Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Idris and the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss

Moulay Idriss was the first Arab ruler of Morocco and founder of the Idrisid dynasty which resulted in the Islamization of Morocco. His tomb, located in a town named after him, Moulay Idriss, is considered the holiest Islamic site in Morocco. 

Descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.  

Muhammad ibn Abdullah (the son of Abd Allah) was born in 570 CE, orphaned at an early age and then raised by his paternal uncle, Abu Talib. Muhammad's wife, Khadija, was the first to believe he was a prophet, followed shortly thereafter by his ten year old cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib ("Ali"), who was the son of Abu Talib and grew up with Muhammad and was his closest male relative. Muhammad and Khadija had at least six children, but only four daughters survived. One of those daughters, Fatima, married Ali. Muhammad died in 632. Following his death, his friend Abu Bakr was named as his successor, the first caliph. There is some controversy about this - some believe that Ali had been designated as Muhammad's successor, by Muhammad himself, and that Ali was strong-armed by Abu Bakr and his companions. For those with that belief, Ali did not contest it out of concern for the unity of Islam. Abu Baker died only two years later and was succeeded by Umar (also spelled Omar) as the second caliph. In 644, after ten years as caliph, Umar was assassinated by a Persian prisoner of war after the Muslim conquest of Persia and he was succeeded by Uthman ibn Affan, a companion of Muhammad, as the third caliph. Uthman was a member of the powerful Umayyad family and he created some resentment against him in Medina by naming members of his Umayyad family to most of the prestigious posts. One of his appointments was Muawiyyah, the son of one of Muhammad's old enemies and a cousin of Uthman. After twelve years as caliph, Uthman was assassinated in 656 by some discontented soldiers who then proclaimed Ali, Muhammad's cousin, as the fourth caliph. This resulted in a five year civil war, from 656 to 661, during which Ali was caliph. Muhammad's favorite wife, Aisha, and others, attacked Ali for not punishing Uthman's murderers. Ultimately Muawiyyah, who initially supported Ali as caliph, withdrew his support and the two met in combat and put the issue up for arbitration. Ali was outmaneuvered and lost in arbitration - Muawiyyah was determined to be the new caliph. Ali contested the verdict and the civil war continued. Ali was finally assassinated in 661 by one of the supporters of Muawiyyah. Ali's oldest son, Hasan ibn Ali ("Hasan"), a grandson of Muhammed, succeeded him and battles between him and Muawiyyah followed. Muawiyyah gradually bribed Hasan's generals and commanders with large sums of money and deceiving promises until Hasan's army rebelled against him. Hasan yielded to Muawiyyah and retired to Medina. Muawiyyah thereafter moved the capitol from Medina to Damascus and the Umayyad Dynasty was born. The split between the Sunni and Shia Muslims begins here. The Sunnis consider Ali the fourth and final of the Rashidun (rightly guided) caliphs, while the Shiites consider Ali, the closest relative of Muhammad, the first Imam after Muhammad and all Imam successors must come through his line as they are direct descendants of Muhammed through Ali's wife, Fatima, Muhammed's daughter. 

Hasan, son of Ali and Fatima, was the second Shiite Imam, and he was killed in 670. It is believed that his wife poisoned him, instigated by Muawiyyah, the Umayyad caliph. Hasan's brother, Husayn (also spelled Hussein or Hussain) succeeded him as the third Shiite Imam. 

Now we jump ahead to the Abbasid caliphate, the third Islamic caliphate (the first was the Rashidun and the second was the Umayyad). Abu al-Abbas al-Saffa, caliph from 750 to 754, the first Abbasid caliph, won support by presenting himself in a Shii light, then massacred as many Umayyads as he could find. He moved the capital from Damascus to Kufah in Iraq. Then Abu Jafar al-Ansur, the second Abbasid caliph, from 754 to 775, in turn murdered any Shii leaders he considered a danger to his rule and moved the capital from Kufah to Baghdad. He was followed by al-Mahdi, from 775 to 785, and Harun al-Rashid, from 786 to 809. 

Father of Islam in Morocco

Now we turn to Morocco. In what is known as the Alid Revolt (after Ali), two brothers, Muhammad and Ibrahim, great grandchildren of Hasan (son of Ali), rejected the Abbasid claim to power. In 762 Muhammad created an uprising in Medina and Ibrahim one in Basra. Both were killed by forces of al-Ansur and the uprising squashed. The brother of Muhammad and Ibrahim, Idris ibn Abdullah, later known as Moulay Idriss, took part in another uprising, the Battle of Fakhkh, in 786, another Alid uprising. Husayn ibn Ali, a grandson of Hasan, led a rebellion at Fakhkh near Mecca. Husayn and many other Alids were executed by the forces of al-Ansur, but Idris fled the battlefield and moved to the Maghreb, which was also known as the Barbary Coast.

In 787 Idris arrived in Walila, the site of the old Roman city of Volubilis, the main town in northern Morocco. He built his capital city in the foothills, about 5 kilometers away, a place more easily defended, which was later named Moulay Idriss after him. "Moulay" is a form of the Arabic title "Mulay," a prince of the blood, referring to a person descended in a dynastic line of a hereditary monarch (in this case apparently referring to Muhammad).  
From the Roman site of Volubilis, Moulay Idriss is visible in the foothills just to the left of the left-most standing pillar. 
It was an area of Berber tribes and Idris married Kenza, a daughter of the king of the Berber tribe, who became the mother of Idris II (born after the death of Idris). He conquered most of northern Morocco and also founded the city of Fes. This was the birth of the Idrisid dynasty and the birth of Morocco, the second Muslim state after Al-Andalus to become independent of the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad. After word of the success of Idris reached Baghdad, emissaries of the Abbasid caliph, Harun al-Rashid, poisoned Idris in 791 and he died in Walila (Volubilis). After his death, his servant Rashid took over as regent until 807 when Idris II was old enough to take charge.
This is as far as a non-Muslim can go to the tomb of Idris. The tomb is in the building at the end of the corridor.
A little bit of the splendor inside can be seen from a distance.
This sign informs non-Muslims that they have no access.
The gate which bars non-Muslims does have some nice decoration. These beautiful tiles are on the walls.
And these beautiful decorations are above the tiles on the walls.
This lamp hangs from the intricately designed ceiling.
Moulay Idris is buried in the town of Moulay Idriss, in the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss, rebuilt by Moulay Ismail sometime between 1672 and 1727. It is a sacred site only open to Muslims. In fact, until 1912, only Muslims could visit the town of Moulay Idriss. It is said that six visits to Moulay Idriss is the equivalent of taking the Haj to Mecca.
The town of Moulay Idriss has neighborhoods that are in different colors. These cats inhabit turquoise blue steps. 
Yellow upper walls and greenish lower walls.
Steps with yellow, red and blue ends, sided by purple walls that turn turquoise further up the alley. 
Red and blue step-ends with red, yellow and blue squares on a lavender background on one side and a bluish green on the other side. 
Colorful doors off the main alley with pink upper side-walls.
A very unusual door.
Moulay Idriss was a city of cats. An unusually painted sidewalk is in the distance.
I would've taken this one home with me.
Don't these cats just seem like they belong here.


  1. All the intrigue and mystery of the succession. I love it. Can you make a genealogy chart? That would help. As for the town of Moulay Idriss--It looks like someone spilled their cups of Easter egg dye there, doesn't it?

  2. Easter egg dye is a good description for the town. Those stories fit right in with the kinds of stories you read in the Bible or BOM.