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Professor Amira K Bennison

The medieval Islamic West; 18th-19th century Muslim religio-political discourse and state structures especially in the Maghrib; Islamic cultural history


Amira K. Bennison became interested in the Middle East and North Africa while studying for her BA Hons in History and Arabic and Cambridge. After graduating, she went to live in Cairo for a year before studying for a Masters at Harvard University and a PhD at the SOAS. Her PhD, based on a year’s archival research in Morocco, looked at the impact of the French conquest of Algiers in 1830 on notions of political legitimacy in neighbouring Morocco. This involved an exploration of the significance of jihād in political legitimation in the western Maghrib published as Jihād and its Interpretations in Pre-colonial Morocco. She went on to the University of Manchester as a Leverhulme research fellow before moving to the University of Cambridge in 1997 where she is currently a reader. Her work has continued to explore political legitimacy but has expanded to encompass Islamic Spain as well as the Maghrib, and to consider urban planning, ceremonial and rhetoric alongside jihād. Dr. Bennison has appeared in several TV programmes about the history of the Middle East and North Africa including ‘Europe’s Lost Civilisation’; ‘The Thirties in Colour’, ‘Islamic Science’; and 'The Ottomans'. She is also a regular contributor to Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ with Melvyn Bragg and other radio programmes on Islamic history.



1989 BA (Hons) History and Arabic, University of Cambridge
1992 MA Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
1996 PhD Moroccan History, SOAS, University of London



Leverhulme Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Manchester University


Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge



Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

Reader in the History and Culture of the Maghrib, University of Cambridge


Subject groups/Research projects

Arabic & Persian Studies:

Other Professional Activities

Since I began research for my doctorate, I have been interested in the way in which different regimes and dynasties in North Africa and Islamic Spain legitimised themselves. Having explored such dynasties’ usage of jihad, I began to look at textual descriptions of palaces and the ceremonies which took place within them from eighth century Cordoba to nineteenth century Morocco, and charting the emergence of a visual/material language of power.

As a result of my research on religion-political ideology, I developed a small additional project on the experience of religious minorities under the Almohads in collaboration with Dr. Gallego-Garcia in Madrid funded by the British Academy (2007-9)

In 2009, I received a two year Leverhulme Research Grant to explore these issues in Morocco and Granada in the 13th-15th centuries under the title Political Legitimacy in the Islamic West with the assistance of a research fellow, Dr James Brown.

I also worked on the impact of European modernity and colonialism in the nineteenth century through a collaborative Oxbridge project on comparative religious internationalisms, led by Dr Abigail Green.

Key Publications


The Almoravid and Almohad Empires, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (2016)

The Articulation of Power in Medieval Iberia and the Maghrib, Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy (2014) edited.

Religious Minorities under the Almohads, special issue of the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 2: 2 (2010) edited with María Angeles Gallego.

The Great Caliphs: the golden age of the ‘Abbasid empire, London: I. B. Tauris (2009) and New York: Yale University Press (2009). 
Runner-up in the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award, 2009 and honourable mention in the BRISMES book prize 2010.

Cities in the Premodern Islamic World: the Urban Impact of Religion, State and Society, London: RoutledgeCurzon (2007) edited with Alison L. Gascoigne.

Jihād and its Interpretations in Pre-colonial Morocco, London: Curzon (2002)

Other Publications

Recent Articles

'Relations between rulers and ruled in the medieval Maghrib: The "social contract" in the Almoravid and Almohad centuries, 1050-1250', Comparative Islamic Studies 10: 2 (2014), pp. 137-156.

‘Sectarianism in the landscape: the transfer of the khuṭba of Fes from the Mosque of the Shurafāʾ to the Qarawiyyīn Mosque in 933 (321 AH)’, Maghreb Review 40: 1 (2015), pp. 12-27. 

‘Drums, Banners and Baraka: Symbols of authority during the first century of Marīnid rule, 1250-1350’, in A. K. Bennison (ed.) The Articulation of Power in Medieval Iberia and the Maghrib, Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy (2014), pp. 195-216.

 ‘Tribal identities and the formation of the Almohad élite: The salutory tale of Ibn ‘Aṭiyya’, in Mohamed Meouak (ed.), Biografías magrebíes. Identidades y grupos religiosos, sociales y políticos en el Magreb medieval, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (2012), pp. 245-72

‘Muslim internationalism between empire and nation-state’, in Abigail Green and Vincent Viaene (eds), Religious Internationals in the Modern World, London: Palgrave, 2012, pp. 163-185.

‘The necklace of al-Shifa’: ‘Abbasid borrowings in the Islamic West’, Oriens 38 (2010), pp. 251-276.

‘Almohad tawḥīd and its implications for religious difference’ Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, 2: 2 (2010) Special Issue, Religious Minorities under the Almohads, pp. 195-216.

‘The Ottoman Empire and its precedents from the perspective of English school Theory’, in Buzan, Barry and Gonzalez-Pelaez (eds), International Society and the Middle East: English School theory at the regional level, London: Palgrave (2009) pp. 45-69.