The Rustamid Dynasty of Algeria

The Rustamid dynasty of Ibadi Kharijite imam was a Muslim theocracy of Persian origin that ruled in central Maghreb (Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania) from 776 to 909 AD. The Rustamid’s capital was the city of Tahert (also known as Tiaret or Tihert) in present-day Algeria, with its authority believed to have extended east as far as the Nafusa Mountains in modern day Libya. The Ibadi form of Islam is different from the well-known Shia and Sunni forms. While there is dissension as to the origins of the Ibadi movement, some scholars are of the opinion that it is one of the earliest forms of Islam, while others believe that the Ibadis are an off-shoot of the Kharijites, referring to Muslims who rejected the leadership of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, Rashidun Caliph Alid ibn Abi Talib. Today, there are still Ibadi adherents in Tunisia, Libya, East Africa and Algeria.

With Tahert as its capital city, the landlocked Rustamid dynasty had little direct contact with the Mediterranean world at the time. According to Andalusian records, it is known that they had relations with the Cordoban Umeyyads, with the Aghlabid, loyalists of the Abbasid Caliph, as their common enemy.

During the rule of the Rustamid dynasty, Tahert became strategically important as a trans-Saharan trading post where multilingual Jewish merchants, referred to as “Rahâdina” conducted flourishing business with the passing trade. As traders and missionaries moved from Tahert along the trade route south into Africa, they took the Ibadi teachings with them, making converts along their way.

The imams of the Rustamid dynasty were: Abd ar-Rahman ibn Rustam ibn Bahram (776-784); Abd al-Wahhab ibn Abd ar-Rahman (784-832); Aflah ibn Abd al Wahhab (832-871); Abu Bakr ibn Aflah (871); Muhammad Abul-Yaqzan ibn Aflah (871_894); Yusuf Abu Hatim ibn Muhammad Abil-Yaqzan (894-897); Yaqub ibn Aflah (897-901); Yusuf Abu Hatim ibn Muhammad Abil-Yaqzan (901-906); and Yaqzan ibn Muhammad Abil-Yaqzan (906-909). In 909 the armies of the Ismailite Fatimid Caliphs overran the city of Tahert, destroying the town and killing the imam and his family, effectively bringing an end to the Rustamid dynasty. The remaining Ibadites fled Tahert, taking refuge for a period of time in Sedrata in the Algerian desert. Some ruins at Sedrata, dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries, remain as a reminder of the Ibadites who had sought refuge there, before migrating to the Mzab Valley where they settled.