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A Sacred Space

Sanctuary of Moulay Abdeslam Ben M’chich, June 2006.

I mentioned Moulay Abdeslam in my last post, so I thought I would expand on what I was talking about there, the idea that Moroccans sometimes have a poor understanding of their own culture. I needed to visit the place itself before I could find someone who was able to tell me some of the details of Moulay Abdeslam’s life and what his spiritual philosophy might have been. Luckily, my Moroccan friend and I were taken in hand by a local who is part of the community that preserves Moulay Abdeslam’s tradition. Our guide presented me with a treatise in Arabic that cites the writings of Moulay Abdeslam, most of which have been lost over the centuries because of “time and politics,” he said. He also gave me the name of a radio journalist in Tangier who is a specialist in Sufi music, and has a weekly program that highlights the music of a different zawiya with each broadcast. (A zawiya is the spiritual community that has grown up around a particlular Sufi “saint.”)

This goes to show that Morocco’s cultural heritage is accessible if you know where to look, but such knowledge often remains the province of a self-selected few. For most visitors to Moulay Abdeslam’s shrine, it is a place of religious veneration and, dare I say, superstition. They give a donation to the tomb’s guardians, who line the path greedily with their hands out. They say a few prayers in the hope that the saint will help them cure a sickness or other woe. Often they stay days at a time. A teenage boy from Casablanca told me that his mother had spent all her money in pursuit of a cure. “Baraka is expensive,” he said. I looked at him in shock. “Baraka is free. Those who give it will receive more.” The men in the cafe nodded in agreement, apparently more enlightened than whoever was taking the woman’s money. As people who remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker know, religion is a business!

Moulay Abdeslam’s actual spiritual path, what made him a “saint” and gave him reknown as one of the great Sufi masters, is unknown to most people who visit his grave. They only know he has some special pull with the Almighty. Knowledge of his teachings exists, but it is not on ready display. I had the distinct impression that my friend and I were being tested, before our guide introduced us to people who could give us more information. As to why the Sufi philosophy isn’t published more broadly, the teachings of Pythagoras and Aritstotle were also kept secret in their time. Perhaps Sufism guards its secrets to keep them from misuse by fakers, or to protect themselves from persecution by religious zealots. Perhaps it a test of the seeker’s sincerity. Or perhaps there is nothing there! At any rate, learning about Moulay Abdeslam isn’t like plucking a magazine from a newsrack.

What is visible at first glance is an ancient tomb with a tree growing from it, a space for prayer carpeted with cork, a mountain with unobstructed views of the entire region, an open-air mosque painted white, and huge, gnarled trees that seem intelligent, like they move in the night.


Comment from jilal
Time: January 18, 2007, 11:34

Ca a fait plaisir de lire tes histoires
J’imagine bien toutes les scènes que t’as raconté et c’est vrai ça doit être très trés intéressent
On parle des bienfaits de ces saints . je me rappelle petit en algerie.j’avais attraper une maladie alors à l’epoque ma mére m’ammena voir un certain sidi hayoun des l’arrivé il a tenu ma main puis il a cracher 3 fois puis m’a dit tu guerrira ce soir et c’etait ainsi.

Comment from Yahia
Time: January 18, 2007, 11:52

Religious cult mixed with naïve and superstitious mind. I have to agree.

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 18, 2007, 16:10

@jilal — I can see it! thanks :)

@Yahia — I think you’ve only picked up on half of what I’m saying here. It’s true that most people who visit the shrine of Moulay Abedeslam go there for superstitious reasons. But when he was alive, Moulay Abdeslam was a spiritual teacher like Ibn al-‘Arabi and others. He left practices and disciples. This “other side” of Moulay Abdeslam is less known, but this what interests me.

When I was there with my friend, I wanted to visit the tomb to pay my respects. The guardians wouldn’t let me because I was a foreigner. I was unhappy about that, but then I realized that perhaps I understood the situation better than they did. After all, Moulay Abdeslam had wandered all over these mountains, and his “feeling” is still in the air. Why should I be concerned about his tomb? Does baraka come from a tomb or from the Real, al-Haqq? Isn’t al-Haqq both inside and outside, everywhere around us?

What’s interesting about the village of Moulay Abdeslam is there are still people living there who follow the original teachings. I’d like to meet them, and learn more about those teachings. This is different from the “superstitious mind” you are criticizing, it is spiritual philosophy and spiritual practice. Do you see what I’m saying?

Comment from Yahia
Time: January 18, 2007, 16:52

I didn’t comment on My Abdesslam’s life; also, I didn’t (intedn to) criticize you nor the man in the tomb, but the people who go there to be healed etc. instead. (“For most visitors to Moulay Abdeslam’s shrine, it is a place of religious veneration”)

I said that in a rush because I’m kind of angry about it. I remain disliking the fact that people pray alone, go to mosks, visit these sacred places, and so on, just to ask God something for themselves. It’s not faith, it’s superstition, hipocrisy and waste of energy. (God asks his slaves to pray and ask him, but not exclusively.)

So as you can see, i’m not opposing what you’re searching there.

“He left practices and disciples.” I don’t know much about that. All I see is people especially relatives, going there for one reason as said above.

So yeah, I see clear. Now, do you? :D

Comment from AKA
Time: April 11, 2007, 05:35

Anyone who trully want to visit the Shrine of Moulay Abdeslam, must visit first the Shrines of the Sebaat Rejal ( Shrines of the 7 Men) of which they are all over the Village of Beni Arouse.

I suggest, if the visitor is not a Muslim, the visitor must have a guide who is originally one of the Great Great Children of Moulay Adbeslam.

After the Visit to the (7 Men Shrines), the last visit should be to Moulay Abdesslam, and after that, the visitor will have a different outlook and feelings about life.

The Sadaks gieven to the Shorafa is a gift of sharing oneself with others whom may forward their good will unto the giver.

The first time i visisted Moulay Adbdeslam, I was 10 years old, and I toured the (7 Men Shrines) on foot with my father may God Bless him, and the last time I visited Moulay Abdeslam was September 2006.

Last but not least, to know about Moulay Abdeslam is first to know about his people, the Children of Beni Arouse and all the small villages that encompus the Great Village of Beni Arouse.

(one of Moulay Abdessallam Great Children)

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