What is a Marabout in Morocco and Who Were the Seven Saints of Marrakech?
By: Claire Boyle/Arab America Contributing Writer
The country of Morocco has drawn its religious influences from many nations, cultures, and systems. Morocco’s official religion is Islam, but because of its Berber origins, central location near Europe, and being on the African continent, as well as its association between the Moors and Al-Andalus, the country has an interesting set of beliefs that have become integral to its identity. So, knowing that, have you ever wondered what are Marabouts in traditional Moroccan culture and religion as well as who were the ‘Seven Saints of Marrakech’? Well, if so, you are in the right place. In this article, the author will explore the cultural and religious connotations surrounding Moroccan Marabouts and detail who were the revered Seven Saints of Marrakech.
What are Marabouts?
The first question that must be answered is what was a Marabout in Moroccan religion and culture? Marabouts have numerous definitions depending on what region of Africa they are from, but typically in the Maghreb or North Africa, they are defined as a revered person, a “saint in the modern-day Berber languages, and they have also come to be associated with Sufi Islam,” the mystical side of the faith. The word ‘Marabout’ is broadly defined as a “Muslim religious leader and teacher, and even a scholar of the Qur’an.” Nowadays, a Marabout is most closely associated with the term of a ‘saint’, and they are usually connected with Sufism.
Historically, the usage of the word, Marabout, brings up a connotation of a Muslim religious leader, and they tended to be located in either West Africa or North Africa. The interesting thing is the term is also associated with pre-Islamic times in places such as Sub-Saharan Africa. In a way, a Marabout’s role in society could be akin to a monk, nun, or someone in a hermitic existence where they may live alone in a desolate place without luxuries to achieve spiritual benefits and practice their faith in a way that gets them closer to Allah or God. Finally, the word ‘Marabout’ comes from the Arabic meaning “one who is attached or garrisoned.”
Who Were the Seven Saints of Marrakech?
The ‘Seven Saints of Marrakech’ were a group of seven men in Morocco who were considered to be “revered Muslim figures in Moroccan history.” These ‘Seven Saints’ held specific roles in Moroccan society, and they could only hold certain occupations. All of them were either a “famous Muslim judge, scholar, or Sufi saint (also known as a wali) who were venerated for their piety or other mystical attributes.” The seven monuments in the picture above represent the seven final resting places of these ‘saints’, and these magnificent structures have been pilgrimage sites for centuries.
Who were the ‘Seven Saints of Marrakech? They lived over a period of about 400 years, and the interesting thing to know about them is that they are different than the “Seven Saints of the Regraga Berber tribe.” The Seven Saints of Marrakech are mostly of Arab descent and the creation of the pilgrimage site dates to the “17th century under the Alaouite sultan, Moulay Isma’il.
Meet the ‘Seven Saints of Marrakech’:
- Sidi Youssef Ben Ali:
- Qadi Ayyad:
- Sidi Bel Abbas:
- Sidi Suleiman Al Jazuli:
- Sidi Abdel Aziz:
- Sidi Abdullah Ghazouani:
- Sidi al-Suhayli
They all held various roles such as being revered imams, spiritual advisers, religious scholars, judges, advocates for the poor and providing charity, teachers, and some Sufi leaders as well. The ‘Seven Saints’ are all buried throughout Marrakech and their mausoleums and tombs are exquisite examples of Moroccan architecture.
So, the question that must be answered: are Marabouts and the ‘Seven Saints of Marrakech’ the same thing, or do they overlap? Well, the best answer is, sort of. Marabouts are Moroccan saints, but they are not necessarily the ‘Seven Saints’ especially since those men only pertain to Marrakech in the first place. Perhaps, the ‘Seven Saints’ could be Marabouts, but it is not known whether that is true. However, the one thing that does connect them is the religion of Sufi Islam which favors a type of mystical beliefs and mysticism, so perhaps, they both may come up in scriptures, but again, that is not known for sure whether that is a fact.
Finally, it was interesting to learn about these intriguing individuals; both the Marabouts, in general, as well as the ‘Seven Saints of Marrakech!’
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