The Mīzāb is an Ibādī community consisting of seven cities clustered in an arid rocky region 350 miles south of Algiers. Having established these settlements nearly a millennium ago, the Mīzābīs, as the inhabitants came to be known, struggled against formidable environmental odds and managed not only to survive but to prosper. By the sixteenth century the Mīzāb had become an important northern Saharan market. During the following centuries, the Maghrib witnessed a remarkable movement of Mīzābī men to coastal cities where they attained prominence in a variety of professions while leaving their roots firmly implanted within their distant oasis community.
Following a brief historical background to settlement in the Mīzāb, this article sketches the ecological constraints of an urban community in a region virtually devoid of resources. It then traces the history of the commercial dispersion to the North during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and discusses the probable causes of emigration. The Mīzābīs were forced by environmental constraints to seek outside sources of support. Their rise to prominence in the Regency of Algiers may have been related to declining Saharan commerce and new commercial opportunities in the North. The organization and function of Mīzābī corporations in Algiers and other northern cities are described. Finally, this article relates an Ibāçī reform ethic to Mīzābī commercial success and concludes with some reflections on religious ideology and environmental demands as contributing factors to the long-term Mīzābī role in commerce.