Scholars as Saints
In the introduction of his chronicle, Ajaib al-athar fi'l tarajim wa'l akhbar, Shaykh Abderrahman al-Jabarti al-Misri in 1820 set forth a remarkable self-image of the ulama and of their place within the Muslim ethos. According to his account God created mankind in five categories of descending importance. In the first category were the prophets who were sent to reveal God's message to mankind and to show the world the path of righteousness. In the second category were the ulama who are the heirs and the successors of the prophets, "the depositors of truth in this world and the elite of mankind." Below them in rank were the kings and other rulers, and below them ranked the rest of mankind in two last categories.
Such a glorified image of the ulama was not entirely a product of Shaykh al-Jabarti's fantasy, but was indeed grounded in Muslim ethics, and it serves to explain the special position the ulama occupied in their society. For where all men are enjoined to obey a moral imperative, "command good and set aside evil” for themselves and their circle, it was the duty of the ulama to see that this was carried out by the whole of society. They were the purveyors of Islam, the guardians of its traditions, the depository of ancestral wisdom, and the moral tutors of the population. The ulama who did not even form a priestly caste attained a position of moral and social superiority on the basis of their profession as doctors of the law and of their preoccupation with "the words of God" which regulated the gamut of relationships between individuals and between them and their Maker.
The rest of Muslim society acquiesced in the special standing of the ulama, as did indeed the rulers, in theory, if not always in practice. For though one would like to believe that the "pen is mightier than the sword" the facts showed that the ruler who had the sword at his side was the more powerful until he lost that sword. Physical coercion was more forceful than moral sanctions. Hence the growth of a Sunni tradition of submission to authority no matter how tyrannical, with the concomitant fear of anarchy implicit in the Sunni aversion to revolution. Nevertheless the ulama's moral influence throughout the Muslim world won them a virtual immunity from arbitrary punishment by the rulers, and at times they braved the wrath of the rulers and used their moral sanctions to thwart tyrannous measures.
The pattern of accommodation between legalistic orthodoxy (Shari'a) and illuminist mysticism (Sufism) in Morocco was thorough and consistent both on the level of theology and in the specific institutional and personal relationships that characterised daily life. Both ulama and people accepted the idea of intercession between the individual believer and Allah, and it appeared thus perfectly consistent and it appeared thus perfectly consistent that Sufi masters should be granted a special veneration. Even after their death what could be more normal than that the believer would want to offer prayers at their tombs? A prayer as more likely to be heard by God Almighty if transmitted through the channel of a person whom He had signalled out for His special favour. Both ulama and people also believed that God could and did intervene o change the normal order of events in this world.
With this belief in heart and mind it was obvious that institutionalised mysticism could hardly be dismissed as Sunni. The attempt to understand God's will and reality through the mystical dhikr of a Sufi order was not seen as been in conflict with the normal requirement of Islamic law. It was simply another and complementary manner in which finite man attempted to establish as proper relationship with his Lord. Consistent with this theological certainty, a highly trained faqih or alim did not need to have any mental reservations about acknowledging the saintliness of an unlearned man (ummi) such as the cases of Sidi Abu Yaaza Yalnour (d. 572/1157) and Moulay Abdellaziz Debbarh (d. 1132/1717).
Although sometimes much is made up of the inescapable tensions between the esoteric and exoteric dimensions of Islam, these dimensions overlapped to a great degree at the al-Qarawiyyine mosque of Fez. Scholars have also served as administrators of Sufi related institutions such as the shrines of saints and the extensive properties endowed (a'hbas) to support the orders. Most members of the ulama class throughout the Moroccan Sufi history looked with a favourable eye upon Sufism and were themselves member of one of the orders. Even the Chief Judge of Fez or the Shaykh al-Jama'a, the leading authority of the Shari'a law in Morocco, might well round out his religious life by membership in an order let alone be himself the Shaykh Tariqa of the order. The list is too long, e.g. Sidi Abdennur Amrani (b. 685/1270), Sidi Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi (d. 792/1377), Sidi Ahmed Zarruq (d. 899/1484), Sidi Ali ibn Maymun al-Fasi (d. 917/1502), Sidi al-Hassan ibn Masoud al-Yusi (d. 1102/1687).
It is not difficult to imagine the fear of some scholars and even rulers from some Sufi Shaykhs who attracted thousands of followers. The doctrines of Sidi Mohammed ibn Slimane Jazouli (d. 869/1454), for instance, scandalised the ulama of Fez and even some of his fellow Sufis. Since al-Jazouli's openness were particularly concerned about his use of institutional symbology, such as shaving the head wearing the distinctive garments of the Majiriya brotherhood, and reaffirming the ethos of Moroccan Sufism through the practice of visiting spiritual masters, it is clear that what was most threatening to vested interests was the idea of Jazulite corporateness. Al-Jazouli was little concerned with these fears, however, and even condemned the ulama of Morocco for their hypocrisy and irrelevance, especially with regard to their failure to arouse the Muslim masses in defence of their religion. "Say to the ulama," he told his disciples, "How happy you would be if only you were sincere!"
Shaykh al-Jazouli reserved his most bitter invectives for those scholars who, while criticising rural Sufis for their lack of religious knowledge, allowed the masses of Morocco to slip into ever deeper levels of ignorance and corruption. By living off the wealth of their sinecures and doing little to spread their knowledge to others, these ulama shared responsibility for the rise of Christian-inspired customs and social deviance in the Moroccan countryside. In his 'Aqida (creedal manifesto), Shaykh al-Jazouli lays such problems as hooliganism, the indiscriminate mixing of the sexes, and full body tattooing squarely at the feet of the scholarly establishment. Rather than wasting their time making pronouncements about the permissibility of minor variations in Islamic practice, the ulama should instead teach the fundamental values of Islam to everyone:
Teach… the women and children, the Sufis and the masses, whether free or slave, especially if they are closely tied [to you] by contract or personal relationship, such as family or others. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) said: 'God has not charged anyone with a sin greater than the ignorance of his people.
In one of his letters Moulay al-Arbi Darqawi (d. 1239/1824) rejects the false claim of some Fasi scholars,
We have heard that you have abandoned your faults and occupied yourselves with the faults of others. Do you not know that it says in the Book of Allah Almighty, 'Do you order people to devoutness and forget yourselves' (2:44) to the end of the verses? Or perhaps you have no faults? Far be it from the one who is free of faults that he should see other than the Beloved! Only the one who has faults sees the fault. What fault is greater than seeing others who are all you see both day and night? There is no doubt that both the comely person and the ugly one only see their own face among people. Be comely and you will see comeliness. Be ugly and you will see ugliness. Shaykh al-Busairi said in his Burda, may Allah be pleased with him:"The eye may reject the light of the sun because of ophthalmia, And the mouth may reject the taste of water because of illness."
This is a valid measure. By Allah, if we were ill, water would taste bitter in our months. If the faces of our meanings were good, then our sensory faces could only be good. People are like a mirror for those who look at them. Whoever has a comely face sees a comely face in them. Whoever has an ugly sees an ugly face in them. It is not possible for the comely to see one who is ugly as it is not possible for the ugly to see one who is comely. Because of this, Shaykh Abul Hassan 'Ali al-Kharrubi, may Allah be pleased with him, said,"Say to those who see what they reject in us, Because of the purity of our drink, you see your own faces in us."'
Fuqaha', we were like you, or worse than you, when we found the states of the people ugly and our states excellent. A lot of people were like us – Shaykh 'Izzuddin ibn Abdessalam, Shaykh al-Ghazali, Shaykh Ibn 'Ata'Allah, Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi al-Hatimi, Shaykh Abul Hassan Shadhili, and their likes, may Allah be pleased with them. Then Allah opened their inner eyes and illuminated their secrets and removed the veil of illusion from them. They looked for ugliness and did not find any report of it. Listen, fuqaha', to what one of them said: 'Had I been obliged to see other-than-Him, I would not have been able to do it since there is nothing else with Him, so how can I see it with Him?' They said:'Since I have recognized the divinity, I do not see other-than-Him. Similarly otherness is forbidden with us Since I have gathered together what I feared would separate, today I have arrived gathered.'
That is how it is. The business of dhikr is vast, and the favour of Allah, His generosity, openhandness and mercy is vaster and vaster still. What is that you find that you reject, dislike, abhor, and find heavy except the dhikr of Allah Almighty in the houses as Allah – glory be to Him! – has commanded in His Book? The Almighty said, 'In houses which Allah has permitted to be built and in which His Name is remembered' to the end of the verses (24:36). Or are you worshipping your Lord while the one who reject tempts you? If this is the case, then do not accept it from the one who does it. Turn him aside and strike him in the face. Only the ignorant and the one who is pleased with himself think well of him. We do not see anyone in your area worshipping Allah as you claim. Rather we see that some of the students who recite the Quran do not pray most of the time. As for the use of tobacco, hashish, sodomy, slander, calumny, and the like of that which our Lord has forbidden us, we will not say anything to you or them about that. We do not see you hastening to anything like you hasten to talking against the people of the Tariqa, may Allah be pleased with them. It has become a general necessity for you in all lands. The people who are affiliated with Allah are those who turn in repentance from that to Allah. Do not be preoccupied with them and their faults as if Allah Almighty had rendered you secure from faults. The truth is far from that! 'No one feels secure against Allah's devising except for those who are lost' (7:99).
The upshot is that if you desire counsel and safety from disgrace, then turn to Allah, your Lord to repent of your wrong action, since Allah Almighty says, 'Turn to Allah, every one of you' to the end of the verses (24:31). The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Turn in repentance. I turn in repentance seventy times every day." Another hadith says a hundred times. This was in spite of the fact that Allah Almighty had forgiven him any wrong actions, past and future. We see that the Prophet, peace be upon him, was rising through the stations. Whenever he reached a station, he found one higher than one before it, even if that station was high, e.g. a station of security. Would that we could reach a station such as the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, had turned from! The good deeds of the devout are the bad deeds of the best. The good deeds of the best are the bad deeds of the near. You must absolutely turn in repentance to Allah and rectitude any injustice shown to people. You should avoid lying, slander, calumny, and all forbidden and disliked things. You must be aware of the repulsive things which are in your hearts and which Allah has forbidden you, inwardly and outwardly. Heedless students, what you have outwardly is what we have mentioned and clarified.
We will now mention the inward – pride, showing-off, envy, vanity, slander, calumny, deviation from the right way, stupidity, greed, miserliness, and other repulsive qualities with which it is not permitted for the believer to fill his heart. It is permitted for him to purify his heart of them by night before day, and while sitting before standing if he can do that. If not, he must search for a doctor throughout all of the Maghreb, in the cities and the deserts. If he finds him, he should not leave him and should not leave him and should cling to him until he purifies his heart for him of the foulness which has afflicted it and of all his faults. If he does not find him in the Maghreb, then he should set out for the East immediately. Do not delay until you can go with the hajjis. Go quickly there so that repentance will not be delayed. Then you would need yet another repentance since delaying repentance is a wrong action which obliges repentance. 'Someone who turns in repentance from wrong actions is like someone who has no wrong actions,' as the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said. It says the Book of Allah, 'Your Lord has made mercy incumbent on Himself' to the end of the verses (6:54), and 'It is He who accepts tawba from His slaves' to the end of the verses. (42:25)"
Only the disapproval or hesitations of the ulama class might have reduced the zealous motivation to believe in karamat (metaphysical virtues), to seek refuge in Sufi Shaykhs possessing the power of intervention with God, and practices of popular Sufism (tasawwuf sha’abi) designed to demonstrate the immunity of adherents to fire, swords, scorpions, and so on. Given approval by the ulama class, the full institutional organisation of Islamic mysticism was assured. Virtually almost every Moroccan Muslim had his Sufi teacher or saint. Sufi orders were, in sense, one of the most effective levelling actors of Moroccan society, for in an order dhikr the Sultan and his lowest subjects, the rich man and the poor, were on the same plane. At the same time, the equalitarian aspect of an order must not be exaggerated. The very normal human tendency for persons of similar background and social standing to band together was always at work. The urban bourgeois were usually to be found in certain brotherhoods, the peasants in others. The learned man would obviously feel more at home in an order that offered a sophisticated doctrine and was more thoroughly in a mainstream of Sunni Muslim universalism.
Such a man might be drawn to the Shadhiliya or from the beginning of the nineteenth century the Ahmediya Mohammediya Tijaniya order. On the other hand, a provincial man of no formal education might feel more satisfied by venerating a local figure whose piety or whose reported miracles attested to his saintliness and his baraka. The legalistic orthodoxy represented by the ulama and the illuminist doctrines of Sufism could had indeed achieved a working accommodation in Morocco because there was a marked tendency for the two elements to be espoused by the same religious figures. The ulama class and the Sufis were not really but complementary religious institutions. They were inextricably blended together. Most of the ulama, as has already mentioned, were members of an order. For Sidi Ahmed al-Badawi Zwitan (d. 1275/1860 in Fez), there exist none who truly abides by the rules of the indestructible Shari'a except for the Sufi ulama,
Whoever wants to verify and clarify that should read al-Ihya' by Imam Ghazali (d. 526/1111), Sunan al-Muhtadin by Imam al-Mawwaq, the Risala of al-Qushayri (d. 467/1074), the Letters of Sidi Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi (d. 792/1377), the Nusra of Imam as-Sanusi (d. 899/1484), the works of Imam Shatibi, the Nusra of Imam Ibn Khajju (d. 956/1541), the Nusra and Mabahith of Imam at-Tujibi, the works of the Fez masters, especially the work of the greatest imam, Sidi Ahmed ibn Yusuf ibn as-Sama', the works of the Shaykh of Shaykhs, Ahmed Zarruq (d. 899/1484), the Risala of Imam Shushtari (d. 668/1253) and others who are too many to count. […] Enough of a proof among more recent masters can be found in Sidi Ahmed ibn Mubarak (d. 1156/1741) who took from Sidi Abdellaziz Debbarh (d. 1132/1717), Sidi Yusuf al-Fasi (d. 1013/1598) who took from Mawlana Abderrahman al-Majdhub (d. 976/1561), Sidi at-Tawdi ibn Suda (d. 1209/1794) who took from Mawlana Ahmed Sqalli (d. 1177/1762), Sidi Omar al-Fasi who took from the master of our master Mawlana Ali al-Jamal (d. 1193/1778), Sidi Ahmed al-Warzazi in Tetouan, and the clever knowledgeable one, Sidi Bujlal in the east.
There are also the majestic fuqaha, Sidi Mohammed Zarwali, Sidi Ahmed Bunafi', Sidi Ahmed al-Malwi, Sidi Ahmed al-Kuhan, Sidi Ahmed ibn Abdellah al-Makudi in Taza, Sidi Abdellqadir al-Kuhan and others, and the great clever fuqaha in Meknes, Sale, Rabat, Marrakech, Essaouira and the east, all of whom took from our master and teacher, Moulay al-Arbi Darqawi (d. 1239/1824). Mawlana Ahmed Ibn Ajiba (d. 1224/1804) and his brother Sidi al-Hashimi took from the brother in Allah, Sidi Mohammed Bouzidi (d. 1229/1814), may Allah be pleased with all of them. Imam Sidi Tayyeb ibn Kiran took from our masters, the people of Wazzan. He used to attend their gatherings when they were doing dhikr with jalals in various melodies and he did not object to them doing that and there were tunes in some of them. He and our masters, the scholars, the people of Fez, attended our gatherings and his presence was most desired by them, by Allah. Sidi Tayyeb ibn Kiran was our shaykh and guide. I used to study tafsir with him. When I divested myself, he used to yearn to meet us and sit with us.
All the scholars of Fez espoused our tajrid since they knew that our gravity in our youth was by the support of Allah. But whoever is ignorant of a shaykh opposes him and yearning is only recognised by the one who has experienced it and passionate love by the one who has felt it, as is said. One thing they agree on is that tunes are not permitted intentionally unless it is in the form of the jalals. Then there is no harm. I said that the reason for that is because people's souls drink from those tunes when sung with good voices and are strengthened and escape from the sensory and rise to the presence of the Real Almighty. This is essence of action and is the only thing for which actions are prescribed. It is also said that sama' is obligatory for the murids in their beginning.
One of the factors that contribute to the Sufi training of well-reputed scholars in the thirteenth/nineteenth century is the emergence of al-Qutb al-Maktum, the Hope of Every Seeker, the Bridegroom of the Universe, the Possessor of Solicitude and Power, the Viceregent of God on Earth, the sharif Mawlana Abul Abbas Ahmed Tijani (d. 1230/1815). The religious ulama of this venerated order dominated all aspects of spiritual life. Himself a doctor of the Shari’a Law, Moulay Ahmed Tijani even give legal opinions (fatawa) at a very tender age. A famous quote of the Shaykh,
“If you hear someone quoting me, place the statement on the scale of the noble Shari'a. If it balances, take it; if it doesn’t, leave it, for within the noble Quran and Hadith, you will find the Tijaniya. Outside the circle of Quran and Hadith, there is no such thing.”
The orthodoxy of the Ahmediya Mohammediya Tijaniya helped it to gain fame with “tariqat-ul ulama” (Order of Scholars). Among the very eminent Moroccan ulama of the order are the figures of Sidi Mohammed ibn al-Mishri Sibai Hassani Idrissi (d. 1224/1809), shaykh al-jama'a Sidi Hamdoun ibn al-Haj (d. 1232/1817), Sidi Omar ibn Mohamed ibn Idriss ibn Shaykh Abdellaziz Debbarh ( d. 1260/1845), the vizier of alim al-salatin Mawlana Abu al-Rabi'a Sulayman: al-Qutb Sidi Mohammed ibn Ahmed Akansous (d. 1294/1879), Sidi Ahmed ibn Ahmed Bannani Kala (d. 1306/1891), Sidi Mohammed ibn Ahmed Sanusi (d. 1257/1842), Moulay Abdelmalik Darir Alawi (d. 1318/1903), Sidi al-Walid al-Iraqi (d. 1265/1850), Sidi Mohammed ibn Abdellatif Gessous (d. 1273/1858), Sidi al-Hassan Bannani (d. 1271/1856), Sidi Abdellah Saqqat (d. after 1230/1815), Moulay Zaki al-Madaghri (d. after 1269/1854), Sidi Ahmed Bannani Kala (d. 1306/1894), al-Qutb Sidi Mohammed ibn al-Arbi Sayeh (d. 1309/1894), Sidi Mohammed ibn Moussa Hamdawi Slawi (d. 1328/1908), Sidi Allal ibn al-Khatib al-Fasi Fihri (d. 1314/1899), Sidi Mhammed ibn Mohammed Genoun (d. 1326/1911), Sidi Abdellqadir Lepress (d. 1332/1917), and Sidi Ahmed Alami Rahouni (d. 1373/1958) and a-Qutb Sidi al-Hussein ibn Ahmed Ifrani (d. 1328/1913).
Other golden names include Sidi Idriss Ammur al-Fasi (d. 1320/1905), Sidi Hamid ibn Mohammed Bannani (d. 1326/1911), and Sidi Mhammed b. Mohammed Genoun (d. 1326/1911), Sidi Mohammed Bannani Diwan (d. 1341/1926), Sidi Abdessalam Bannani Kala (d. 1374/1932), Sidi Mohammed Taleb al-Fasi (d. 1375/1933), Sidi Abdellah ibn Abdessalam al-Fasi Fihri (d. 1348/1933), Sidi Abdelkarim ibn al-Arbi Bannis (d. 1350/1935), Sidi Mohammed ibn Mohammed Saqqat (d. 1354/1939), Sidi Abdelwahid ibn Abdessalam al-Fasi (d. 1361/1946), Sidi Mohammed al-'Hajuji al-Hassani (d. 1371/1952), al-Qutb Sidi al-Hassan al-Baaqili (d. 1363/1948), Sidi Ali Isiki Susi (d. after 1370/1951), Sidi Ali Drarki Susi (d. after 1370/1951), Sidi Taher ibn Mohammed Susi Bakri (d. 1374/1959), Sidi Mohammed ibn Ali Susi, Sidi Mohammed ibn Abdelwahid Nadhifi (d. 1370/1951), Sidi Belahssen Jakani Susi (d. 1419/2004). The latter has himself initiated the Muhaddith of al-'Haramayn, the Sharif Sidi Mohammed ibn Alawi al-Maliki Debbarh (d. 1417/2006). The list excludes hundreds of qadis, muftis, ulamas, and shaykhs of al-Azhar abroad.