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“And Then the Rains Came”: Water and Saintly Authority in Morocco
Toward the end of the thirteenth century, a drought settled on the Tafilalt oasis. Desperate, tribesmen from the oasis embarked on the arduous pilgrimage to Mecca. In Mecca, they hoped to receive the baraka (blessings) of a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad. When they arrived in Mecca, they sought admittance to the presence of an ‘Alawī sharīf, who was a descendant of the son-in-law and cousin of the prophet, ‘Alī ibn Ṭālib. They asked him for intercession in the drought strangling their date palms. The sharīf promised them one of his sons. To choose, he turned to each of his sons and asked them how he would treat a man who acted rudely versus one who acted with goodness. Only the last, the youngest son, responded that he would treat a man with goodness, regardless of how the man treated him first. His answer pleased his father—this was the son he would send. The Tafilalt tribesmen returned to their home with the sharīf’s son (Ḥassan al-Dakhil). As the sharīf’s son entered the Tafilalt, the rains came. In Morocco, water is perceived as a benefit (rizq) from God and a confirmation of saintly authority. This narrative, one of many water miracles attributed to saints in written and oral hagiographies, links the physical place of the Tafilalt within the space of saintly authority. It enacts the origin story for the ruling ‘Alawite family, rooting their political powers in the baraka bestowed upon them as descendants of the prophet (shurafā’) and friends of God (awliyā’). In this presentation, I examine the ways in which water miracles entwine sainthood and saints within the Moroccan landscape. By drawing on written and oral hagiographies as well as fieldwork among rural Sufi institutions in Southern Morocco, I consider the ways in which water narratives are used to signify not only spiritual power but also work to increase social and political capital. Historically and still today, Sufi institutions (ribāṭ and zāwīya), which are often strategically located near a river or irrigation canal, may be endowed with land rights, giving them domain over the water that flows through it. Water circulates as a blessing within the immaterial and material traces of sainthood, yet it also carries a worldly reward, investing local religious institutions with the power to manage water distribution and act as political and societal brokers in land disputes.
Religious Studies/Theology
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