The origin and prototype of the Moroccan state is the caliphate that was founded by Idrīs ibn ‘Abdallāh al-Kāmil towards the end of the eight century. Idrīs was the grandson of Hasan, one of the two sons of Alī, the fourth Caliph, and Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). Fleeing from the Abbasid caliph, who had put him into flight as a potential rival, he reached the Far West in 172 A.H. (788 A.D.) and found refuge in the erstwhile Roman city of Volubilis (Ulili) on Mount Zerhūn, which was inhabited by the Berber Awrabā tribe. It was a very surreal and sombre place on our arrival.
Al Kattāni writes that Idrīs:
Was the first man of the family of the Prophet known to have reached the Maghrib … At that time Ishāq Ibn ‘Abdallāh, a mu’tazilite, was prince of the Awrabā. He received Mulay Idrīs warmly, and persuaded the surrounding Berber tribes to enter into alliance with him… (Salwāt al-Anfās)
During his five-year reign Idrīs I extended his theocratic kingdom over almost the whole of Northern Morocco. When in 792 or 793, he was poisoned by a secret emissary of the Abbasid Caliph, his son Idrīs II was not yet born. The latter was destined to extend his father’s empire even further, and to found the city of Fez.
The Arab chroniclers attribute to both Idrīs I and Idrīs II all the natural and spiritual virtues that should adorn a true descendent of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).
In everything he did, writes al-Kattānī of Idrīs II, he always held fast to the Truth. His judgements were always in accord with the sacred law. He never deviated from the law or custom of the Prophet. Thus each year he receives a tithe, without making the slightest change in the prescribed measure, and distributed this to whom it was due, namely the weak, the poor and the orphans. When booty was brought to him following a military expedition, he returned four-fifths to the combatants and retained only one-fifth for his own purposes…
The Moroccans regard his tomb as their greatest sanctuary. The mosque containing his tomb is in the middle of a small white town which lies on a rock spur of Mount Zerhūn, a little above the hill on which are the ruins of the ancient city of Volubilis. In this holy town, which is called Mulay Idrīs one finds the sepulchral mosque, surrounded by closely packed houses, consists of several buildings, rather like a far-eastern temple precinct; a covered alleyway leads into the first courtyard with a second; here alms are distributed daily to the poor and sick, and on one side of this courtyard is a Qur’ān School. Finally, through yet another doorway, one reaches the innermost courtyard, surrounded by rows of pillars, in the middle of which a large fountain plays. Only from here can you gain access to the high, square hall, surmounted by a honeycomb dome of cedarwood, which houses the tome of the holy prince.
That the caliphate can never again attain perfection that it possessed at its origin is accepted by Moroccans – as by all Muslims – as an inevitable consequence of the declining times. They also know that a reciprocal relationship exists between people and king.‘The corruption of the people’, said the Maghribi saint Abū Madyan, ‘gives rise to tyrants, and the corruption of the great gives rise to revolts and heresies.’
Hāroon Ebrāhīm Sīdāt