If as lovers of Allah you wish to rise
turn to Layla with sincerity in your eyes.
From all who scorn your love turn away
and travel to Allah’s lovers wherever you may.
But ifyour love is totally sincere
you’ll see Allah’s lovers by staying here.
And ifyour heart’s vision is pure and fair
You’ll see Her lights shining everywhere
SO BEGINS a qasida from the Diwan of Sheikh Muhammad ibn al-Habib of Fez, may God be pleased with him, in a verse version I made from an existing translation as the basis for a puppet play to take to Morocco. Hearing within it the echo of the Qur’anic ayats from God Most High enjoining us to travel the world and see what Allah has done with different peoples, joined with the ayats reminding us that wherever we turn, there is the Face of Allah, it makes for a curiously circular adventure as travelers. We end where we begin, in our originally illumined state, if we are open to the heart’s purity of sight
I was invited with my wife Malika to visit Morocco’s American Language Center in Marrakesh, to begin a tour of its centers beginning there and then north to Meknes, Tetouan, Tangier, and back again to Marrakesh in a three week junket Initially invited to read my poetry to the students at these centers, the charismatic and imaginative director, Abdurrahman Fitzgerald, got wind of my work with puppets on my website, and wondered if I could also present a puppet play to their younger students of English, some not much more than 10 years old.
I acquiesced, and wrote a play, Ameen’s Journey to Qalbiyya, using puppets I made for a production a few years earlier of The Mystical Love Story of Layla and Majnun, I gave the famous couple cameo appearances in the new play as well, which is essentially the mini-saga of a young hero, Ameen, taking to the Path of Allah, intending Io meet people of wisdom on the way to teach him to see Layla’s “lights shining everywhere.” The name Qalbiyya in the title is a made-up place, loosely translated as The Heartland, with the joke in it that if the difficult qaf is mispronounced it becomes Kalbiyya (Dog Town), though I wasn’t sure anyone but me would get the joke, and ultimately few did. I had trouble at first coming up with a story, and emailed the center in Marrakesh asking the students themselves to suggest a story, or at least some characters they would like to see in a play.
The only suggestion was to include the character of Aisha Kandisha, a seductive djinn who apparently is famous for beguiling unsuspecting travelers into falling madly in love with her. Many Moroccan men under her spell even today think of her as their wife, to their ultimate ruin. That was it One character, no story. But the worldwide web is a true Ali Baba’s treasure cave, and from it I gleaned a Sufi folk tale actually from Marrakesh in which a sultan tricks a wali but the wali overcomes the deception due to his deeper wisdom, and the sultan becomes his disciple. A perfect ending to my puppet play showing Ameen’s successful illumination, and within a few weeks the story was complete. I sent specifications to the carpenter at the center in Marrakesh, and he constructed a stage in three hinged parts, so it could stand on its own, with an opening for the puppets to play in, identical in size to the one of strong cardboard I use from time to time at home.
With sheaves of poems and a large suitcase full of papier-mâché hand-puppets, masks and various props (and worried a bit that immigration might think we were smuggling something inside the puppets’ heads), my wife Malika and I took the plane for Marrakesh, a grueling fifteen-or-so hour journey via Heathrow in London, and landed at dusk at the small, quiet balmy Marrakesh airport, greeted by our hosts, one already known to us, the others new to us but somehow familiar in that uncanny way that often happens, especially with people of dhikr.
The play was entitled Ameen’s Journey to Qalbiyya for a definite reason, as I had been given the name Ameen by a blind wali from Laghouat, Algeria, named Hajj ‘Issa, in the late 70s when I traveled there in the company of five other disciples of our sheikh in Meknes, who died in 1972. And for me this return visit to Morocco after thirty years was a real return to my “heartland,” to reignite a connection to the tariqa tradition there in Meknes, a tradition that is still vibrant in Morocco in spite of recent fundamentalist encroachments. For Morocco was the first place in which the heart of my Islam was nourished, back in 1970, when I first became Muslim, when we traveled from Berkeley to London and from there to Meknes to attend a giant Mawlid for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and die Moussem for our sheikh a few days later, sheikh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, then over a hundred years old. And it was in Morocco that I tasted the elegance and refinement of the courtesies (adaab) of Islam, even among rougher Berbers and mountain-men from the high Atlas, the freshly minted behaviors in imitation of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, which were so sincerely and enthusiastically expressed that it seemed as if the Prophet was perhaps just down the street and that the love these people had for him was fresh from his living presence.
So it was with this high expectation that we traveled at the end of April of 2004, the time also coinciding with the annual Moussem in Meknes; a chance to meet the lovers of Allah and His Prophet in a country whose eagerness for courtesy and welcome has not diminished in the transpiring years away. As God Most High says on the tongue of His Prophet, peace be upon him: “I am as My servant thinks of Me …”
From all who scorn your love turn away
and travel to Allah s lovers wherever you may.
Marrakesh is an almost mythic city to my postBeat poet’s soul. So many of the 60s writers and cultural icons spent time on its rooftops and winding streets, and at the famous Djemma elFna, entranced by the smoky decadence of it all, absorbing its exotic delights. This many years later, though, and as a Muslim, I had come not for “beat” pleasures, but to visit students and awliyya, alive or in eternity, and hearken to their songs.
My wife and I moved into an apartment in the annex building of the American Language Center, in a suburb filled with newly constructed and under-construction villas, three-or-more story buddings, imagined, it seems, as a kind of Moroccan Art Deco. All the buildings, old or new, are of the same pinkish terra cotta color of every building in Marrakesh, thusly hued by law for whatever reason: simple tradition, to blend in, or perhaps to maintain the native adobe desert look, which is actually quite attractive. Each house had a small daring detail of color, cobalt tiles above the main entrance for example, or a bit of tiled frou-frou somewhere on the facade. Looking over the city from our balcony, there is a lovely uniformity and Arab-town honeycombedness, so typical of Muslim cities, though on the street the bedraggled, rundown look is, up close, more acute. Here and there, dusty palm trees prong up into the sky, roadways often running around them, out of deference to the trees’ ancient role as mothers and living beings. Occasional ones spotted lying on their sides look truly forlorn, like dead animals, their lifetime of service having come to an end.
We slept after our journey, visited the country house of our host, being refurbished under the expert gaze of the director’s artist wife, Jámila, with great snowcapped mountains of the High Atlas in the distance, and generally sank into and acclimatized ourselves to the rhythms of Marrakesh. There’s always something amazing about living in a place where the adhan is called five times a day, although they begin a kind of courtesy adhan about an hour or more before the adhan for fajr prayer, which in a state of jetlag is a little unnerving.
In Marrakesh as well as everywhere in the Muslim world it seems, there manifests the same disease of modern Islam: the electrified minaret loudspeaker. What is lovely about the unaided human voice is its aching poignancy, and in cities like Marrakesh, Meknes or Fez muezzinsgo into almost every minaret to call the adhan, so there would be a natural overlap of their naked voices. Instead, every minaret is wired for sound, and the result is a harsh metallic adhan that almost hurts rather than reminds, like children in supermarkets screaming for attention. Where is the wafting adhan, the evocative adhan, the adhan based not on modern human technology but on the ancient human vocal chords and heart of the muezzin? Sheikh Hamza Yusuf also mentions in one of his talks somewhere that with an unamplified adhan you could guage how far away the mosque is and how quickly to walk to it in order to arrive at the prayer on time. With amplified adhans you might walk for miles thinking the mosque is just down tiie road, providing, of course, that you don’t already know the city like the back of your hand. Granted, a possible justification for amplification is that modern life has also gotten noisier. Still, I’m always grateful for the adhans, the muezzins in Morocco are the most sublime of singers, and I listened hopefully past the technology when at fajr and maghrib especially, you can hear the various adhans looping and blending their vocal banners across the city as the dawn comes up or the sun lowers itself down through the completed day’s radiant clouds.
In Marrakesh is the tomb ofthe author ofthe universally recited Dala’il al-Khayrat, Imam alJazuli (d.870 ah), sheikh ofthe Shadhiliya-Darqawi tariqa, who is one of the Seven Saints of Marrakesh, honored as the spiritual linchpins of the city’s reason for being. The other six are Sidi Qadi Ayaad, Sidi al-Abbas Sabti, Sidi Yussuf Ben Ali, Sidi Abdellaziz al-Tebbaa, Sidi Abd Allah alGhazwaani – nicknamed Moul al-Rsour – and Imam al-Suhayli (may Allah be pleased with all of them). During our visit there, though we had intended to visit all seven, both my wife and I were only able to visit the tomb and zawiyya of Sheikh Jazuli, Malika one night with other ladies, and myself with one of the language center’s teachers who would be our guide on the journey north, Sidi Hamza Weinman, who took me to the Jazuli zawiyya in his cuddly, bangedup rattletrap Renault I dubbed Zahara (to which he added: el-Miskeena, “the poor thing”), somewhere across town, not far from the Djemma el-Fna.
We walked down a winding alley and went into the very humble mosque, first going into the tomb to greet the sheikh. A lovely tomb, ornately decorated, which I obtained permission from one of the regulars, or the guardian, to photograph, only to have my digital camera jam as soon as I took the picture! I regretted the glitch, though, and wish I had been able to take a picture or two inside the zawiyya of the two lines of mostly old men in d ja I Ia has. reciting the Dala’il al-Khayrat, a collection of all the formulae of blessings upon the Prophet God’s peace be upon him, starting with those mentioned in the sunnah, those composed by the Sahaba, by the Taabi’in, and by countless salihin, in that unmistakable Moroccan fashion, rhythmically fast and musically intense, page after page with very little variation in the phrases and invocatory formulae, page after page, most of the grizzled and very indigent looking men reciting it entirely by heart! The sweet joy of their faces! Their concentration and light! 1 was happy to see some young men among them as well, but most of them were well into their elder benignity, no less vigorous however, obviously mentally as sharp as sword-blades, and especially energized in reciting these glorious and lengthy invocations. But my camera was jammed, try as I might, and I had to give it up and let the recitation soak into me, following it where I could in the yellowed booklets of the text one of the men handed us. Afterwards, the leader and some ofthe others greeted us, and we left the zawiyya back into the darkened alleyway, back to Zahara, with the haunting singsong of the dhikr echoing in our hearts and brains.
The puppet play went well, in the Center’s courtyard, though most of the children really couldn’t follow the words. As it turns out I had written it about five or six years above their heads. They sat in their chairs, row after row, with perfect attentiveness, many never having seen anything like a puppet play live. The two appearances I made, in masks and costumes exactly like two ofthe small puppets, created a kind of cathartic shiver up their young spines. The poetry reading two days later, however, was, for me at least amazingly gratifying, with the audience commenting and questioning some ofthe poems and their meanings, which I welcome and always find fascinating, discovering how some people perceive them. The sea of excited and interested Moroccan faces as I read these poems (written usually at the side of my bed in the middle of an American night) was overwhelming to me. They caught the meanings, and their love of poetry was palpable.
The students and staff of the school had been studying one of the poems earlier, The Piece of Coal, but I was really surprised when, after just one recitation of the poem, many in the audience in unison were able to supply the final words of each stanza when I repeated them:
The famous square in the old city of Marrakesh, crossroads of camel-drivers and charlatans, snake-charmers and magicians, the wilder Gnaowa “Sufis” of the deeper south, dancers and singers and musicians deep into the night, Djemaa el-Fna, famous everywhere. Before visiting the place, I wrote a short poem imagining the mesmerizing atmosphere that might prevail there.
FIRE-EATER OF MARRAKESH
When the fire-eater put the firebrand in his mouth
the whole night sky I swear burst into flame
And when he took it out of his mouth extinguished
the night sky blackened and pulled itself tight
around us again
Except for this fantasy, I came very close to not visiting the square at all, but after the poetry reading given at the Language Center I prevailed on Hamza to just “pop over and have a look around.” We got into Zahara and she galumphed her way to the nearest sidestreet, around 10 p.m., and we wandered into Djemaa el-Fna. It was dark except for glowing points of light shimmering up from huddled groups of people dotted here and there, and the night sounds of drumming and singing from the various circles.
We first passed a very obsequious man in djellabaand turban holding a kind of large banjo (a guinbri) sitting in the glow of a Coleman lantern, on a large cloth, surrounded by chickens pecking at grain on the ground. He was chatting to some onlookers. Next to him was a brightly painted naif portrait of himself playing the guinbriwe saw him with. We wandered away to other groups, a very thin bare-chested man pacing back and forth and shouting in a guttural derajah to die great amusement of the men in the circles – there were no women here at mis hour – and I suggested to Hamza who, in spite of his passable derajah, couldn’t really follow what he was saying, mat he might be a kind of Marrakeshi standup (or pacing) comedian, his monologue probably full of subtle asides and lurid references. We then went to anomer group where some serious outplaying and drumming was taking place, and lingered for a little while, my hands on my wallet pocket my camera held close to my body, until the allure wore off. The allure for the Djemaa el-Fna actually wore off rather quickly (I told Hamza that a little of the Djemaa el-Fna goes a long way), and after visually visiting some of the food stalls, where amazing pyramids of fruit and food, including goats’ heads sitting on their necks, were piled up, we tumbled back into Zahara and made our way home.
THE FLOATING LOTUS MAGIC PUPPET THEATER CIRCUS VAN
With the wooden collapsible stage wrapped in canvas and lashed to the roof, and the hired van and driver setting off early in the morning, with a van ful of fuqara who traveled north with us to attend the great Meknes Moussem – who would be returning to Marrakesh by bus, as the driver, Sidi Hamza, my wife and I, and the suitcase of puppets, continued north – we took to the open road. The countryside, even rainswept and cloudy, is everywhere majestic and rich, as we drove past sheepherders with small and huge herds, a little shack angling to the earth in the middle of a field, great cascades and gorges appearing around a bend, and glorious green fields with swathes of stunning bright red poppies seemingly strewn across them, or shockingly electric yellow mustard flowers in great wavy bands of color.
Meknes is the city of my soul, perhaps, in the way that Oakland, California is the city of my body. It’s a hilly city, the old city within a great wall around it built by the ruthless Moulay Ismail, who’s buried in a giant fully tiled and chilly tomb at one of the gates. There’s a secret here too, though. If you go into the vast and echoey hall and ask the muqaddem for the tomb of Abdurrahman al-Madjdoub, perhaps he’ll take you to a far wall and open a low door with his set of keys. You’ll go into a dark and small chamber, low-ceilinged, somewhat dusty and cobwebby, and in the middle is the simple tomb of one of the great saintly shuyukh of Morocco, a wali poet whose lines of poetry and aphorisms are often used to impart immediate folk wisdom, and I’m told, to diffuse disputes. On this journey to Meknes, though we weren’t able to visit his tomb, sadly, I was told that he has two collections, or diwans, of poetry, both written in the Moroccan dialect: one more “streetwise” and pungent the other more seriously Gnostic and sublime. As there never seems to have been a translation of these works into English, 1 can only guess at their possible magnificence.
I spent many months in Meknes in the 70s, at gatherings of dhikr during and after the lifetime of our sheikh, and passing through once on my way to the town of Rissani, in the Tafilalt I can’t even remember clearly how long I stayed or exactly when, but the zawiyya, tucked away in an alleyway labyrinth just up from the long wild gardens that run along the old city’s lower wall and the new city, is a place of such deep nostalgia, I can’t explain. Coming into the city by bus from Tangier my heart would always leap with expectation of seeing our sheikh, or being in the company of his disciples. The city itself would be welcoming, it seemed, with its amazing bustle, its great gates, the smells of cedar wood from the marketplace, the stillness and coolness of its mosques, the Jama Zaytuna mosque, just around the corner from our zawiyya. Even this visit, where we stayed in a luxurious hotel in the modern city, and could look out across the bridge to the old city and see the minaret from the Jama Zaytuna rising out of the rooftops, we felt an exhilaration at just being in Meknes. But of course the Path continues very strongly here, with the old zawiyya and tomb with its bare-bones simplicity and huge and palpable blessing, and one of our sheikh’s strongest followers, Moulay llashim, and the exalted nights of dhikrat his house which is also a zawiyya, inside a nondescript door not far from one of the main fortress gates of Meknes.
The mornings of Fajr in the old zawiyya thirty years ago, when the men would come together in their woolen djallabas and turbans after the prayer and sit in a circle as the light slowly filtered in through the high small window as the sun rose, reciting the Qur’an and the Wird of our sheikh, then sometimes going back to sleep with their hoods pulled over their heads along the sides on the thin cushions until breakfast time. Then a low round wooden table would be brought in, and perhaps last night’s couscous would have been reheated and served, with milky coffee. The fuqara might eat in silence, except for some grunted jokes and kidding that might ensue between them, incomprehensible to me in their words but obvious in their intimate affection for each other. I often thought this must have been how the Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, behaved, courteously but familiarly as well, knowing each other’s inner states enough to respect their hearts but prodding their nqfswith a little gentle taunting to get a reaction. A breakfast among human beings. The last grainy gulps of coffee, cahua hlib, as the mosque room flooded with morning light.
This visit thirty years later began with a giant mawlid at our beloved Moulay Hashim’s house, with men coming from all over Morocco and perhaps farther, to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad, peace of Allah be upon him, and the shuyukh, the tariqas, the Path, and to thank God for every breath we take. The air itself was shaking w ith ecstasy, and the singing had a way of keeping the atmosphere aloft for hours on end, one coil of singing rounding into the beginning of another, spiraling up, really, to the stars. There’s something so vital, earthy, human and true about this form of worship, the recitation of Qur’an in unison, the songs of the teaching guides, and the many circles of standing dhikr that look place, the hadras, invoking the Presence ofthe Divine. What a pleasant relief from the stern fundamentalist view, the pure expression of joy of being Muslim, this vigorous, sweet gratitude Io Allah! I often think that without this joy I would hardly have been attracted to Islam! Rather than the dour Puritanism alone, the strict observances of dos and don’ts alone, there’s this full flowering of the human heart’s wish to connect with the Creator in an energetic and blissful way.
The fundamentalist radicals who label this form of dhikr haram have in many ways effectively removed the humanity and reality of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, from Islam, forgetting his mercy, his lightness of being, as well as the depth of his love for Allah and all His creatures, human and otherwise, to say nothing of large swathes of Qur’an, hadith and hadith quasi that praise dhikr of Allah in many forms, “standing, sitting and on our sides.” They have even pried away many of the attributes of Beauty and Forbearance of Allah ta’ala, as if God were only a Wrathful, Magnificent, All-Povverful and punishing God, rather than the Rind and Subtle, the Inwardly Hidden and Outwardly Manifest Merciful Lord. If more Muslims understood the spirituality of Islam in this way, perhaps we would not only have less damaging encroachment from so-called “outside” forces, cultural and materialist invasions from alien sources, but also a more balanced Imma that roots out murderous terrorism from within, and resists injustice from both inside and out. I saw in the faces and behavior of these men in these circles of celebration only ecstatic awe and hope in Allah’s Presence and Grace. The hadra is the natural rising to one’s feet in sudden inspiration and yearning, either leading up to or resulting from that state. My wife, who sat above us that night at one of the windows overlooking the courtyard, was afraid her copious tears of recognition would dampen the men’s djallaba collars below. The Mawlid continued far into the night, and its echoes continued in our hearts throughout our journey north and back again, even to Philadelphia, and al-hamdulillah, even to mis very moment.
The morning after the Mawlid my wife and I visited the tomb of Sheikh ibn al-Habib, may Allah be pleased with him, in the corner of his zawiyya. It is a place of peace and light just up from the gardens running along the bottom of the old city, the Habibiyya zawiyya with its haunting echoes of voices down the alleyway leading to it, the call the prayer here in its mosque from the human throat, and the circle of dhikr after the adhan of me shahada sung three times at highest intensity followed by the greeting all the men offer to each other who sang it by kissing their hands in the circle. I was grateful to be able to revisit mese earliest days of my Islam, those first years so poignant for those of us not born Muslim who are later blessed wim its embrace.
There was also a marvelously happy encounter mere, on my Journey to Qalbiyya, that somehow completed the journey’s circle. I encountered a man in front of the tomb of Sayyidina Sheikh with a group of fuqara from LaghouaL Algeria. This is the very town six of us traveled to in the late 70s, where we met the extraordinary blind wali who had been a French professor and faqir of our sheikh, and who gave me the name Ameen. When I mentioned Hajj ‘Issa of Laghouat to him and asked if he knew him, he said, “Yes; that was my father!” And when I told him I have a photograph of all of us standing with him in his garden, he said, “Yes, / took mat picture.” Then I recognized him as the wali ‘s grown-up son after thirty years, who was still a teenager when I saw him last Amazed, we fell into each other’s arms.
Winding through hills and valleys, loopy roads wide enough for two daredevil drivers to pass uncomfortably, our little van scuttling along between sheep herds and gorges, we arrived at Moulay Idriss in the early noon in a drizzle to visit the great patron saint of Morocco and have a kebab or two. The town’s sewer pipes seemed to be under construction, a great ditch threading precariously along the market fronts to the mosque entrance, which we navigated through slightly muddy terrain, the gray sky boding more merciful downpour to come.
The Mosque and tomb of Moulay Idriss, though, is worth the slog for sure. It was time for the noon prayer, which we’d just missed, so Malika and Hamza did it on rush matting in a side courtyard, while I caught the eye of a muqaddem and he let me in the just-vacated mosque before closing it up until Asr. I had it all to myself, and walked across die matting past pillars and pillars to the mihrab at the front, and did die Dhuhrprayer in silent privacy. The walls are stellar in their geometric tile work, and being in the vastness of space you get a little dizzy from all the almost spinning patterns which are of such pure brilliance and clarity.
We visited the tomb of Moulay Idriss and browsed fora while in its baraka, contributed to by the reverence given him by all the people who have visited the tomb over the centuries. While it may not have the incredible warm and buttery atmosphere of the tomb and mosque of Moulay Idriss II in Fez, the building complex with its mosque halls and courtyards we had to cross in our bare feet, open to the sky – so we often were wading mrough water – is a very sweet expanse to let one’s heart and mind flow into.
Or just Chaouen, is a glowingly spiritual town nestled in the high Rif mountains with a rushing river crashing mrough one end of it whose vistas are truly alpine, especially in the chilly time we were there. The peaks visible from almost everywhere were topped wim snow. And the winding alleyways are made vivid by the ice-blue lime whitewash they paint along the lower halves of many of the buildings, so that the impression is being in an almost blinding Antarctica of color, glacial in its high-pitched blueness. One mosque we entered was up some rickety steps next to a weaving shop where woven blankets and sweaters were sold. We got in out of the rain, and found ourselves in a very intímate mosque where the men who remained after the Maghrib prayer were reciting Qur’an, some looking through thick smudgy glasses, their djallaba hoods over their heads, leaning against the side walls. We performed the prayer, nodded our greeting and left.
Later, for ‘Isha, we entered a larger mosque off a large square, one with actual pillars and a more serious mihrab. There may have been about five or six prayer lines. Leaving, I noticed men doing their sunna prayers behind the various pillars. We met a man who sings for all the tariqa gatherings, who has a sheikh from the ‘Ajibiyya tariqa of ibn ‘Ajiba, but who is welcomed at all the tariqa gatherings because of his voice and fathomless repertoire of qasa’id a miraculous gift especially honored among these people. We went to his house for dinner, and his diabetic, blind mother, sitting in a corner, whispering continuous remembrance of Allah, made a very long and special prayer for us, even singing a song herself, she being, Muhammad told us, the source of his expertise: melodic wisdom from his mother’s milk. The meal was sparse but nourishing, begun with a very tasty lentil-like soup, specialty of Chaouen, for these people were obviously poor, their house bare of furniture except for some sofas and a table, but their hospitality ranking with those of royal spirit something we find here over and over.
TETOUAN, TANGIER AND MEKNES AGAIN
We performed the puppet play in the upper corridor of the American Language Center in Tetouan, the Moroccan children chattering and restless during the performance, asking each other what was happening, though when I came out as Majnun in sackcloth and mask identical Io the puppet some hair shot straight up and some audible gasps were gasped. Later, after the puppet play, with a few hours in between, I read poetry in the poetry presentation, one of the teenage students reading the prepared Arabic translation sight-unseen, maneuvering adeptly around all the classical words, some without diacritical marks, actually leaning into the poems with passion and conviction, his hands gesturing for emphasis, though he was reading them for the first time.
Before the performance, after the stage was set up, we took a fifteen minute ride to see the Mediterranean, to walk on the beach and even wade in up to our calves (1 say “we” though it was only the director of the Tetouan Center and our stalwart guide, young Sidi Hamza, who rolled up their cuffs and walked into the soft blue gentility of the sea). Bracing and balmy, it was a short, sweet visit to the other side of the continent.
From Tetouan we journeyed to Tangier, staying in a fine hotel around the corner from the American Language Center there, and the director, an old American Tangier hand who had been living in Tangier since his Peace Corps days for over twenty years, took us to the docks for a succulent fish cookup lunch the like of which I’d never seen nor tasted. The fish came fried on top of each other in a giant platter, and it was a kind of icthioarcheological repast eating down past the shrimps and squid to the actual fish below. The afternoon fishermen were mending their nets which were spread out along the docks like an art instillation by Christo, the strings all dyed a bright cobalt blue in order to become invisible in the water.
Something sweet about Tangier, nestled in its hills and looking out at the Atlantic ocean! Something gentle in the city, arranged like colored boxes up and down the hills leading to the shore. The nighttime lights out from the port twinkle like golden lanterns in the dark, and the nighttime sky comes down in pastel swatches.
In the evening I wrote this poem on the little terrace outside our room at the hotel:
RETURN AND FAREWELL TO MARRAKESH
While we were in the market in Marrakesh before we took off on the Floating Lotus journey, Sidi Hamza took us to a little square where the woodworkers ply their trade, because 1 had said I would like someone to make a Darqawi tasbih, one of those tasbihs very rarely seen anymore, with flat disk counters instead of round beads. We walked into the square and up to a man sit- ting on the ground on a stool, with a lathe in front of him and his foot doing all the work. The lathe is run by a bow, like a violin bow, with the thick twine bowstring wound around the lathe mount that the woodworker pulls back and forth at whatever speed he desires to make the wooden piece he’s going to cut from turn. He clutches a square, sharp blade between his bare toes and so cuts and shapes and tapers the wood piece he wants, then cuts it off the end to make either a kohl bottle with a lovely base and tall neck (many of them were on display by his side on a little table for sale) or in my case, a tasbih bead. He tried out a few, some too small or too big, until we got one that was perfect as the model for all the ninety-nine, and I left him a deposit to pick up the tasbih in a week or so, before we left Morocco. While we were up north on our junket Hamza’s wife collected the tasbih and it was waiting for me at their apartment when we returned to Marrakesh. It’s a treasure. Dark wood, each thin disk has three edged ridges running around its edge, weighty but not heavy, and a deep pleasure for doing the Wird of Sheikh ibn al-Habib or counting the Divine Names after the prayer. It’s more than a memento of Morocco, it’s a remembrance machine, a dhikr in itself, a jewel plucked from the blessing of Sheikh Darqawi, quintessential Moroccan sheikh, a pearl plucked from the entire oyster of our time there, remembering His Grace in the deep-hearted people we met everywhere, and especially the director and staff of the American Language Center in Marrakesh, and the branches that we visited, the glowing tasbih in my room now in Philadelphia, clicking through my lingers to thank Allah for all His Bounty, and prayers that it continue for all of us, in this world in a state of peace and endless gratitude, and into the sweet Garden pathways of the next.
At the end of the puppet play, Ameen’s Journey to Qalbiyya, I come out from behind the stage wearing the mask of an old man with long beard and hair (a life size version of one of the handpuppet characters in the play), carrying a rod with a red bird on top of it with flapping wings that make it look as if it’s flying, and he says (again, adapted from the Greater Ode of Sheikh ibn al-Habib, may Allah bless his secret):
Remember Allah all of the time,
it erases faults and makes you sublime.
Serve the Best of creation and imitate him,
Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him.
Everywhere see the Creator’s Eight,
He makes everything turn out right.
Everything in this world comes as a sign
Follow Allah and His Prophet – you’ll shine.
Beware of evil, beware of you!
What you believe is what you do!
Daniel Abdal-IIayy Moore Poetry:
© Article and Images Copy right Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore 2004
A slightly modified version of this essay has also appeared in www.deenport.com