Institute of Archaeology



Becoming Muslim: Cultural Change, Everyday Life and State Formation in early Islamic North Africa (600-1000)

The Muslim conquests of North Africa in the 7th century transformed the everyday lives of communities– between 800-1000, the region experienced an economic ‘Golden Age’, visible in the growth of urban populations, intensified exchange across a vast trading system and the introduction of new agricultural practices and technologies. New social-religious norms underpinned the development of a distinctly ‘Islamic cultural package’ marked by the spread of new aesthetics, public and private architecture and Muslim dietary practices.

Despite significant recent advances, much of our knowledge continues to reflect the experience of rulers and elites, rather than the bulk of the population. Our understanding of the timing and process of these innovations is hampered by a reliance on later literary sources, monumental architecture and the high arts, the absence of high-resolution archaeological data and an incomplete understanding of what these changes meant for the
people living on the ground.

Through new excavations and scientific analysis using state-of the-art methods, legacy datasets and written sources, this project will explore the underlying reasons for the spread of Islamic way of life in North Africa between ca. 600-1000 CE. In so doing, this project aims to make a paradigmatic shift in scholarly understanding of the impact of Muslim rule by focusing on local populations, their houses and their everyday practices. It will take a comparative approach and study long-term changes in housing, agriculture, diet and technology in three key regions:

  1. the central Medjerda valley in Tunisia, the famed granary of Roman and Islamic Africa;
  2. the fertile Sebou Basin in Morocco, at the centre of the Idrisid state;
  3. the Saharan oasis belt of the Wadi Draa in Morocco, on the margins of settled life.

EVERYDAYISLAM will be a major step forward in our understanding of the lived experience of local populations under Muslim rule in North Africa. 

Related outputs

  • Fenwick, C. (2020a), Early Islamic North Africa: A New Perspective. London.
  • Fenwick, C. (2020b), ‘The Umayyads and North Africa: Imperial Rule and Frontier Society’, in A. Marsham (ed.), The Umayyad World. London.
  • Anderson, G., Fenwick, C. and Rosser-Owen, M. (eds.) (2017). The Aghlabids and Their Neighbors: Art and Material Culture in Ninth-century North Africa. Leiden.
  • Fenwick, C. (2013), ‘From Africa to Ifrīqiya: Settlement and Society in Early Medieval North Africa (650–800)’, Al-Masāq 25: 9-33.