Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj

His father was from the tribe of Banī Sa‘īd but moved later on to the tribe of Banī Shikār. His father was a follower of the Qādirī order. He was highly respected by the heads of this order in the zāwiya of Wark. The followers would come and visit him in his home and he would host them and show them great generosity. He was made a representative (muqaddam) of the order and they married him. He had many children and one of them was Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj.

When Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj was seven years of age, his father entered him into a Quranic School to memorise the book of God. He memorised the Quran very quickly, but soon after, his father died and he was left an orphan along with his other siblings. One day, he felt the urge to travel to perform his duty of the pilgrimage across land, so he headed off to Algeria. However, he soon ran out of provisions and he was forced to move from mosque to mosque, offering his services in teaching the children or leading the people in prayer. One day, a disciple of the ‘Alawī Order, who had come from Mostāghanem, came to visit the mosque he was frequenting. The man spent the night with Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj relating to him the qualities of Shaykh al-‘Alawī and his methods of teaching. His words struck a chord within Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj so much that he asked the man to take him to visit the sheikh as soon as possible.

When they arrived at the door of the zāwiya in Mostāghanem, the disciple sung out at the top of his voice the words, ‘There is no deity worthy of worship besides God.’ The sheikh heard his voice and came out to greet him. The man introduced Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj to Shaykh al-‘Alawī and he kissed the sheikh’s hand. It was now time for the prayer, so the sheikh invited him to call the people to prayer. Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj had a very powerful but sweet voice. After the prayer, the sheikh gave him the litanies of the order. He then immediately entered him into khalwa, and he quickly achieved results. The sheikh ordered him to stay at his side so as to be of service to him. He would teach the children the Quran and at other times watch over the cattle.

Later on, he was sent with a representative (muqaddam) of the order to the region of Zawāwā to gather donations and gifts for the mother zāwiyah to be built in Mostaghānem. Their presence was immediately felt and people came from all around to donate and listen to their teachings. Many people entered the order through their efforts. However, the local authorities became suspicious of their activities, so they were imprisoned and held for three months. After his release, Shaykh al-‘Alawī used his services again in the zāwiya. Then after some time he told him to head back to his homeland and gave him permission to spread the tea chings of the order there.

He initially arrived in Farkhāna where his sister lived, who was married to a man from the region named al-Hajj Hammū. He was appointed an imam in a mosque there. He soon moved to another mosque named Moulay Idrīs and there he called people to join the order. People would come in great numbers both men and women. It was at this time that one of his students, Sīdī ‘Allāl Zaryūh, married Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj to his niece, so he moved to the village of ‘Atītan where Sīdī ‘Allāl’s family lived. He would hold the dhikr gatherings in his house there, but later they moved them to his father’s house in Bāni Shikār.

More and more people were entering the order and the head of the Qādirī order grew jealous of his success and feared that their followers would leave them and enter into this new order. They had ties with the Spanish government at the time, so they were able to chase him out using physical force if necessary. He was forced to flee the region, so he headed to Mostaghānem to consult his sheikh what he should do. Sheikh al-‘Alawī told him to return, bear patience and be steadfast. He went back to the region teaching children Quran in local mosques. He continued to spread the teachings of the order, so his enemies came back to attack him. They complained to the Spanish authorities and spread lies about him, so that he was eventually arrested and imprisoned in the Taztūtin where he was held in the caves there deep under the land. There he found solace in his Lord. He would spend the night and day engrossed in invocation of God as witnessed by soldiers who were guarding him there. Later they moved him to Zāyu and finally to Melīlia. He remained imprisoned in Melīlia for the next seven years, but he was steadfast and faithful to his sheikh, in complete adoration for him. Throughout his time in prison he would not move unless he had consulted his sheikh.

This was how he obtained the contentment of his sheikh and thus his Lord. He gained the wisdom of his teacher due to his patience throughout his tribulation as expressed in the proverb, ‘It is through tribulation that a man is made noble or is humiliated.’ He strived on the path to God, giving up his soul for the sake of his Lord. There was no other disciple of Shaykh al-‘Alawī who had been tried like he had. He spent years far away from his family and children, who were but infants when he left them. He sacrificed all this out of love of God and in order to give victory to his teacher’s order. By doing so, he gave root to the ‘Alawī order in the Reef region despite the number of initial enemies there. The Spanish authorities throughout his time in prison promised him they would free him if only he would join another order, but he refused and told them to return him to his cell. Once they had seen his sincerity and how adamant he was to remain loyal to his teacher, the Spanish gave him certain dispensations whilst he was in prison. They allowed him to have visitors whenever they wished and the fuqarā were free to sit with him. They came from all over the region to learn from him or ask him to pray from them. He also granted some of the fuqarā the permission to recite the Divine Name with him within the walls of the prison.

On his arrival to Melīlia prison, he found his fellow inmates ignorant of God and heedless. They ridiculed him for occupying his time with meditation and worship. They told him he was wasting his time and to give up his worship and join them in playing cards and so forth. Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj saw his opportunity. He agreed to join them on condition that if they spend one day playing cards, the next day they sit with him and do as he does. On the first day, he humoured them by playing cards with them. The second day he called them to sit with him and recite after him the invocations he read. The days passed on until the inmates no longer wanted to play cards and everyday was a day of invoking God. He taught them the basics of their religion and gave them the litany of the order to recite. The prison now began to resonate with the sound of invocation of God and soon was embellished with the rites of Islam such as the call to prayer, the five prayers in congregation, gatherings of invoking God and the ‘hadra’.

This great man was the first to bring the ‘Alawī order to the Reef region and was fundamental in establishing it there. Whilst in prison, he would give out the litanies to followers, appoint representative for the order in the region and establish zāwiyahs there. The first zāwiyah he established was the zāwiya of Sheikh Sīdī Bil-Qāsim al-Sa‘īdi, who was an ancestor of the great Sīdī Muhammad bin Qaddūr al-Wukīlī. He established the zāwiyah while he was still in prison. At the time, he directed the representatives of the order secretly, fearing the Spanish authorities would catch wind of their activities. Many of his followers were imprisoned and tortured, too for their joining the order. However, they never submitted to the torture; in fact it only made them firmer and more faithful to their teacher Shaykh al-‘Alawī.

Throughout the time of tribulation and torture, Shaykh al-‘Alawī would constantly pray for Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj and his compatriots. Many people bore witness that Shaykh al-‘Alawī would single out the fuqarā of Reef for special praise. If any faqīr from the Reef came to visit Shaykh al-‘Alawī he would ask them about Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj inquire whether they had visited him or not. If they told him they had visited him or came bearing his greetings to the Sheikh he would bear them good tidings and warmly welcome them, telling them to hold nothing but love for this man and to be loyal to him, but if they told him they had not seen him or came with no news about him, he would turn his back on them and ignore them. On another occasion, he was sitting amongst members of the order and a group of scholars and at the end of his address he proclaimed, ‘This Sheikh, Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj, even if he were to claim his own order, then he has truly paid out its dowry in full.’ Another time during a talk he was giving before his followers, he said, ‘This sheikh, Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj from the Reef, is in prison because of this order of ours. When he is brought before the Spanish judge in court, he is asked to turn his back on the ‘Alawī order and take on another order and he can walk free. He replies to them, ‘Take me back to my cell.’ By God, if I were in his place, I would have thrown this rosary to the floor,’ and the Sheikh at that point threw his rosary to the floor. One time, Shaykh al-‘Alawī said, whilst hosting a group of fuqarā from the Reef, ‘Brethren, if any one of you is unable to visit me for any reason then he should visit Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj, for he is our hand in the Reef. These are but few of many testimonies of Shaykh al-‘Alawī regarding the station of Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj in the ‘Alawī order.

While Shaykh al-‘Alawī was in the east performing the pilgrimage, he met with some Moroccans who had positions of authority in the Reef region and were employed by the Spanish. He spoke to them regarding Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj’s predicament and he asked them to use their influence in order to get the Spanish to release him. When the Moroccans returned, they spoke to their superiors in Tetoun and managed to convince them to issue his immediate release. When Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj was released from prison, the fuqara came from all around the region to celebrate the event. The Spanish authorities called him to Nādūr and asked him to pardon them. They explained that they were given false information from his fellow Muslim brothers who were jealous of him. He forgave them and said he forgave those who plotted against him. They thanked him and told him that from now on that if anyone appeared carrying animosity for him and attempted to harm him, he could call them to court and he could take his full rights from them. He replied, ‘I have no enemy other than Satan himself.’

When he was released, the annual celebrations in Mostghānem had arrived. Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj headed off to Algeria with 500 fuqarā by his side. They went bearing many gifts for the zāwiya. When Shaykh al-‘Alawī saw them, he was taken back with such happiness and joy. He came out to greet them with the rest of the fuqarā of the zāwiya and hugged him. He was smothered by the fuqarā that day as they all pushed their way through to greet him. It was an unforgettable celebration that year was full of intense energy and love amongst the brethren. Once the celebrations had finished, Shaykh al-‘Alawī called Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj to visit him in his house, so that he could speak to him in confidence. When they were alone, Shaykh al-‘Alawī gathered all the financial gifts from the celebrations and passed them over to him. He told him to establish a zāwiya with the money in the Reef like that of the mother zāwiya in Mostaghānem. Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj did as his sheikh told him, building the zāwiya in Banī Shikār. He made it a centre for the fuqarā so that they could gather and call others to the path. When the structure was finished, they held a big celebration that lasted for three whole days. At the end of the celebrations, the fuqarā all prayed to God to grant Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj long life, this man, who by the grace of God, had established this fresh new order in the Reef and brought meaning back to the people’s lives there. Every Thursday night, around 200 fuqarā would gather to invoke God and rejoice in the blessings He had bestowed upon them. The regions of Banī Shikār and Farkhāna were changed dramatically by the fuqarā’s activities. At this time, it was rare to find a man or woman not invoking God. The people came from all around the region to receive teachings from Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj. The people there become known for their exceptional character and their abidance to Islamic character and attire. In their gatherings, no-one would raise their voices and would not speak about anything besides God. Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj had organised them and educated them. They were tireless in their worship. They would spend hours performing the Hadra. He would stand in the middle to inspire them. Once they finished, he would recite some verses of Quran that were appropriate for the ambience of the moment. Everyone would have their heads bowed in front of him humbled by the setting. Moulay Sulaiman would sit by his side in the gatherings. He would give the talk in the gatherings. His words had a great effect on the hearts of those present and he would repeat the same talk two or three times and clarify it for the fuqara.

Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj was very humble. He did not speak unless necessary. He would serve the fuqarā himself and prepare the beds for them at the time of the festival. When the fuqarā came to the zāwiya he would come out and greet them himself and then sit amongst them. He would never raise himself above them nor raise his voice over them. He would never get angry at those who mistreated him. He would teach them with compassion and a gentle nature. He would spend his own money on the fuqarā. When there was a festival, he would send out all the invitations to all the fuqarā himself. On numerous occasions he would go out and visit the fuqarā from around the region. Moulay Sulaiman would carry out this responsibility for him at most times, though. He would travel with the fuqarā to Tetoun, Tangiers, Qasr Kabir and Salé just to mention a few.

After Shaykh al-‘Alawī’s death, some of his followers who had bore jealousy and contempt for Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj plotted against him with the support of some notables in the region of Bāni Shikār. Their efforts failed, but Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj felt it was best to move from Bani ‘All and build a new zāwiya in Melilia. From then on he would hold his circles there. People came from far and wide and he entered many there into spiritual retreat and invocation of the Divine Name.

When his time had drawn near, he was of good health and had no illnesses or ailments. On that fateful day, he made his daily ablutions, walked out from his house but suddenly ran quickly back. He ordered the teacher of the children in the zāwiya to prepare his bed and he laid down facing the direction of prayer. There his soul left him. The news soon spread throughout the city. The fuqarā came straight away, and both men and women were struck with grief by the news. Moulay Sulaiman came with a group of fuqarā and sat by his head. He uncovered his face, kissed his forehead and bid him farewell for the last time. He died on Thursday the 13 of July 1946 and was buried on the Friday the day after.

Some of the Many Scholars who Bore Testimony that Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj was a Sheikh in the Alawi Order

Moulay Sulaiman
Sheikh Muhammad al-Madani (Major scholar in the ‘Alawi Order from Tunis)
Hajj Salih bin ‘Abd al‘Aziz al-Qadiri (First man to submit his full services and time to the Order in Mostaghanem)
Sheikh ‘Ali al-Budilmi (Major scholar in the ‘Alawi Order resident in Tilimsan)
Sheikh ‘Abu Madyan al-Bushishi from Barkan
Sheikh Muhammad bin Qaddor from Karkar (A descendent of Muhammad bin Qaddur)
Sheikh al-Mukhtar al-Ghumari from Chefchouni
Sheikh Ahmad al-Hassar from Tangiers
Sheikh Ahmed al-Malusi from Qasr Kabir
Sheikh Muhammad Bil-Hajj al-Sinhaji from Fez
Moulay al-Tahir al-Timasmani (The grandson of Sidi Muhammad bin Qaddur)


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