Ribat 'Ayn al-Fitr: Moulay Abdellah Amghar
The history of one of the earliest and most important ribats of Morocco –'Ayn al-Fitr, located on the Atlantic coast some eight kilometres south of the modern city of El Jadida–is detailed in a fourteenth-century manuscript entitled Bahjat an-nadhirin wa uns al-'arifin wa wasilat Rabb al-Alamin fi manaqib rijal Amghar as-salihin (The Delight of observers, the intimacy of the gnostics, and the agency of the Lord of the Worlds in the exploits of the exemplary Amghar Sali'hin). The hagiographic monograph, made up of collected manaqib (exploit narratives), is useful for modern historians because its complier, Mohammed az-Zammuri, a judge from the town of Azammour who was also a member of the Banu Amghar family, includes transcriptions of documents that provide important information about the ribat's social functions and political relations. These texts which include correspondence between the leaders of Banu Amghar and the rulers of their day, offer a rare glimpse into the activities of rural Moroccan Sufis during the Almoravid and Almohad eras.
According to az-Zammuri, the Banu Amghar are descendents of Prophet Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) by way of a chieftain (Berber. amghar) whose full name was Sidi Abu Uthman Said ibn Abi Zakariyya Yahya b. Shakir Hammad b. Abi Sulayman Dawud b. Abi Zakariyya al-Hunayf. The Banu Amghar, whose origin is from the Hassani-Idrissi clan, played both a religious and political role as descendents of the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, among the Sanhaja pastoralists of the Atlantic coastal region of Dukkala. Indeed, their very name implies a socio-political role. In Morocco, the Berber word amghar is roughly equivalent in meaning to the Arabic term Shaykh. Unlike Shaykh, however, which may refer to a Sufi master or religious notable as well as a tribal leader, amghar carries the exclusive connotation of socio-political leadership.
The traditions reproduced in Bahjat an-nadhirin place the founder of Ribat 'Ayn al-Fitr, Moulay Ismail, in Medina at the end of the fourth/tenth century, where he is portrayed as an ascetic and a firm adherent of the example of as-salaf as-salih. After living for a time in the Red Sea Port of Jeddah, he hears a voice that tells him to go to the Maghrib, where his baraka and private formula of invocation (wird) will be of benefit. In time, this hidden voice gives him specific instructions: "Oh Moulay Ismail, go to the Maghrib and follow the light that you see before you. Wherever the light settles in the Maghrib, there should you stay, for it will be a place of sali'hin." Accompanied by two of his brothers, Sidi Moulay Ismail follows what is referred to in the text as the "Hashimate light" (an-nur al-Hashimi) until they came to an island just off the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Crossing over to the island at low tide, they discover a cluster of bushes, a spring of pure water, and a hive of honeybees. Because their basic necessities are provided for by this spring and its surroundings, they call the place 'Ayn al-Fitr', "Spring of Sustenance" (Berber. Tit-n-Fitr). The entrance of Sidi Moulay Ismail to Morocco dated the collapse of the Idrissid dynasty (203/788-389/974) and the division of Morocco into the states of Barghwata, Maghrawa and Bani Yafran –which the tribe of Sanhaja belonged to.
Az-Zammuri goes on to explain that the region of Dukkala was then covered with low scrub and inhabited by lions. These beasts would surround Moulay Ismail when he prayed and rub their bodies against his clothes when he performed his invocations. This behaviour was observed from afar from herdsmen from the nearby Sanhaja tribe of Azammour, who reported it to their Abdellaziz ibn Battar. Going immediately to the place where his men had seen the miracle, Ibn Battar found Moulay Ismail standing in a field, surrounded by a pride of lions. However, when he asked the saint to join his tribe the latter refused, protesting that al-'abd salih could not leave the place where God had commended him to settle. When ibn Battar tried to compel the saint to go with him by force, the ground opened up beneath the tribal leader's feet and held him captive until he apologised. Several months later after Moulay Ismail mediated an intratribal dispute over the use of a well and successfully petitioned God to provide rain during a drought, the leaders of Sanhaja Azammour held a council, at which they decided that just having such a saint in their vicinity would give them a distinct advantage over their rivals. To strengthen his relationship with the saint, Ibn Battar intermarried with Moulay Ismail and appointed him the imam and chief of Sanhaja Azammour. Gods willing, the wife of Moulay Ismail gave birth to Ishaq who succeeded his father in imamate and sainthood.
Sidi Abu Jaafar Ishaq Amghar (d. 475/1060) is the first about whom the text of Bahjat an-nadhirin contains transcribed documents. The earliest of these is an edict promulgated by the Maghrawi sultan of Fez, Tamim ibn Ziri b. Atiyya, in the year 409/1018. This decree, which was probably issued soon after Abu Jaafar succeeded his father as head of Ribat 'Ayn al-Fitr, authorises the murabit and his descendants to take a share of the produce tax (kharaj) claimed by the state from the Sanhaja Azammour as upkeep from their family, servants, and followers. This is to last as long as the murabitun of 'Ayn al-Fitr maintain their spiritual rank and do not relocate to another region. The formal and contractual nature of the relationship between the Banu Amghar and their clients is reconfirmed in another edict from the Marinid period (ca. 696/1297), in which Abu Moussa Aissa Amghar is allotted ten gold dinars per month in return for serving as a judge and official witness ('adil) for the Sanhaja Azammour –again with the proviso that the murabit neither leave 'Ayn al-Fitr for another location nor change his saintly status, and so long as he and his descendants maintain sufficient level of expertise in the religious sciences. The importance of the Banu Amghar to the Marinid state is underscored by the fact that this second edict was renewed no fewer than three times (in 743/1328, 833/1418, and 861/1446).
Also attributed to Abu Jaafar Amghar is the earliest creed ('aqida) by a Moroccan rural religious figure. This document was written in 412/997 in response to questions posted by a scholar from the Tunisian city of Sfax. In the pre-modern Maghrib, an 'aqida was a doctrinal position paper or a statement of principles that was meant to prove the orthodoxy of its author's beliefs. The portion of Abu Jaafar's 'aqida that is reproduced in Bahjat an-nadhirin is similar in content to the 'aqida that is found in the opening chapter of the Risala of Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani. This tells us that the Banu Amghar's interpretation of Islam was probably little different from that of mainstream Maliki reformers such as Sidi Abu Imran al-Fasi. Abu Jaafar Amghar is further credited by az-Zammuri with laying out the physical complex of 'Ayn al-Fitr and turning the ribat into a formal institution. At first the murabit, along with his family and entourage, lived in simple huts clustered about his father's grave. In 419/1004, the effects of a famine caused by fighting between the Sanhaja Azammour and the Barghwata tribe of Tamesna compelled Abu Jaafar to move south along the Atlantic coast, to a fortified settlement known as Iyir (Tashelhit Berber. rock, boulder). Here, he taught the Quranic studies and Maliki Jurisprudence to the Masmuda inhabitants of highland Dukkala.
Although some of the inhabitants of Iyir accepted Abu Jaafar as their imam, most opposed him, thus forcing him to give up his mission to the Masmuda and return to his clients the Sanhaja Azammour. It was a this juncture that he decided to develop and fortify the site of 'Ayn al-Fitr. After clearing away the low scrub that covered the coastal area across from the island and its holy spring, Abu Jaafar built a small mosque and a permanent dwelling. Seeing that several families of Sanhaja pastoralists wanted to settle near him in order in order to partake his baraka, he provided for their needs by digging a well, later known as Tin Gidut (Tashelhit Berber. tin gi.ggut: Well of Abundance), that was fed by the spring of 'Ayn al-Fitr. Later he constructed a congregational mosque next to the well. The main structure of this mosque, which was originally built of driftwood, has long since collapsed, but its cut-stone minaret [which resembles that of the Kutubiyya mosque in Marrakech], the oldest privately built religious structure still extant in Morocco, stands today.
Sometime around the year 475/1060, Moulay Abu Abdellah Amghar succeeded his father Abu Jaafar, as head of Ribat al-Fitr. Contemporary to Moulay Abdellqadir Jilani (d. 563/1148), Moulay Abu Abdellah was acknowledged throughout Morocco as one of the most influential figures on his days and he was particularly noted as a specialist in the Quran. Along with his son and successor, Sidi Abdelkhaliq (d. 614/1199), this long-lived murabit is credited with founding Taifa Sanhajiya, the earliest recorded example of an institutionalised Sufi order in the Morocco and the Maghrib. In the latter half of the eight/fourteenth century, the jurist and hagiographer Ahmed Ibn Qunfudh (d. 810/1403), cited Taifa Sanhajiya as one of the most noted orders in all of North Africa. As its name implies, the Sanhajiya Sufi order was an ethnically oriented institution whose membership was limited to Sanhaja Berbers. Its members, however, did not only come from the Sanhaja Azammour of Dukkala. Rather, Taifa Sanhajiya was multiregional in scope and was claimed the allegiance of virtually every Sufi of Sanhaja and stock between Dukkala and Moroccan Sahara.
The Almoravid sultants of Morocco appear to have regarded Moulay Abu Abdellah Amghar as a semiofficial spokesman for all of the Sanhaja Berbers of Morocco. Az-Zammuri reports that prior to the year 522/1128, Ali ibn Yusuf b. Tashfin and his vizier Abul Walid ibn Rushd (the noted Maliki jurist and grandfather of the famous Andalusian philosopher) solicited the blessings of the murabit for the construction of new defensive walls for their capital of Marrakech. After approving the construction and being the first to make a donation to the project, it is said that its expenditures were accounted seventy thousand golden dinars. Another letter, dated 527/1112 and also written in the name of Ali ibn Yusuf, is the earliest to officially acknowledge Moulay Abdellah Amghar as a descendant of the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him. In light of this communication, it is significant that when the Sufi Shaykhs and sulaha' (righteous men) of Morocco were summoned to Marrakech to confirm their oath of allegiance to Ali ibn Yusuf, Moulay Abu Abdellah demurred, citing as his reason, an "extreme lack of care for the world".
Abu Abdellah Amghar's otherworldliness is confirmed by his contemporary, the biographer Mohammed ibn Qacem at-Tamimi, who describes the murabit as having "the hereafter between his eyes." The sources also maintain that that Abu Abdellah Amghar, like other Sunni internationalists in al-Andalus and North Africa, was devoted in equal measure to the Maliki school of law and the usuli approach that was championed by most Sufis of his generation. He would dedicate selected passages from Sahnun's Mudawwana to his students and instruct them in the example of as-Salaf as-Salih. At the same time, he was so fond of al-Ghazali's writings that he miraculously transported himself to the latter's funeral. The Sufi doctrines of Taifa Sanhajiya appear to have been short on metaphysical demonstration but long on sala'h and asceticism. Abu Abdellah Amghar was particularly noted for his love of spiritual retreat (khalwa) and bodily mortification (al-jidd wal ijtihad). This latter practice involved frequent fasting and extreme sensitivity in regard to the amount, type, or origin of whatever one ate or drank. Abu Abdellah's scrupulousness was so intense that he refused to eat food that other people produced, lest it be polluted by the traces of their sins. For this reason, he restricted his diet to the leaves of trees, "allowable plans of the earth," and fish from the sea.
In the way of practice, Abu Abdellah Amghar required his disciples to follow ten rules of Companionship (shurut as-suhba) that were similar in nature to the rules of the early futuwwa groups of Khurasan. These ten principles were: (1) the avoidance of disputes, (2) the pursuit of justice, (3) generosity, (4) contentment with whatever God provides, (5) forbearance, (6) concealment of esoteric teaching from the uninitiated (hifdh al-ghuyub), (7) concealment of the sins of others, (8) conceding the final word in an argument, (9) satisfaction with one's lot in life, and (10) refusing to exert oneself for worldly goods. Among the famous disciples of Moulay Abu Abdellah who adopted this very type of disciple is Moulay Boushayb Sarya (d. 561/1156), the patron of Azammour and founder of Ribat Iliskawen–where he initiated Sidi Abu Ya'aza Yalnour (d. 572/1157), the teacher of Sidi Abu Madyan (d. 594/1198).
The Banu Amghar of 'Ayn al-Fitr enjoyed a pre-eminent position among the rural Sufis of Morocco throughout the Almoravid and Almohad periods. Moulay Abu Abdellah Amghar in particular maintained friendly relations with many of the most important religious figures of his day. These included the jurist Sidi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi (d. 543/1128) — student of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 526/1111) and initiator of Sidi Ali ibn Harzihim (d. 559/1144) to Sufism—who wrote a work dedicated to the murabit entitled Siraj al-muhtadin fi adab as-salihin (Lamp of the guided in the conduct of the Salihin). Another correspondent was Sidi Qadi Iyyad al-Yahsubi (d. 544/1129), a noted jurist and Hadith specialist from Sabta, author of Kitab Shifa bita'rif huquq al-Mustapha (The Antidote in knowing the rights of Chosen Prophet), a highly influential work on the veneration of Prophet Sidna Mohammed, peace and blessing be upon him. Az-Zammuri also claims that Moulay Abu Abdellah exchanged letters with Sufis in Iraq, and after his death a delegation of sulaha' from Yemen came to visit his tomb.
Clearly 'Ayn al-Fitr served as a model for other ribats in Morocco and its Shaykhs were considered paradigmatic murabitun. Abu Abdellah Amghar's nickname, Abul Abdal (“Father of Substitutes;” a ‘substitute’ is a hierarchical saint in Islamic sainthood. He is called so for when he dies another is elected by God from the rank and file of the saints), is indicative of this family central importance to Moroccan Sufism. According to traditions still current in Dukkala, no fewer than ten leaders of the Banu Amghar held the rank of "substitute" (sing. badil, pl. budala', abdal), a candidate for the title of Axis of the Age (qutb az-Zaman). Among these abdal, the very seven children of Moulay Abu Abdellah, namely, Sidi Abdellah, Sidi Abdelkhaliq Abdeladim, Sidi Abu Yaqub Yusuf, Sidi Abdennur, Sidi Maymoun, Sidi Abdeladim, and Sidi Abu Abdellah.
His son and successor Sidi Abu Abdelkhaliq Amghar (d. 614/1199), enjoyed a close relationship with the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (d. 614/1199), who supported Ribat 'Ayn al-Fitr financially and allowed the murabit to intercede at court on behalf of the Sanhaja Azammour. It is thus likely that the Banu Amghar joined other prominent Sufis of Morocco in supporting the Almohad movement against the Almoravides. Although it is presently impossible to reconstruct the complete spiritual method of Taifa Sanhajiya, it outlines can be gleaned from Bahjat an-nadhirin and other sources. Hagiographers agree in portraying the murabitun of 'Ayn al-Fitr as firm adherents of the Mohammedian Sunna. In at-Tashawwuf, for example, at-Tadili depicts Abu Abdelkhaliq as saying to his sons: "Do you know how your ancestor surpassed the other salihin of the Maghrib? He did not surpass them because of the frequency of [his prayers] or fasting. He surpassed them in his adherence to the Sunna."
Sidi Abu Abdelkhaliq was succeeded by Sidi Abu Yaqub Yusuf, who demonstrated the characters of Ahl Allah in deeds and actions using the 'karama' for the sake of spiritual education and adherence. The tradition narrates that one day three men from Asfi sought his blessing. After they arrived to Ain al-Fitr, they were told that the Shaykh is working in his field. Seeing him working very hard, the men thought that the Shaykh is a man of life (dunya). Using the kashf (mind-reading), he told them: "Your egos whispered to you that I am a man seeking the benefits of life. Know that working hard guards the religion, forbids from being seeing (riya'), glorifies knowledge ('ilm), and guides seekers to the right path." The men later apologised to the murabit and sought his baraka.
Sidi Abu Yaqub's nephew and heir Sidi Abul Hassan Ali ibn Abdelkhaliq was, on his turn, an ally of Almohads. He was frequently invited by sultan Abu Yaqub al-Mansur to travel with him to al-Andalus to make jihad. Today poetic odes are still sung in Dukkala which recount the glories of the Banu Amghar and lament the downfall and dispersion of this eminent maraboutic family. The Banu Amghar were recognised as authorities on Islam and were legitimate members of the ulama class. However not unlike the less sophisticated saints of the Atlas, it was equally part of their role to maintain a local political presence as tribal brokers. Because they assumed the role of official witnesses ('adil, pl. 'udul) among the Sanhaja Azammour, and maintained their position as neutral outsiders by choosing their wives from al-Andalus and other regions external to Dukkala, the murabitun of 'Ayn al-Fitr were trusted by their followers to act as just arbitrators and mediators. The eventual creation, under the Marinids of the post of judge (qadi) at 'Ayn al-Fitr formally institutionalised this mediating role.
The acknowledgement by the Marinids that a competent jurist could be found at Ribat 'Ayn al-Fitr demonstrates that rather than administering an unsophisticated and arbitrary for of "qadi-justice", the Banu Amghar functioned, likes the students of Sidi Abu Imran al-Fasi (d. 430/1015), as bearers of the urban traditions of Maliki jurisprudence. Both Bahjat an-nadhirin and other, more contemporaneous sources, such as at-Tadili's Tashawwuf, and Mohammed ibn Qacem at-Tamimi's Kitab al-mustafad fi dhikr as-salihin wal 'ubbad bi-madinati Fas wa ma yaliha min al-bilad (Compendium of the recollection of the salihin and the pious of the city of Fez and adjoining lands), attest to the fact that the Banu Amghar were anything the marginally educated opportunists so often depicted in modern studies of maraboutism. Such as a peripheralised model of rural salih obscures the fact that many were legitimate scholars in their own right and could even be included among the most important ulama of their day.
Another aspect of maraboutism that is clarified by the example of 'Ayn al-Fitr concerns the relative valuation of ascribed versus acquired form of status. The idea that descent from the Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessing be upon him, is a necessary and sufficient proof of religious or political authority was not widely accepted in the Maghrib during Almoravid and Almohad periods. Despite the precedent of sharifian rule set by the Idrissid imama, descendants of Sidna Mohammed, peace and blessing be upon him, do not begin to proliferate in Morocco until the seventh/thirteenth century. Even the question of whether the Banu Amghar were in fact the sharifs they claimed to be does not appear as a major issue until the publication of Bahjat an-nadhirin in the fourteenth century. Neither at-Tadili nor at-Tamimi, writing almost two hundred years before az-Zammuri, mentions anything about a prophetic linage for the murabitun of 'Ayn al-Fitr. Instead, at-Tadili merely states that Abu Abdellah Amghar was "Sanhaji" by origin, while at-Tamimi lists him as "Zammuri", after his approximate place of residence, Azammour. This lack of a sharifian genealogy did not, however, diminish the status of this family in the pages of either at-Tashawwuf or al-Mustafad.
It should be noted that the most significant indicators of sainthood in the formative period of Moroccan Sufism were miracles and socially conscious virtue, sala’h. Sala'h is similarly significant in the hagiographic record of the Banu Amghar. Examples of this type of spirituality include the futuwwa- inspired Commandments of Companionship set down by Moulay Abu Abdellah, as well as more universal indicators for piety and virtue such as knowledge of the Quran, expertise in Islamic law, and inner purity. In regard to Banu Amghar's socio-political role, the most important example can be found in the eleventh century edict of the sultan Tamim ibn Ziri. This edict confirms the murabit's role as both a tribal arbitrator and an Islamic imam, and it intimates that virtue above all meant using one's knowledge to establish and maintain justice in a local context.
The murabitun of Tit have long played the responsibility of social brokers. This means that when Banu Amghar applied Quranic and Islamic legal precepts among the Sanhaja Azammour, their success depended on their ability to translate the elaborated code of universal Arabo-Islamic discourse into the more restricted code of their pastoralist followers. The murabit's ability to practice his vocation was predicated on his skill in bridging the "privatisation of meaning" that divided the urban-based world of normative Islam from the rural world of tribal relations in which he lived. To do so, it was necessary for him, to keep foot on both environments –the local as well as the universal. Although his political role kept him tied to a specific locality, his pedagogical role demanded a relatively thorough knowledge of Islamic of Islamic theology and jurisprudence.
It was because he acted as a social broker, and because of some idealised etymology of the word murabit, that the marabout was "bound" (marbut) to a particular locality or tribe. For the Banu Amghar, these ties were affirmed in the form of a social contract that was modelled after the covenant struck between the Prophet Sidna Mohammed, peace and blessing be upon him, and the people of Medina following the Hijra. According to the terms of this contract, the murabit of 'Ayn al-Fitr undertook to Sanhaja Azammour and to mediate their disputes in return for a formalised "gift" (hiba) that was paid to him in specie or in kind. Eventually, the "actional formalism" of this transaction was recognised by the state and institutionalised in series of written edicts.
When this relationship was further institutionalised by the creation of a locally-based Sufi order that included all the Sanhaja Berbers of Morocco, the very possibility of the Banu Amghar transcending their "Sanhaji" identity became moot. In the end, rather than being bound only to God, as the etymology of the term murabit has most often been understood, the murabitun of 'Ayn al-Fitr were sometimes equally bound to an ethnic sub-culture that defined their sainthood in its own parochial terms. Two of the main ratifications of Taifa Sanhajiya suggest this approach. The first example is az-Zammuri Shaykh Moulay Boushayb as-Sarya (d. 561/1146), disciple of Moulay Abu Abdellah Amghar; and second, the Imam, Sidi Mohammed ibn Sulayman al-Jazouli (d. 869/1454), who comes from the Simlala (Ida-u-Simlal) tribe, one of the most important Sanhaja Berber group on Jazula. Imam al-Jazouli spent the years between 843/1428 and 850/1435 in Ribat al-Fitr and was the disciple of Sidi Abu Abdellah Mohammed Amghar as-Saghir (d. 850/1435), who took the rural Shadhiliya from the hand of the murabit Sidi Abu Uthman Said al-Hintari of Ribat Sidi Shiker.