Assalamu alaikum (=peace be upon you) dear readers,
Good ‘adab’ ( =manners/etiquette) on a rihla (= journey for purpose of learning, often used for spiritual journey) entails that the first places in a new country one visits are purposefully chosen. We chose to begin as far as practically possible, with visiting ‘Moulay Idriss’, the ‘founder’ of what is modern day Morocco and the spiritual father of the land. There is a mosque by his burial site as well as the town where he is buried is also called ‘moulay Idriss’. We stopped here on our way to the ancient city of Fez, Al-Faas in Arabic, one of the great spiritual capitals of the maghreb (=literally ‘west’, meaning the western Muslim world…the lands that would comprise Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Southern Spain of today)
Moulay Idriss was the great-great-grandson of the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). We were treated to a masterful narration of his story on our bus-ride to the city by Sh. Mokhtar, which I will not be able to recapitulate. However to summarize, during the tumultuous time of the khalif Ali (karamallahu wajha = Allah ennoble his face) and the years after, there was deep discord and division as to who would become the ruler. By this time, the capital had moved to modern day Iraq and the rule of the Muslim world had entered a dynastic period with the first Umayyad dynasty established.
Dynastic rule is not something Muslims are comfortable with and that was the case at that time as well. [The preferred Muslim system of rule has often been described as ‘meritocracy’ as opposed to ‘democrasy’ or ‘monarchy’]. So not surprisingly, in Medina, there was a movement to bring rule back to descendants of the prophet (peace be upon him) not simply due to lineage, but because they embodied the truest spirit of ascetisicm and ability to rule justly. In other words most ‘taking after the prophet’ (peace be upon him). The people of Medina swore allegiance to ‘Muhammed nafsul zakkiya’ (Muhammed the ‘pure souled’), the brother of Moulay Idriss. One of those who pledged allegiance was Ja’far al Mansur, who went on to found the Abbasid dynasty at the fall of the Umayyad dynasty, and then turn against the family of Muhammed nafsul zakkiya. Muhammed nafsul zakkiya was killed in 145 AH (after hijri, 762 CE), and many of his family members captured.
Moulay Idriss escaped and was taken by his ‘servant’ (there is no modern day equivalent, but you could think of this as his ‘valet’ in the old English meaning of the word perhaps), Moulay Rashid to the maghreb. [BTW ‘moulay’ in Arabic can be used to mean both ‘master’ and ‘servant’, or ‘guardian’ as well as ‘ward’…translators of Arabic texts need to be careful of terms like this that they don’t make mistakes in translation. A digression worth the mention as the Orientalists have done plenty damage in bringing knowledge of the Muslim world to Europe by making several mistakes like this the past 200-300 years]. Moulay Rashid had family ties in the maghreb, his mother being a Berber tribeswoman, and news of Islam had already spread as far as the Berber tribes which had for the most part already converted to Islam.
Therefore when Moulay Idriss arrived in the maghreb, he was welcomed with open arms as a great teacher by the Berber tribes, who gave him leadership and pledged allegiance to him. He founded a capital in what is now the town of Moulay Idriss and ruled there for a short 3 years. The caliphs in Baghdad, afraid of his popularity and rapidly growing influence, had him assassinated by means of a spy they sent to the maghreb. His wife, the lady Kinza, was 7 months pregnant at the time. In Muslim history, much is written about the nobility and wisdom of the lady Kinza. The boy born to her was named ‘Idriss’ as well. A prodigal child, he was carefully looked after by Moulay Rashid until at a very young age (perhaps early teenhood), all the tribes pledged allegiance to him as their leader. Idriss the second, moved the capital to Fez (Al-Faas), a project begun by his father. He lived a short time, dying in his thirties, but accomplished a great deal during that period. A master orator, leader, scholar, he memorized the Quran at a young age of course, and was a saintly person.
To get back to the tale of his father, Moulay Idriss the first is buried in the town bearing his name. It is a very picturesque town high up in the mountains (chosen for it’s strategic location) close to what used to be a Roman outpost. The mosque adjoining the compound of his tomb is stunning. We joined the congregation for the noon prayer there, and spent some time wondering around the town after. Only Muslims are allowed into the mosque complex though as it is a very sacred space. In the short time we spent there, we witnessed many beautiful experiences which I unfortunately cannot include in this medium. And perhaps on hindsight it is wiser to keep the space free from tourist cameras and the like. Some pictures I am able to share are below.
There was a very peaceful feel to the whole place. It bore the traces of people who had come to find rest, and found it, over the centuries. While we were there, a group of ‘munshid’ (=those who sing ‘nasheed’, which are often poems in praise of the prophet peace be upon him) came by, sat down on the carpet and started a beautiful harmonious chanting of a poem famous throughout the Muslim world; ‘qaseeda Burdah’. [It is a long poem (depending on style of reading/singing, can take upto 4 hours), a nice documentary on it here and partial (?) meaning in English here. – one of my have-to-blog-on in the series of ‘music in Islam’ – inshaAllah. There is a rendition of it in a very ‘olde English’ style of singing performed by Sheikh Tim Winter of Cambridge – one of the greatest scholars in the Muslim English speaking world today, well worth the listen!]
Also to note, the love and reverence the people of the maghreb have for the family of Muhammed, peace be upon him is deep and ancient. Morocco is a sunni country and many in the world today unfortunately have the impression the Sunni world is divorced from the love of the prophet (peace be upon him) and of his beloved family. This is not true, and has never been the case. It was nice to witness such deep love, unspoilt by all the modern woes, in this beautiful spot…that still bears the marks of the saintly and revered person buried there, a descendant of our beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him) who had that great noble bearing which is a mark of those of his family, peace be upon him.
I will end with a short clip of the Burdah, sung in a very old Moroccan style
Peace be with you all.
And a clip from the Burdah…if you visit me, you may hear it playing often
Peace and blessing be with you!