Maribel Fierro



“The Battle of Colors”: Colors and Their Meaning in the Search for Political Legitimacy in the Islamic West

In two previous articles devoted to the Messianic figure of “al-Asfar” (published in Studia Islamica 1993 and JSAI 1998), I analyzed the religious and political significance of yellow in the Islamic world. Part of the materials collected there pointed to the continuous political use of this color in the Islamic West by characters or groups who claimed Yemeni descent. In this way, they marked a boundary that separated them from the Qaysis, with whom the red color was associated, as indicated – for example – by the red tent of the Almohad (Mu’minid) caliphs. Although Zanata Berbers, the Mu’minids claimed Qaysi descent and therefore adopted a custom associated with the Prophet, who was said to have erected a red tent when camping before an important battle. In my paper, I will discuss such political and religious boundaries marked by color, exploring the historical precedents adduced to justify them and reconstructing what may be called “the battle of colors” in the Islamic West.

MARIBEL FIERRO works at the Center for Human and Social Sciences of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Madrid. Her main fields of interest are the religious and intellectual history of the Islamic West, Islamic law, and heresy in pre-modern Muslim societies. She is sectional editor for Religious Sciences for the Encyclopaedia of Islam (3rd edition) and secretary of the journal Al-Qantara. She has edited with P. Cressier and L. Molina Los Almohades: Problemas y Perspectivas and with Christian Lange, Public Violence in Islamic Societies: Power, Discipline and the Construction of the Public Sphere: 7th-19th Centuries CE (Edinburgh University Press, 2009). Among her recent publications are Abd al-Rahman III, the First Córdoban Caliph (Oneworld, 2005) and “The Movable Minbar in Córdoba: How the Umayyads of al-Andalus Claimed the Inheritance of the Prophet,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 33 (2007).

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