Saturday, April 29, 2006

Morocco Week Two (Part One)

Thursday, 30th March

I walk down to the zawiya in the old city after maghrib. As I cross the railway bridge, I notice the crescent moon, very bright even through the clouds. It doesn’t click in my head until the next day that it’s the hilal, the new moon, signalling the first of Rabi’ al-Awwal. I suppose I’m used to the new moon as something elusive, necessitating a frantic evening of phone calls and internet browsing in order to discover whether everyone will be fasting or celebrating Eid on the same day. This new moon, however, is unmistakable; even though I’m in the city, and it’s not the clearest of nights, there it is for all to see.

There’s a big turnout at the zawiya tonight; I’m pleased to see that all the munshidin (singers) have come this week. Because of the occasion, we start by reading the names of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) from Dala’il al-Khayrat in unison. Back home, I went to a gathering in Bradford a couple of times where they read the same thing, so I’m interested to see the difference between how it is recited here and there.

We read the Salat of Moulay Abd as-Salam ibn Mashish, and as usual when we get to the end where the Name of Allah is repeated three times, we carry on repeating it, first drawing it out for five seconds or more, then gradually becoming faster. This takes us into the hadra, and we stand and form a circle, holding hands. The hadra is long, and intense; when all the munshidin are here, its nicer because they have a bigger pool of songs to draw from. Although they might all know them, different people have different poems beloved to them, staying at the forefront of their minds, easier for them to summon up at the right moment than others.

When the hadra reaches its natural climax, we sit down, and sing a poem by Sheikh al-Alawi in praise of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). It is probably my favourite poem. The refrain asks the ‘coolness of the afternoons’ to deliver the poet’s greeting to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). I was confused to the meaning of this for a long time, until I heard a talk where it was explained that the ‘coolness of the afternoons’ refers to the easterly winds that blow in the afternoons in this part of the world. The winds go on into the east, and the Sheikh is telling them to carry his greeting on with them to Madina. The poem is so lovely it brings tears to my eyes every time I read it; no doubt it will to yours, too: here it is at

Look for the one at the bottom of page 83 (according to the page numbers on the text, not the Acrobat numbers). It deserves to be translated, I know, but I’m no great shakes at translating poetry and it takes a lot of time to do them justice. Maybe some talented individual out there can do it for us.

Hajj Sa’eed delivers the lesson as usual. He talks about the importance of sending blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and comments on a reading from a book of Sheikh al-Alawi’s that I’ve never seen before. He talks about the saying of Junaid which I’ve heard many times from him before, and never get tired of. One day someone came to Junaid and said ‘where are all those Arifin (Gnostics) that you talk about?’ Junaid answered, ‘and where is the eye that can see them?’ Hajj Sa’eed says that we don’t see the People of Allah because we are too distracted by the world around us. He says that it is an incredible blessing from Allah that He even lets anyone see one of His Awliya, never mind be among them.

Hajj Sa’eed mentions the Hadith when the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said ‘I am but an apportioner. It is Allah that gives.’ He says that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is the one who distributes the treasures of Allah throughout His creation, and he (Allah bless him and give him peace) is the Seal of Prophets, the final apportioner. So how could he die? How could the one who distributes the blessings of Allah to all peoples, not only his own, ever die? Hajj Sa’eed says that it was not death for the Prophet, (Allah bless him and give him peace), but simply a change of place; he moved, not died. He tells the story of an old faqir who used to come to the zawiya and stay all night reading the Quran and weeping. Hajj Sa’eed asked him one night, and he told him of his sorrow that he had never performed the Hajj. He was desperate to visit the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and beginning to despair of Allah that he had not found the means to go. ‘How could you despair so,’ asked Hajj Sa’eed, ‘do you think that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has left his Ummah to fend for themselves? Do you think he has abandoned us? He is with us, remains with us always. Do not despair of him.’

Hajj Sa’eed then says that the faqir must have generosity above all else. Even if he has many acts of devotion and litanies, it is generosity and good character that define him.


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