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For many European Muslims, particularly from the UK, Marrakesh has become the destination of choice when looking to get away. While many who have visited the city will (rightly) tell you how touristy it is, away from the European owned riyads and faux guides, hidden in the medina away from the hustle and bustle of the bazaars, lies a hidden source of spirituality for the city: the Seven Saints (awliya [1]) of Marrakesh. When I visited Morocco and Marrakesh for the first time a few years ago, I, like many people, went as a tourist. It was only after returning from my visit that I found out about the rich history and legacy of Sufism in the country, and last year I read the excellent book ‘Signs on the Horizons’ by Michael Sugich. After finishing it I felt a deep desire to visit Morocco again to get a taste of what Michael experienced there as a young man, and to see what I had missed out on during my first visit. After some research, I made the intention to journey there once again to visit its many saints, among them the Seven Saints of Marrakesh. Interestingly, most of the Seven Saints are not even from Marrakesh; during the 17th century in an effort to increase the importance of the city, Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif ordered their remains to be removed from various parts of Morocco and placed in (what is now) the old city. For many years Moroccans would avidly visit each of the tombs, and there was an order defined as to which Saint to visit on which day. Although this tradition has since died down, the Saints still remain popular, particularly with native ‘Marrakeshans’.

 Visiting the Saints

If one wishes to visit the Seven Saints, or any awliya for that matter, it is important to know the correct etiquettes and manners required when when doing so; here are some recommendations[2]: 1. When you enter a mosque where a saint is buried, perform two rak’at (cylces of prayer) with the intention of greeting the mosque. 2. Visit the grave of the khalifah (successor) first and then the wali. [If his grave is also there][3]. 3. Stand outside the grave in humility[4]. 4. Read surat al-Fatiha (once), astighfirullah (11 times), la ilaha illallah (11 times), surat al-Ikhlas (11 times), the last two surahs of the Qur’an (once each), surat al-Sharh (7 times), surat Ya-Seen (once), surat al-Mulk (once). 5. Gift the reward of what you have read to the Prophet ﷺ, his family, the wali you are visiting and all other awliya. 6. Make d’ua (supplication) and ask Allah for all your needs. 7. Give charity to people around the grave because they are under the protection of the wali.

Locating the Saints

For anyone interested in visiting the Saints, I’ve marked out the location of their tombs here. One piece of advice I would give is to make use of Google Maps’ offline facility, which you can use to store maps of areas and locations that you have marked as favourites; this will save you from getting lost in the labyrinth streets and having to deal with ‘faux guides.’ Faux guides are tour guides who are not registered with the relevant authorities; they are usually young men who operate illegally. I ended up using one to direct me to the first four Saints who are located close to each other in the centre of the old city. I wasn’t keen on using his services, but as many people who have visited Morocco will tell you, sometimes you can’t really prevent it happening. You won’t get into any trouble for using their services as a tourist, but your guide potentially will if he is caught by the police. Despite many developments in recent decades, poverty is still common in Morocco, and many young men struggle to find decent work, so you will come across many of them during your visit. It is your choice whether or not you use their services, but most people end up regretting it, as in the end they are never satisfied with the amount you pay them. While there was traditionally a specific order in which each of the Seven Saints was visited, they are listed here in the order that I happened to visit them. My entire journey was done on foot and took around four hours. I travelled alone, starting at my hotel in the medina.

1. Sidi[5] Ben Slimane (Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli)

Imam al-Jazuli's zawiya. Copyright Mohammed Khan

Imam al-Jazuli’s zawiya. Copyright Mohammed Khan

This was the tomb I especially wanted to visit. Shaykh al-Jazuli is most famously known for authoring Dala’il al-Khayrat (The Guides to Goodness), a collection of prayers and blessings upon the Prophet ﷺ, which is recited and printed all over the Muslim world and can be found in numerous collections and homes. It has most recently gained popularity in the West due to the efforts of Shaykh Nuh Keller (I even saw a copy in the prayer room at Stansted Airport before I boarded my flight). It is reported that Shaykh al-Jazuli once travelled to a well to fetch water but found it was dry; on seeing his predicament a young girl came and spat into the well, at which point it gushed forth with water. The Shaykh asked her how she had achieved such a high spiritual state, to which she responded that it was through sending abundant prayers on the Prophet ﷺ . On hearing this, he decided to compile his Dala’il al-Khayrat. The fact that it is found all over the Muslim world, from Morocco to Malaysia and beyond, is considered a sign of its acceptance by God. The whole book is recited at the zawiya[6] every Thursday. After making your way through winding roads, that seem to have an infinite stream of traffic, you will eventually reach the tomb, which is adjacent to a mosque that also bears the saint’s name. Like many shrines in Morocco, it provides a calm relief from the incessant noise of the medina. Shaykh Sulayman’s zawiya is an exquisite example of such a structure; built around a spacious courtyard with a fountain, the relatively large building was pretty empty. The drops of water from the fountain echoed off the walls in the silence. The elderly caretaker of the zawiya sat engrossed in his recitation of the Qur’an next to the Saint’s cenotaph (when I visited again the next day he was still there as if he had never left). Customarily in Morocco, there is usually at least one person at a zawiya for most of the day, who is almost always a descendant of the wali; it is his/her job to take care of the tomb and help visitors if required. If you don’t ask anything of them, they will usually just carry on with their normal worship. Do not be afraid to politely ask them to make a prayer for you if you so wish. They are also the people to give any donations to for the upkeep of the shrine if you want to contribute. I was fortunate that my hotel was close to the zawiya and I was able to visit it a number of times while I was in Marrakesh. It was at Shaykh al-Jazuli’s tomb that my faux guide decided to offer his services, so from here I followed him to the other  three saints located in the middle of the medina.

2. Sidi Bel Abbas (Abu al-Abbas) al-Sabti

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

The largest and most popular zawiya in Marrakesh is that of Sidi Bel Abbas. Born in Ceuta, he moved to just outside of Marrakesh to live as a hermit, worshipping Allah in seclusion and only entering the city to attend Friday prayers. He developed a reputation as a preacher and soon caught the attention of the Almohad sultan Yaqub al-Mansur, who offered to provide a home and a madrassa for him to teach in the city. He became popular with the destitute and sick of Marrakesh, who would visit him often and he would care for them. As this is the most popular (and probably the largest) zawiya in the city, it was also one of the few that was actually busy. Despite the decoration and ornaments within the zawiya, the grave itself has a modest marker and not a large cenotaph as is usually common- so much so that I was actually unsure where the grave was when I entered!

3. Sidi Abd El-Aziz (Abdul Aziz)

Sidi Abdul Aziz was a silk merchant who became one of the closest students, and eventually the spiritual successor, of Shaykh al-Jazuli. He lived in the city of Fes but moved to Marrakesh after the Shaykh passed away. It is quite easy to miss his zawiya entirely, as the entrance looks as though it’s cut into the corner of a building. But like many places in the old areas of Morocco, initial impressions can be deceiving and a humble entrance often unveils its itself as the gateway to something special. As you walk in, you will be greeted with a courtyard containing a fountain with the Shaykh’s tomb in front of you.

4. Sidi Abdullah al-Ghazwani

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Sidi Abdullah was the successor of Sidi Abdul Aziz; these three awliya are together the Shadhili-Jazuli (a Sufi order) saints of Marrakesh. Sidi al-Ghazwani’s zawiya, much like Sidi Bel Abbas’, is larger and busier than most of the others. Note that on the Google Maps link above, you will not see Sidi Abdullah’s zawiya marked, as I wasn’t able to ascertain its exact location on Google. However it is located close to the Mouassine mosque which is marked on the map. The preceding four saints are located close to each other in the centre of the old city; the remaining three are a little further out. My guide at this point offered to get me a taxi to visit the others, which meant he was looking to make a cut of the fare on top of his fee. I decided at this point to bid him farewell- albeit with the customary haggling of services rendered- and made my own way to visit the next saint.

5. Qadi Iyad

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Qadi Iyad was the second of the awliya I especially wanted to visit. He was a judge in the Maliki school of law and originally hailed from Ceuta, but spent most of his scholarly career in Andalucía. Despite his speciality being jurisprudence, his most famous work was on the life of the Prophet ﷺ through his book: ‘The Cure by Means of Expounding the Rights of the Chosen One’[7] or more simply and commonly ‘al-Shifa’. The book is not a standard seerah in that it gives a chronological account of the Prophet ﷺ, but rather details his sublime nature and the rights that he is due from us as his followers. It is an immense work that I personally benefited from deeply, and wanted to pay my respects and offer my gratitude for it.[8] Cutting my way from west to east across the centre of the medina, I eventually left behind the tourist areas of the town. The easiest way to get to the zawiya is to find Avenue Qadi Iyad, which curves its way up around to the tomb. As I made my way up the road, I saw the distinctive green pyramid roof that indicates the tomb of a saint, but it turned out that this building housed some ancestors of the royal family. The Qadi’s tomb was a little further on, in a more nondescript building, which is surprising given the rank he has in the eyes of many people. I didn’t even notice I had passed the tomb and had to ask someone where it was. Unfortunately, asking someone for directions, as a foreigner in Morocco, usually means having to part with money. Eliciting a simple gesture from your ad-hoc guide will cost you a few coins; a brisk walk, perhaps a note; a guided tour and you’re in for a haggling match. After taking me to the tomb, which was literally a few steps from where I was on the street, the two men I had asked insisted on trying to help me in more ways than I needed. After offering a bigger tip than was deserved, they still wanted more. The caretaker of the zawiya then stepped in and politely asked them to leave, for which I was grateful[9]. I prayed the noon prayer with the caretaker and his assistant; he offered a lengthy d’ua (supplication) for me, asking Allah to accept my visit to Qadi Iyad and the awliya of the city, amongst many other things. I can honestly say his prayers for at least some (if not everything) of what he asked for were answered, so if you do visit Qadi Iyad, be sure to ask the Shaykh of the zawiya to pray for you. The wife of Qadi Iyad is also located in the same building; you will find her grave near the entrance, to the left when entering from the street.

6. Sidi Youssef bin Ali

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Youssef bin Ali was a leper who, like Sidi Bel Abbas, initially lived in seclusion but earned a reputation as a spiritual teacher and preacher. His zawiya is the only one located outside of the medina- most likely because as a leper he wasn’t permitted to live within the city walls. Leaving Qadi Iyad’s zawiya and heading back down Avenue Al Qadi Iyad, you will reach Bab Ghmat, one of the gates to the old city. Walk out of the gate and follow the road leading out of the medina and you will eventually see the building he is located in to your right- a little further on from a petrol station. It was the one zawiya that I did not manage to enter as it was closed during my visit, so I had to pay my respects from outside. It is easily discernible as most of the buildings surrounding it are relatively modern and there is a sign above the door in Arabic indicating that it is Sidi Youssef’s tomb.

7. Sidi Es Soheili (al-Suhayli)

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Image: CC: Bertramz via Wiki Commons

Sidi al-Suhayli was originally from Andalucía but moved to Marrakesh, where he passed away. His most famous work is a seven volume commentary on Ibn Hisham’s seerah. His resting place took me some time to find, as it is not located exactly as marked on Google. To find Sidi al-Suhayli, walk back from Sidi Youssef’s tomb into the old city, and follow the southern wall of the medina in a westward direction. Eventually, you reach the king’s palace, which you will recognise by the police surrounding it on all sides. You may get a few questioning looks from them as you walk by and be sure not to take any photos. Follow the palace wall around anti-clockwise and you will eventually see the zawiya. There were only two other people there who I assumed were the caretakers; one was a woman who sat outside; the other was inside, but was indiscernible due to the darkness within the room. Both were engrossed in their worship. Sidi al-Suhayli was the last of the seven awliya of Marrakesh. Paying my respects to him completed the fulfilment of my intention to visit all Seven Saints, and thereby one of the main purposes of my journey to Morocco. In all honesty, I finished far quicker than I had expected to. If I have any regrets (faux guides aside, which were relatively innocuous anyway), it is that I did not know as much about the Saints (apart from Shaykh al-Jazuli and Qadi Iyad) as I would have liked to. However, their given their importance in the city and that people from all over the world, such as myself, come to visit them, perhaps that is in itself an indication of who they were and a testimony of their rank in the sight of Allah. I ask Allah that He accepts the journey I made and raises the remembrance of all His awliya, in Morocco and elsewhere, past and present, and helps us to remember their good deeds so that we can learn from them and increase in our proximity to our Him.


Endnotes [1] Plural of wali, a term used to describe a ‘friend of God’, used synonymously with ‘saint’. [2] Taken from ‘Divine Gifts: A Collection of Some Etiquettes and Litanies of the Shadhili Path’ (Ihsan Publications) trans. Shaykh Ahmed Saad al-Azhari, may Allah reward him and benefit us by him. [3] Khalifah in this context refers to the spiritual successor of the saint. In many places the saint’s khalifah will be buried next to or near the main saint’s tomb. [4] In many places in the Muslim world, including Morocco, the visiting of the shrines of saints is done with much fanfare and commotion. The author here is recommending that when one visits the tomb of saint it should be done in a controlled and modest manner. [5] ‘Sidi’ from the Arabic سيدي sayyidi, literally ‘my master’ is a term used in a number of ways; it can be used when referring to a scholar or pious person, or as is common in North Africa, it can be used as a general term of endearment. [6] Literally ‘corner’. A term used predominantly in North Africa to denote a Sufi lodge or shrine. [7] Arabic – الشفا بتعريف الحقوق المصطفى [8] It has been translated into English by Shaykha Aisha Bewley, republished by Diwan Press. [9] As a slight aside, Western Muslims may feel slightly uncomfortable with the forwardness people have in trying to make money from you. My tip is do as the natives do- if someone offers you a service, estimate what you think is reasonable, pay your price and politely walk away; don’t pay attention to any complaints they may give you, it’s usually all part of their ‘business strategy’.   For more about this author’s travels, read his blog British Misk 

© Mohammed Khan and Sacred Footsteps 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or website’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mohammed Khan and Sacred Footsteps with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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