Sidi Bouarraquia’s Back!

TALIM 7 mouloud horse
Seven days after the Aïd al-Mawlid (in the French transliteration used in Morocco, it's the Mouloud, a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed), Tangier usually honors its patron saint, Sidi Bouarraquia.  In the 1940s, during the Spanish occupation of the Tangier International Zone, the authorities banned the celebration because of its nationalist undertones. 
We missed the cortège in previous years, and in 2011 the parade was cancelled: it was too close to the troubled date of February 20

TALIM 7 mouloud two

So this year, we vowed to be there.  Maybe the folkloristic buildup to it had been hyped a bit too much, because at least one expat found the parade to be "overrated."  Personally, I had been expecting lots of sacrificial cows, but there was only one, and she (or maybe it was a bull) was so surrounded by the throng that I could only get a glimpse.  There are better pictures here.

After the festivities come the scissors: it's circumcision time!  Here's how "Ali Bey" (Spanish spy Domènec Badia Leblich) found Tangier on Mouloud in 1803:

A certain number of boys are assembled, followed by musick, consisting of two bag-pipes, which are played in unison, but not therefore less discordant… Though there were circumcisions every day during the festival of the Mouloud, yet I waited till the last, because I was assured that they would then be more numerous.  I found what may be called a real butchery…

I will spare the squeamish the details of what happens to "the little victims," but Ali Bey does describe a great diversionary trick at the moment of truth: a chorus of previous victims whose shouts distract the young circumcisee.

I'm not sure if the truck bringing up the rear of the parade was carrying goodies to soothe the little victims, but there were certainly hopes among the people in the parade to get one of its fruit baskets, if not a slab of the sacrificial cow.  As we say, saha – bon appétit!

TALIM 7 mouloud one
    Text and photos: Gerald Loftus

1 thought on “Sidi Bouarraquia’s Back!”

  1. Tangier’s Sidi Bouaraqiya
    Mhammad Benaboud
    On the first of January 1950, a procession marched to Sidi Bouariqiya, but it was different from this one in both purpose and form. That procession started from the main post office across the “Boulevard” past Café de France just like this one up to Sidi Bouariqiya Mausoleum. The marchers included a number of eminent nationalist leaders including Abdelkhalaq Torres, Allal Fassi and Shaykh Mekki Naciri. When it approached Sidi Bouaraqiya’s main gate, men and women sitting on the wall began to shout Allah Akbar, God is the Greatest, and to make yo yo sounds which are common in wedding celebrations. But this was not a wedding procession, it had been a funeral procession, my father’s funeral procession. He died in a plane crash between Lahore and Karachi on the 12th of December, 1949. He had participated in the first Islamic international Conference in Karachi with Ali Hammami from Algeria and Dr Habib Thamer from Tunisia. They all died in that plane accident. Thamir’s body was completely burned. Hammami was buried in Algiers on the same day that my father was buried in Tangier, the 1st of January, 1950. Several nationalist leaders including Allal Fassi and Abdelkhalaq Torres gave an obituary speech inside the mauoleum grounds, then his body was buried. I was told by people who attended this wedding that i twas a truly emotional event for two reasons. Mhammad Ahmed Benaboud, after whom I was named postumusely, had sacrifices his life for the independence of his country. The second reason is that he was buried in Tangier because the General Commissioner in Tetouan took the decision that he had been exiled when he was alive and would also be exiled after his death. He therefore forbid his body to cross the French and the Spanish frontiers between Tangier and Tetouan. Many years later after Independance, it was suggested that his body be transferred to his his hometown of Tetouan, but our family decided to let him rest in peace in Tangier on the basis that as a martyr, his soul had already reached paradise and that this was no longer a political matter. Sidi Bouaraqiya is in a Muslim land too. This is what my mother told me before she died in 2010L The Khalifa, Abdelkhalaq Torres and many others in Tetouan had tried to convince General Varela, the Spanish high commisionner in Tetouan to allow his body to be buried in Tetouan, but the General had made his choice and would not change his mind.
    There was no way I could have learned all this because I had not been born yet. My mother was in Cairo when all this happened and first she fainted for two months when she heard the news of her husband’s death. She lost her onsciousness when she was informed by my uncle, Dr Ahmed Benaboud who was in Cairo too. She recovered her senses two months later and found the room where she had been full of empty medecine boxes. My uncle brought her, and me in her stomach, by ship to Tangier and then to Tetouan wher e I was born about six months later on June the 23rd, 1950. There is an interesting point I would like to express here. My mother obviously never forgot what had happened to her when she was only 22. But I have always admired how she had handeled the situation throughout her life. Shortly before she died, I asked her for an interview which i published in Arabic in a regional weekly magazine called Achamal which is published in Tangier. She was a profoundly religious woman and accepted her fate with great courage. In the interview she said that as a convinced Muslim woman, she accepted her fate because shed did not consider herself to be in a position to question God’s decision. She stated that she continued to be a convinced nationalist and that she would never regret it. Looking back at the situation with hindsight, she had one basic objective in her life following my father’s death, to give me the best education and upbringing that she could. I was her only child. And she was my only mother, and father..
    I cotinue to remember her, not necessarily because I want to. I often have to.
    And this is constant. For example, I had to remember her today, because I received a phone call while I was in the Spanish fortress with my friend Juan Bullejos. I recognized the voice immediately, i twas the voice of a man named Ali. He was emotional. He asked me to pay for the funeral of his son, Ilyas. Now this man is lame and his wife had her hand cut off. They had one son, Ilyas, and he died today. I knew him through my mother, because he used to ask her for help. When she died, he asked me to continue helping him as my mother had done. So he would appear occasionally when thing got too tight for him. I told him I was 27 kilometers away, and then asked him to wait for me at my home in Torreta. Juan drove me home and I found him there. I gave him a little contribution and he could not help crying out loud. He started offering mprayers saying, « May Allah pay you back», but I knew that without saying a word, he too, just like me, was thinking of my mother . I first asked Juan to drive him back to downtown Tetouan from which he had come. Then I remembered my mother’s method of helping the poor. She would receive them in her house. She would invite them for tea and sweets and discuss their problems with them. She was an educated woman and her advice was highly apreciated by these people. Then, before sayng goodbye to them, she would hand some money to them and they would start offering her prayers .They had no money to give, but my mother appreciated their prayers as much as they appreciated her money. She used to tell me that charity is theverybody’s moral obligation, not a choice. Then she would explain that it is every Muslim’s moral duty to help the poor. She would ask me to give her money for the poor when I visited her because, because she did not have much money of her own. I would comply, and then comment that it is great to be charitable if the money you give others is returned to you. She was intelligent and would usually change the subject, so that she could ask me for more money again. The problem was that no matter how much money i gave her, she would give it away. If I complained, she would say, when your uncle Mohammed gave your grand mother money, she would say the following prayer, « May Allah never put this money in my heart and may He get it out of my hands. » Going back to Bouarraqiya, Abdelmajid Benjelloun, one of Morocco’s top Arabic novelists and one of my father’s best friends wrote an article which he published in the newspaper Al-Alam seven years after his death. It was entitled, A Rendez vous with a grave. He actually visited him at Bouaraqiya and had an imaginary dialogue with his friend. He starts by describing the cold marble grave under the moonlight . The grave later became inside the maussoleum when the buiilding was expanded.
    Benjelloun wrote a poem and for his own tomb, in which he addresses his future visitors and tells them that he was in the realm of the dead, and they were in are in the realm of those who are still alive, and asks them to leave his grave and carry on wh their lives normally. So forget all that you have read and think of the colorful procession to Bouariqya to celebrate Tangier’s traditional procession to Bouaraqiya to celebrate the annual anniversity of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.

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