Saturday, July 12, 2008

Searching for Saints in Northern Morocco

I spent the last week, along with my wife Sara, her mother, and our two children, travelling in northern Morocco, the area south of Tetouan in the west to visit some of the Saints buried there. What follows is an account of this journey and some of my reflections on it. Also, several people have contacted me lately asking for instructions on how to get to some of these places, particularly the shrine of Ibn Mashish, only to be told that I do not have the slightest idea. This time, therefore, I decided to pay attention to the road and take notes. Those who do not have time to read my blather might then like to flit their eyes down to the instructions on how to get to these sacred places.


We caught the one o’clock train to Fes, arriving there at around 6pm. We had lived in Fes for a year in 2003-2004, so it was nice to be back. We checked into a hotel and found a grand taxi (basically a large car that usually sells its six places individually and follows set routes like a coach or bus, but which can also be chartered to go anywhere you like) to take us the next day. We were surprised to learn that Chaouen is only 3 hours or so from Fes – we had expected it would be a much longer trip.



We headed out first thing Monday morning. It is a simple route, just following the road to Ouezzane and then carrying straight on through it and beyond for another half hour or so. The taxi driver had on a cassette of the famous Moroccan singer Abdelhadi Belkhayyat; the song sounded rather familiar to me. After a moment I realised he was singing the Munfarija, a very famous Sufi poem. Fair enough, I thought.

We arrived in Chaouen (or Chefchaouen if you like, in any case the name is Berber and means ‘the horns’, referring to the twin peaks that tower above the town) at around midday.

We found a hotel and prayed Dhuhr, and then Sara and I set off for the cemetery, located on the hill to the east of town on top of which lies the famous ruins of the ‘Spanish Mosque’ so favoured by photographers and postcard designers. My intention for visiting the cemetery was to pay my respects to Hajj Mukhtar al-Ghumari, the Sheikh of Hajj Saeed, whose Zawiya in our hometown of Salé I frequent. Hajj Mukhtar took directly from Sheikh al-Alawi. Hajj Saeed once said of his Sheikh that in the physical world, he was unknown, but in the spiritual word, he was famous. This is reflected by his having no marker or tomb to commemorate his place of burial in the cemetery, and without Hajj Saeed I had no hope of finding his exact grave, so I made a general intention to visit the Sheikh and all the others interred on this beautiful spot in the mountains.


On Tuesday afternoon I went to visit the Patron Saint of Chaouen, Moulay Ali bin Rashid. I had noticed his tomb next to the large mosque on the main municipal street the day before, but had never heard of him. Sara and I entered the small graveyard next to the mosque and found a lady there, a descendant of the Saint as is usual, to open the tomb for us. I went in and greeted the Saint, and sat down by his head as my wife stayed with the lady and asked her about him. She told us that he was the founder of Chaouen, and originally came from the town of Moulay Abdessalam, which would be our destination for the next day. Chaouen was for centuries a secret community unknown to the Westerners, and used as a base for military attacks against the Portuguese occupiers of the town of Sebta (Ceuta) on the north coast, which is now in Spanish hands. I recited the Qur’anic chapter al-Waqi‘a,1 and then al-Ikhlas eleven times. I asked God to donate the reward of this to the Saint and to all His Saints, at the head of them the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace), and to all the Muslims and believers. I gave the lady a few coins for her trouble, as is customary, and then we left.


On Wednesday morning we chartered a taxi to take us to Moulay Abdessalam by way of the birthplace of Imam Abu al-Hasan Shadhili, which we had heard was nearby. From Chaouen, to get to the Imam’s birthplace we first took the road to Fes and Ouezzane, which is the right first exit (on the right, as they drive on the right in Morocco) at the roundabout just after the petrol station. After a short while there is a right turn signposted ‘Tanakoub’ (تنقوب) and ‘Ksar el-Kebir’ (القصر الكبير). There is also a sign for the birthplace of Imam Shadhili here, in Arabic only. The turn took us sharply uphill and almost doubled back, and then wound along through the hills for a while. After around 10 kilometres (half way to Tanakoub), there is a right turn down a dirt track which, although not signposted, leads to the village of Shtunaghin (شتوناغين).

We went along this dirt track for a while and then began to feel we had come the wrong way (the driver had never been there before himself). We told him we wanted the birthplace of Shadhili, and he became surprised and said that he thought we wanted Shtunaghin. We had never heard the name of the town before (we had agreed the destination with the manager of the taxi stand, who had then passed in on to the driver), and so there was a little confusion. The driver decided what we actually wanted was the village of Zawiya (الزاوية) which was a long drive away. He reversed down the dirt road, and we continued on towards Tanakoub and through it, and on for another forty minutes or so on the same road, heading for a town in the distance with a tall minaret. We came to a fork in the road in which the left turn was signposted ‘Ksar el-Kebir’, and took the right fork. After around ten minutes we crossed a rather frightening stone bridge that twisted across a small gorge, and pulled up next to a large mosque, which cast its shadow over a small group of houses with roofs made of corrugated iron. This didn’t look like the place we wanted. We got out and asked a man standing by the mosque where we were. He told us we were at the grave of Sidi Yusuf al-Talidi. I was not familiar with that name. ‘This is wrong’, I said, ‘we want Shadhili, not Talidi.’ The taxi driver began to argue a little with the local man and his friends. While I tried to follow their difficult accents, I realised I was being very rude to the Saint buried here by stating so boldly that I didn’t actually want to see him. I excused myself and went in to visit his tomb, behind the mosque. I recited Surat al-Ikhlas eleven times, and donated the reward to the Saint as before. I then went out and talked a while with the man we had asked before. ‘You’re writing a book, yes?’ he asked. I allowed that this was so. (This was not incorrect, as I do hope to write a book about the Saints of Morocco if I can find anyone who wants to publish it) ‘So get out your pen’, he said. I did as he asked. He bade me write, ‘Sidi Sheikh Yusuf al-Talidi, from the tribe of Khammas.’ I wrote it, and thanked him.

The taxi driver had consulted the others and realised that the place we wanted was in fact the place we had been an hour previously, at the end of the dirt road, in Shtunaghin.

(Later, when I arrived home, I looked up Sidi Yusuf al-Talidi. He was a disciple of Sidi Abdullah al-Ghazwani, on the Jazuliyya branch of the Shadhili Tariqa, from Imam Jazuli, author of the Dala’il al-Khayrat. The name of the town, Zawiya, is of course derived from the presence of his tomb there.)

As we left, the driver told me that he had brought a group of Gulf Arabs to this same town a few years previously, and that the large mosque and domed shrine were new additions which had been funded by a source in Kuwait. God works in mysterious ways, I thought.

We headed back towards Tanakoub and beyond. As we drove up through the mountains, I looked at the stunning view of the valley floor and the imposing, muscular mountains facing us across it, and thought about all the Awliya who had their origins in this small corner of the world, and whose teachings and spiritual heritage can now be found in just about any place where there are Muslims. How could so many Saints have come from these small mountain towns? Looking at the scene before us, and the inexpressible beauty of this manifestation of God’s Glory, I understood how it could be possible.

We found the dirt track again, and this time followed it all the way to the end, about 30 yards further than where we had got last time. We stopped near a small wilderness of large boulders and twisted trees with wide canopies, and made our way across it to the small, white building that stood alone in the midst of them. This was the birth place, and later the khalwa (place of spiritual retreat) of Imam Shadhili. We took a few photographs in a hurry, as the battery was about to finish. I chanted the Testimony of Faith, as is customary when visiting any zawiya or house of a faqir, and entered the building. There is a grave in the centre, but not that of Imam Shadhili, who is buried in Egypt of course. This had led to some confusion on a television program about the region we had seen a few weeks before, where this place had been confidently announced as the grave of Imam Shadhili, which had me somewhat apoplectic with rage because of its inaccuracy. But then again, I had failed to recognise the site two hours earlier despite being only a few dozen yards from it, so I couldn’t really talk, could I?

I sat by the tomb and did a few circles on the rosary, saying ‘there is no god but God’, and then recited al-Ikhlas eleven times and asked God to donate the reward to Imam Shadhili, and all who followed his path, and to all the Muslims and believers. I looked at the walls of the building, where people had written simple prayers and invocations: ‘Glory be to God’, ‘Lord forgive me and my parents,’ ‘God is great’. I heard the sound of children playing from outside, and then three kids came in, two boys and a girl. One of the boys, around ten years old I would say, came up to me and kissed my hand; I kissed his own simultaneously, greeting him as a faqir. He then disappeared, and then returned with his playmate and encouraged him to greet me in the same way. I then stood up to leave, and greeted the girl on the way out. I climbed the small hill singing the Testimony of Faith, and the children watched me for a moment, and then went back to their game.

Sara told me she had asked the children who was buried inside, and they had told her it was someone named ‘Tabulsi’ or some such thing, they seemed unsure. We got back in the taxi, and I told the driver the story of how Imam Shadhili had walked all the way to Iraq searching for the greatest Sheikh of his time, only to be told that he in fact ought to look back in Morocco, on top of a mountain named Jabal Alam, only a short journey from his own hometown – a journey that we now set out to cover, with a rather more comfortable form of transport than they enjoyed back then, it must be admitted.

Moulay Abdessalam

We returned to Chaouen to start all over again. This time we took the road to Tetouan, and continued until we reached the small market town of Bani Hassan, whereupon the driver informed us he knew a short-cut along a seldom-traversed road up through the forest. Instead on continuing on in the direction of Tetouan, we took a left fork towards the end of the town and headed further up into the mountains. This road takes you all the way to Moulay Abdessalam, and is indeed quick and virtually empty – so don’t go this way at night, as if you break down you are unlikely to be found until morning. It is possible to follow the Tetouan road as well, until you find a turning for Moulay Abdessalam. If you are coming from Rabat or Casablanca, you should first go to Larache (العرايش) and then follow the road to Tetouan and Bani Arouss (بني عروس).

The driver told us that the woods we were traversing were still home to monkeys, wolves and wild boars, although these latter two only came out at night. The road twisted and turned up through the thick forests, and I began to become excited as we got closer to our destination. We stopped at a mountain spring, and the driver assured us that the water was excellent, and we might want to fill up our bottles. We went over to a small pool covered with a stone roof. The driver drank first and then returned to the car. We looked at the water. It seemed clear, although it was virtually still, not fast-flowing. I took a cup and drew some, it was perfectly clear despite the algae-covered plants, so I drank it. Sara then noticed a blue-grey frog sitting at the corner of the pool with its legs splayed, looking like nothing so much as a tired businessman finally enjoying a dip in the jacuzzi after a long day, and regarding us with an expression of faint curiosity.

We decided not to drink any more water.

After another half-hour or so, we reached a right turn with a sign saying ‘Moulay Abdessalam 2km’. We took it. We passed a few houses with cows grazing outside looking as peaceful as can be, and it occurred to me that although the three years since I had last come here had been a whirlwind of changes and events for me personally, this place had not changed in the slightest, and was not likely to do so any time soon. A few minutes later we found ourselves at the car park near the large mosque at the end of the main street of the village. We thanked the driver, apologised for the inadvertent extension to our journey, and agreed to pay him a little more than we had first agreed because of this. ‘Never mind’, I said to him, ‘I got a chance to visit the Saint.’ ‘Yes’, he said, ‘it was destined for you. He wanted to see you, and so he called you to him.’ I told him that I hoped this was so.

We went down and found a house to rent (there are no hotels, but people rent out their houses to visitors). We chose the same one we had stayed in three years previously. This time they had running water, whereas before we had to use a well, so things had changed a little. We prayed our Dhuhr in the house, and then I went up to visit the Saint. I cut through the graveyard immediately above the town and climbed to the top of the mountain, stopping only to catch my breath and reflect on what a pansy I am for not being able to climb 50 yards of mountain without hyperventilating, whilst old women like the one who passed me by right then could climb all day without becoming tired. I took in the view from the west side of the mountain as I caught my breath, and then climbed the rest of the way up to The Most Beautiful Place On Earth.

I have done my best before to express my feelings about this place, even writing a poem if you can stand it, but I still have no idea how to describe the tomb of Moulay Abdessalam ibn Mashish. The Sheikh is buried on the spot where he used to live, having deliberately chosen the mountaintop so he could worship in seclusion (the town did not exist at that time, for reasons I will explain shortly). Ibn Mashish is in many ways the Patron Saint of Moroccan Sufism in the same way that Moulay Idris I is the Patron Saint of the Moroccan state, and so you might expect there would be a huge mausoleum here with a bulging green dome and lots of white marble. Yet setting aside the question of the practicality of building such a thing in a place like this, there is simply no need; for God Himself has provided the Saint with his own dome, a magnificent cork oak tree spreading its boughs and branches over the simple white stone walls of the tomb and beyond.

The trunk of the tree is growing from the centre of the tomb, which contains Ibn Mashish, his son Muhammad, and a man who used to serve him.2 Whether or not the tree is growing directly from the Saint’s heart in actuality, it is certainly a powerful symbol of the great spiritual lineage that grew from a man who never sought to be known, and who only ever had one disciple as far as can be established, and who was largely unknown to his contemporaries (Tadili does not mention him in his Tashawwuf, nor is there any suggestion that Ibn Arabi or Abu Madyan had ever heard of him although they all lived at the same time in essentially the same place). Yet there are men whom God simply will not allow to go unnoticed by His creatures, and Ibn Mashish is certainly one of them. The tree that grew from his grave is a compelling symbol of this. It is a most splendid example of Sacred Architecture designed and built by the Creator Himself; I can say without hesitation that it is the most beautiful structure I have ever seen, or am ever likely to see, unless God decrees that I perform the Hajj.

Around the tomb, covering a space of perhaps 100 square metres, the floor is covered in slabs of cork taken from the nearby forest, secured down with nails made of the hard oak wood found under the cork skin. This provides a surface soft enough to walk on without shoes to preserve the sanctity of the tomb, without needing a roof to be built to keep off the rain, as the use of carpets would demand.

I took off my shoes and began to sing the Testimony of Faith as I approached the tomb, stopping when I reached the stone wall. I greeted the Saint, placed my hand on the wall and kissed it. Some might object to this, but it seems to me that the correct etiquette when greeting a Saint is the same whether he is alive or dead,3 and when we greet a living Sheikh, we take their hand and kiss it, and kiss their head; such should be the case with those who have passed on, too. I then sat down in the shade of the tree and recited Surat al-Waqi‘a and the litanies of the Tariqa. I asked God to donate the reward of this to the Saint and all His Saints, the foremost of them being the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace), and to all the Muslims and believers. I then simply sat and enjoyed the company of the Sheikh.

There is a poem by a Japanese poet of the 15th Century named Issa, which reads:

The cool breeze
comes winding and wandering.
At last it’s here.

I had cause to dwell on this poem during the short period of time I spent with the Saint this week. Aside from its plain exoteric sense, the poem was intended to convey a sensual meaning, and therefore also a spiritual one. The tranquillity and inner peace that comes with the satisfaction of a deep longing is one of the highest states of human existence, and this is manifested in both the sensory and the spiritual, as indeed are all things of true significance. The relief of cool, clear water after a long thirst; the embrace of two lovers after a long separation; what else are these but reflections of the true inner peace, the true relief that comes from a meeting with the Divine? Is this not their purpose – to give us a taste of what is truly possible?

Sheikh Moulay Sulayman, of the Alawi Tariqa, said in one of his poems, ‘To yearn is to arrive.’ That is, when one truly yearns for God, one finds Him in the same instant; as disciples of the path, we are not attempting to reach the object of our yearning, but rather to develop this yearning in the first place: we do not ‘want God’ as such, rather we ‘want to want God’, since if we truly wanted Him with all our being, He would not refuse us, as this is why He created us. If as disciples we are trying to cultivate this yearning and make it real, one of the most direct ways to do this is to place ourselves in the presence of one who has realised it, that is, in the presence of a Saint, living or dead. To see one who yearns is to see a True Man, and this in its turn provokes a yearning deep within us to follow in their footsteps, to see one who saw The One. This is one of the significances of the spiritual chain of initiation, and this is the meaning of the wasila, the intermediary between one and God that He commanded us to seek when He said: ‘Seek the means to Him.’ (Qur’an 5:25) This is not shirk, idolatry, because shirk means to ascribe the attributes of God to any other than Him, whilst to seek an intermediary to God is merely to seek that which inspires one to yearn for Him Alone.

This wasila, this ‘cool breeze’ of which we are speaking, can be found in many different places. A view from a mountaintop or a expanse of desert or ocean can fill us with awe for the Glory of God; a particular verse of Qur’an can have an impact on us that we cannot quite understand; an element of ritual can cause our hearts to overflow with the love of God. Some people break down and weep upon seeing the Kaaba with their own eyes for the first time. The Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) said, ‘The coolness of my eyes has been placed in the prayer.’ Another source of this ‘cool breeze’ is the company of the righteous. ‘How sweet the day of meeting!’ Moulay Sulayman exclaimed in the same poem we quoted above.

I sat by the grave of Ibn Mashish and felt the slightest trace of this ‘cool breeze’ blow over me. I remembered the last time I had sat in this exact spot, one of the most glorious moments of my life, which I cannot imagine I will ever forget. It was in 2005, the first time I came to Jabal Alam. Having spent the previous afternoon with the Saint, I decided to come up after the Fajr prayer to read my wird there. It was May as I recall, and particularly cold on top of the mountain, and only one other person was there, a man fast asleep wrapped up in a thick woollen cloak. I sat by one of the supports holding the ancient tree in place and recited the wird. As I did so, a young girl, perhaps in her late teens, wearing the traditional white woollen clothes of the area, came up and greeted the Saint. She stood by the wall of the tomb and place her hand on it, and then kissed it several times in different places. There was no sound whatsoever other than the click of my rosary and the soft sound of the kisses she placed on the stone. She then turned and went back down the mountain. I cannot say exactly what it was, but something about the simple beauty of this action tore my heart open. The girl had no reason for coming up except to pay her respects to the Saint, which she did despite the cold and the early hour. Doubtless, when she got home there would have been plenty of tasks for her to do; I cannot imagine she had an easy life. Perhaps she would have to draw water from the well, and milk the goats, or the cows, and take them out to graze, and take her family’s clothes to the spring to wash them, and make the dough and bake the bread, and all the other things expected from young women in traditional societies such as this one. Yet she found the time first to come and express her love for the Saint with such tenderness and obvious sincerity. There may well be many who would object to this, and call it ‘backward’, or ‘superstitious’, or ‘heretical’; I can only feel sorry for anyone who feels this way. All I could do was try and concentrate on my wird, and hope that one day God might grant me such sincerity. It remains my hope to this day.

So I sat in the same spot three years later and thought about that moment, and listened to the sounds around me. The shrine of Ibn Mashish is a place of constant worship, where Qur’an is recited all hours of the day by the descendents of the Saint. They were just finishing their fourth complete recitation of the day as I arrived, and their leader collected up the individual juz’ portions which they had divided amongst themselves. They then sat and said prayers for the visitors sitting by the grave as I was. Some people gave them money, and so they said prayers for them. I gave them something and they prayed for me and my family. Again, there are many who would object to this, but I mention it here for a specific purpose, which is to explain my understanding of the situation:

Jabal Alam is a harsh mountain. In winter it is freezing, and covered with snow; in summer the sun beats down in the day and the cold wind blows at night. The soil grows nothing but cork oaks which can be stripped only once every ten years. Crops will not grow in such soil, even if it were flat enough to farm them. There is no logical reason for there being a town there at all, and indeed no town existed there until Ibn Mashish came. He chose the spot exactly for this reason, so he could worship, and study with his Sheikh, al-Zayyat, when he was around, and otherwise be alone with his Lord. In the years after he died, people began to hear of him and his greatness, and come to visit him. His descendants took it upon themselves to maintain his grave and the surrounding areas, such as the mosque where he prayed and the spring where he performed ablutions. They sacrificed their lives to preserve the place so that people could visit it and pay their respects. How many great Saints lived and died in Morocco and all over the Muslim world whose graves are utterly unknown to us because no one was there to preserve them, and how many ruined mosques and mausoleums there are where the Name of God was once mentioned and now is no more because people moved on to bigger and better things and chased the dunya, the worldly life of gains. It would have been easy enough for the people to abandon Jabal Alam and go down to the plains further south where the soil is fertile and seek their fortunes there, or to grow hashish in the valleys to sell to the Europeans. They did not. They stayed, and filled the summit of Jabal Alam with dhikr and Qur’an for eight hundred years, and they continue to do so until this day. The money the visitors give them, once divided between them, is not much. They could live more comfortable lives if they chose; yet they choose to serve God by serving His Saint, and those who wish to visit him. Radiya Allahu anhum.

I went back down to see my family, and after Maghrib we all came up together. Sara is a direct descendant of Ibn Mashish on her father’s side, and so I said to my son, ‘Give salams to your grandfather!’ We sat on the raised bench by the tomb, and I recited the wird and then watched as the people came in groups of two and three to pay their respects to the Saint. Some of them lit candles, which is a common practice in Morocco at mausoleums. I do not know if they took it from the Christians or what; Morocco has never had many of those, although there have always been Jews here. For that matter, I don’t know where the Christians took the practice of lighting candles from, either. In any case, my upbringing was nominally Catholic, and I remember going to church and walking on the stone floor, smelling the wooden pews and the leather kneelers, and of course the wax of the candles. Although I was not religious in the slightest then, I still came to associate these things with the sacred, and even now if there is a power cut and we need to light candles, I get a rather other-worldly feeling. But I did not light a candle for the Saint, partly because I do not know exactly why it is done, and partly because my Catholic background would make the action a little too close to syncretism (combining the rituals of different religions) for comfort. Admittedly there is something powerfully symbolic about the action of lighting a candle: however infinitesimally and however briefly, you add to the sum total of light in the universe.

Sara asked me what I was thinking about. I told her that up here, in this place of all places, I have a feeling of complete safety. Throughout the trip I took the opportunity of lots of free time to finally finish Rama Coomaraswamy’s ‘The Destruction of Christian Tradition’, which documents the final capitulation of the Roman Church to Protestantism, which came in the form of the Second Vatican Council. There is a lesson for all Muslims in what has happened to Christianity over the last few centuries. Reformers emerged with the intention of ‘taking the Church back to its roots’, and ‘returning to Scripture’, and all the rest of it, and they were forceful enough and eloquent enough to convince people that their religion needed to be ‘reformed’. And what is the result? After the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, and the separation of church from state, Christianity no longer has any real place amongst its own people. It is entirely incidental to their lives. Missionaries go abroad, and for every one person they convert, five apostate back home. Even those who practise their faith do so on a level that is entirely sentimental, not spiritual or intellectual. A few attempt to resist this under the banner of ‘Traditionalism’, but they are fighting a losing battle. In any mosque in the Muslim world you will find people sitting outside on the floor during the Friday prayer because the prayer hall is overflowing with people. When was the last time you saw a church filled to bursting?

There are those amongst the Muslims who would like to ‘reform’ their religion, too. They seek to do away with tradition, superstition, and ‘hidden idolatry’,4 and return to the ‘Book and Sunnah’, as though these two foundations of the faith have somehow been abandoned. This is coupled with a kind of insane modernism, whereby it is seen to be absolutely fine not only to build hotels and shopping centres which tower over the Holy Sanctuaries, but actually to advertise that fact as though it is a virtue – what a fine view you can get from your hotel room! Shopping malls have beautiful prayer-rooms installed in them so that the faithful can offer their Salat in between the movie and the round of bowling, and cafes serving ‘non-alcoholic beer’ are forced to close during prayer times. All of these actions and attitudes are backed up by fatawa from scholars eager to embrace this modern reformation. The Christians had their reformation, and the modern civilisation is the result of it. Some Muslims seem positively eager to follow them down the same fox-hole. If we do not learn from the mistakes of others, we are doomed to repeat them ourselves.

Yet here on the mountain by the Saint I felt completely safe from all this, safe in the certainty that wherever these ideas may spread, they will never come here. The town exists because of the Saint. Every shop on the street leading up to the cemetery is geared towards the visitors who come every day of the year: rosaries, sweets, candles, rosewater, traditional clothes, restaurants selling grilled meat. If the Saint were not there, people would not come, and the town would be finished. All of this is from the Baraka of Ibn Mashish. All who live there derive their sustenance by means of the Saint; or we might say, God provides for them by means of His Friend. They love him not only as a religious figure but also as a father-figure. How could such people ever abandon him? And so I felt as though I were in a sanctuary, a fortress against any forces that would seek to undermine the spiritual traditions of this religion. As long as people come, the sanctuary will remain; as long as the sanctuary remains, people will come.

As we spoke, two girls, perhaps six and four, went over to the Saint and kissed the wall, and then ran back to their mother to be congratulated. I told Sara that this gesture embodied everything I felt for this sacred place, and the hope I felt when I sat there.

We sat in silence for a moment and I watched the moon climb steadily in the sky through a gap in the branches of the great tree bursting from the heart of Ibn Mashish. An elderly lady approached the tomb, placed her hand on it, and said, ‘Peace be upon you, Saint of God! May God forgive you, and give to you with abundance.’ Then she moved on. I quietly sang a poem of Muhammad ibn Habib Buzidi, one of the spiritual descendants of this great Sheikh, until the call for the Isha prayer was sounded.


Sara and I went up to the tomb after the Fajr prayer to try and get a photo of it at sunrise. Once we got to the summit, we realised how cold it can get on top of a mountain. There were perhaps ten men sleeping there, probably visitors who couldn’t find a room to rent, or couldn’t afford one. They were wrapped up with blankets and cloaks, and all but one were asleep. The wind was ferocious, and it was clear we could not wait here for an hour for the sun to come up. We snapped a couple of shots of the tomb and then retreated. On the way down, I told Sara of how my father would tell me Welsh traditional stories that held that mountains are living things, which every now and then have to remind men that they are not their masters.

I got talking to Sara’s mother, a descendant of the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) herself from Moulay Idris, about what she felt were the excessive practices of the marabout culture. She is not herself a big fan of these things, even though she is a Sharifa. Her own father, however, was a Sufi of the Darqawi Tariqa. I have inherited his rosary, since the rest of the family are not really interested in Sufism. This is a common thing in Morocco, where the generation that emerged after Independence was set firmly against the attitudes of their parents. She is a very pious Muslim, but she has no time for what she sees as traditions based on ignorance – and of course to a certain extent she has a point. She particularly objects to the money that changes hands. I gave her an analogy that was first given to me by a Sheikh in Fes when I told him I planned to visit Ibn Mashish: Imagine you have a friend, a very beloved friend, whom you love to visit. The only problem is that your friend is a real cat lover. He must have thirty cats in the house! So every time you go, you have to go to the butcher first and get some little scraps of meat to give to your friend’s cats. You can’t just go kicking them out of the way, can you? You might not love them, but your friend does.

We went down to one of the springs that flow from the mountain, where people come to wash their clothes. I looked around at the trees, stripped bare up to the first branches, and thought again about the long wait for them to grow more cork to be stripped and sold. Cork has been largely replaced all over the world by plastic, anyway, and there was evidence of that all over the place in the plastic bags and containers that stuck to the branches of the trees. This is a clear example of the way the modern world has clashed with the traditional life that existed before. A few decades ago, there was no plastic, and so everything that was thrown away was biodegradable. The people haven’t got used to the idea that this stuff isn’t going anywhere, that it will be here long after we are gone. So much of the modern world is so ugly. Perhaps some of this is just false sentimentality, yearning for a ‘golden-age’ that never existed – but I don’t think all of it is. Further up the hill, a group of men slaughtered a goat and then hung it up on a tree to skin it. No abattoirs needed here, I supposed. That’s what it used to be like everywhere.

In the afternoon we went back up to the Saint to watch the sunset. My daughter was feeling ill, and looked very pale, almost blue in the cold, so I ran back down to get her some warm clothes. When I came back up, some ladies, obviously visiting from a city, perhaps Tangiers, had gathered around the front of the tomb. They sang some sacred odes, and then the famous prayer of the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) composed by Ibn Mashish. They sang it with one voice, clearly well-used to doing it, with a very lovely tune I had not heard before. Then they began to sing some poems with refrains, sounding exactly like how we sing them in the Zawiya. I had never heard women singing in that way before. Sara said she had; her aunt used to gather with a group of lady Sufis, faqirat as they call them. But these things are rarer in the big cities now because of all the population movement; the real thing is out here in the country, where everyone knows one another. I sat to one side and watched the sunset, and sang along with the ones I knew, and then we went into the mosque to pray Maghrib.

After the prayer, Sara told me that our daughter was still looking very ill, so we decided to go back to the house out of the cold. We were set to travel in the morning, so this meant goodbye to the Saint. I went to the gathering of Qur’anic reciters and asked them to pray for my sick daughter, and they did so. I am writing this less than twenty-four hours later, and she is completely recovered.

I approached the Sheikh for the last time, and sat and prayed for him. I asked God to forgive me and have mercy on me, and guide me, and forgive my family and friends, and I tried to remember as many names as I could to pray for. I asked Him to do all this by the honour of this Saint of His, and the honour of all His Saints, the foremost of them being the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace). I felt a deep sadness in my heart that I would leave, and I feel this sadness now as I write this back home. But then I remembered that, as the Sheikh himself quoted at the end of his Salat, Allah says:

"Verily, He who hath made the Qur’an binding upon thee will bring thee home once more.” (Qur’an 28:85)


1 This is the usual practise of our Tariqa. Sheikh al-Alawi encouraged the fuqara to recite this chapter every day.
2 The tomb to the right, which is usually asumed to contain the grave of al-Zayyat, the Sheikh of Ibn Mashish, is actually his place of sacred retreat; the grave inside is that of a twentieth-century tribal leader. Al-Zayyat is reported to be buried in the coastal town of Targha, where he is known to the people as ‘The Faqih of Ibn Mashish.’ Other narrations state that he returned to Medina, where he lived before coming to Morocco, and died there.
3 Of course, the two states are the same; the Saints do not die.
4 The true hidden idolatry is not ‘saint-worship’ but rather ostentation and pride, and the performance of religious works to please anyone other than God. All Muslims are susceptible to falling into this, not only the ‘backward’ Sufis.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dhikr is the Source of All Good

Shaykh al-'Alawi's poem, sung by Sidna Shaykh al-Buzidi. It always feels like an honour to be present when the Shaykh sings.

Dhikr Sbab Kull Khayr.mp3

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Selections from the Hikam of Abu Madyan

Al-Ghawth Abu Madyan: By accounting oneself, the status of awareness is reached.

Sheikh al-‘Alawi’s commentary:

To account oneself (muhāsaba) is the first stage of the Way, and by passing though it the servant reaches the station of those who are near to God. It means to not allow the soul to wander free in the fields of sin. By accounting oneself, the soul is restrained and kept from total abandon. If the servant excels in this level, and does so with consistency, he will arrive to the level of awareness. This is because accounting oneself implies that one still falls into sin through heedlessness; but when the stage of awareness (murāqaba) is reached – which means to behold the Real from behind a veil without fully being immersed in His presence, or to be aware that God knows the condition of His servants, and to be conscious of the fact that He sees all – the one who reaches this stage is always in a state of awe and good behaviour before God, and therefore has left the stage of self-accounting. This is because self-accounting comes after sin, whereas awareness of God prevents one from falling into sin to begin with, because of one’s awareness that God sees one always. If the servant remains predominantly in this state, it will lead to the stage of witnessing (mushāhada).

And whosoever is conscious of God, He will make for them a way out. (Qur’an 65:2)

That is, whoever is conscious of God from behind a veil, fearing Him whilst not seeing Him, He will make for them a way out of the prison of creation, so that they see the Creator, because they have shown themselves to be ready for such a state. So first comes self-accounting, then awareness, then witnessing: Muhāsaba, Murāqaba, Mushāhada; and this is the sum of all religion: Islām, Īmān, and Ihsān (Law, Faith, and Way.)

One of them was asked the meaning of Islām, Īmān, and Ihsān. He replied, ‘Islām means to worship God, and Īmān means to be aware of God and fear Him, and Ihsān means to behold Him and see Him.' The people of witnessing cannot commit sin as long as they are in the presence of their Lord. One of them said:

When I intend an action and find You are watching me,
I leave off what I intended, and rise to see You.
To behold the Real keeps the servant pure;
Were it not for awareness, there would be no penalty.

And so the goal cannot be reached unless the beginning is sound, which means there must first be self-accounting, as we said. One of the saints (God have mercy on him) would account himself for everything that he said; if he found a good word, he would give thanks to God, and if he found other than that he would reproach himself, and vow to God not to return to the like of it.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Selections from the Hikam of Abu Madyan

Al-Ghawth Abu Madyan: Whosoever clings to the promise of hope
will never be free of indolence

Sheikh al-‘Alawi’s commentary:

People are indolent in two ways: some are too indolent to bother with good deeds, whilst others are too indolent to seek their Lord. This is caused by their lack of yearning for Him; if they yearned for God, He would yearn for them, as the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) said: ‘Whosoever loves to meet God, God loves to meet them.’ A Sacred Hadith reads: ‘If My slave draws a hand-span nearer to Me, I draw an arm-span nearer to him.’ And He also said (in a Sacred Hadith): ‘I am the companion of he who remembers Me,’ and ‘Wherever My slave seeks Me, he will find Me.’

Is this anything but a pure blessing and a generous favour? Sufficient ignorance be it from you, O disciple, that you seek that which has no inherent existence, ignoring He Who Must Surely Exist! If you knew what was in front of you, you would abandon this heedlessness; for the Real is closer to you than yourself:

If My slaves ask thee of Me, I am surely near. I answer the call of the supplicant when he calls Me. (Qur’an 2:186)

It is an ignominy for the disciple to be characterised with indolence in the matter of seeking God. He is like a procrastinator, who every day says ‘Tomorrow I will get to it’, until he spends his whole life in idleness. The poet said:

They are happy to hope, afflicted by fortune;
They claim to have plunged into the Sea of Love
- Yet they have not been wetted!
They have not yet moved from their places,
Or even set off, yet they are exhausted!
When they chose blindness over guidance
out of pure envy –
They lost the way.

The Real yearns for His slave more intensely than the slave yearns for Him. Our master, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, said in his Munajat: ‘God said to me: “What a fine Seeker am I, and what a find object is mankind! If man knew the rank he holds in My sight, he would say with every breath: To whom belongs sovereignty on this day?...” ’

And so the only thing preventing us from arriving to God is indolence. As we said, there are those people who are too indolent to do good works, imagining that this is simply what fate has decreed, when really it is nothing more than what their own caprices have decreed. Do you not see that if any of them saw some possible worldly benefit, he would strive with all his might to reach it, saying: ‘Provision is written, but the means to it should be sought’? Yet when it comes to seeking the Real, he does not seek the means, nor does he do good works in order to draw close to Him, nor does he strive to gain His Divine Grace. He behaves as though he is completely secure; yet God says: None feel safe of God’s design save those who are lost. (Qur’an 7:99) If you tell them to fear God, they will say, ‘God is Merciful.’ This is true; but do you not know that He is also All-Providing? Why, then, do you seek the means to obtaining provision in any way you can, yet you do not seek the means to obtaining His Forgiveness in any way at all? You behave as the denizens of Hell behave, yet you hope for Paradise! How far-fetched this is! Whoever comes forth with a bad deed will only be requited with the like thereof. (Qur’an 6:160) Show yourself some mercy, for you cannot hope to achieve what you are attempting! One of them said:

O ye who works for Hell, your body is soft,
So test yourself with the midday heat,
Or try a hornet’s sting, then add
The venomous bite of a terrible snake.
And if you cannot bear it, alas!
Why seek to anger the Lord of All Being?
Day by day, you reveal your folly,
Whilst wearing the robes of piety and honour!
Your boldness exceeds that of all mankind,
By the ignorance and ill-intent of your soul.
You say, ‘As for sin, my Lord doth forgive it!’
You speak true, yet He forgives those whom He wills.
Just as your Lord forgives, He provides;
Why, then, do you not see these two equally?
You hope for clemency without repentance,
And you plan and scheme to obtain your provision;
Yet He charged himself to provide for His slaves
And did not guarantee Paradise for all men.
Why, then, do you chase what is provided for you,
And abandon what you have been charged to perform?
In every matter, your thoughts of Him waver
Between good and ill, as your caprice dictates.

This is the state of he who has been overcome with hope. Generally, he is content to remain estranged and distant from God as he is. All of this stems from a dearth of love for God. How strange it is that a person could be content to be estranged and veiled; yet were they to know the rank they could hold in their Lord’s sight, they would not stop until they had realised it.

To this end, it has been said:

How far they are from it, and how poorly they have chosen!
Their aims are cheap; their every move a sin.

Give life to our hearts, Lord, and inspire us to seek You; for none can inspire us but You, and we want for nothing but You!


Sunday, February 17, 2008



Sheikh al-'Alawi's poem:


You desire tawhid, and ask it of us;
Yet were we to tell you of tawhid,
You would surely flee from us!

But –
In the heart there lies something veiled,
Which is nothing else but that which you desire.

By God, it is the Truth, and the Goal, and the Purpose
– yet you are heedless of it, and in heedlessness you remain.

His Oneness is the Essence of Essences, nothing less,
And so he who knows tawhid conceals well the secret.

But –
Rivalry in worldly increase overcame you all
Until you lost sight of it –
And now at last you have noticed!

I pray to God for you all,
And for myself:
Protect us from our weakness, and have mercy upon us,

Until the Root of All Roots is within our sights
And the Branch is in our hands –
Never to break.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Spouses, Seeds, and Prayers.

One of them said: 'Marriage does not guarantee children, and planting seeds does not guarantee crops, and prayer does not guarantee Paradise.'

Getting married does not necessarily mean we will have children; yet how are we to have children if we do not take spouses? And planting seeds does not necessarily mean that the crops will flourish; yet how are we to get crops without planting? And praying does not neccesarily mean that we will enter Paradise; yet how are we to get there without praying?

So marry, and trust in God; and sow, and trust in God; and pray, and trust in God.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Moulay al-‘Arabī al-Darqāwi (1159-1239 IE)

He was born in the year 1159 IE (1745 CE) in Bou Barīh in the mountains north of Fez among the tribe of Bani Zarwāl where his family had settled for generations. His family name goes back to Sīdī Muhammad who was nicknamed ‘Abu Darqa’ because he was of large build. He was a great fighter and carried a shield (darqah) with him into battle to protect himself, hence the name Darqāwi. He is buried in the region of Tāmsanah in Cheoun close to Umm ar-Rabī‘. He was a disciple of Ibn ‘Atā Illāh al-Iskandarī who donned him the patched robe. His family line goes back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) through Imam al-Junaid back to Imam al-Hasan.

There are many virtues attached to this tribe. The ancestors of all the four Caliphs resided here. One of the pious men of this tribe once went on the pilgrimage and sat at the grave of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and recited all seven variants of the Quran. When he finished, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) spoke to him, saying, “…and thus it was revealed to me, O Imam of Zarwāl. May God bless you and your tribe.” The land is extremely fertile producing fine olives, grapes, grain and fruit. The men of the tribe are also famed for their braveness and courage. Moulay al-‘Arabī said, “Whoever’s robe touches the robe of a man from Banī Zarwāl will always profit and never taste ruin.”

He was the founder of the Darqāwī Order of Sufis, a Moroccan branch of the great Shādhilī Order which was itself founded by the Shaikh Abu al-Hasan al- Shādhilī in the 13th century CE.

He lived a childhood of modesty, chasteness, chivalry and honour. He spent his youth in study and visiting the pious people of his time. He was shielded by God from committing any manifest sin. He relates:

“One day, while I was still young, I entertained committing a sin with another youth whose habit it was to fall to his desires and as soon as the notion came to me, my whole body broke out in blisters. I quickly begged God’s forgiveness and the blisters vanished as quickly as they had appeared, by the grace of God and His blessing.”

He did not need to memorise the Book of God more than once and his memorisation was firm and strong. He was loved by all around him. When he used to check the slates of the students who had written their portion of Quran he would hold it up and say to the boy, “This slate is heavy. It has this mistake and this mistake…or I would hold it up and say this slate is light. It has only a few mistakes or none at all. Upon looking at the slate, I would find it exactly as I had said; inspiration from God all-Mighty. ”

When memorizing, he used to write on the tablet and go over it for a short time and then leave it. Then he would occupy himself with the writing of the other children’s tablets and dictating to them their portion of the day. This was how he studied until he had memorised all seven variants of the Quran. Once he had finished his primary studies, he went off to Fez to study knowledge in the Medrasah Misbāhiyyah, which faces the Qarawiyyīn. Soon after, he met with his master in the path Sīdī ‘Alī, known by the people as ‘al-Jamal’’. This was in 1767 when he was around twenty three or four. The story of his first meeting with his master was a strange one:

“I used to spend time in the shrine of Moulay Idris the Second. I would sit by the shrine and recite Quran until I had completed sixty reading praying through the blessing of what I had read to find a spiritual guide. When I had finished my sixtieth, I began to weep so greatly that my eyes turned red. I walked out of the shrine and passed by Sīdī Hamīd, a descendent of Moulay Abd al-‘Azīz ad-Dabbāgh; a man of great presence and awe. “What is the matter? Why is it I see you in such as state?” he asked. He persisted in asking me until I told him that I was in need of someone to take me by the hand on the spiritual path. “Don’t you worry, I will point you the way to him as long as you don’t consult the people who are short of insight and lacking in intellect. “Who is he?” I asked. “He is the most noble master and descendent of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace); he is the succour of our time and the vast ocean, Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali b. Abd al-Rahmān, known to the people as al-Jamal (the camel) and al-Jamāl (Divine Beauty) according to the angels-as some of the men of God have informed. He is a man that the angels address and send greetings of peace upon. The angels even informed me that he has been the succour (Ghouth) of the time for the past thirty years.

“It was my practice never to approach an action until I consulted God through the well-known prayer of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) (Istikhāra). That night, I spent the time consulting God and pondering over this man’s characteristics, how he might be and how I might meet with him to the extent that it deprived me of an sleep. The next day I headed for his zāwiyah in the Rāmilah District that lies over the bridge called Baina al-Mudun (Between Cities) where his shrine resides today. I knocked the door and found him sweeping the zāwiyah (he would sweep the zāwiyah every day by himself despite his old age and high station with God). ‘What do you want?’ he asked. ‘I want you to take me by the hand and guide me to God’, I answered. He began to shout at me with the most severe of tones. ‘Who told you this?!! Who took me by the hand whereby I might be able to take yours and guide you?’ (All this was a test of my resolve and sincerity). I rushed out of the zāwiyah and returned to home. That night I consulted God once again. In the morning I prayed the Dawn Prayer (Subh) and headed for his zāwiyah once more. I found him sweeping the floor again. I knocked on the door and he opened it for me. I said, ‘Will you take me by the hand and guide me to God?’ He grabbed my hand and said, ‘Welcome.’ He was overjoyed to see me and most happy. ‘How long have I been searching for a master’, I said. ‘How long it has been since I have been looking for a sincere student!’ he replied. He read the litany of the order to me and said, ‘Leave now and come back from time to time.’ For the next two years I would visit him everyday. On each occasion he instructed me in the company of other brethren resident in Fez.

“One of the first lessons I learnt from my teacher was when he placed two baskets full of berries in my hands. He did not place them on my shoulders like my peers. Even so, it bore down so heavy on my ego that I felt intensely constricted deep inside. I was so disturbed, shaken and felt so indecent that I became to weep. I swear to God, I wept out of the humiliation, abasement and utter wretchedness of the situation, as my ego could not bear to take such a lesson; it would not bow down to the test ever in a thousand years. I was so oblivious of my own arrogance, haughtiness, malignancy and stubbornness and I had previously had no idea whether it was arrogant or not. I had never learnt this lesson from any teacher of law throughout all my previous studies, and I had studied with many a teacher. Whilst in this state, my teacher saw what had come over me because of his deep insight into the hidden secrets, for which he was well-known to all. He came over, took the baskets and placed them right on top of my shoulders just like my peers, who were so much more righteous and advanced on the path than me. Then he said, ‘This is for your own good in order to chase away some of that arrogance of yours.’ Instantly, a door of understanding opened for me, and things became clear. I was now able to distinguish the truth in everything. I could discern the arrogant from the humble, the serious from the lax, those of knowledge from amongst those of ignorance, those who follow the way of the Prophet, peace be upon him, from the people of innovation and those who practice what they preach from those who do not. No one was able to get the better of me after this event, because my teacher had taught me how to distinguish truth from falsehood, may God reward him and protect him. Amin!”

After some time the Sheikh entered him into the retreat to invoke the Supreme Name “Allah”:

“We believe, and God knows best, that the state of annihilation can be achieved in a short space of time, God willing, by invoking God’s majestic name ‘Allah’ in a specific manner. I found this method mentioned by Imam Shādhili in a book which was in the possession of one of the scholars of my homeland Banī Zarwāl. My teacher Sīdī ‘Alī also taught me this but in a different way which is even more effective and whose results can achieved in a shorter space of time.

“The method is to picture the five letters of the name when reciting it. Whenever you feel the image in front of you slipping away you bring it back even if you have to one thousand times in one night and one thousand times in a day. Using this method, a great thought came to me. I used to invoke using it at the beginning of the path for up to one month. Divine knowledge in its plenty would come to me, but I was not distracted by it; rather I focussed my intention on invoking the Name, bringing the letters constantly to mind for one whole month until the words of God came to:

‘He is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden.’ (Quran: 57/3)

“I immediately turned my thoughts away from it back to the invoking of the Name as I had done so to many other notions that had come to me. However, this one would not leave me; rather it grabbed a hold of me and would not let go. I tried to turn my thoughts time and again from it but it would not leave me. I said to it, ‘As for His exalted words “He is the First and the Last” and “the Hidden” I understand, but I do not understand the word ‘Manifest’, as the only things evident that we see is the creation. The notion replied back, ‘If the meaning of the word “Manifest” had meant anything other than that which you see before you, it would have been hidden, and not manifest; and I say to you “The Manifest!’ “ From that point I realised that there was nothing present but God alone and there is nothing in the creation but Him, thanks and praise be to Him.

“After I had become firm and sure in the path and I had attained a clear opening, and my master wanted me to benefit others, he told me to go back to my homeland with my family and children.”

Before taking from his master, he visited many of the other masters of his time:

• Moulay at-Tayyib b. Moulay Muhammad of Wazzān: “I visited him on seven different occasions whilst I was still a youth. On one visit, I found him surrounded by a huge group of people, yet he moved the people aside for me and ushered me forward. I kissed his hand and knee and proceeded to place two tablets of Quran in his lap; on one of them was Sura al-Jumu‘a. He took hold of it and read a section of it silently whilst pressing his palm upon my forehead. He was overjoyed at my being there and he prayed that God grant me much good. After that visit much good and blessing came to me; I was able to memorise much after being very weak at retaining information. I consider him one of my teachers.”
• Sīdī Muhammad b. ‘Alī b. Risoun al-Hasanī al-‘Alamī: He was from Mount ‘Alam in Tāzourt nearby the shrine of Moulay Abd al-Salām. “I met with him seven times in Banī Zarwāl and once or twice in Fez also. He was a man of great states. When I visited him, he would break into a recital of Sura Yāsīn, then Sura Tāhā, then he would break into tears and then he would laugh. In the same gathering, he gave me two loaves of fresh hot bread filled with clarified butter I no-pone had any idea where he had got them from. He placed them in my hands and did not share them with any of the other people present. Later, he struck me on my back with his right hand and said, “May God strengthen you!” three times. When he said goodbye to me, he pushed me with both arms and said, “Off you go! We have given you the highest of stations!” In my eyes, he is one of my teachers like Sīdī ‘Alī al-Jamal is.”
• Sīdī al-‘Arabī al-Baqqāli. He was a man lost in the attraction of the Divine. If he came out of his intoxication of God, he would carry out all his ritual obligations. However, he was rarely aware of what was going on around him. One day I came to Fez and people were around him whilst he was in a state of deep intoxication in the Divine. He called me over and pressed me against his chest and poked his tongue into my mouth and said, “Suck!” Then he pushed me away and said, “Go! I have given you all that is in the East and West. I left the gathering and when I came back I found that he had passed away. He is buried in the zāwiyah of his uncle Sīdī Muhammad al-Hājj al-Baqqāli in Fez.

He would also visit the shrines of the men of God in Morocco, among them Moulay ‘Abd as-Salām, Moulay Abu Silhām, ‘Abd al-Wārith al-Yaslouti al-‘Uthmāni. He continued to visit them until his opening came. He once said:

“If you want to visit the people of the path of Fez then start with Ibn al-‘Arabī al-Ma‘ārafī, then ‘Alī b. Hirzihim, ‘Abd Allāh at-Touwdi, Yusuf al-Fāsi, Muhammad b. ‘Abdullāh, Ahmad al-Yamani, ‘Alī al-Jamal, Abu ‘Alī Bāytousi, Abu Ya‘za in Tāghya, Abu Silhām on the coast close to Umm ar-Rabī‘, ‘Abdullāh b. Ahmad in Meknes, Abu Zakariya of Meknes, Moulay Abd as-Salām, Abu Yazīd (the Shaykh of Abu Madyan) in Maziyyāt and finally Abu Madyan in Tlemcan.”

He succeeded his master in 1779, living to be about eighty years old and passed away on Tuesday 23rd of Safr in 1823 (1239 IE). They buried him in his zāwiyah there on the Wednesday night. He had two zāwiyahs in Bou Barīh. Both of them lie on Mount Zabīb, two days journey from Fez.

He mainly taught his disciples to be abstinent with regard to worldly things both outwardly and internally. He persisted in recognizing his state of slave-hood before God all-Mighty and strived to oppose his ego in all affairs, leaving aside matters that the ego inclined to or found too easy, imposing whatever appeared burdensome for it. He believed that whatever was burdensome on the ego must be the truth. He was not concerned what the people thought of him, he did not incline towards their praise nor did he feel rejected by their absconding him. He constantly sought to humble himself and see himself impoverished at all times. He warned his disciples of hoarding wealth and gathering it. He did not leave any of his meal for the next. He would take only that which was sufficient to remain healthy for himself and his family, not going beyond the means. If he had any surplus food he would give it to the poor. He wouldn’t even leave enough oil for the candle to burn for the next morning, trusting that God would provide and holding firmly to Him alone. He remained upon this practice for twenty five years.

In his early years he donned only the harshest and roughest forms of clothes. He wore coarse wool, sometimes worn inside out, a patched robe, or at times merely a sack. He used to wear an old hat on his head or even wear one on top of the other and he would sling a wicker basket over his shoulder. At other times he would walk into the streets with his head bare and bare footed, begging in the streets and sitting amongst the trash. Sometimes he would take a water skin and quench the walkers by’s thirst in the street. He sought to repel the people from him and kill his desires so that he would depend solely on God. He continued to act so until he arrived in the inward realisation of the Divine.

As for his devotions, he never slackened in the outward rituals of the religion. He did not go to extremes, though. He stressed the performance of the obligations in the religion and not neglecting the stressed supererogatory acts such as the two cycles before the Dawn Prayer (Subh) and the three cycles of prayer after the Evening Prayer (Isha). He stressed the importance of keeping oneself clean and pure. He would say, “Whoever makes his ablution before making sure all the drops of urine have gone, does not have any ablution, prayer or religion for that matter.” He made sure he was in a state of purity at all times. He encouraged his student to recite Quran, hold to the supplication of God’s Consultation (Istikhāra), visit the righteous; both alive and dead, perform the Duhā Prayer in the morning and the two cycles when entering the mosque, wake up before dawn and perform extra prayers, visit the sick, accompany the deceased to the cemetery, host guests and give of charity everyday and night. He loved to sit on the ground without taking a carpet of any sort. “Sitting on the earth without a rug brings about enrichment.” In the prayer he would recite the ‘Basmala” before the Fātihah quietly to himself and after the prayer he would read ‘Astaghfirulla’ (I ask God’s pardon) three times and then say:

أَللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ السَّلاَمُ وَ مِنْكَ السَّلامُ وَ إِلَيْكَ يَعُودُ السَّلامُ حَيِّنَا رَبَّناَ باِلسَّلاَمِ وَ أَدْخِلْنَا دَارَ السَّلاَمِ تَبَارَكْتَ وَ تَعَالَيْتَ يَا ذَا الجَلاَلِ وَ الإِكْرَامِ لاَ إِلهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ وَحْدَهُ لاَ شَرِيكَ لَهُ لَهُ المُلْْكُ وَ لَهُ الحَمْدُ وَ هُوَ عَلىَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ اَللَّهُمَّ لاَ مَانِعَ لِمَا أَعْطَيْتَ وَ لاَ مُعْطِيَ لِمَا مَنَعْتَ وَ لاَ رَادَّ لِمَا قَضَيْتَ وَ لاَ يَنْفَعُ ذَا الجِدِّ مِنْكَ الجِدُّ

“O God, You are peace, from You ensues peace and to You returns peace. Bring us alive though peace and enter us into the abode of peace. You are most blessed and You are most High. O One of Majesty and Generosity, there is no god but God, He is alone, He has no partner. To Him belongs the dominion and to Him belongs all praise. He is upon all things able. O God there is no one to hold back what You grant and there is no one to grant what You hold back and no one can repel what You have already ordained, and no-one’s might can benefit him against You.”

Then he would recite the Verse of the Footstall (Ayah al-Kursi) and recite ‘Hallowed be God’ (Subhāna Allāh), ‘All Praise of for God’ al-Hamdu Lillāh and God is the greatest’ (Allāhu Akbar) thirty three times each then raise his hands and supplicate to God for His grace and for the wellbeing of himself and all the believers.

He would persistently stress the importance of the prayer and tell whoever had missed any prayers in the past to make them up before they come to regret it.

He would read the books of knowledge with his following. He liked to read the books of Law such as the commentaries on the Rislāh of Ibn Abī Zaid al-Qarawānī and the commentaries of Mayyāra on Ibn ‘āshir, the commentary of Wughlusiyyah by Ahmed Zarrouq, the book Tabaqāt al-Awliyah by ‘Abd al-Wahhāb as-Sha‘rāni, Tabaqāt al-Ulumā by Ahmed Bābā as-Sudāni, and the book ‘al-Ma‘zā’ relating the virtues of Abu Ya‘zā. He loved to read the Commentaries of Quran such as Ibn ‘Atiyyah, al-Khāzin and Jalālayn. However, there were only two books that he read from beginning to end and they were Sahīh al-Bukhāri and the Shifa of Qadi ‘Iyād. He said that the books of the path are: the Wisdoms of Ibn ‘Atā ‘Illāh, al-Mabāhith al-Asliyyah and the Rā’iyyah of ash-Sharīshī.

He would perform the invocation known as the Hadra or ‘Imāra throughout his life with his disciples. The followers would hold each other by the hands and form a circle initiating the ritual with ‘Lā IIāha Illa Allāh’ (There is no god besides God) and begin by stretch it out until it became quicker and quicker. As the invoking progressed, they would recite the name of God “Allāh” alone with the tongue until it became a sound in their chests. Then they would sit as one does in prayer and recite Quran. He would not like women to be present in any form at the gatherings. They would come together and invoke God by themselves far from the ears of others.

Sīdī Mahmoud Abu as-Shāmāt describes the manner in which the Hadra is performed in detail according to the Darqāwiyyah Madaniyyah Yashturiyyah Order in his commentary on the Wadhīfa as-Shādhiliyyah:

“After reading the Wadhīfa in a circle, the Shaykh or Muqaddam, who has the permission of the Shaykh, initiates the invocation of Unity (Lā Illāha Illallāh). After he says it once the Fuqara repeat it in unison in one tone. They repeat this for a least ten times or more. Then the Shaykh invokes the name “Allah” whilst stretching out the long vowel in the middle of the name. The Fuqara repeat it after him three of five times. Then everyone stands and each one of them takes the other at his side by the hand placing his palm in his and interlacing his fingers with his with energy and determination. They stand in the shape of a circle standing close to one another. Then the Shaykh or Muqaddam moves into the middle of the circle and he has two singers on either side of him as if they were two hands of a scale. The singers take turns to sing and when he finishes his turn he will join in with the invocation along with his brothers with energy and determination…. As the invocation progresses, the name “Allah” becomes shorter and shorter at a pace suitable for the time and mood of the brethren. Then he will change the tempo of the invoking to the name of God “Ah” (i.e. Alif and Ha) which is the name of the Divine essence of God all-Mighty by agreement amongst the Men of God. Whereby, the scholars of jurisprudence have related in their books that the sick should say “Ah” and not “Akh” because “Ah” is the name of God whereas “Akh” is the name of Satan. This mode of invoking is called the invoking of the chest meaning that the brethren emit the invoking of the noble name from within their chests. They continue to do this for some time according to the time and mood of the brethren. Then he moves them onto the second mode of invoking which is called the invoking of the throat, meaning that they emit the noble name from their throats and they do this for a suitable time and then he moves them onto third and last mode which is the invoking of the name from the head whereby they emit the sound of the name from their heads. This mode is carried out with small swaying with jumps by raising their heels off the floor and then returning them back as a group in one fluid motion. The toes must not leave the floor though in order that they do not break the circle. They do this for a certain amount of time according to the time and mood and then the Shaykh or Muqaddam raises his index finger and says: “Muhammad Rasul Allah” and then they sit down together in one joint motion in a circle close to one another. If then the Muqaddam is inspired to give a talk of some advice he does so and finishes it by invoking “La Ilāh Illallāh” and the brethren repeat it after him seven times or ten whilst stretching out the long vowel in the name “Allah”. Then he points to them with his index finger and says, “Muhammad Rasul Allāh”. Afterwards, if any of them has memorised some verses of the Quran he is free to recite them. If not they read the Fātihah together and dedicate the reward to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), his family, companions, to the souls of the Masters of the path that have preceded and the Muslim community as a whole…”

When he passed away he left behind him forty thousand students able to guide others to God.

He was succeeded in Morocco by his son Moulay at-Tayyib from whom the present Moroccans head of the order is descended. Another one of Moulay al-‘Arabi’s successors was the Shaykh Muhammad al-Fāsi, who founded one Darqāwi Zāwiyah in Cairo and another in Colombo. Many of the Shādhiliyyah of Ceylon are in fact and look to the Cairo centre of the Fāsaiyyah- Darqāwiyyah as being their mother Zāwiyah. Before Moulay at-Tayyib passed away he passed the responsibility of directing the followers onto his son Moulay Abd al-Rahmān ad-Darqāwi. It was his nephew Muhammad b. at-Tayyib that had a dream of Shaykh al-‘Alawī:

“I saw a group of people who told us of the descent of Jesus-peace be upon him-and they said that he had already descended, and that he will have in his hand a wooden sword with which he struck stones and they became men, and when he struck animals they became human. Now I was conscious (in my vision) that I knew the man who had descended from Heaven, that he had written letters to me and I to him. Then I made ready to meet him, and when I reached him I found that he was Shaikh Sīdī Ahmed al-‘Alawī-but in the guise of a doctor, tending the sick, and with him were more than sixty men to help him–may God be pleased with him.”

He subsequently went to his uncle Moulay ‘Abd al-Rahmān ad-Darqāwi and asked him permission to take from Shaykh al-‘Alawī. His family blamed him for following him but he ignored them. As for his uncle, he showed no opposition to his following the Shaykh:

“What I saw in the Shaykh and his disciples compelled me to cleave to his presence, and in the longing for a possible means of opening my inward eye I asked him permission to invoke the Supreme Name. Until then I had simply been an initiate of the order and nothing more, but I had heard that my ancestors used to rely on the Order as a means of direct attainment, not merely of attachment to a spiritual chain. After I had practised the invocation of the Name according to his instructions, I had certain experiences which compelled me to persevere in it, and before long had direct knowledge of God…If I served the Shaykh as a slave for ever and ever, I should not have given him back a tenth of what I owe him. In a word, it was what compelled my great-grandfather to follow Sīdī Moulay ‘Alī al-Jamal which compelled me to follow Shaikh Sīdī Ahmed al-‘Alawī…I paid no attention to those of my family who blamed me for following him, for they did not know the truth of the matter…But when I explained things to my uncle, Sīdī Moulay Abd al-Rahmān, he showed no opposition to my following the Shaykh. On the contrary, he often gave me to understand that he had no objection.”

The Moulay ‘Ali ad-Darqāwi mentioned in Titus Burkhardt’s book Fez City of Islam was the grandson of Moulay al-‘Arabi.

Sīdī Moulay Abd al-Rahmān was also the initial Shaykh of Moulay Sulaimān, the Shaykh of our teacher and master Sīdī Bouzīdī. Sīdī Bouzīdī relates the life of his teacher Moulay Sulaimān:

“When he was around twenty eight years of age, in the year 1315, he travelled with some local fuqarā to visit the Sheikh of the Darqāwi Order in Bou Barīh, Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahmān, who was the grandson of Moulay al-‘Arabī al-Darqāwi. He was the youngest of the travellers, but when he arrived at the Sheikh’s home, the Sheikh cried, ‘Welcome, my beloved! Welcome, my beloved!’ He sat him at his side and he was given the litany of the order.

He visited his Sheikh 25 times in his life. When setting off to visit, he would gather the fuqarā and travel as a group on foot from Nādur to Banī Zarwāl, singing out odes on the road ahead. They would rest from village to village until they arrived at the zāwiyah of the sheikh. His sheikh always sang his praises; he used to call him the ‘Stallion of the Order’.

One day he was sitting by the side of Moulay ‘Abd al-Rahmān in a gathering with the fuqarā when the sheikh put his hand on Moulay Sulaimān’s back. He called out, ‘This is the Stallion of this Order. Everyone repeat after me, ‘By God, this is the Stallion of the Order,’ so they repeated the words of their sheikh. One day he was with his sheikh and he said to him, ‘This order holds direct knowledge of God and I want a portion of that knowledge.’ The sheikh replied to him, ‘Invoke God until the knowledge comes to you.’ From those words, Moulay Sulaimān knew that the future would hold great things for him. He was highly respected in the order and all the brethren loved him and honoured him.

After the death of Moulay ‘Abd al-Rahmān, Moulay Sulaimān travelled to take from Sheikh al-‘Alawī. He came to know of Sheikh al-‘Alawī through his friend Sīdī Muhammādī Bil-Hājj.”

However Moulay Sulaimān was in a dilemma whether taking from Shaykh al-‘Alawī was being treacherous to his Shaykh Moulay ‘Abd al-Rahmān. Sīdī Bouzīdī relates:

“Whilst in this dilemma, he dreamt one night that his sheikh Moulay ‘Abd al-Rahmān visited him, saying, ‘Give me my letter that you have.’ Moulay Sulaimān took out the letter and gave it to him. The sheikh then signed it with his signature and returned it to him. When he awoke he interpreted that it meant he had permission to visit Sheikh al-‘Alawī and join his order.”

When he passed away he left behind him forty thousand students able to guide others to God.

The branches of the Order are as follows:

His student who passed away in his lifetime and is buried in Tajsās outside Tangiers Sīdī Muhammad al-Bouzīdī (d. 1229) He was the teacher of Ibn ‘Ajība (1224) who is buried in az-Zamīj.

Sīdī Ahmad b. ‘Abd al-Mu’min (d.1262) He is buried Tajgān outside Tangiers, too. He is the grandfather of Muhammad bin as-Sadīq (the father of Shaykh Ahmed bin as-Sadīq). It is though him that the Siddiqiyyah and ‘Ajibiyyah Orders stem.

Sīdī Muhammad al-Harrāq (d. 1261), who passed away in Tetoun.

Sīdi Ahmad al-Badawī Zwiten al-Fāsi (d.1275) It is through his line that Shaykh Muhammad b. Habib teachers came. He is buried in Fez.

Sīdī Abu Ya‘za al-Mahhāji (d.1277) He is buried in Fez. The ‘Alawiyya, Karkariyyah, Boushishiyyah and Hibriyyah Orders stem from him.

Sīdī Muhammad b.Hamza Dhāfir al-Madani. It is said that the Ottoman Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamīd was initiated in his order through his son. He is buried in Misurata in Libya.