Our Visit to Moulay Idriss

Plaque of Moulay Idriss I
Plaque of Moulay Idriss I

Hello superstars! This is Urbndervish. One of my lifelong—okay, maybe not ‘lifelong’ in the sense of ‘since birth’—goals was to visit the tomb of Moulay Idriss. Anyone familiar with the history of Morocco knows that one of the most prominent personalities, if not the most prominent personality, is Moulay Idriss. He is so famous that there are two of them! Okay, let me explain. The name Moulay Idriss could evoke the image of the 8th century, saintly founder of Morocco, Idriss bin Abdullah or it could refer to his equally significant son, Idriss bin Idriss. Despite which Idriss you mean, the name conjures a sense of awe and pride among Moroccans—young and old.

It is unfortunate that the circumstances regarding the elder Moulay Idriss (henceforth known as Idriss I) founding of Morocco were less than ideal. The decades and centuries following the death of Prophet Muhammad—May Allah bless him and his family—witnessed the unjust oppression, pursuit and slaughter of his descendants. The would-be sultans who oversaw the rule and expansion of Muslim kingdoms deemed the offspring of Prophet Muhammad as a threat. This, in part, can be attributed to the failed attempts on the part of many shareef imams to secure authority whilst riding the posthumous charisma of their grandfather. Even politically quietist imams who were descended from the Prophet became victim to the onslaught of the powers-that-be. This forced many sayyids (descendants of Prophet Muhammad) into exile and hiding. One of the hapless victims was Idriss I. Pursued by the Abbasid caliph, he left his homeland to find solace in the warm embrace of the Maghreb. Indeed, not only did he find in the indigenous people the willingness to protect him, but he also found in them loyal followers who would pledge allegiance to him as their imam, or leader. We touched upon the significance of the Prophet’s Family in a previous post. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that Idriss I found a new home in the lands of the West and the hearts of its people.

The new imam established the eponymous town Moulay Idriss Zerhoun which was home to a well-known Amazigh tribe (ed. We prefer Amazigh to Berber, because the latter term is a misnomer applied to them by invading Arabs who saw their language as berber, or gibberish). He married into the family, which solidified links between him and the people. This marriage of Arab with Amazigh forms the bulk of the ethnography of Morocco’s people—many of whom are ethnically either or both. He also conquered many other towns and cities, which amalgamated these small hamlets into a unified state. Such success provoked the Abbasid caliph, Harun ar-Rashid, to put an end to this fledgling dynasty; the caliph had Idriss I poisoned.

The poison was enough to end the life of Moulay Idriss I; however, it was not enough to quell the flames of love and honor for the Idrissid legacy. Idriss’ son, Idriss II, later took up the reigns and became the second imam. Although the young Idriss was only two months old when his father left this world, he was prepped and primed to take his father’s place. Being a noble from both Amazigh and Arab descent, he was protected by the Amazigh tribes, who saw him as their own. They were able to successfully shield the young Idriss from the malicious designs of the Abbasids.

Although, he never met his father, he was able to attain much of the same status and honor that his father had. Indeed, Idriss II was able to successfully establish his base in Fes, a place that his father had previously founded. There is a mosque in Fes established in honor of Idriss II. It houses his tomb and is the site where many Moroccans visit and pay tribute.


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