When Sidi Bouariqiya Was a Nationalist Shrine

TALIM ELTAHER1947 - King Saud, Mohamed Ben Abboud and Eltaher
Dr. M'hammad Benaboud
, a leading Moroccan scholar of the Andalusian diaspora and of Tetouan, and a major force in the intellectual and cultural life Tetouan and northern Morocco, wrote the following as a comment on the TALIMblog post commemorating Sidi Bouariqiya, the shrine to the patron saint of the city of Tangier.  To Dr. Benaboud, Sidi Bouariqiya is much more than that: it is the final resting place of his father, who gave his life in the cause of Moroccan independence.

The above photo of the senior Benaboud is courtesy of Hassan Eltaher of Ottawa, whose richly illustrated website Eltaher.org is dedicated to the work of his father Mohamed Ali Eltaher, the pioneering Palestinian-born Egyptian publisher.  The caption under the photo indicates that the man "to the left of Saudi Crown Prince Saud Bin Abdelaziz, in Cairo in February 1947 while on an official visit, is Moroccan nationalist leader Mohamed Ben Abboud, from Tetouan in northern Morocco. Ben Abboud was killed in an airplane accident in Pakistan." TALIM Benaboud

Dr. Benaboud's resemblance (cameo, right) to his father is remarkable.

Thanks to Dr. Hsain Ilahiane of the University of Kentucky for providing a link to the Eltaher trove of information on the Arab nationalist world of the early to mid-twentieth century.

Dr. Benaboud's essay, which contains a moving tribute to his mother's faith, has been edited and abridged below.

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TALIM Mohammed Ben Abboud 1On the first of January 1950, a procession marched to Sidi Bouariqiya, but it was different from this year's in both purpose and form. That procession started from the main post office across the "Boulevard" past Café de Paris 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 Bouariqiya's main gate, men and women sitting on the wall began to shout Allah Akbar, God is the Greatest, and to make you you sounds which are common in wedding celebrations. But this was not a wedding procession, it was 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 Thameur from Tunisia. They all died in that plane accident. Thameur’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 obituary speeches inside the mausoleum grounds, then his body was buried.

I was told by people who attended this funeral that it was a truly emotional event for two reasons. Mhammad Ahmed Benaboud, after whom I was named posthumously, had sacrificed his life for the independence of his country. The second reason is that he was buried in Tangier because the Spanish High 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 International Zone and Spanish frontiers between Tangier and Tetouan.

TALIM Mohammed Ben Abboud Nationalist_LeaderMany years later after Independance, it was suggested that his body be transferred to 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 Bouariqiya is in a Muslim land too. This is what my mother told me before she died in 2010.

The Khalifa, Abdelkhalaq Torres and many others in Tetouan had tried to convince General Varela, the Spanish high commissioner 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.  She lost consciousness for two months when she was informed of her husband's death by my uncle, Dr Ahmed Benaboud who was in Cairo too [note: Ahmed Benaboud was later named Moroccan Ambassador to Egypt].

Mother recovered her senses two months later and found the room where she had been full of empty medicine boxes. My uncle brought her, with me in her womb, by ship to Tangier and then to Tetouan where 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 handled 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. In the interview she said that as a devout Muslim woman, she accepted her fate because she did not consider herself to be in a position to question God’s decision. She stated that she continued to be a staunch nationalist and that she would never regret it. Looking 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…

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 Rendezvous With a Grave. He visited my father's grave at Bouariqiya and had an imaginary dialogue with his friend. He starts by describing the cold marble grave under the moonlight (the grave later was incorporated inside the mausoleum when the buiilding was expanded). Benjelloun wrote a poem 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 are in the realm of those who are still alive, and asks them to leave his grave and carry on with their lives normally.

So forget all that you have read, and think of Tangier's colorful procession to Bouariqiya to celebrate the annual anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.

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For the entire text of Mhammad Benaboud's comment, click here (scroll down to Comments).

Images of newspaper accounts of the burial of Mhammad Ahmed Benaboud from the TALIM library Tangier Gazette collection, 6 January 1950.

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