Posted by: Dawud Israel | November 15, 2009

Ribat: The Historical Link Between Sufism, Jihad, Islamic Architecture and Dawah

Bismillah, alhamdulillah, wa salat wa salam ala rasulullah

Disclaimer: This post is a historical-sociological Islamic discussion and does not condone violence or actions of extremists. Nothing in this post is of encouraging militant actions or violent actions of any kind.

I have come across this word and concept before but not in great detail. I’m going to explore it here because I think this is the key to what makes Awliya and Imams- the real peoples of distinction. Furthermore, its amazing how a few hadith and verses of the Quran were applied so boldly and successfully.

As for Murabatah, it is to endure in acts of worship and perseverance.


It also means to await prayer after prayer, as Ibn `Abbas, Sahl bin Hanif and Muhammad bin Ka`b Al-Qurazi stated. Ibn Abi Hatim collected a Hadith that was also collected by Muslim and An-Nasa’i from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said,

«أَلَا أُخْبِرُكُمْ بِمَا يَمْحُو اللهُ بِهِ الْخَطَايَا، وَيَرْفَعُ بِهِ الدَّرَجَاتِ؟ إِسْباغُ الوُضُوءِ عَلَى الْمَكَارِهِ، وَكَثْرَةُ الْخُطَا إِلَى الْمَسَاجِدِ، وَانْتِظَارُ الصَّلَاةِ بَعْدَ الصَّلَاةِ، فَذلِكُمُ الرِّبَاطُ، فَذلِكُمُ الرِّبَاطُ، فَذلِكُمُ الرِّبَاط»

(Should I tell you about actions with which Allah forgives sins and raises the grade Performing perfect ablution in unfavorable conditions, the many steps one takes to the Masajid, and awaiting prayer after the prayer, for this is the Ribat, this is the Ribat, this is the Ribat.)

They also say that the Murabatah in the above Ayah refers to battles against the enemy, and manning Muslim outposts to protect them from enemy incursions inside Muslim territory.


There are several Hadiths that encourage Murabatah and mention its rewards. Al-Bukhari recorded that Sahl bin Sa`d As-Sa`idi said that the Messenger of Allah said,

«رِبَاطُ يَوْمٍ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ خَيْرٌ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا وَمَا عَلَيْهَا»

(A Day of Ribat in the cause of Allah is better than this life and all that is in it.)

Muslim recorded that Salman Al-Farisi said that the Messenger of Allah said,

«رِبَاطُ يَوْمٍ وَلَيْلَةٍ خَيْرٌ مِنْ صِيَامِ شَهْرٍ وَقِيامِهِ، وَإِنْ مَاتَ جَرَى عَلَيْهِ عَمَلُهُ الَّذِي كَانَ يَعْمَـــــــلُهُ، وَأُجْرِيَ عَلَيْهِ رِزْقُــــهُ، وَأَمِنَ الْفَتَّان»

(Ribat for a day and a night is better than fasting the days of a month and its Qiyam (voluntary prayer at night). If one dies in Ribat, his regular righteous deeds that he used to perform will keep being added to his account, and he will receive his provision, and will be saved from the trials of the grave.)

Abu Dawud related it. Ibn ‘Abbas said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah say, “There are two eyes which the Fire will not touch: an eye which weeps out of fear of Allah and an eye that keeps watch in the way of Allah.”

Ribat- Mujahideen Monasteries

Ribat is mentioned in the Quran- “Arm yourselves against them with all the firepower and cavalry (ribat) you can muster.” (8:60)

Ribat in Montasir, Tunisia

As Muslims grew territorially they would establish these locations on the outskirts of Muslim territory, for the security of Muslim lands, also called Ribat, based on this ayah and the concept in the Hadith. Often, they would be buildings or fortified structures for defense. Now, the other meaning which relates to prayer and perseverance, meant these structures would also be used for religious and spiritual training, especially among the Sufis. Therefore, these building were also centers of learning and spiritual growth, yet also defense- passive in that they were outposts for observing and guarding, and active in that they could involve combat near the frontiers of Islam. The Murabitun, would usually stay their for brief stints of time (since “monks” aren’t permitted in Islam) and then go back home to spread what they learned. But being in the position of the borders of Islam, meant they were also ambassadors of Islam- and would also assist in protecting neighboring territory, whether it was Muslim or not. But if in defense an expedition resulted in territorial expansion, the ribat would take on the role of dawah- spreading and teaching Islam to converts. So its easy to see how the ribat would have to be places of learning but also combined with jihad- great piety. And this makes sense because even in the hadith piety has associations with fortresses, just think of “Hisnul Muslim” and where that name comes from. And in lieu of the hadith mentioned above, this service was also considered a guaranteed entrance to Jannah and salvation from Hellfire. These buildings were common throughout the Muslim lands, and even coastal areas, and played an immense role in the well-being of the Muslim Ummah. Eventually, some of these buildings would be turned into government outposts or zawiyyas would take over the role of spiritual development. I am uncertain as to how widespread this was, but it was common in Morroco and parts of North Africa and the Arab world where Sufism is still strong today. In the East, there were similar practices in how Sufis prayed for the well-being of communities and moved to certain communities so that Islam would be spread there and by the mere presence of the Sufi, someone who was beloved to Allah, He would spare those towns from destruction.

The Significance of the Ribat Today

I originally started writing this with a focus on murabatah, but when I realized how this concept had been employed and applied to Muslim social life, I was really amazed. There is so much to learn from that I’m surprised I’ve never heard Muslims talk about this. I’ll try to tun through the main points:

1) The Ribat meant that spiritual growth of Muslims would be translated into a geographical and physical spread of Islam. This is quite literally the message our teachers give us today, that if we bettered ourselves we would not be humiliated in the world and here we have a historical example. This happened both via the spread of more ribat and also the spread of Islam through jihad and dawah work that occurred on these ribat. In moving outwards onto the frontiers of Islam- what one could perhaps call ruralization as opposed to what we know of today as ubranization. If you go back further in our history- we realize that Mecca and Jerusalem were uninhabited, inhospitable places to live in yet Allah willed a movement to these areas for spiritual growth. Perhaps Muslims could resurrect this practice of moving to rural areas whereever they live?

2) Today we find Islam to be very fragmented. In the past Sufism was connected directly into mainstream Islam- it was not seen as separate or specialized. Today we have a greater disconnect between Sufism and mainstream Islam- and in some respects Sufis have helped perpetuate this gap- and this disconnect has naturally lead to criticisms of the Sufi community. Also one can consider how Jihad was also part and parcel with all of this, and how now there is no such thing as passive jihad. Above all, consider in this historical example how Islam was central to the design of society- sufism, jihad, architecture were intimately inter-related and how this could also mean a great deal of unity to their communities, with few differences.

4) One can also note the absence of political interests. I wonder how true this is but from what I’ve read, its clear there was a high degree of “societal sincerity (ikhlas).” Perhaps this came from the growth of these ribat? Or from the social works of the Sufis (these ribat also served as shelters for refugees and travelers)? In any case, today we find political ambition to be at the center- not Islamic ambition.

5) Stability seems to be a great benefit from all of this. Today we have many different groups- from Islamists to extremists- and so it is difficult to create a unity among Muslims. It is harder to control the fringe elements in Islam and with this are the aspects of fragmentation among Muslims but also fragmentation in Islam- since globalization has skewed the understanding of Islam geographical proximity created.

Many of the points have mentioned are common to other historical examples of Mujahideen such as Emir Abdul Qadir al-Jazairi, Imam Shamyl and Omar Muktar. Sufism was connected with jihad and the dominant form of Islam, and there was also a connection to them living/fighting in inhospitable conditions (desert, mountains). This connection of Sufism to Jihad is also common today with Yemen, which is known mainly for Sufis and Mujahideen. Spiritual training does require an almost military-like attitude. Perhaps jihad served as a counter-balance to the excesses of sufism. The constant reminder of an on-coming death (martyrdom) meant the murid had to take the spiritual development seriously, and also meant greater demands and therefore, maintenance of higher standards from the Sufi shaykh who had to be all the more scrupulous due to the pressured nature of his position- he had both life and death in his hands. So this may have ensured the shaykhs would be bonafide, less likely to indulge in personality cults and the murids, more successful.

This is by no means, a complete discussion and I’m quite sure I’ve made some mistakes or missed some things. But I think Muslims need to re-visit this history and see how we could Islamicize the “design” of our societies and communities. I think among the religious community we need to understand how Muslims understood Islam and how they applied it to their everyday.

Sources and More Reading:

-Islamic references above from Tafsir Ibn Kathir Online: Surah Ale Imran.

-Castles of God:

-The Ribats in Morocco and their influence in the spread of knowledge and tasawwuf:

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


  1. Salaam 3alaikum Brother/Sister/It, [insert appropriate title/address]

    Thank you for sharing this, very informative. JazakAllah 5air, keep it coming.

    3id Mabrook w taqabalAllahu minna wa minkum.

  2. look my brother I am interested in ribat I have a lot of books and article about this topic, if u wana this sources just email me.

  3. slm aleykoem,
    i have a question.
    Is ribat the same as goeroech of jama’at tabligh?
    if not what is the difrence.

  4. […] released in January 2005, were transferred home. Al Mutairi said he traveled to Afghanistan for ribat, according to Combatant Status Review Tribunal […]

  5. […] מלחמה לאומית אלא מלחמת דת. הוא מגדיר את המלחמה בישראל כ'רִבּאט' – החובה המתמדת על כל מוסלמי באשר הוא לשחרור או הגנה על […]

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