WORLD OF THE QUR'AN:
A JOURNEY TO MOROCCO
by Sh. G. F. Haddad
shorter version, 25 Muharram 1421 - 29 April 2000

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

Al-Hamdu Lillah was-Salat was-Salam `ala Rasulillah Wa Alihi wa Sahbihi wa Man Walah.

As-Salamu `Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh:

This is an account of my stay of thirty days over `Eid al-Adha 1421 in Zawiyat Sidi Ibrahim Basir, Bani `Iyat, Morocco with my wife and children, written at the request of a dear friend and in hope of informing our brethren about some aspects of the beauty of this Religion and of the blessed Community of Islam.

The plane trip from Damascus to Dar al-Bayda' (Casablanca) via Malta took us about ten hours including the waiting before and after flights, capped by three more hours by car on flatland highways to reach the Zawiya which lies south of Dar al-Bayda', towards the center of Morocco near the town of Bani Mellal in the district (Iqlim) of Azilal.

The last leg of the journey was on a dirt road parallel to the Middle Atlas Mountain. From a distance we finally saw the Zawiya, looking like a fort built at the foot of the mountain. We arrived there shortly after Maghrib.

As we came out of the car the first thing I heard was the collective recitation of the Qur'an by the student-huffaz in Maghribi style - solemn, energetic, no tajwid, intensely moving, carried over from the masjid by loudspeakers. A small group of people surrounded us and as I turned my head I saw the Shaykh of the Zawiya coming down the narrow, paved alley leading to the mosque between chalk-white walls, Sidi Mustafa Basir, ~60, smiling, with his metal cane to support his ailing right leg, surrounded by the Fuqara' (murids) of the Shadhili-Darqawi Tariqa which he directs in the Southern region of Morocco, all singing the welcoming hymn that I was to hear again many times:

Salamun `alaykum ya man ja'ana billah!
Taqbalu man ja'akum, zarakum lillah!
Ya Marhaban bikum ya man ja'ana lillah!
Mawlana yukafikum wal-maqsudu huwa ALLAH!

Salutations to you who came to us by Allah!
Accept those who came to you visiting you for Allah!
Welcome to you who came to us for Allah!
Our protecting Lord recompense you! Our goal is Allah!

I kissed the Shaykh's hand, conveying Mawlana al-Shaykh Nazim's Salaam with emotion at the same time as the Shaykh himself kissed my hand and embraced me! MARHABAN! LA BA'S? MARHABAN! (Welcome! Are you well? Welcome!) Two large bowls materialized in front of me - dates and milk. As I took three dates and drank some milk, the night sky filled with tartil of Qur'an and Salam of the hosts, the thought came to me: "You have entered the world of the early Muslims."

After praying I joined the Shaykh in the main hall of the Zawiya, where the Fuqara' who had filled the large room from wall to wall offered me their warm smiles and welcoming hugs. As I sat at the right hand of the Shaykh green tea with mint began to flow and did not stop for thirty days. The Shaykh said: This is a triple `Eid for us, then recited poetry:

The coming of the beloved, the day of Jum`a, and the `Eid
These are for us, by the grace of Allah, three `Eids.

Seventy or a hundred voices began to recite the poetry of the Andalusian Awliya' - Ibn al-Farid, Abu Madyan al-Ghawth, Sidi Muhyi al-Din ibn `Arabi - in praise of the Master of Creation - Sayyidina Muhammad - in unison with a refrain that became the emblem of our stay in the land of Maghreb:

Allah, Allah! bi-Fadlika kun li!
Allah, Allah! Treat me with Your great Favor!

I took in the blessings of these first moments with grateful admiration and wonder at the beauty of this Religion and its treasures, the bonding of hearts with love and brotherhood, the simple, vast hospitality of sincerity, the pure spiritual spring of Tariqa.

We prayed `Isha on the straw mats of the large white-walled mosque, then returned to the hall where, after the banquet served in our honor, we began a Dhikr of praise and thanks to Allah for the Blessing of Islam and the Honor of Iman. We stood up or rather the Dhikr stood us, with the strong chant of ALLAH! / HAYY! ALLAH! / HAYY!, shoulder to shoulder, hands clasped, while the reciter hymned text after text teaching the ineffability of Tawhid.

The following days were not much different yet every day brought new manifestations of hospitality and generosity. No day passed except Sidi Mustafa slaughtered a sheep or goat for us and for other visitors who came to the Zawiya. Together with the traditional steamed couscous we drank yoghurt from the Zawiya's two cows, so pure that tiny clots of butter floated in it. Our daily whole-wheat and oat breads were also baked at the Zawiya. Water came to the Zawiya from a spring that flowed from the heart of the neighboring mountain. Al-Shukru Lillah!

I took part in most of the routine of the students of Qur'an and the Fuqara' of the Zawiya, notably the recitation of the twice-daily Hizb of Qur'an, once after Salat al-Fajr, once after Salat al-Maghrib - making a total of one Juz' a day - followed respectively by one portion of al-Busiri's Hamziyya and one portion of his Burda - all by memory except for this slave! In addition, another Khatma or complete recitation of the Qur'an was performed individually - one Juz' each - every Jum`a of the month, bringing to five the minimum number of khatmas recited at the Zawiya every month.

The Hamziyya (poem with the hamza in its rhyme scheme) is a longer and more difficult poem than the Burda and like it of awesome beauty. It begins with the following lines addressing the Prophet Muhammad - Allah bless and greet him and his Family:

kayfa tarqâ ruqyaka al-anbiyâ'u
yâ samâ'a mâ t.âwalathâ samâ'u

Meaning:

How can the Prophets rise up to your level
O heaven whom no heaven can reach!

The Hamziyya is a repository of learning comprising necessary teachings of the basic Islamic creed, the Sira, the Prophetic Attributes... Full knowledge of the rights of al-Mustafa is known only to Allah (swt) but its pursuit is among the treasures of this Religion and grants one the highest levels of belief and success here and hereafter.

Among its valuable commentaries is Shaykh Sulayman al-Jamal's al-Futuhat al-Ahmadiyya bil-Minah al-Muhammadiyya published with al-Sawi's commentary in the margins at al-Matba`a al-Maymuniyya in Cairo (1306/1889). Another commentary is that of Imam al-Haytami, recently reprinted in three volumes by Dar al-Sanabil.

The morning Hizb was followed - for the Fuqara' and non-students such as myself - by a collective loud dhikr lasting until sunrise, formed of the following repetitions: HasbunAllahu wa Ni`ma al-Wakil - La Ilaha illAllah - Allah - Allahumma Salli `ala Sayyidina Muhammadin wa `ala Alihi wa Sallim. Meanwhile, the students went off to their memorization sessions.

The evening Hizb was followed by the Wird al-Latif or "devotion named al-Latif," a truly moving collective loud supplication that is read after the gathering first silently recites "Ya Latif" a certain number of times. The text of Wird al-Latif is by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, like Imam al-Suyuti one of the later Shafi`i fuqaha' who belonged to the Shadhili Tariqa. The wird begins with the words:

Ala Ya Latifun Ya Latifun laka al-Lutfu
Fa Anta al-Latifu, minka yashmaluna al-Lutfu

Meaning:

Truly O Most Kind, O Most Kind, to You belongs all kindness! For You are the Most Kind, from You kindness encloses us!

It contains the remarkable phrase:

Wa ha nahnu dakhalna bi-wasfi al-Lutf

Lo! We have now entered the quality of Divine Kindness.

Those sittings during the morning and evening wirds were my most vivid sights of the divine command of unlimited spiritual benefits given to the Prophet - sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam - and the elite of the Friends of Allah: { Restrain yourself along with those who cry unto their Lord morning and evening, seeking His countenance; and let not your eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp of the life of the world } ... (18:28).

There were many families present at the Zawiya at the time of our visit and ample accommodation for all, as well as safe playing space for small and older children. There used to be a woman teacher of Qur'an in the past, but no longer, due to a lack of demand. The Shaykh indicated that this teaching could be provided again at any time if there was demand for it.

The diligence of the students of Qur'an and their zuhd or simple living struck me. We would go to bed around eleven at night hearing their voices rehearsing in the mosque, and wake up before Fajr still hearing their exercises. Most or all of them came from rural backgrounds and I even met an old ummi (illiterate) herdsman who learnt the entire Qur'an at a late age and became a hafiz by the grace of Allah.

Adhan in the Maliki madhhab has only a double initial Takbir instead of four Allahu Akbar as in the other three Sunni schools. Style-wise, the adhan in Maghreb is toneless by law. It seems our melodious "Eastern" (Mashriqi) style of adhan is considered an effeminate innovation here! The mu'adhdhin of the Zawiya precedes and follows the adhan of Fajr with tahlil (La ilaha illallah) and Salat on the Prophet - sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam. I never heard him say any other words to anyone during my entire stay.

The Shaykh, the mu'adhdhin, the serving hands of the Zawiya and most of the Fuqara' I met all wear their thick dhikr-beads (tasbih) around the neck. This is a particular Shadhili adab of humbleness in the pursuit of permanent remembrance of the Creator by His bondmen and a most excellent innovation (bid`a hasana) described at length in the book of Sidi Fath Allah al-Bunani titled Tuhfat Ahl al-Futuhat wa al-Adhwaq fi Ittikhadh al-Sibha wa Ja`liha fi al-A`naq ("The Gem of the People of Spiritual Openings and Tastes in Using the Dhikr-Beads and Placing Them around the Necks").

The Shaykh allowed me to spend a lot of time with him, which gave me the opportunity of observing his selfless method as murshid of the neighboring tribespeople and his tireless energy. Visitors came in large numbers and we also went out on several three to five-hour car trips to nearby homes or branch zawiyas to see pilgrims back from Hajj, or on condoleances, or for `Eid.

Every Saturday morning, the Shaykh went to Souk al-Sabt, the second largest open-air market and country fair in Morocco. The first time I went I expected to see the Shaykh buy and sell like everybody else. I was partly wrong. A small square tent was set up at the edge of the fair, front side wide open, sheepskins were spread, and the Shaykh sat down on the ground (I never saw him sit on a chair more than two minutes). Tea and fried dough-cakes were brought and the Shaykh began to give away sadaqat and alms to the poor, taking in the sadaqat of those who wanted to give. Visitors and good humor poured in - neighboring merchants, mosque imams, journeying musicians, majadhib ("fools of God"), friends of the Zawiya... At one time the tent was full of Qur'an memorizers, all former students of the Shaykh coming to give him Salaam. So the Shaykh was buying and selling, but not like everybody else! Someone asked: Is there any other tent like this one in the market? The Shaykh's sons replied no, not in all the market. The questioner said: "By Allah, this tent is all the market!"

Thus I was able to discover, without travelling far outside the immediate vicinity of the Zawiya - though quite vast in terms of distances - this rural Moroccan population and its frank simplicity, nobility and hospitality. I must have met hundreds of people and heard "marhaban fi baytak wa baladak" (welcome to your home and your country) countless times.

The traditional travel dress of Maghribi land and livestock farmers that came to visit the Shaykh at the Zawiya or on the weekly market day somehow reminded me of the head-dresses and flowing robes of late Medieval and Renaissance European burghers as depicted in the art of that period.

I went on a five-day trip further South together with the Shaykh's son to Tanalt above Agadir, to visit a blessed Canadian friend - Shaykh Ramzi - who was studying Maliki fiqh there, at the school of the Friend of Allah Sidi al-Habib, whose Maqam or tomb we visited as soon as we arrived, after two painstaking days. 1,200 meters high, valleys, majestic Anti-Atlas mountains touching the clouds and surrounding us as far as the eye could see. I took panoramic pictures of these sights which reminded me of my native Lebanon.

Tanalt, Agadir, Inzeguen, Tadila are Amazigh towns - Amazigh, the original name for those the Arabs called Berbers. The Amazigh people possess oral and written languages and literatures that are entirely independent of Arabic although they are originally Arabs - a little known fact - hailing from a Southern Yemeni tribe that still exists in our time. The Amazigh boast countless Awliya' and prestigious Maliki jurists in all the Souss (Southern Maghreb) as well as the Saharian regions bordering Mauritania. The teaching in many of their schools is conducted in Amazigh.

The family of my host - Basir - also comes from the Sahara but is of Hijazi Arabic origin and descends from the Prophet - Allah bless and greet him and his Family - through his grandson al-Hasan ibn `Ali ibn Abi Talib, as do all the Idrisites of Morocco. The Shaykh traced for me the origin of the name "Basir" - which means well-sighted - to a saintly ancestor who was blind and endowed with the gift of spiritual unveiling (kashf). This Basir could reveal visitors' names, origins, ailments and states on the spot and without having met them previously. I was told that, beginning with him, every second child born to the same mother in his line was born blind but many of them received the same gift of true clairvoyance.

The father of my host, Sidi Ibrahim, died when Sidi Mustafa was five. The latter took the Tariqa from his older brother Sidi al-Habib (different from the Sidi al-Habib of Tanalt), who died in 1985. The Shaykh's son `Abd al-Mughith Basir collected the history of the Basir Shuyukh in a volume under print titled al-Nazr al-Yasir fi Manaqib Al al-Basir which I had the priviledge of seeing.

The Shaykh told me that his father Sidi Ibrahim used to travel the mountains and desert plains of Southern Morocco with a caravan of about a hundred. When they camped they set up five large tents: one for the Shaykh's female relatives, one for the Qur'an memorizers, one for the visitors, one for the Shaykh, and one for the kitchen ustensils. The Shaykh travelled thus teaching Tawhid and Salat in the wild for years, later building the Zawiya. During that time he lost a son and a daughter as well as many followers, to the hostility of warlords, country magicians and others of those opposed to Submission to God such as the French occupants.

During my stay I attended Jumu`a in Dar al-Bayda' one time. I arrived late together with the Imam - the brother of Sidi Mustafa - and entered the Masjid about ten minutes before the Imam came out. Going in seemed like entering the ocean of Qur'an, as the Masjid was filled with hundreds of voices reciting in unison in the familiar, literally monotone Maghribi style. The only other time I felt with such force the crushing majesty and beauty of the Divine Speech was when I heard the Qur'an recited for the very first time, - on tape -, before my conversion to Islam ten years ago.

As I sat down in that mosque I noticed that most people around me were reciting from memory. Without doubt the Maghrib is the Arabic country with the highest per capita rate of huffaz of Qur'an. Further - regarding their completion and mastery - I had long heard of the testimonies of the Shuyukh al-Qurra' even here in Damascus - Shaykh `Abd al-Razzaq al-Halabi in the Umawi Mosque and Shaykh Muhammad Sukkar in Sidi Muhyi al-Din Mosque - that the Moroccans were superior to all other memorizers. Note that the only Qur'anic reading taught in the Maghreb is that of Imam Warsh, from Nafi`. Al-Hamdu liLlah that He made this country devote itself to preserving this precious reading and thus fulfill, on behalf of the entire Umma, the obligation not to lose one of the several Canonical Readings revealed to the Prophet - Allah bless and greet him.

While in Maghreb I discovered the argan-tree, a thorny tree that can grow small like an olive-tree or large like the oak. It produces in abundance a small fruit that looks like red olives which are collected by releasing goats on the trees. The goats eat the pulp and leave the pits which are then collected and crushed, yielding a delicious light-brown oil full of benefits and more expensive than olive oil. Both oils are obligatory staples of every Moroccan dining-table, especially at breakfast.

Sidi Mustafa Basir is a strict Maliki, down-to-earth Faqih and Hafiz whose every other word is from the Qur'an or the hadith. Most of all he is an accomplished man of practice in the tradition of the Awliya who are beacons of light for their communities and countries, distributing blessings at all times with deeds and states rather than speech. For that reason someone said that there are no mystics in Islam - only realists! Even their discourse is mostly action, as witnessed by some of the sayings I remember hearing from the Shaykh - may Allah keep him in his good care as well as our Shaykh, Mawlana al-Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani and all the Friends of Allah:

* "When Allah desires to bring someone from one place of His earth to another, He does not let him move there until all the conditions of living and his sustenance are prepared and ready, then He takes him from here to there."

* "Nothing is easier for Allah than to bring out His slave from one state to another: from point A to point B even if it is at the end of the earth, or from health to sickness - just like that - or from life to death - just like that."

* "When the people who follow the path of light meet they recognize one another and experience familiarity, while those who follow darkness are in constant opposition and alienation from everything. Light never presents opposition with itself, only increase in intensity of love, beauty, and truth as in the verse { Light upon Light } (24:35). While darkness is an unchanging block over which more darkness stacks up, as in the verse { Layer upon layer of darkness } (24:40).

* "Light spreads everywhere but darkness is static. Light, if allowed, pierces into darkness as far as the eye can see whereas darkness, as thick as it can be, can never pierce into light. If darkness had the power to spread, it would be a big problem!"

* "A young woman saint - waliyya - reached a level in the Diwan of Rasulullah - Sallallahu `alayhi wa Sallam - only through patience with a physical ailment hidden even to her mother and from which she suffered without a single complaint."

* "Each can only speak of what he knows. As for what is not known to him he should not fall into denial but defer to those who know."

I was fortunate to read with the Shaykh Imam al-Qushayri's introduction on doctrine (`aqida) in the beginning of his Risala. I have published his remarks and explanations in my post on al-Qushayri's `Aqida.

Among the du`as I heard the Shaykh say the most when I was with him: "Rabbi yughallib al-baraka `ala al-haraka." "May my Lord make blessing greater than activity."

I am thankful for having met Sidi Mustafa Basir the great-grandson of the Prophet - Allah bless and greet him - who called the People of the Qur'an "the People of Allah" (Ahlullah), and it is therefore right and correct that their teacher be called the Master of the People of Allah (Shaykh Ahlillah) - may Allah bless him, thank him and support him!

To You belongs all praise O my Lord for Your healing, kindness, and generous gifts embodied in the hospitality of Your Friends and the Bearers of Your Book in the lands of the West concerning which Your Prophet said - Sallallahu `alayhi wa Sallam: "The people of the West (ahl al-gharb) shall not cease to be victorious, standing for truth, until the Hour rises." Narrated from Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas by Muslim in his Sahih. May Allah not make this our last encounter with the World of the Qur'an!

Wa Sallallahu `ala Sayyidina Muhammad wa `ala Alihi wa Sahbihi wa Sallam.
Wal Hamdu lillahi Rabb il-`alamin.

Hajj Gibril
GF Haddad ©





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