Beni Isguen, M’Zab Valley, Algeria (32°29’N, 3°40’E).
El Ateuf, Bounoura, Melika, Beni Isguen and Guerrara together form the pentapolis (a collective of five towns) of the M’Zab valley. Organised as a confederation, they were built in the 11th century by the Ibadi, followers of a strict form of Islam who had found refuge in this Saharan valley, 600km from Algiers. Religious teaching still plays a central part in Mozabite (from the name of the Wadi M’zab) society. A federal religious council (halka of azzaba) governs the eight Ibadi towns (the pentapolis, as well as three more recent towns). The halka is a collegiate Islamic authority, the only one of its kind in the world. It is responsible for ensuring strict respect for the precepts of the Ibadi doctrine, from the settlement of differences and of all questions relating to community life: from the weight of gold given to women as a dowry to the length of marriage ceremonies and even the strict «reckoning». But following the discovery of oil and gas in the valley, the M’Zab towns have become a southern Algerian hub, and it is now easier for the Ibadi to disobey their community’s many rules.