The Secrets of Marrakesh Seven Men

One of the most controversial issues of Morocco

Djamaa El-Fna Square in Marrakesh
Djamaa El-Fna Square in Marrakesh
17 APR 2016
by

Marrakesh, or the Red City as most of Moroccans called it in reference to the color of its buildings, has always been associated with Djamaa El-Fna. Whoever visits the city relishes in its red walls and popular alleys. With countless markets, gardens, palaces and mosques, Marrakesh reveals its identity as a place of full magic! Riding a quad bike or a camel is the ideal way to hang around in the city that has become an international capital of Moroccan cultural heritage.

Marrakesh has long been the subject of many writers and historians such as Peter Mayne, author of A Year in Marrakesh; Elizabeth Warnock, author of A Street in Marrakesh and many others. The historical study of Les Sept Patrons de Marrakesh by Henri de Castries is a concise work that shows a different side of "the Land of Saints". Saints are one of the most controversial issues that have characterized Morocco historically, religiously and politically.

Saints cults in Islam

Islam reached its peak during the time of the Prophet Mohammad and his companions, especially during the period of the Caliphs. Given the importance of religion in people’s lives, saints took the prophet’s messages as a duty to protect and keep the faithful on the right path. In Islam, holiness is attributed to Allah, “GOD”, and Allah alone: it is even one of his ninety-nine names, "Quddus", which is translated "holy". The term "saint" is indeed a Christian concept, which has no real equivalent in Islam. Islam distinguishes the prophet Rusul ("messenger"), whose mission is to convey the word of Allah to men and spread across the nations and the "Wali", the "Saint", which occupies a special status, halfway between the human and the divine. Unlike the Prophet, the Wali is not chosen by God and has a mission: he is a perfect man, close to God in its perfection, and thus able to be intercessor between God and men.

Believing in saints with supra human qualities started during the ninth century, by a being halfway between the human and the divine; it is at this point that his grave is sacred, and the graves of his family and his companions. Gradually, there appeared a group of persons recognized as "holy" men and women claiming kinship to the Prophets. The cult is first expressed through pilgrimage, especially to the shrines. “Saints” belief has become one of the most controversial doctrines in the Islamic world. For some Muslims, revering saints is an integral part of Islamic belief and practice, while others believe it to be nothing but idolatry.

The lands of seven saints: Marrakesh

Marrakesh was known with a large number of Wali, “saints”, who were buried there. In fact, the name Marrakesh means “the land of the saints.” Moulay Ismail resorted to the aid of a religious chief called Abou Al Hassan El Youssi in order to shift people's attention to the new seven saints of Marrakesh instead of the seven saints of Chiadma who were the seven saints of Regraga, who held very prestigious positions as they were the ones who met the prophet of Islam and brought his message to the Berber tribe of Chiadma.

The Ziara (pilgrimage) to their shrines was established by Sheikh Abu Ali Al Hassan Al Youssi during the seventeenth century to make room for the pilgrimage of seven saints of Regraga. The Seven Saints of Marrakech are looked upon as pious men, great mystics or famous theologians. Some of them have left reputable scientific works whose quality is recognized. Nevertheless, these saints, soon after their death, were the object of worship sometimes containing beliefs and practices that don’t belong to Islam.

Seven Saints cults in Marrakesh

Since the 17th century, Moroccans, from all social classes and ethnic races, have been constantly visiting the shrines of the seven saints in Marrakesh to pray to Allah. They have been taught that visiting these shrines would heir diseases, help them fulfill their wishes and allow them to achieve tranquility of their souls. The cult of saints is widespread in Marrakesh. This is due to the large number of shrines that are on its territory and justifies the saying: "Marrakesh, tomb of saints." Devotion to the Seven Saints of Marrakesh is very strong to the point that the seven saints "Sabaâtou Rijal" has become common parlance in another name for the city of Marrakesh.

Seven Men of Marrakesh are well-known historical figures who lived in the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The names of the Seven Saints of Marrakesh were given to us in classical Arabic poem “qassîda” entitled "Al AINIA" and composed by Al Youssi. In chronological order, these saints are: Cadi Ayyad, Imam Assoheïli, Sidi Youssef Ben Ali, Sidi Bel Abbes, called "Moul Lblad" (patron saint of the city), Sidi Mohamed Ben Sliman Al Jazouli, and Sidi Sidi Abdel Aziz Abdellah Al Ghazouani (Moul Laksour or the owner of the palace).