His Method in Educating his Disciples
He would order his disciples to hold firm to the rites of the path and the way of the Sufis of old, whilst making sure to uphold the rites of the religion in their entirety as well. He would tell them to be dressed well and clean, to adhere to Islamic attire, to let their beard grow and to wear their rosary beads around their necks. One time he went to Tlemcān to visit the Fuqāra there. It was a time when many of the youth had entered the order in the city. When he arrived, they gathered around him and sat at his feet yearning to hear from him. However on glancing at their attire he was disappointed to see them dressed in western clothing. He ordered them to imitate the Sufis in their dress and wear what the righteous wore. They quickly responded so that when he came back to them another time he saw them all wearing white turbans and they had let their beards grow, with their rosary beads hung around their necks. He instantly when it a state of great joy, so much so that when he returned back to his Zāwiyah, and he began to contemplate on their state, a poem came to him:
يَا اهْلَ أَهْلَ وُدِّي حَسْبِيَ رِضَاكُمْ
O Brothers, my dear beloved brothers, your pleasure alone suffices,
شَوْقِي زَادَ فِيـكُمْ مَلَكْنِي هَوَاكُمْ
My yearning for you wells up and my love for you has taken a hold of me.
أَحِبَّـتِي أَنْتـُمْ تَيَّهْنِي مَعْنـَاكُمْ
My loved ones, my mind is bewildered by your inward being,
أَبَـى قَلْبِي مِنِّي أَنْ يَنْسَى لِقَاكُمْ
And my heart refuses to forget your meeting.
أَخَذْتُمْ فُـؤَادِي فَذَاكَ فِـدَاكُمْ
You have snatched my heart, so that is your ransom,
تَرَكْتُمْ سُهَادِي يُنْبـِي أَنْ هَوَاكُمْ
You have left me with sleeplessness nights; this is what informs me of my love for you.
He would order his disciples to always present themselves with the best of manners and to enumerate the remembrance of God and always stay close to the other brethren. His addresses would speak to the heart and many a time tears would be seen on the cheeks of the listener. Even screams would be heard from those present out of their love for God all-mighty. In the gatherings they would rise for the Hadra and it could last for hours. They would not grow weary and lazy at all. He would be seen in the middle of the circle singing the odes to the movement of the men with a powerful voice that moved the men even more. If he saw someone lower their head, he would raise it and if he saw someone with his eyes open he would close them for him. If he saw anyone raise their feet above the floor he would usher him to keep them on the floor and if he saw someone too far apart from those next to him, he would draw them close. He placed the strong with the strong and the weak with the weak; he placed the tall with the tall and the short with the short, so that the Hadra ran in the best of fashions. All this was done with gentleness, compassion and the best of manners.
The Regime of the Zawiya
The Zāwiya was divided into different sections, each one dedicated for a specific purpose. There was an area for the children to study how to read and write and memorise Quran, and there was an area for the Fuqāra to study with local scholars the basics of the religion and memorise small parts of the Qurān. He appointed an official Imam to lead the prayers in the Zāwiya and he had someone who gave the call to prayer as well.
The Annual Gathering
The Sheikh had an annual gathering for all the Fuqāra to attend that would be held either in Mostaghānem or in Algiers. The purpose of this was to strengthen relationships between the Fuqāra who might not see each other through the rest of the year because of their daily duties. Thousand would attend the gatherings and they would behave as if they were one body united. Local and governmental officials as well as scholars would be invited to attend in order that they have an idea what the Order was about. The gatherings were passionate and emotional occasions. The Fuqāra would weep when the Sheikh stood in their presence and they would perform the ‘Hadra’ from Ishā until the early hours of the morning. The occasion would last three whole days. On the last day after Dhhur, some of those present would present speeches which they had prepared. Sīdī ‘Ali al-Boudilmi was the one who presented the names to the Sheikh and he would review the material before it was presented. The speeches would go on until ‘Asr. Then the Sheikh would lead the people himself or call one of the scholars forward and finally pray for all the people both men women old and young present, scholars, Muslim community, and the Muslim leaders. There would be around 6, 000 present at these gatherings as attested to by Sīdī ‘Ali Boudilmi.
Conditions of the Gatherings:
• He would invite all the Fuqāra no matter where they be. He would also invite scholars, local governmental officials and followers of other Orders if they wished to attend. However, they would come with respect for the Order and not try to take control of the gathering. They would not recite any poems or perform any act until they had asked permission from the host himself.
• The celebration cannot, by any means, conflict with the Divine Law. The brethren shall all pray together at the correct times and sit together to remember God and teach others about drawing close to Him.
• That the speakers not prolong their speeches so that the audience grow tired.
• That the organizer of the event be a master of the path that has been given authorization from a previous master. He should also have the required knowledge of how to organise the event in the best possible way. He should not be influenced by suggestions coming from people that have no understanding of the path who may ruin the whole event.
• All the attendees should come with the intention to invoke God alone. They should hold only love for their other brethren. They must represent the order and respect it. They should not come clean shaved or wearing anything other than Islamic attire such as a white ‘Jalāba’ with their prayer beads hung around their necks in order that the people present will see the beauty of the order and revel in the sight of being amongst fellow men of God.
• The best singers are to be chosen to sing at the gatherings and they must sing from the collection of Sheikh al-‘Alawi’s poems or from some of his followers so that people hear what this Order has to teach. The people should avoid letting just anyone attend in order that the event not be spoilt by the bad manners and behaviour of some.
• The attendees should respect the practices of our pious predecessors who brought us this order. When they come to the Zāwiya or any of the Fuqāra’s houses they should enter by saying at the top of their voices the Testimony of Faith. They must not look down on any practice they brought and speak badly about it such as the ‘Hadra’ and reciting the invocations out loud in unison.
• There should be no intermixing of the sexes under any circumstances throughout the whole event. There must be a barrier between them that prevents any contact in order that the hearts remain sound and pure. In the time of Sheikh al-‘Alawi there was not a sign of intermingling at the events. There would be a specially allocated area for the women to invoke God all-Mighty. He would not let even a young girl appear in the company of the men and likewise he would not let a young boy appear in the company of the women.
Once Sheikh al-‘Alawi asked some of his visiting disciples from afar, “Do you come together?” They replied that they did not. He exclaimed, “Then you have no path; coming together is necessary even if it is just once in a week.”
Once he was sitting with the Fuqāra and he asked a man beside him, “If you found Paradise opened up before you and the Fuqāra were besides its door invoking God which one would you choose? Would you sit with the Fuqāra or enter the door into Paradise?” The man said he would choose Paradise. “Nay, I would choose to sit with the Fuqāra; their company is the gardens of Paradise.”
One time, he was sitting in his private quarters and could no longer hear the sound of Fuqāra invoking God in the Zāwiyah so he asked why it was so. He was told that a scholar was given the Fuqāra a lesson. The Sheikh came out of his room and went into the Zāwiyah to see this scholar. The sheikh came and sat by the side of the man and noticed that he was clean shaven and dressed in western clothes. “What are you saying?” The Sheikh asked the man. “O sir, I am apologise, I am just imparting some words to these brothers.” The Sheikh replied, “Your knowledge is dry; they will not accept it nor digest it.” Then he clapped his hands and the Fuqāra rose up and began a Hadra. When they finished, the Sheikh said to them, “My brothers, the state of someone suffices one from needing to ask about them. If again you see a scholar like this one, clean shaven and dressed in western attire, then take him and his knowledge and throw it to the waves.”
One day, Moulay Sulaimān was with Sheikh Muhammādi and he asked him what women should do with regard to the litany: do they read the whole litany like the men? He replied, “Women have many chores in the day, such as having to educate the children, clean the house and so forth. Therefore it is enough that she read ten of each invocation instead of the prescribed one hundred.” Then he asked him how the Fuqāra should read the litany: should they do so individually or as a group? He answered, “If one intends to teach others how to recite the litany, then it is preferable do so in group; otherwise it is better to recite it individually.”
His Keenness to Preserve the Sunnah
The Sheikh was adamant that his Fuqāra practice only that which is closest to the practice of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace. Therefore he ordered all of his students to pray with their hands clasped in prayer and not by their sides. This practice began to spread throughout the north and east of Morocco because of the Sheikh. The Spanish authorities were strongly opposed to them doing so and they would arrest people seen praying thus. However this did not prevent the practice from becoming widespread throughout Morocco and Algeria and the scholars of the regions submitted to it. Other strong supporters of this practice at this time were the Kettāni and Bin Siddīq families. He also called his disciples to read out loud after the five prayers ‘La Ilaha Illa Allah’ three times and then recite, ‘Sayyiduna Muhammad Rasul Allah’. This became specifically known only amongst his Fuqāra.