Sidi Darras ibn Ismail (d. 357/942)
The earliest saints of Fez were a group of juridically trained ascetics and legal experts who were known as "anchors of the earth" (awtad al-ard). They were given this appellation because they acted metaphorically as tent pegs (watad, pl. awtad) in "holding down" or maintaining the Shari'a in their locality (ard). As a holy faqih and anchor of the earth who helped the Shari'a in an urban locality, this figure exemplified the juridical authority of Moroccan sainthood. The key to the watad's authority was knowledge extended beyond the Sunna to the more professional knowledges of Shari'a and fiqh (jurisprudence). One of the most significant of these awtad was the Maliki legist Abu Maymouna Sidi Darras ibn Ismail (d. 357/942). Although Maliki law was introduced as early as the second/eighth century by Sidi Ali ibn Zayyad al-Ifriqi (d. 183/768) and others, in Sidi Darras' time it had not yet become the official legal school (madhab) of Morocco. The ulama of Fez still practiced Hanafi or "Kufan" jurisprudence—founded by the Grand Companion Sidi Abdellah ibn Masoud in Iraq— which was favoured by the Idrissite rulers of the city. Shaykh Sidi Darras aided in the triumph of Malikism by introducing Al-Mudawwana al-Kubra (The Greater Compendium), the compendium of juridical practice by Sidi Sahnoun ibn Said ("Abdessalam Tanukhi Qayrawani," d. 240/854).
As an advanced scholar, Darras studied under the greatest Maliki legists of his age in including Sidi Abi Bakr Mohammed ibn Labbad Ifriqi (d. 333/918) and the gnostic Sidi Ali ibn Matar al-Iskandari ("Abul Hassan Ali ibn Abdellah ibn Abi Matar," d. 339/924), and was a teacher of Sidi Mohammed Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (d. 389/974), Abul Hassan ibn al-Qabisi ("Sidi Ali ibn Mohammed ibn Khalaf Moughafiri Qayrawani," d. 403/988), Abul Faraj Abdous ibn Khalaf, and Khalaf ibn Ahmed ibn Abi Jaafar. In his travels in search of knowledge, he journeyed from al-Andalus, where he fought against the Christians, to points as far as Alexandria and Mecca. Upon returning from the Mashriq, Darras built a private mosque on the Andalusian side of Fez, where he taught Maliki jurisprudence to all comers, including those who could not afford the fees normally paid to a faqih, for individual study. The fact that a scholar of Darras' stature did not teach in the major congregational mosques in the city, such as the Al Qarawiyyine, Shurafa', or al-Andalus, is evidence of the disputes that must have raged between this Maliki activist and Fez's pro-Idrissite ulama, who resented his criticisms pf their Kufan methodology. Among the other disputes mentioned by local historians was the Darras' conflict with the ulama over the direction of prayer (qibla), which he claimed was more accurate that of the Masjid of the Al Qarawiyyine.
The practice of Islam of using private mosques for the teaching of alternative approaches to the religious sciences goes back to the late eight century, when it became associated with juridical reformers such as Imam Shafi'i (d. 204/820). Apart from the ribats (Sufi hermitages), private mosques of the type created by Sidi Darras ibn Ismail were the most important institutions of higher learning in early Middle Period Morocco. Independent scholars proffered them over endowed religious schools (madrasa, pl. madaris) because Maliki restrictions on the personal control of endowments (waqf, pl. awqaf) made the creation of family-run endowments all but impossible. Under Maliki law, the founder of an endowment was prohibited from serving as his own beneficiary. In addition, he was required to hand over the control of his endowment to the state upon completion of the deed. A scholar such as Darras who built a mosque on his own initiative could remain free from governmental interference only so long as the building was his own property and was supported by his own funds. If he wanted a descendent or another beneficiary to administer the mosque after his death, he could not leave it behind as a waqf, but instead would have to transfer its title to the new owner as an outright gift (hadiya).
Historical and biographical sources tell us that Darras was so fond on the prophetic Sunna that his contemporaries called him "Abu Maymuna al-Muhaddith" (the hadith scholar)—an uncommon epithet at a time when an emphasis on hadith study had yet to take root in the Maghrib. He is also credited with knowing all of the works of Imam Malik ibn Anass (d. 179/795) and his disciples by heart. This reputation was more than sufficient for him to be regarded as mujtahid, a specialist in juridical reasoning. Accounts portray him as a "knower of God" ('arif bi'llah), a devoted worshiper ('abid), an ascetic (zahid), and a God-conscious salih who practiced extreme caution (wara') in his behaviour. It was also rumoured that he was clairvoyant and could divine the sincerity or hypocrisy of anyone who spoke to him. There is a little question that Darras was venerated as a saint in his lifetime. He was especially revered as a protector of Fez—a position he shared with others in the awtad al-ard category. Equally important was the fact that his baraka retained its potency after his death. At the moment of his interment, we are told, the iron gate leading to the cemetery in which he was buried fell off of its hinges and never opened again, thus symbolising the closing of the "gate of independent reasoning" (ijtihad) in Moroccan jurisprudence. Until recently, the most efficacious time for visiting Darras' tomb was around sunset on Thursday evening, when the spirit of the prophet Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) was thought to intercede before God on behalf of those who sought the saint's aid.
Fez's "anchor of the earth" in the next generation was Sidi Abu Jayda al-Yazghi (or al-Yazghazani; d. after 369/978), who came from the Arabised Berber tribe of Banu Yazgha about thirty kilometres southeast of the city. As a transmitter of hadith, a commentator on the Quran, and a specialist in Maliki law, the figure known popularly as "Sidi Bu Jida" was like his processor Sidi Darras ibn Ismail, a powerful protector of Fez against its enemies. This latter ability was first noticed when his presence prevented the Fatimid commander Jawhar "the Sicilian" (the eventual conqueror of Egypt) from sacking Fez in 349/660. This anti-Shi'ite intervention did not mean, however, that Sidi Bu Jida was any better disposed toward the Fatimids' rivals, the Umayyads of Spain. Twenty years later, when Fez fell under the control of the Andalusian regent al-Mansur ibn Abi Amir (r. 369-92/978-1002), the saint was again called upon for protection. Upon taking office, al-Mansur's governor asked the ulama of Fez to decide whether their city had been taken willingly (sulhan) or by force ('anwatan). Unwillingly to show support for either the Umayyads or the Fatimids, the ulama summoned Sidi Bu Jida to solve their problems for them. Displaying impeccable tact, he both preserved the fiction of this city's independence and avoiding the imposition of punitive taxes by answering, "Neither willingly nor by force. Her inhabitants are simply resigned to it."