiop" (al-Ḥabashī al-Aswad).[1][2] Abu Yazid studied the Ibadi doctrine (madhhab) and worked in Tahert as a schoolmaster, before moving to Takyus around 909, during the overthrow of the Aghlabid emirs and the establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate by Abdullah al-Mahdi Billah (r. 909–934).[1]

In 928, Abu Yazid began his anti-Fatimid agitation. He was arrested but quickly released, and moved to the Aurès Mountains in what is now eastern Algeria, finding refuge with the Hawwara tribe.[1] The area had in the previous decades been converted to the Nukkari branch of Ibadi Islam, and was a major centre of the sect, with its own local imam, Abu Ammar Abd al-Hamid al-A'ma.[4] Abu Yazid soon succeeded in gaining a large following among the Hawwara,[1] and was elected by them as their leader (shaykh al-Muslimīn, "elder of the true believers").[2] Thereupon Abu Ammar relinquished his leadership to him as the more worthy one (afḍal), in accordance with the Nukkari doctrine.[4] When Fatimid agents arrested Abu Yazid again in Tozeur, Abu Ammar broke him out of prison. Abu Yazid then spent a year at Sumata, before returning to the Aurès.[1]


From 937, Abu Yazid began to openly preach holy war against the Fatimids.[2] His movement was the spiritual heir to a number of tendencies endemic in the Maghreb: the Ibadi movement, with its anti-Arab and pro-Berber chauvinism and its insistence that leadership belonged to the "best Muslim", in marked contrast to the Fatimids' claims to a hereditary imamate;[5] the anti-imperial traditions of the great Berber Revolt against the Umayyad Caliphate in 740;[6] and the strong messianic traditions of the Maghreb, which had welcomed and sheltered the Alids persecuted by the Abbasid Caliphate, and which would recur throughout history, culminating in the messianic empire of the Almohads.[7]

Abu Yazid himself cut a messianic figure: his appearance fitted the signs of a prophet in Islamic messianic tradition, such as a mole on his shoulder; of advanced age, dressed in rags and lame,[8] he rode a donkey, which gave him the nickname "Man on the Donkey" or "Lord of the Donkey" (Ṣāhib al-Himār).[8][9] The "awaited prophet who would come riding on an ass" was a figure with a long tradition in Judaic, and later Islamic, eschatology, was associated with Jesus and Muhammad, and was emulated by several would-be prophets during the early Islamic centuries.[10] Even his pejorative sobriquet al-Ḥabashī was often held to have messianic connotations.[8] On the other hand, Abu Yazid's Fatimid enemies cast him as the "False Messiah" (al-Masīḥ al-Dajjāl).[11]

In 943, Abu Yazid's followers descended from the mountains to overthrow the Fatimids. The attack was initially notably successful, capturing Tébessa, Marmajanna, al-Urbus (ancient Laribus), and Béja. His forces finally captured the old Aghlabid capital, Kairouan, on 15 October 944, where he put the town's qadi and garrison commander to death.[1] The mostly Sunni inhabitants of Kairouan, who greatly resented Fatimid rule, were initially supportive of Abu Yazid's takeover, but the unruly behaviour of his Berber followers quickly alienated them.[1] After the conquest of Kairouan, however, Abu Yazid began to abandon his Spartan habits for silk clothes, and his characteristic donkey for thoroughbred horses, which estranged his more austere followers.[1]

Leaving Abu Ammar and his own son to govern Kairouan in his name, Abu Yazid moved to capture the final Fatimid stronghold, the coastal palace city of al-Mahdiyya. On 2 November 944, he defeated and killed the Fatimid general Maysur, opening the path to the city.[1] The first attack on the city, on 21 January 945, reached the palace mosque courtyard (muṣallā ), but was eventually pushed back. The city was placed under siege, which lasted untul September 945, when Fatimid counterattacks forced Abu Yazid to retreat to Kairouan.[1] There he abandoned the luxuries he had adopted and returned to his previous austere life, leading to a resurgence in Berber support for his cause.[1]

During the following months, heavy fighting between Abu Yazid's and the Fatimid forces occurred at Tunis, which was repeatedly captured by both sides, and Béja.[1] In November, one of Abu Yazid's sons, Ayyub, was defeated by the Fatimids under al-Hasan ibn Ali, before in turn defeating the latter. Al-Hasan ibn Ali withdrew to the territories of the Kutama Berbers, who were the mainstay of the Fatimid regime; from there he captured the fortresses of Tijis and Baghaya, threatening Abu Yazid's rear.[1] On 13 January 946, Abu Yazid began his siege of the coastal town of Sousse.[1]

On 18 May 946, Caliph al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah died and was succeeded by his son al-Mansur Billah. Al-Mansur immediately sent out a cavalry detachment to assist Sousse; although not numerous, the Fatimid force was able to rout Abu Yazid's army before the walls of Sousse on 26 May.[1] Abu Yazid retreated towards Kairouan, only to find that the populace had risen in revolt and shut the gates against him; on 28 May, al-Mansur entered the city with his troops, helping to defend it against repeated attacks by Abu Yazid's army. Finally, after a heavy battle on 14 August, Abu Yazid abandoned the siege and retreated west to the Aurès.[1] A fleet sent by the Fatimids' rivals, the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba, turned back on receiving news of Abu Yazid's defeat.[1] In the meantime, al-Hasan ibn Ali had recaptured a number of locations from Abu Yazid's men, including Béja. With Abu Yazid in retreat, he now joined his forces with al-Mansur's army.[1]

On 25 October, al-Mansur left Kairouan in pursuit of the retreating Abu Yazid. By early December, the Fatimid caliph recovered Marmajanna, Béja, Billizma, Tubna (ancient Tubunae), and Biskra. From Biskra the Fatimid army turned back to Tubna. Abu Yazid confronted them at Maqqara, but was defeated in battle on 9 December 946, after which he fled to the mountains of Jabal Salat (west of Chott el Hodna).[1] After taking the town of al-Masila, al-Mansur followed him in the mountains trying to capture him, but Abu Yazid turned back and besieged al-Masila. Al-Mansur quickly came to the city's aid, and entered it on 30 January 947, forcing Abu Yazid to once again flee to the Aqqar and Kiyana mountains.[1] In March and again in April, Abu Yazid was defeated by al-Mansur in pitched battles, and ensconced himself in the fortress of Kiyana (close to the later site of Beni Hammad Fort). On 26 April, al-Mansur began his siege of the fortress, which lasted until 13 August, when the Fatimid troops managed to enter its walls; the last defenders tried to carry Abu Yazid and Abu Ammar to safety during the night, but Abu Yazid fell and was taken prisoner, while Abu Ammar was killed.[12] Al-Mansur interrogated his captive, who died of his wounds on 19 August. His body was stuffed with straw and publicly displayed at al-Mahdiyya.[13]

Abu Yazid's son Fadl resisted for a while in the Aurès and the area of Qafsa, but he was killed in battle in May/June 948.[13] Abu Yazid's other sons found refuge at the Umayyad court of Cordoba.[13]


One scholar argues that the Hausa culture hero Bayajidda represents a folk personification of the supporters of Abu Yazid who fled North Africa after his defeat.{{quote|The various Bayajida legends in Hausa folklore describe how Bayajida, son of the king of Baghdad, came to Bornu and married the ruler's daughter. He later fled and came to Daura, fathering the founders of the seven Hausa states. The legends seem to be describing events which happened during the tenth century A.D. and Bayajida may be identical with the Ibāḍite sectary Abū Yazīd who resisted the Fāṭimids of Tunisia until he was killed by them in 947. The debris of his army may have fled across the Sahara and arrived in Bornu, then north of Lake Chad. After some time a part of this rabble which had remained unassimilated moved south-west and interbred with the indigenous inhabitants round Daura, forming the Hausa aristocracies. Different ingredients of the legends may be folk memories of events near Mecca, Berber myths of origin and perhaps Greek mythology, as well as accounting for the introduction of horses and the sinking of wells in rock by the incoming Berbers. [14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Stern 1960, p. 163.
  2. ^ a b c d Brett 2017, p. 57.
  3. ^ Hallam 1966, p. 50.
  4. ^ a b Lewicki 1995, p. 113.
  5. ^ Brett 2017, pp. 50, 51.
  6. ^ Brett 2017, p. 51.
  7. ^ Brett 2017, pp. 51–52.
  8. ^ a b c García-Arenal 2006, p. 74.
  9. ^ Brett 2017, p. 58.
  10. ^ García-Arenal 2006, pp. 60, 74, 89–90.
  11. ^ Brett 2017, p. 24.
  12. ^ Stern 1960, pp. 163–164.
  13. ^ a b c Stern 1960, p. 164.
  14. ^ Hallam 1966.


  • Brett, Michael (2017). The Fatimid Empire. The Edinburgh History of the Islamic Empires. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-4076-8.
  • García-Arenal, Mercedes (2006). Messianism and Puritanical Reform: Mahdīs of the Muslim West. Translated by Martin Beagles. Leiden and Boston: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-15051-5.
  • Hallam, W. K. R. (1966). "The Bayajida Legend in Hausa Folklore". The Journal of African History. 7 (1): 47–60. doi:10.1017/S002185370000606X.
  • Halm, Heinz (1991). Das Reich des Mahdi: Der Aufstieg der Fatimiden [The Empire of the Mahdi: The Rise of the Fatimids] (in German). Munich: C. H. Beck. ISBN 3-406-35497-1.
  • Lewicki, T. (1995). "al-Nukkār". In Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W. P. & Lecomte, G. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume VIII: Ned–Sam. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 112–114. ISBN 90-04-09834-8.
  • Rapoport, Youssef; Savage-Smith, Emilie, eds. (2013). An Eleventh-Century Guide to the Universe: The Book of Curiosities. Leiden: Brill. pp. 467–469. ISBN 978-90-04-25564-7.
  • Stern, S. M. (1960). "Abū Yazīd Mak̲h̲lad b. Kaydād al-Nukkārī". In Gibb, H. A. R.; Kramers, J. H.; Lévi-Provençal, E.; Schacht, J.; Lewis, B. & Pellat, Ch. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume I: A–B. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 163–164.

External linksEdit