The Moroccan Sufi zawaya (lodges) provided numerous services for neighbouring communities. In times of political turmoil, for instance, they served as communal granaries; peasants often left their crops in nearby zawaya for safekeeping, to prevent their seizure by marauding nomads or looters. They also offered sanctuary (‘hurma) to outlaws, mostly petty criminals, but often also strong opponents of the ruling dynasty, such as outspoken religious reformed or ousted officials likely to stir up trouble. The authorities, doubtless unwitting, helped to turn Sufi zawaya into hotbeds of political agitation. By granting some of them immunity status and fiscal, initiatives that could be misconstrued as a relinquishment of state jurisdiction over the latter, they encouraged seditions elements of every hue to seek refuge in zawaya when officials harassment became unbearable, aware that government troops could not trespass on certain zawaya’s boundaries.
When feuds between rival tribes or family clans occurred over, for instance, water or property rights, chiefs of Sufi zawaya were often ask to attribute between litigants in an attempt to ease tension and prevent disputes from degenerating into bloody disputes. As the authority of Sufi Shaykhs was charismatic, that is it transcended tribal allegiance (‘asabiyya), the former were thought to be solid to influence and their pronouncements regarded as reasonable and, therefore, dutifully heeded in most occasions. Shaykhs of the zawaya, likewise, frequently acted as spokesmen acted as spokesman for those communities under their ‘protection’ mediating, for instance, between local peasants and government officials when conflicts, mostly involving fiscal matters, arose. Thus, when attempts by fiscal agents to levy onerous taxes and/or impose harsh penalties on defaulting taxpayers sparked off discontent in nearly villages, Sufi Shaykhs often felt compelled to intervene and interceded on behalf on their clients to avert riots.
The zawaya were, furthermore, charitable institution; they helped to ease the hardship that troubled tribesmen living in surrounding areas periodically. In times of scarcity, for instance, prosperous zawaya set up poor relief schemes and dispensed stocks of food, originally earmarked for sale or stored up to prevent shortages among their residents, to starving peasants. Relief programmes were not only set in motion in response to particularly adverse circumstances; more often than not they were a regular feature of zawaya’s charitable policies. Wealthy zawaya, such as those of Ribat Tit al-Fitr in the seventy/thirteenth century and Ribat Dila’ in the first half of the eleventh/seventeenth century, were renowned for their generosity and their endeavours to improve the living conditions of devotee tribes. Sidi Ishaq b. Ali Amghar, leader of Ribat Tit al-Fitr in the last quarter of the seventy/thirteenth century, established charitable endowments (hubs), consisting of a bout thirty plots, among vineyards and rye fields, out of his large estates. The profits generated by the sale of the produce harvested in those fields were either used to fund agricultural improvements (sinking wells, levelling off rugged lands in order to make them suitable for cultivation, building of bridges and irrigation channels) or allocated to charity. Similarly, the Jazulite Shaykh Sidi Abu Bakr ibn Mohammed al-Majjati (d. 1021/1606), founder of the Zawiya of Dila’, devoted part of his large income to buy properties in adjacent districts to turn them later into religious endowments whose main beneficiaries were spontaneous scholars and promising students in need of sponsorship, the infirm and the poor.
Supplying meals and temporary accommodation (it’am at-ta’am) to disciples—who called on them to plead for help or, simply, to ‘pay homage’—distressed travellers, pilgrims and beggars was, perhaps, the most obvious service rendered by the zawaya. It was, after all, a form of assistance that stemmed from a function typical of these zawaya, namely the provision of hospitality (diyafa). Among Moroccan Muslims, abundant attention on one’s guests is not of open portion, nor merely a matter of common courtesy. It is similar, on the contrary, to a religious command. The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) appears in many traditions (hadith) urging the faithful to be generous and hospitable to their guests, in case they want to attract God’s wrath and jeopardise their chances of salvation. Moroccan Shaykhs attached enormous importance to the practice of generosity, particularly to its most ‘tangible’ manifestation, that is the distribution of meals among visitors (it’am), since at least the second half of the sixth/twelfth century, when the zawaya existed only in a developing state. Willingness to provide meals whole-heartedly is regarded as a precondition to advance in the mystical quest. Thus, when asked by one of his disciples who he had reached such a high level of spiritual perfection, Sidi Abu Ya’aza Yalnour (d. 527/1177), leader of the Moroccan Nuriya Sufi order, replied coolly: “by distributing meals [among those who flocked to see me].
By the second half of the tenth/sixteenth century, the practice of it’am, had become an essential condition for any disciple aspiring to attain higher stages of spiritual development. Performing this religious duty with assiduity was though to induce mystical experiences that a Sufi devotee could—though not necessarily—otherwise undergo through self-mortification or lengthy periods in retreat (retreat). The Jazulite Shaykh Sidi Ahmed ou Moussa (d. 991/1576), for instance, urged his disciples to practice the it’am if they wished to attract God’s favour and thus experience ecstatic states (ahwal) that only He could bring out: “how can I deserved to go through trance-like experiences when my guest come to see me hungry and leave my house after some time still with hunger?” For some Sufi Shaykhs, however, the it’am was not merely a religious precept whose observance applied to all adherents of this doctrine, regardless of their rank (maqam) or whether they were more or less stepped in Sufi ceremonial. Thus for the venerated Shaykh of Marrakech Sidi Abul Abbas Abu Omar al-Qastali (d. 974/1559), the teacher of Sidi Abu Bakr Majjati Dilai, feeding the needy was a task that God has assigned exclusively to consummate Sufi elders. It was, he stated, a divine secret (Sirr Ilahi), revealed only to a handful of practitioners.
Both the function of and attitudes towards the it’am changed significantly through the centuries. The it’am played an important ritual role. Food, especially when it is served by a holy man, is also regarded as sacred and is assumed to have a beneficial effect (dawa’). Though the practice of the it’am always retained part of its symbolic and festive roles in Morocco, the latter were gradually overshadowed by its charitable function. As centuries elapsed, the it’am took on a distinctive charitable role. Formerly confined to religious celebrations and aimed at pilgrims and local devotees, it would soon widen its ranged of application to include a larger number of ‘recipients’. Adverse factors, such as natural disasters, irregular shortages or the uninhibited greed of raiding nomads often reduced local peasants to hardship. The zawaya were swift to help relax the difficulty of their devotees by adopting different poor relief programmes. Some of them, such as the Yalmahite saint Sidi Tuhami ibn Mohammed Wazzani (d. 1127/1712), set up a couscous meal or emergency temporary shelters to assist poor peasants. Although these measures were conceived of as merely transitory, the couscous remained an indelible feature of Moroccan zawaya, at least from the mid- seventy/thirteenth century onwards. Similarly, the lack of or poor quality of state-run hostels and caravanserais drove travellers, merchants and pilgrims to Mecca to seek the succour of Sufi zawaya, lodges where the provision of assistance to the needy had become a customary practice.
The second half of the tenth/sixteenth century is often portrayed as a period of political upheavals and social dislocation. Political turmoil had, obliviously, a harmful effect n the economy. Prolonged warfare disrupted both commercial exchanges and production. Agriculture was especially affected; fighting halted cultivation, forcing peasants to flee and abandon their fields; formerly fertile lands laid waste by lack of tending; those peasants who clang on their landholdings were extremely vulnerable to pillage and requisitions, constant harassment by army troops persuaded the most disobedient to leave. Famished landless peasants roaming around in search of food were a frequent sight in the Moroccan countryside. But harm wan not always man-made; nature could be equally damaging. During that time, Morocco experienced a lengthy cycle of droughts and plagues that provoked famine and epidemics.
The seventy/sixteenth century was also a period of prosperity for Moroccan Sufism. Sufi zawaya, mostly attached to the Jazouliya order founded by the Hassanid sharif Sidi Mohammed ibn Slimane Jazouli (d. 869/1454), mushroomed all over the country, notable in rural areas. Their pattern of settlement sources of revenue and social pursuits were remarkably similar. Most of these zawaya sprouted in relatively peripheral districts, either on wastelands or on previously cultivated areas that, due to conflict or natural adversity, had revered back to its original state, scrubland. The recovery of empty or infertile land, ownership of which is assigned to that who brings it back into cultivation, allowed some of them to accumulate large estates in a very short period of time. Land tenure soon replaced charity as the backbone of the zawaya’s economy. The adoption of techniques, such as irrigation, designed to maximise yields and the encouragements of modes of production best suited to their particular environment (animal farming in lands rich in pastures, such as the zawiya of Tamaslouht, close to Marrakech, and dry farming in arid regions, as seems to have been the case in Dila’) resulted in rapid growth. Most of these lodges were probably generating crop surpluses either within their founders’ lifetime or soon afterwards. This surpass contributed further to their wealth: it could be sold, thus generating revenue with which to purchase more landholdings. Often, however, food surpluses were stocked and devoted to charitable purposes.
The provision of relief for impoverished peasants was paramount concern of rural zawaya. In fact, some of them seem to have been expressly founded for that purpose. Thus, when the third Shaykh al-Jama'a of the Jazouliya and Patron Saint of Marrakech Sidi Abdellah Ghazwani (d. 935/1520) dispatched his disciple Sidi Abdellah ben al-Husayn Amghari ("Ben Hsayen;" d. 977/1562) to the agricultural hinterland of Marrakech (hawz) he assigned him a specific task, namely "to render this land fertile, to become an instrument through which God would lavish His favours upon its inhabitants". Sidi Abdellah al-Amghari, founder of Tamaslouht Zawiya, proved to be extremely diligent; shortly after his arrival to the future site of the zawiya, he managed to enlist the help of local peasants and built and built an elaborate irrigation network based on underground channels, thus diverting water from a nearby spring to surrounding fields. The practice of the it'am was an important part of Shaykh Sidi Abdellah al-Ghazwanii's programme of social welfare. His direct disciples carried out his instructions with exemplary determination. One of them Sidi Yusuf ibn al-Hassan Talidi (d. 950/1535), for instance, set up a couscous and soup-kitchen to feed the 'thousands' of visitors and Sufi initiates that flocked to his zawiya each night. After his death, his properties were turned into an endowment (waqf) for the benefit of his many disciples and the poor.
Shrine of Sidi Abdellah ibn Hussein Amghari, Tamaslouht
Before the seventy/sixteen century, the distribution of free meals had been an optional practice in some Sufi zawaya. Jazulite masters, however, tried to regulate and systemise its use. A new post, that of officer of the lodge (wakil 'ala it'am at-ta'am), was created. His duties seemed to include the housekeeping of the zawiya, the procurement of supplies and, in particular, the 'catering' for daily meals. The election Sidi Abdelkarim al-Fallah (d. 933/1518) for this post suffices to illustrate this point. When Sidi Abdellaziz Tabba'a (d. 914/1499) died without having appointed a successor, his closest disciples gathered to select a new Shaykh. Unable to reach a consensus, Sidi al-Fallah staked his claim to the leadership of the order, invoking his higher rank as the one in charged of running his household and keeping the kitchen well-stoked. After what appeared to have pain painstaking deliberations, it was agreed that Sidi Abdellah Ghazwani (d. 935/1520) should be the next leader as reports Sidi Mohammed al-Mahdi al-Fasi (d. 1109/1694) in Mumti'a al-asma’a‘:
The first to speak up was Sidi Said ibn Abdelmoumin al-'Hahi (d. 953/1546) who recounted the paranormal states that he shared with Shaykh Tabba'a and the consideration he had been given during Shaykh Tabba'a's lifetime. The second to make a claim was Sidi Rahhal al-Kush (d. after 945/1530), who announced: "I am the vehicle of bridegrooms (rikab al-'arais). He who has not ridden his bridegroom is not meant to ride. Verily I am the Nurturer (sahib al-ighata) on land and sea!" Then Sidi Ali ibn Ibrahim Bouzidi (d. 956/1549) said: "I am the most worshipful among you; he who desires knowledge of both outward and inward states should come to me, for I have mastered them." Finally al-Fallah spoke, and said, "I am your provision (maidatukum), he who desires nourishment should come to me, for neither the sharecropper nor the common labourer is excluded from my blessing!" Throughout all these speeches Sidi Abdellah Ghazwani remained silent. "Each of you has said what he possesses," al-Fallah stated, "but you, Sidi Abdellah, what do you possess and what do you have to say?" Sidi Ghazwani replied, "I am your Sultan and the ruler of your silence; with me alone you are minted. He who stamps his own dirham or dinar will succeed; if not, he will not!" The assembled masters were stunned by the apparent haughtiness of Sidi Ghazwani's assertion. "Why are you silent?" he asked. "Do you dislike my words?" "Yes" they replied. Then Sidi Ghazwani stretched out his hand and said, "God is directing this!" and grasped the empty air. Next he balled his fingers into a fist. "What do you say?" he asked, "and what each of you now possess?" After Sidi Ghazwani's dramatic assertion of divine legitimation, most of those who were present accepted him as the heir to Shaykh Tabba'a.
Hagiographers, eager to describe the wealth of some zawaya, gave concrete magnitude of their charitable services. Zawaya's barns are said to have been full with grain and cattle to feed visitors. At the zawiya of the Jazulite malammati master Sidi Rahhal al-Kush in Anmay, outside Marrakech, for example, each of the cooking pots of its kitchen could contain 'a couple of oxen'; each day a number of cattle and seep were slaughtered there; huge dishes of couscous were left to cool down on whitewashed slabtones before being served. The liberality of some chiefs of zawaya seemed to know no bound. The other famous Jazulite saint of Boujaad Sidi Mohammed Bou'abid al-Sharqi al-'Umari (d. 1010/1495), did not content himself with showering his guests with such delicacies as dates and honey; he also made sure that their rising animals received plenty of hay while they were penned-up in his stables. Food was especially bountiful during religious festivals (mawasim). The one held annually at Tamaslouht attracted enormous crowds. During the leadership of its second Shaykh, Sidi Abu Ishaq Ahmed ibn Abdellah (d. 985/1577), up to ten and a half thousand pilgrims are said to have thronged to the lodge take part in the mawsim. Shaykh Sidi Ahmed ibn Abdellah's disciples must have worked frantically to feed such a large gathering, a congregation who had, moreover, a hungry appetite: according to Ibn Askar (d. 986/1571), they gobbled up, in just one day seven hundred sheep, two hundred cows and up to twenty camels. Such display of prodigality, must have depleted the zawiya's livestock severely.
The popularity of the Jazulite masters' relief programmes and the possibility that lodges might wield their dominance to give voice to their increasing political ambitions did not escape the Saadian court, always suspicious of any development likely to strengthen their influence. in 958/1551, the Sultan Mohammed Shaykh Saghir (d. 964/1549) initiated a clamp-down on Sufi brotherhoods. Among the zawaya subjected to censorship were some that had excelled at providing relief in times of famine. The Zawiya of Sidi Rahhal a-Kush was closed down at the order of the Sultan in 960/1552. Sidi Abu Amr al-Qastali, was kept under house arrest in Marrakech because rulers feared his game—partly derived from the fact that his zawiya ran a renowned couscous and soup-kitchen—and large following. The chief of Tamaslouht, Abdellah ben Hsayen, also suffered repression; he was expelled from the capital in times of Sultan Moulay Abdellah al-Ghalib (r. 1557-74). It seems as though lodges in which the practice of it'am was more systematic bore the brunt of official harassment. Hagiographers point out that the main targets of this campaign were Shaykhs suspect of nurturing political ambitions, those capable of rallying many partisans round them.