ISSN 2330-717X

The Shared Beliefs Of Muslims And Jews In Morocco – Analysis


Relations between Jews and Muslims began in the seventh century with the birth and expansion of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. The two religions share similar values, principles, and rules. Islam also incorporates Jewish history as part of its own. The concept of the children of Israel has an important place in Islam. (1) Moses, the most important prophet in Judaism, is also considered a prophet and a messenger in Islam. He is mentioned more than anyone else in the Qur’ân, and his life is told and recounted more than that of any other prophet. There are about forty-three references to the Israelites in the Qur’ân (not counting references to the prophets), and many in the hadith. Some more recent rabbinic authorities or Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, have debated the relationship between Islam and Jewish law. Maimonides himself was, according to some, influenced greatly by Islamic legal thought. (2)


For centuries and on three continents, in the heart of a geographical area stretching from the borders of the Persian world to Spain, via the Arabian Peninsula, the Balkans, and the Maghreb, Jews and Muslims have lived side by side, sometimes in opposition to each other, but at other times in conviviality. With the beginning of the Muslim expansion in the VIIth century and during a large part of the Middle Ages, it was in the Islamic world that the majority of the Jewish population remained, and it was also in this context that it was constituted as a religious unit, notably at the time of the great Geonim of Babylonia (3) or, later, in Andalusia, around the major figure of Maimonides. (4)

As the cradle of monotheism, the Holy Land is marked by the exacerbation of borders, the competition of religious corporations, and the entanglement of holy places.

In the aftermath of the expulsion from Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth century, it was still in the Muslim world, notably in the Ottoman Empire, that so-called Sephardic Judaism asserted itself and had a considerable demographic and cultural influence. In parallel with the feeling of community belonging, based essentially on attachment to the Jewish religion and on a common history, particular identities developed in the Jewish world, determined by geographical areas which are characterized, among other things, by their degree of proximity to the diverse surrounding Muslim societies. (5) This is the case, for example, with the long existence of the Jews in Morocco, which, was the scene of a particularly rich and prolific Jewish-Muslim collaboration. Indeed, Jews lived in Morocco amidst Muslims for over 2000 years. Relations were not totally smooth but nevertheless, the two sides learned to co-exist with each other and create an interesting atmosphere of collaboration as well as vivre-ensemble. (6)

Thus, the question of the shared holy places in the Near East and North Africa is part of a long history.

Common monotheism

The religious account of the history of the origins to which Jews, Christians, and Muslims refer, places at its summit a God, a message, and a people who receive it in its initial purity. This purity of the message would then have deteriorated as new populations and territories would have received it, necessitating perpetual reforms and finally provoking internal and external tensions and conflicts. (7)


From a historical point of view, this is exactly the opposite that has happened. At the beginning of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there is a religious and political crisis. This gives rise to various wills for reform which recognize themselves, each in its own way, in the cult of the unique God. It is only afterward that the cult received a progressive formulation by scholars, religious, and political leaders. This cult was embodied retrospectively in an exemplary, founding personality, having existed truly or not. (8)

The spread of Judaism in the Roman Empire furthered the immediate rise of Christianity. Subsequently, the presence of these religions in the Near and Middle East “prepared” the populations for the new Islamic belief in a single God. In this way, the monotheisms do not replace each other, but hunt on the same lands and compete with each other. Moreover, when the monotheistic idea imposes itself, it must compose with the previous beliefs which, for some of them, continue to exist through their re-appropriation by the monotheistic cults. This is the case with practices linked to maraboutism in Africa, the use of talismans, or certain magical practices. It is also found in the worship of certain natural elements (trees, stones) or places invested with sacredness (caves, sanctuaries, etc.).

There is not one Judaism, one Christianity, or one Islam, but very different ways of belonging to or being attached to these three religions. The way in which each new religion distinguishes itself from existing beliefs is not through a wholesale rejection of certain elements and the selective resumption of others, but sometimes with a modification of the meaning.

In the Holy Land, shared holy places seem almost miraculous today (although it is in this cradle of the three Abrahamic religions, that they are the most numerous), so great are the inter-religious tensions, every day, every moment (the danger being that they tip over and become divisive places, as is the case of the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron. It now embodies the conflict between Jews and Muslims). The Cave of Elijah, on Mount Carmel in Haifa, northern Israel, remains one of these convivial places – and this in the absence of any security forces to keep the peace. Four faiths share it: Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze, all of whom venerate the prophet Elijah (a figure common to the Bible and the Qur’ân), and go there on pilgrimage, since that is where he is supposed to have lived and taught his disciples. Thus, although the cave has all the attributes of a synagogue, the Carmelites (who arrived during the Crusades) celebrate the feast of St. Elijah every year on July 20, while Druze and Muslims are free to go there to pray daily. Some cults, because of the common symbolism they imply, lead some sanctuaries built by a particular religion to be frequented by other religious populations than those naturally expected.

Convergence of sacred beliefs and profane experiences

Since the VIIth century and the birth of Islam, relations between Jews and Muslims have taken very diverse forms due to the multiple religious, political, economic, or, social and cultural factors within which they have flourished. These relations cannot be qualified, through time neither exclusively painful and conflictual nor perfectly harmonious. Beyond their very real divergences, the two religious traditions have been, somewhat, convivial in their encounter with each other. This phenomenon has contributed to the birth of a true Jewish-Muslim civilization in which the reciprocal influences have been considerable, beginning with those that have affected Arabic and Hebrew, languages of the two sacred texts. 

It is in the context of Arab Islam that the Jewish population formed its religious unity. Both Judaism and Islam are based on a direct relationship between man and God, without priestly intervention, and the religious law appears in both cases as the expression of a divine revelation. Both in religious and exegetical practices and in the functioning of social structures, the Eastern Jewish world, and the surrounding Muslim societies have mutually influenced each other. Because of this proximity, the Jews played a crucial role in the passage of Arab knowledge to the Christian Western world. (9)

The convergences between Jews and Muslims are also detectable in a large number of everyday practices, ranging from religious architecture to the arts of the table, including music, rituals marking the different cycles of life, or the place of women within the family and the social group, but also the relationship to the body. The centuries of cohabitation are thus at the origin of deep reciprocal influences that have shaped the respective identities of Jews and Muslims.

On the convergence of Beliefs between Muslims and Jews in Morocco, Yoram Bilu writes: (10)

[‘’Popular veneration of saints played a major role in the lives of many Jews in Morocco and formed a fundamental part of their collective identity. Both in its form, its style, and its predominance, this cultural phenomenon clearly bears the characteristics of indigenous maraboutism, probably the most striking aspect of Moroccan Islam. This phenomenon is also reinforced by a conception of the tsaddiq deeply rooted in classical Jewish sources, essentially Talmudic and Midrashic, and particularly by its mystical elaboration in the Kabbalah. The convergence of these two systems has created a particularly lively popular religious tradition.

Jewish saints are commonly depicted as charismatic rabbis who are distinguished by their scholarship and mystical piety and who possess a particular spiritual strength, similar to Moroccan Muslim baraka. This force which does not disappear after the death of these holy men can be used for the good of their followers. In fact, most tzaddiqim are recognized to possess attributes of holiness only after death. The spectacular and miraculous results of their intercession with God are therefore specifically associated with their tombs, scattered throughout Morocco but more heavily concentrated in the southern regions.’’]

‘’La vénération populaire des saints a joué un rôle majeur dans la vie de nombreux Juifs au Maroc et a constitué un élément fondamental de leur identité collective. Tant dans sa forme, son style, que sa prédominance, ce phénomène culturel porte clairement les caractéristiques du maraboutisme indigène, aspect probablement le plus marquant de l’islam marocain. Ce phénomène est également renforcé par une conception du tsaddiq profondément ancrée dans les sources juives classiques, essentiellement talmudiques et midrashiques, et particulièrement par son élaboration mystique dans la Kabbale. La convergence de ces deux systèmes a créé une tradition religieuse populaire particulièrement vivante.

Les saints juifs sont ordinairement dépeints comme des rabbins charismatiques qui se distinguent par leur érudition et leur piété mystique et qui possèdent une force spirituelle particulière, similaire à la baraka musulmane marocaine. Cette force qui ne disparaît pas après la mort de ces saints hommes peut être utilisée pour le bien de leurs adeptes. En fait, la plupart des tsaddiqim sont reconnus pour posséder des attributs de sainteté seulement après leur mort. Les résultats spectaculaires et miraculeux de leur intercession avec Dieu sont de ce fait spécifiquement associés à leurs tombes, éparpillées dans tout le Maroc mais plus fortement concentrées dans les régions du sud.’’

Al-Andalus designates the territories of the Iberian Peninsula that were under Muslim domination from the eighth century until the disappearance of the kingdom of Granada at the end of the XVth century. They were home to a very diverse population composed of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who knew a real golden age from the Xth century onwards. The role of the Jewish communities was particularly remarkable from this time onwards and until the middle of the XIIth century when the Almohad dynasty came to power. The Jews experienced a period of great economic and political prosperity, but also an intellectual and literary boom unlike any other, showing obvious proximity to the Muslim populations and leaving a lasting mark on Jewish history itself. (11)

The reality of al-Andalus, often fantasized by later historiographies, was undoubtedly neither made of violence between the communities, nor was it marked by an ideal tolerance, but was situated between these two extremes and was, above all political space in which flourished the history and cultural identity of the Jews in the Middle Ages. This long period of several centuries was certainly very eventful on the political level, but also very prolific in the intellectual domain. The Jews, like the Christians, spoke Arabic, and their poets wrote either in Arab or Hebrew. Hebrew mixed with formulations borrowed from Arabic literature. They thus gave birth to Hebrew poetry, both in its form and in its content – now partly secular -, whose fame spread throughout the medieval Jewish world. The Hebrew language itself, until then exclusively a holy language, acquired a new status. Thus, if the fate of the Jews was not always idyllic during the long centuries of Muslim domination in Spain, they nonetheless contributed to its cultural and scientific influence and left a significant imprint on it.

The Jewish communities of al-Andalus included some of the most important figures of the medieval world, starting with the famous physician, astronomer, lawyer, and philosopher born in Cordoba in the twelfth century, Moshe ibn Maymûn, also called Maimonides or, according to his acronym, “Rambam”. The most famous personality of the medieval Jewish world within the Almohad civilization, his contribution to Jewish thought, both religious and philosophical, but also to the other two monotheistic traditions, was decisive. His philosophy as well as his works in the legal field were strongly influenced by the Arab sciences, which themselves referred to the work of Aristotle. The writings of this major figure thus offer an eloquent illustration of the exchanges and reciprocal influences between Jews and Muslims in the Andalusian context. (12)

Thus, Fez became one of the nerve centers of Islamic civilization and the cradle of Judaism. Over the years, the learned members of this community have oscillated between welcome reception and tearful farewell. A return trip between Morocco and Cordoba in Spain of several poets, and rabbis, has allowed the influence of a new type of Judaism, in this sense, Haïm Zafrani specifies: (13)

[“the rabbis of the Maghreb were the masters of Spanish Judaism and the founders of the Spanish school”.]

‘’les rabbins du Maghreb aient été les maîtres du judaïsme espagnol et les fondateurs de l’école espagnole’’.

This tradition of exchange between the Jewish communities of the two shores of the Mediterranean continued against all odds until the very eve of 1492: the rabbis Haïm Gaguin and Saadiah Ibn Danan, both of whom came from Fez to varying degrees, lived for many years in Spain before being surprised by the edict of expulsion.

Shared saints

The multi-millennial presence of Jews in the Maghreb and the Middle East until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 necessarily provoked inter-religious crossings. (14)

These inter-religious crossings had, according to Mathilde Rouxel, tremendous religious significance: (15)

[‘’These exchanges, which are much more frequent in the Maghreb than in the Mashreq, find their most remarkable expression in the synagogue of Ghriba, (Djerba) in Tunisia, one of the rare testimonies still visible of interfaith crossings between Jews and Muslims since the departure of North African Jews for Israel. This synagogue is one of the main identity markers of the Jews of Djerba, one of the last active Jewish communities in the Arab world. It is a major place of pilgrimage for all North African Jews, who gather mainly for the holiday of Lag Ba ‘Omer. The attractiveness of this synagogue lies beyond this ethnic and historical characteristic in the fact that from the second half of the nineteenth century, testimonies have appeared underlining its sacred character, also recognized by Muslims, who still frequent it today to obtain, through these “ziyara”, the baraka (divine grace).’’]

‘’Ces échanges, beaucoup plus fréquents au Maghreb qu’au Machrek, trouvent leur expression la plus remarquable dans la synagogue de Ghriba, (Djerba) en Tunisie, l’un des rares témoignages encore visibles des croisements interconfessionnels entre juifs et musulmans depuis le départ des juifs d’Afrique du Nord pour Israël. Cette synagogue est l’un des principaux marqueurs identitaires des juifs de Djerba, l’une des dernières communautés juives active dans le monde arabe. Il s’agit d’un lieu de pèlerinage majeurs pour tous les juifs d’Afrique du Nord, qui se réunissent principalement pour la fête du Lag Ba ‘Omer. L’attrait de cette synagogue réside par-delà cette caractéristique ethnique et historique dans le fait qu’on vit apparaître à partir de la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle des témoignages soulignant son caractère sacré reconnu également par les musulmans, qui le fréquentent encore aujourd’hui pour obtenir, par ces « ziyara », la baraka (grâce divine).’’

We learn from Zakya Daoud (16) that in the Ourika valley, in Aghbalou, Morocco, in front of a modest tomb on the side of the mountain, that of R. Shelomoh Ben Loans, long deserted, cars now constantly parked testify to the fervor revived by the cult of saints who, in Morocco, are often common to Jews and Muslims. The author lists more than 600 thaumaturgists (including 25 women) and draws 36 hagiographic portraits, providing a scholarly study of the Moroccan imaginary and cultural symbiosis, describing burials, resurrecting myths and legends, reporting miracles and songs, and providing a map of Morocco that gives another, more profound approach to this special country.

The natural cavity located on the side of Jbel Bina is at the entrance of the city of Sefrou. The cave of the believer, Kâf al-Moumen, keeps in its heart many legends. It is venerated by Jews and Muslims. This grotto is a good example of shared spirituality. Today it is completely abandoned because the Jews of Sefrou have all left for Israel after the Six-Day War of 1967 and most Muslims scorn the idea of venerating a cave, on their own, and think of it, now, as a pure expression of shirk (17) resulting from popular beliefs rooted in pre-Islamic practices. This seems, however, as an extreme reaction to the departure of Jews that were their co-venerators of this unknown saint. Today, Islamists to mock this shared saint argue that is the burial ground of a mule that served faithfully his owner, so upon his death, he built for him a shrine and circulated the story that it was a saint. For others, it is the illustration of naturist cults still subsisting in Moroccan beliefs among Muslims and Jews and which were studied in detail by both Doutté (18) and Westermarck (19) during the last century

Common beliefs

Beyond all religions, Jewish or Muslim, the cohabitation between the two communities has given rise to popular culture and a form of popular religiosity. One of the questions that lie at the heart of the definition of popular religion is the presence of a system of beliefs and practices that, far from being marginal and irrational, are in fact part of a coherent conception of the world. (20)

One understands here, by “popular religiosity”, all practices, beliefs, and rituals that, far from being marginal and irrational, are often outside of any religious ideas. Popular culture (21) represents a form of a culture whose main characteristic is to be produced and appreciated by the greatest number, as opposed to an elitist or avant-garde culture which would only affect a wealthy and/or educated part of the population. (22)

For Hassan Majdi the tradition of saint veneration among Jews in Morocco grew out of Moroccan Muslim cultural and religious practices: (23)

‘’Among Moroccan Jews saint worship is highly important cultural characteristic, pervasively present in all strata of the population. Jewish saints are located in all areas of Morocco, both in the regions inhabited by Berber Jews and those inhabited by Sephardic Jews. The tradition of praying at the tombs of Jewish saints evidently grew out of similar practices carried out by Moroccan Muslims. It is likely that the Berbers were the original source of this practice in Morocco. Many elements of the natural world are associated in one way or another with saints, trees, bushes, stones, rocks, boulders, springs, water-falls, rivers, caves and mountains have been consecrated, although they may already have been held sacred at the time of pagan idolatry. Religious life among the Berbers, who were autochthonous to the region, abounded in myths rooted in the natural word. The Jews, too, may occasionally have participated in such cult rituals, which may help explain their strong ties today to some of those natural sites.’’

Folk culture is first and foremost oral. It is the result of the oral traditions of a region, a locality, a community or a country, a social class, or an entire society. This thousand-year-old wisdom representing the aspirations of communities, popular beliefs, rituals, and legendary stories is materialized through the veneration of saints, superstitious beliefs, folk tales and legends, proverbs, etc. (24)

The common popular religiosity has allowed the study of the relations between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. Thus, the cult of the saints shows that there exists, on the one hand, a veneration, manifest or sometimes hidden, of Jewish saints by Muslims: the sanctuary of R. Amrane Ben Diouane attracts many Muslim followers who throw whole boxes of candles into the wax brazier, just like the Jewish pilgrims. One of them, delivered from paralysis, jumped for joy into the brazier in all confidence, got rid of his crutches, and devoutly covered the tombstone with kisses. (25) The Muslim visitors tend to “Islamize” the Jewish saint.

On the other hand, the Jews on their side venerate Muslim saints. It is interesting to note that they still have traditions that link these saints to Judaism. According to Ben-Ami: (26) 

“These attempts at ‘Judaization’ show us that the Jews are far from acknowledging openly that they are worshipping a saint who is not one of their own – which is not the case for Muslims. “

In his study of the cult of Jewish-Muslim saints in Morocco, Issachar Ben-Ami states that there are one hundred and twenty-six saints commonly venerated by Jews and Muslims of Morocco. These saints who enjoy a common cult, are divided into three categories:

  1. Jewish saints venerated also by Muslims; 
  2. Saints claimed by both Jews and Muslims; and
  3. Muslim saints who are also venerated by Jews. (27)

The cult of the saints

In south-eastern Morocco, it seems that relations with the Jews were particularly different. Researchers claim that for centuries Jews and Berbers lived in osmosis, all speaking Berber and sharing the names, the costume, the way of life, the habitat, and the main activities: cultures, breeding, crafts…

The study of the cults of the saints has also shown the existence of veneration, sometimes hidden, of Jewish saints by Muslims. For their part, Jews also venerated Muslim saints. The harmonious coexistence of Jews and Muslims in Morocco for thousands of years and their independent recourse to the same cultural fact gave birth to common customs, whereby each of the two groups having renounced its right to cultivate separately personal and functional ways in the creation of their saints.

Some Moroccan Muslims invoke Jewish saints and implore their help, especially in the field of healing. They visit Jewish holy places, alone or accompanied by Jewish friends. In some cases, they address their invocations through their Jewish neighbors.

Issachar Ben Ami lists in his book Le culte des saints… (29) about 652 Jewish saints, including 25 women of which at least thirty are claimed by both Jews and Muslims.

In the region of Draa-Tafilalet, this tradition is still perpetuated. But, as is the case in the whole country, some saints are less known and less venerated than others. For example, the saint Yahia Ben Baroukh Cohen in the locality of Tiffoultoute in Ouarzazate does not seem to be as famous as those in other regions. However, hilloulotes, (plural of hilloula) (30) are still held on the spot.

On the other hand, in Agouim, a village located 70 km northwest of Ouarzazate the tomb of Rabbi David Ou Moshe is one of the high places of pilgrimage for the Jews and Muslims of Morocco, and for Jews from all over the world. The shrine continues to attract thousands of admirers and its faithful continue to perpetuate its cult. It is interesting to know that more than 170 tales and stories have been collected on the life of this saint and his possible benefits.

This is also the case in Gourrama, more precisely in Toulal, in the province of Midelt, where a ritual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Itshak Abouhat will continue to take place there every year. His hilloula (31) attracts pilgrims from all over the world, due to the international fame of this great family of tzaddikim. (32)

Finally, it should be remembered that the hilloulotes are sacred moments for Moroccan Jews wherever they are in the world. Every year, thousands of people come from many countries, especially from Europe, Israel, and the United States, to venerate their saints and renew contacts with their native country.

Another aspect of Moroccan-Jewish heritage concerns a socio-cultural event that takes place once a year in Goulmima, (33) in the southeast. It is a carnival of Jewish origin, which is still celebrated during the feast of Ashura, hence its name: Oudayn n-Tcashurt (the Jews of Ashura).

This carnival was once celebrated by the Jews who later had to emigrate to the West and/or to Israel. Accustomed to this celebration, the inhabitants of the ksar, in the absence of the Jews, have kept the tradition, introducing in the festival a local tint and a nuance of parody born of the distancing, in time, from the original. The celebrations related to Ashura start from the first day of Muharram: (the first month of the Muslim calendar), and last nine days, during which young and old alike welcome it, among other things, by daily rites of water spraying each other to consecrate the water, symbol of life, fertility and expression of love.

It is on the eve of the tenth day, after dinner made of couscous and dried meat, that the carnival takes place. Dozens of masked people, disguised as Jews, occupy the main square and the alleys of the ksar to claim and exercise a right: that of expressing themselves in all freedom. This Judeo-Amazigh tradition, which allows transgressing the dogmas and social norms, to live in a phantasmagorical dimension, knows each year an extraordinary repercussion, which exceeds the valley of Gheris.

Everything in this carnival recalls the Jews or at least the idea of them: names, pronunciation, music, poetry, etc., attesting to the beautiful conviviality between the inhabitants of the ksar of different confessions, once upon a time.

In addition to the social satire and the criticism of the manners, the remarks are sometimes bitter and violent. They break taboos and criticize the dishonest practices which prevail in the community: sexuality, lies, social hypocrisy, oppression, unemployment, corruption, slander, etc. They express the downside of social and cultural practices and right the wrongs of the community through derision and humor.

It is therefore clear that the virtues of this masquerade are numerous, both for individuals and for society. The freedom of expression that it allows, the festival to which it gives place, and the conscientization are so many beneficial factors for a community that needs it so much. Thanks to this carnival, an inter-faith dialogue continues to be established between Judaism and Islam in tolerant Morocco.

Understanding the Judeo-Muslim cult of saints

Certainly, the cult of the saints is a universal phenomenon but it is particularly Berber since the dawn of time, it has only adopted, successively the colors of the three monotheistic religions. Its para religious and heretical nature is kept intact. 

The Judeo-Muslim pilgrimages must recall a survival of the time when the Judaized Berber tribes occupied the country, especially in the mountainous regions. The Judeo-Berbers would thus be the main instigators of this highly-popular phenomenon. 

These popular Jewish cults have obvious analogies with the maraboutic cults of Morocco. The harmonious and millenary coexistence of the Jews and the Muslims of Morocco, and their independent recourse to the same cultural phenomenon, have given rise to common usages, with each of the two groups having renounced its right to cultivate separately personal and functional ways in the creation of its saints. (28)

The complexities that link the Jewish minority to the Muslim majority in Morocco constitute one of the decisive elements in the development of the hagiographic phenomenon in a specific socio-cultural framework.

By examining the set of religious beliefs and customs specific to the Jews of Morocco in the field of the cult of saints and by analyzing its contemporary aspects, one notes that Morocco, for the Jewish hagiography is a vast space where are mixed, practices and rites, animism, magic, superstition, pseudo-religious phenomena, medicine, magical-religious formulas, incantation and exorcism practices… 

The millenary Judeo-Berber practice of venerating saints reveals some aspects of the tradition of the Jews of Morocco and contributes to a better understanding of Judeo-Moroccan culture and its relationship with the environment.

Like every year, thousands of Jews – most of them of Moroccan origin – come from all over the world, including Israel, to pay homage to the 1,200 saints buried in this land of Islam that they love, praying in unison for peace and cohabitation between the two religions in the Middle East. (34)

The most important Jewish shrine in Morocco is that of Amrane Ben Diouane, a venerated saint who has rested for 250 years above the mountains of Ouezzane (200 km north of Rabat). The Amrane Ben Diouane shrine, planted in a Jewish cemetery, stands in the middle of several hectares of olive trees. The pilgrimage to this shrine, which begins on Tuesday, ends on Saturday evening after the Shabbat. During these five days of prayers, the wealthy pilgrims sleep in small villas, the others sleep in small houses with zinc roofs.

Under a huge olive tree, they parade each day, throwing candles on a huge pyre lit on the tomb of Amrane Ben Diouane. “A pious man, honest, benefactor, and good” reads a plaque on the facade of a synagogue. Recently, on the first evening, a faithful man made the rounds, offering whiskey to the audience: “Drink my brothers, I commemorate today the death of my father by wishing for peace,” he shouted at the top of his voice.

Near him, an Orthodox Jew, Mahmane Bittgoun “from Jerusalem”, makes a powerful sound through a horn (Shofar). “It is to amplify the prayers and blessings,” he says. The women encourage him by pushing youyous (ululation screams). He stops for a moment to play this instrument, which dates back to the dawn of time and invites the congregation to listen to his telephone conversation established by gsm with pilgrims from the Mirone temple, a saint buried near Tel Aviv.

Around midnight, the pilgrims go to pray in the synagogue across the street, without forgetting the “great saint” Rabi Simon Baryoha, buried in Israel, to whom all the Jews of the world pay homage the same week according to the Hebrew calendar.

After the scorching heat of the day and the ordeal of the pilgrimage, made even more difficult to bear because of the glow of the flames and the pungent smell of burning candles, the pilgrims move to a huge restaurant to feast to the sound of music. The traditional and amazing candle auction ceremony punctuates the meal. The millions of euros raised go into a fund for the renovation and maintenance of the graves of the 1,200 Jewish saints in Morocco.

Some of the famous Jewish saints of Morocco

Morocco counts a great number of Jewish saints, the most renowned and important of which are as follows:

1- Rebbi Amrane Ben Diouane (in Azjen, Ouezzane): According to tradition, he was born in Hebron and arrived in Morocco at the beginning of the XVIIIth century as a rabbi-investigator. He is buried near the cemetery of Azjen, 9 km from Ouezzane; his grave is under a pile of stones at the foot of a wild olive tree. His hilloulotes are celebrated three times a year: the Lag Ba Omer, the 15 Ab (anniversary of his death), and at the beginning of the month of Ellul, according to the Hebrew calendar.

2- Rebbi David Ou Moshe (in Timzrit, Ouarzazate region): He is one of the most famous saints of Morocco. The tradition locates his origin in the Holy Land. His hilloulah is celebrated at the beginning of Kislev.

3- Rebbi Haïm Pinto (in Essaouira):  Rebbi Haïm Pinto belongs to the illustrious Pinto family which gave birth to several saints. He is usually called R. Haïm Pinto the Great, to distinguish him from his grandson who bears the same name. Born in Agadir, he resided since the age of ten in Essaouira, where he died on 26 Ellul 5605 (1845). His erudition and thaumaturgy earned him fame during his lifetime. Rebbi Haïm Pinto is renowned throughout Morocco and his praises have already been published in two collections in Judeo-Arabic (M. Mazal-Tarim, Sefer Shebah Hayyim, Casablanca, 1961). Among the other saints of the family of R. H. Pinto, we should note R. Shelomo Pinto his father, R. Yehudah Pinto his son, and R. Haïm Pinto the younger, his grandson.

4- Rebbi Haïm Pinto (in Casablanca): Rebbi Haïm is a popular saint who lived in Mogador and Casablanca, where he died on 16 Heshwan 1937. He is buried in the old cemetery of the city. He is the son of R. Yehudah Pinto and the grandson of R. Haïm Pinto who is buried in Essaouira. He is known as “R. Haïm Pinto the young” to distinguish him from his grandfather, “the great”. The house he lived in Casablanca, located at 36 rue du Commandant Provost, has become a place of pilgrimage.

5- Lalla Solika (in Fez): Sol Hatshuel was born in Tangier in 1817. She is generally called Solika Ha-Saddiqah or Lalla Solika and is one of the most famous sainth saint in Morocco. The historical facts about her date back to 1834, when Solika, as a young girl, was brought to court by a Muslim neighbor, who claimed that she had embraced and then denied Islam. The girl was arrested and sentenced to death in Fez. The Jews of the city built her an exceptional tomb in the Jewish cemetery, near that of R. Abner Ha-Sarfati, author of Yhas Fas, a chronicle of the Community.

6- Mearat Oufrane (or Oufrane cemetery) in Ifrane of the Anti-Atlas:  Mearat Oufrane is also called Mearat hanisrafim (the cave of the burned). 

7- Rebbi Raphael Anqawa 1848-1935 (in Salé): President of the High Rabbinical Court and a respected judge in the city, he is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Salé.

8- Rebbi Yehia Lakhder (in Ben Ahmed, not far from Casablanca): Rebbi Yehia Lakhder, “the green one”, according to tradition is buried to the left of the entrance to the sanctuary, under a small embankment where there are three fireplaces for the lighting of the candles. The hilloulah of R. Yehia Lakhder is celebrated on the day of the Mimouna and at Lag Ba Omer. According to one tradition, he is the brother of R. Eliyahu of Casablanca and according to another tradition, he is from the Holy Land.

9- The seven Oulad Ben Zmirrou saints (Their tomb is located behind Hotel Safir in Safi): Called indifferently Oulad Zmirrou, Oulad Zmirrou or Zmirrou. They would be according to the tradition seven brothers buried together and belonging to a family of expellees from Spain, influential in government circles and among Jews. Many legends have been born around their name.

10- Rebbi David Lashqar (Moulay Ighi) (in Zarkten, 70 km from Marrakesh): Moulay Ighi is one of the most venerated saints by the Jews of Morocco. He is said to have arrived in Morocco from the Holy Land. Some traditions identify him with R. David Alshqar who is buried in Casablanca. The faithful who could not travel to Ighi (100 km from Demnate) would go to the shrine in Casablanca to worship him. Rebbi David Lashqar is also known as “moul shejra al-khadra” (the master of the green tree) because of the shrub that grows near the grave and that never burns down despite the nearby flames of the candles.

11- Rebbi David Ben Baroukh (in Aoulouz, Taroudant region): He is often referred to by the affectionate name of Baba Doudou, or R. David Ben Baroukh “the young”. He is the great-grandson of R. David Ben Baroukh (who is buried in Azrou n’Ba Hammou), the son of R. Baroukh Ha-Cohen (buried in Taroudant), and the first cousin of R. Pinhas Ha-Cohen.

12- Rebbi Abraham Awriwer (in Moualin Dad, Oulad Bouziri, Settat region): He is also referred to by the toponym Moualin Dad from the name of the hill where he is buried. His hilloulah is located at Lag Ba Omer. His disciples are buried near him. He is famous for his miracles, especially for barren women. The Muslims of the region who practice this pilgrimage call him Sidi Brahim.

13- Rebbi Shelomo Bel-Hansh (in Ourika valley, 45 km from Marrakesh): His designation means “son of the snake, the reptile’’. The Muslims who go on a pilgrimage to his shrine. They call him Moul Asguine.

14- Rebbi Nessim Ben Nessim (in Aït Bayoud, Essaouira region): A magnificent village specially built for this purpose welcomes pilgrims.

15- Rebbi Eliahou (in Jewish cemetery of Ben M’sik in Casablanca): Eliahou is very famous in Casablanca and the region. He is the patron saint of the Jewish community, Moul Dar al-Beïda (the master of Casablanca) or Qandil Lablad (the light of the city). At first, he was buried in the cemetery of El Bhira, then his bones were transferred to the new cemetery of Ben M’sik where he is honored by a beautiful mausoleum.

16- Rebbi Abraham Moul Nass (in Azemmour): Abraham Moul Nass or “the Master of the Miracle”. He is a famous saint and a visit to his tomb is considered an original pilgrimage. His shrine is located in a cave, it has a particular atmosphere, but the patronymic of the saint is forgotten.

17- Rebbi Yishaq Abouhsira (in Gourrama, near Rich, in the Ziz valley, towards Tafilalet): Yishaq belongs to the illustrious family of Abouhsira saints and is the son of the ancestor of this dynasty, Rebbi Yacob, who is buried in Damenhour, Egypt. R. Yishaq was born in Boudenib in Tafilalet and died at the age of thirty-six.

18- Rebbi David Draa Ha-Lévy (95 km from Marrakesh, 11 km from Demnate): He is one of the most popular saints. He is often called Dawid Draa, Moul an-Nakhla (the Master of the Palm Tree), or Moul an-Nakhla al-Khadra (the Master of the Green Palm Tree).

19- Rebbi Yosef Bajayo (in Ntifa): Yosef Bajayo (Abu Jayo, Ajayo, Abajayo or Ben Ajayo) would be, according to local tradition, a rabbi-collector who came from the Holy Land. He died in Tabia in the 1920s and is buried in Ntifa.  

20- Rebbi Ishaq Ben Oualid (in Tetouan): The chief rabbi of Tetouan in the XIXth century and a teacher. His house became a synagogue, yeshiva, and a rabbinical court. His tomb is an object of pilgrimage for the Jews of Northern Morocco. His restored synagogue (with the help of the Junta de Andalucia) is open to the public.

21- Rebbi Chalom Zaoui (in Rabat): This great and revered rabbi is buried in the cemetery of Rabat, his tomb is a place of pilgrimage, especially for the Jews of Rabat-Salé.

22- Rebbi Chlomo Amar (in Beni Mellal): The city of Beni Mellal also has its saints. Rabbi Chlomo Amar is venerated for his holiness and miracles.


Since the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel on December 2020, thousands of Moroccan Jews living in Israel flock to Morocco to visit their saints, celebrate Hilloulah or just go back to their millenary roots. Others retrace their origins in documentary films like ‘’Ziyara’’ by Simone Bitton. (35) 

A lot of slowness, silence and modesty in this road movie through an unusual Morocco. As it should be when one goes to cemeteries and sanctuaries of a beautiful past. For it is in search of what remains of Moroccan Jewry that French-Israeli-Moroccan filmmaker Simone Bitton undertakes this “Ziyara” in her native land. Ziyara is the Arabic word for “visit”, it designates, more precisely, among Moroccans, both Jews and Muslims, a pilgrimage to the “saints”. There are an estimated 650 Jewish saints in Morocco, 150 of whom are venerated by both communities. An essential discovery that guided the director’s decision to retrace the history and memories of Moroccan Jews solely through the accounts of Muslims who knew them or who today watch over their dedicated places.

The gap created by this departure is told by the filmmaker, not from the point of view of those who left, but of those who remained, these men and women whom she nicely calls “the Muslim guardians of her Jewish memory“. In front of the places they watch over, such as the tombs of saints where Jews once came to gather.  They tell her, in the language they have in common, the regret, bitterness or melancholy aroused in them by the memory of this engulfed world, which is also, as one of those met during the journey says, “a part of themselves.”

In an interview with the Moroccan daily paper L’Opinion Simone Bitton says: (36)

[‘’I have the impression that in Morocco, there is a buried Jewishness that comes to the surface as soon as you scratch. As if there was a Jew in every Moroccan. This trip confirmed this for me and it moved me a lot, but I don’t know if it will last much longer. There is still a great sense of loss, memories are fading and many young people who have never lived with Jews make an amalgam between Jews and Israelis for example. There are too few Moroccan Jews left, those who are there are essentially grouped in Casablanca and the relationship with the tourists who pass by no longer has much to do with the fusional relationship that existed before the great departure. I therefore have the feeling that I have captured on film the last glimmers of a very strong relationship that is in danger of disappearing, in order to keep a trace of it and to draw a lesson from it.‘’]

‘’ J’ai l’impression qu’au Maroc, il y a une judéité enfouie qui remonte à la surface dès que l’on gratte un peu. Comme s’il y avait un juif dans chaque Marocain. Ce voyage me l’a confirmé et cela m’a beaucoup émue, mais je ne sais pas si cela durera encore longtemps. Il y a quand même un grand sentiment de perte, les souvenirs s’estompent et beaucoup de jeunes qui n’ont jamais vécu avec des juifs font un amalgame entre juifs et israéliens par exemple. Il reste trop peu de juifs marocains, ceux qui sont là sont essentiellement regroupés à Casablanca et le rapport avec les touristes qui passent n’a plus grand chose à voir avec le rapport fusionnel qui existait avant le grand départ. J’ai donc le sentiment d’avoir fixé sur pellicule les dernières lueurs d’une relation très forte mais en danger de disparition, pour en garder la trace et en tirer un enseignement.’’

On this particular topic, Jean Stern writes: (37)

[‘’Ziyara, the original Arabic word, means pilgrimage, but it has taken on another meaning in Morocco: the visit to saints, in this case hundreds of rabbis whose tombs can be found in the four corners of the country, including in remote rural areas where Muslims and Jews cohabited in poverty and divine beliefs. Marabouts, healers, kabbalists, there are more than 650 listed in Morocco, including 150 shared saints, i.e. common to both religions. Often sheltered by simple whitewashed domes, their tombs were places of pilgrimage, and still are in minor mode. Their guardians – often women guardians – are the ultimate witnesses to an ancient history, as most Moroccan Jews left the country in the 1950s. For housing or a symbolic payment, they maintain a flame from which Simone Bitton has made a film highlighting their profound respect for these saints, even if they belong to another religion.’’]

‘’La ziyara, mot arabe d’origine, signifie pèlerinage, mais a pris un autre sens au Maroc : la visite aux saints, en l’occurrence des centaines de rabbins dont les tombes se trouvent aux quatre coins du pays, y compris dans des campagnes reculées où musulmans et juifs cohabitaient dans la pauvreté et les croyances divines. Marabouts, guérisseurs, kabbalistes, ils seraient plus de 650 répertoriés au Maroc, dont 150 saints partagés, c’est-à-dire communs aux deux religions. Souvent abrités par de simples coupoles blanchies à la chaux, leurs tombeaux ont été des lieux de pèlerinage, et le sont encore en mode mineur. Leurs gardiens — souvent des gardiennes d’ailleurs — sont les témoins ultimes d’une histoire ancienne, car la plupart des juifs marocains ont quitté le pays dans les années 1950. Pour un logement ou une rémunération symbolique, ils entretiennent une flamme dont Simone Bitton a tiré un film mettant en lumière leur profond respect pour ces saints, fussent-ils d’une autre religion.’’

He goes on to say: (38)

[‘’The director takes us to the tombs of the saints in isolated and often miserable villages, to the great Jewish cemeteries of cities like Casablanca or Salé, to synagogues and small museums. Those who guide her are all Muslims, but without religious prejudice of any kind; on the contrary, they are proud to show forgotten places, to tell lost legends. The tombs are beautiful, sober, mausoleums for extremely pious people. There is a lot of pure emotion in the film, but it does not lapse into blissful religiosity. Its subject is the transmission of memory, not the relationship to the divine.’’]

‘’La réalisatrice nous conduit vers les tombeaux des saints dans des villages isolés et souvent misérables, dans les grands cimetières juifs de villes comme Casablanca ou Salé, dans des synagogues, des petits musées. Celles et ceux qui la guident sont tous musulmans, mais sans préjugés religieux d’aucune sorte ; bien au contraire, ils sont fiers de faire découvrir des lieux oubliés, de raconter des légendes perdues. Les tombes sont belles, sobres, mausolées pour des personnages extrêmement pieux. Il y a beaucoup d’émotion pure dans le film, qui ne verse pas pour autant dans une religiosité béate. Son sujet, c’est la transmission de la mémoire, pas le rapport au divin.’’

The idea of a modern shared place of prayer is being considered in Germany in an ambitious project called: ‘’House of One’’. The Berlin-based Kuehn Malvezzi is at the helm of this innovative project and he has designed a “four-in-one” building. The building mixes a rectangular church, a hexagonal synagogue, a square mosque and a common meeting room open to the outside through high windows. (39)

The worshippers will be separated and at the same time connected by a large meeting space through which everyone must pass to get to one of the places of worship. The concept is based on the idea of meeting, not mixing. Its name, “House of One,” was inspired by a speech Martin Luther King gave when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In this speech, the African-American pastor referred to the unique house that forms the world in which people must learn to live together.

These shared devotions are based on a popular piety in search of healing, protection and intercession. There are also bridging figures between religions: patriarchs such as Abraham or the prophets, Elijah… Mary among Christians and Muslims, and more unexpected saints such as Saint George. 

On the island of Büyükada, off the coast of Istanbul, the Greek Orthodox monastery of Saint George welcomes many Muslim pilgrims. Do they see in the Christian saint the Qur’ânic figure of al-Khidr, the “green”? No doubt. The same could be said of the Seven Sleepers, whose Golden Legend by Jacques de Voragine (1228-1298) (40) recounts that the seven saints miraculously escaped persecution by the Roman Empire thanks to a centuries-long sleep in a cave near Ephesus. A surah in the Qur’ân tells a similar story about the “people of the cave”.

The frequentation of the same religious space by faithful of different religions is not a priori self-evidence for those who believe in a single god. If the places of worship devoted to the regular practices of the community (synagogue, church, mosque) are less conducive to this cohabitation, certain sanctuaries generate, on the contrary, crossings between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Characterized by a greater spiritual force, these holy places give free rein to individual devotion and ritual creativity.

The cult of sainthood and baraka shared by Moroccan Muslims and Jews is so rooted in society that some Moroccan saints like Rebbi Abouhsira (towards the end of the XIXth century), buried in Damanhour, Egypt is celebrated with much enthusiasm in Morocco. His baraka is so boundless that geography does not alter it, in the least. 

He is celebrated in a song that begins with a slow prayer that highlights the vocal abilities of the singer. Then comes in a faster tempo the following text, sung in a mixture of Arabic, French, and Judeo-Arabic: (41)

‘’Sidi the great rebbi, I come to visit, how to do?

If I had wings I would fly, to visit Abouhsira Sidi

Sidi, the world is vast, white as your face has seen it,

But in dreams I will never be afraid, the rabbi is my Sidi

From Dar al-Beida (Casablanca) to Gourama, I leave like a hmama (pigeon)

To go to Cairo, to visit Sidi Abouhsira

You people of the Sahara, you companions of pilgrimages

Men of the great moments, come we will visit Rav Abouhsira

Let’s go, people of the ‘âmma (commoners), let’s go to Gourama

Rabbi Abouhsira cAllih salâm (peace be upon him).

Speaking of this sang invocation, Hicham Adakhama writes:

[‘’The text refers to images of the saint’s travels in geographical space. A structuring of the imaginary in plural belongings. The call to Gourama refers to the origin of the saint and to the image of nomadism that the Sahara represents. Gourama is a small town in southern Morocco where there was a high concentration of Jews. It is currently the center of a strong symbolic charge for the Jews who visit it. They take charge of its restoration and regularly organize trips there as part of their return to their origins. Casablanca has a place that must be linked to the massive settlement of Jews in its midst in the 20th century. Abou Hassira cannot have stayed there since it did not exist as an urban center in his time. Its presence in the song is justified by the origin of the people exiled from the South and for whom Gourama is already a nostalgia, transmitted by image from generation to generation. The text is totally situated in the imaginary. This imaginary builds here a link between three distant spaces in time (Casablanca, Gourama, Cairo – for the rhyme, it replaces Damanhour).’’]

‘’Le texte fait référence à des images de voyages du saint dans l’espace géographique. Une structuration de l’imaginaire en appartenances plurielles. L’appel à Gourama renvoie à l’origine du saint et à l’image de nomadisme que représente le Sahara. Gourama est une petite bourgade du Sud marocain où il y avait une forte concentration de juifs. Elle est actuellement le centre d’une forte charge symbolique pour les juifs qui y vont en visite. Ils prennent en charge sa restauration et y organisent régulièrement des voyages dans le cadre de retours sur les origines. Casablanca a une place qui doit être liée à l’installation massive des juifs en son sein au XXe siècle. Abou Hassira ne peut pas y avoir séjourné puisqu’elle n’existait pas en tant que centre urbain à son époque. Sa présence dans la chanson se justifie par l’origine des personnes exilées du Sud et pour qui Gourama est déjà une nostalgie, transmise par image de génération en génération. Le texte est totalement situé dans l’imaginaire. Cet imaginaire construit ici un lien entre trois espaces distants dans le temps (Casablanca, Gourama, Le Caire – pour la rime, il remplace Damanhour).’’

Conclusion: Perfect symbiosis

Since the existence of the First and Second Temples, Morocco has seen its soil trodden by 84 saints who came from Jerusalem and are buried in different places throughout the country. These Tzaddikim established their homes in this Maghreb region before the Muslim religion appeared. They went into exile to escape the appalling persecutions of which they were victims, or by force because they were deported in spite of themselves with thousands of Jews to be assimilated with the peoples living in the provinces of the Roman Empire, or by choice to collect funds to help the Jewish communities established in the Holy Land, overwhelmed by subjugation and famine. Among them: Rebbi Amrane Ben Diouane, Rebbi Draa Halévy, Rebbi David Ou Moshe, etc.

Over more than 2000 years of their existence in Morocco, they enjoyed with Arabs and Berbers a proverbial symbiosis. (42) There were of course some pogroms in this long history especially when religious zealots rose to power and blamed the Jews for all possible ailments, mostly economic, of the Muslim population. 

The Almohad dynasty’s reign was probably the worst period for Moroccan Jews because they were forced to convert to Islam, leave the country, or face death. But beyond this period, The Jews of Morocco, whether Toshavim (43) or Megorashim, (44) enjoyed the protection of the sultans and the high esteem of the population. (45) In Berber land, the symbiosis was at its best in all areas. In this regard, Eric Anglade writes: (46)

‘’Jews and Muslims therefore shared a common existence and, equally, they built a common destiny. Such a fusion gave rise to a mixed culture, Judeo-Berber-Arab, where many components of their identity were shared, like the worship of saints and ritual ceremonies around their tombs.  These are the Moussem on the Muslim side or the Hiloula on the Jewish side. The two communities very often venerated the same saints, but under different names. In the Drâa region, Jews and Muslims used to celebrate the same saint, named Isaac Akkouim by the Jews and Sidi Moussa by the Muslims, through a pilgrimage to his tomb in Tidri. In Demnate, another saint named Haroun Ben Cohen was also revered by local Muslims as Bou Lbarakat, which means One who bestows blessings.

This cultural harmony between Jews and Muslims is also reflected in peoples’ surnames. Few of Moroccan Jewish families’ names are linked to a Hebrew or Aramaic etymology. The majority of them are Berber, Arabic, or sub-Saharan, expressing professional activity, tribal lineage or geographical origin.’’

One can say that the symbiosis was total between Muslims and Jews to the extent that their departure after the creation of the state of Israel not only left a great void within the society but the Muslim population also lamented bitterly (47) this historical event that was sudden and unacceptable to most. 

For Haim Zafrani, a Moroccan Jewish historian, this symbiosis can be seen in the following way: (48)

“between Jews and Muslims there was active solidarity in the intimacy of language and in the analogy of mental organisation as well as a not indifferent amount of symbiosis or even religious syncretism expressed both in everyday life and in life’s most important moments.”

One can say, with much strength, that Morocco is a special land i.e. a holy land for Jews outside of Israel for it concentrates a large number of religious sites all over the country in the north such as Tetouan, in the east in Oujda, in the southeast in the Berber hinterland, in the imperial cities such as Fes, Meknes, Marrakesh and Rabat and in the interior in the cities of Debdou and Sefrou which is even known as ‘’Little Jerusalem’’ because of the high number of its religious saints. 

The Jews may have left Morocco for Israel, Europe, and the Americas but their religious heart remains in Morocco because of the high number of their saints buried there and their long-term brotherhood and intimacy with the local Muslim population. For many, like David Assouline born in Sefrou in 1958, they see their departure as a wound that would never heal. He eternalized his love for Morocco in a documentary entitled: “Entre paradis perdu et terre promise”. (49)

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter at: @Ayurinu 


  1. Bar-Asher, Meir M. Les Juifs dans le Coran. Paris: Albin Michel, 2019. Is the Koran anti-Semitic? Does Islam convey a “hatred of the Jew” that makes it incompatible with Western values? The viewpoint of an Islamologist is essential to dispel the bias in the debate and to get away from sweeping judgments. Without hiding the most problematic aspects, the great scholar Meïr M. Bar-Asher takes stock of this burning issue. He reviews the image of the “sons of Israel” and the “Jews” in the Qur’an and the Hadîth, as well as the Qur’anic basis for the status of dhimmi. It also examines the extraordinary contribution of Jewish tradition to Muslim exegesis of the Qur’an, as well as the parallels between Jewish and Muslim religious laws, halakha and sharia. Above all, it shows that the question of the relationship of the Islamic tradition to the figure of the Jew and to Judaism is a complex one, and that it cannot be reduced to the caricature given by Islamist preachers and Islamophobes alike.
  2.  Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987. Probing the Muslims’ attitude toward Judaism as a special case of their view of other religious minorities in Islamic countries, Bernard Lewis demolishes two competing stereotypes: the fanatical warrior, sword in one hand and Qur’ân in the other, and the Muslim designer of an interfaith utopia. His portrayal of the Judeo-Islamic tradition is set against a vivid background of Jewish and Islamic history.
  3. Brody, Robert. The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture. New Haven, Connecticut, USA: Yale University Press, 1998. JSTOR, ‘’Strictly speaking, the Geonic period began somewhere in the second half of the sixth century c.e., thus antedating by at least half a century the great wave of Arab conquests which began near the middle of the seventh century, in the wake of Muhammad’s mission. Furthermore, the Muslim conquest of Babylonia appears to have been neither a traumatic event for the Babylonian Jewish community nor the occasion for the establishment of new leadership institutions. Nevertheless, knowledge of events in that portion of the Geonic period which preceded the Muslim conquest is virtually nil, so that the historyof the Geonic…’’ (Introduction, (pp. xxiii-xxvi)).
  4.  Moses Maimonides (in Hebrew Moshe ben Maimon) was a Jewish philosopher and physician born in Cordoba in 1138 and died in Fostat (Cairo) in 1204. Through his theological and philosophical works, he became extremely famous and influential both in the Jewish community, in the land of Islam and in the Christian West.
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  17. Shirk (Arabic: شِرْك action to associate, hence associationism), is a word which, in Islam, refers to the fact of associating with Allah, the only God, other gods or other powers or deities, thus bestowing upon them the worship which is due to Allah alone. This word is generally rendered in English by the terms “idolatry”, “polytheism” or “associationism”. Those who associate gods with the Creator are called mushrikûn (مشركون), or associators (singular: mushrik). This action is the only sin which, if not followed by earthly repentance, is unforgivable in the sight of Allah. Cf. Surty, Muhammad Ibrahim Hafiz Ismail. The Qur’ân and Al-Shirk (Polytheism). London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., 1990.
  18.  Doutté, Edmond (1867-1926). Magie et religion dans l’Afrique du Nord.  Alger : A. Jourdan, 1909. Paris : Hachette Livre, 2017.
  19.  Westermarck, Edward. Ritual and Belief in Morocco (Two volumes). London: Macmillan and Co., 1929.
  20.  La liberté, Micheline.  ‘’Religion populaire et superstition au Moyen Âge’’, Erudit, Volume 8, numéro 1, printemps 2000, 19-36.
  21.  Hall, Stuart. ‘’Popular culture, politics and history’’, Cultural Studies, 32:6, 2018, pp. 929-952, DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2018.1521623
  22. Berdugo, Arlette. Juives et juifs dans le Maroc contemporain : Images d’un devenir. Paris: Geuthner, 2003. 
  23.  Majdi, Hassan. “Le culte des saints et les pèlerinages des juifs au Maroc ?” Bibliothèque numérique Paris 8, 2009.
  24.  Dakhama, Hicham. “La présentation de soi au pèlerinage de Rabbi Yahya Lakhdar (Maroc)”. Chiffoleau, Sylvia, et Anna Madœuf. Les pèlerinages au Maghreb et au Moyen-Orient : Espaces publics, espaces du public. Damas : Presses de l’Ifpo, 2005, pp. 39-58.
  25.  Ben-Ami, Issachar. Culte des saints et pèlerinages judéo-musulman au Maroc. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 1990, p. 116.
  26. Ibid.
  27.  Ibid., p. 112.
  28.  Majdi, Hassan. “Le culte des saints et les pèlerinages des juifs au Maroc ?”, op. cit.
  29.  Ben-Ami, Issachar. Culte des saints et pèlerinages judéo-musulman au Maroc, op. cit.
  30.  Hilloulah (Judeo-Aramaic הילולא, a feminine noun formed from the root הלל, HLL, the primary meaning of which is “to shout with joy and fear “) is a Jewish custom of visiting the tombs of tzaddikim (i.e., the righteous) on the anniversary of their death, and commemorating their death with a festive ceremony in which the pilgrims read Psalms and other sacred or considered sacred texts (such as the Zohar). The Hiloula is very similar to pilgrimages to the graves of Muslim and Christian saints. Cf. Köhler, Ludwig, The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament. New York; London: Leiden, 1994.
  31.  The term Hilloulah is an Aramaic word meaning “wedding”. It is the celebration of the Holy One’s wedding with the Torah. The origin of the Hilloulah dates back to the time of Emperor Hadrian, in the year 120 AD. By decree, this iron-fisted ruler forbade all Jews living in the Roman Empire, on pain of death, the practice of Jewish laws, Sabbath rest, circumcision, family purity, Jewish study and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Rebbi Shimon Bar Yohai, a disciple of Rebbi Akiva Ben Youssef and a colleague of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness, was outraged by the adoption of these abject and discriminatory measures, and traveled to Rome in the company of Rabbi Eliezer and Rebbi Yossi to demand the annulment of the decrees promulgated by the Emperor Hadrian. In the year 148, Rebbi Shimon Bar Yohai was sentenced to death in absentia by Rome for criticizing these Roman imperial injunctions. He was forced into exile with his son Eliezer in the cave of Pkiin in Galilee. During his exile, he wrote the Sefer Ha-Zohar or Book of Splendor, more commonly known as the Zohar…
  32.  The Hebrew word tzadik or tzaddik (צדיק) literally means a righteous man. This term comes from the root צדק, which means “justice”. The Arabic word sâdiq (صادق) has the same meaning. In absolute terms, the perfect tzaddik never sins, neither in action nor in word nor even in thought3. The Book of Proverbs says: “The tzaddik is the foundation (yessod) of the world. ” In the Tanakh, the word tzaddik appears particularly in Genesis 18:25, when Abraham attempts to save the righteous from Sodom and Gomorrah. It is also used as a title for a rebbe, or spiritual teacher, in Hasidism. This notion is then associated with that of miracle, the “charismatic” rabbis possessing supernatural powers. The Kabbalah also attributes divine powers to the tzaddik, including the power to mediate between God and the Jewish people. Cf. Buber, Martin. Les Récits hassidiques. Monaco : Editiond du Rocher, 1985, coll. « Gnose »,
  33.  Goulmima is the administrative and commercial center of the Gheris valley. It is located sixty kilometers west of the city of Errachidia, chief town of the province and about two hundred and fifty kilometers southeast of Ouarzazate. The ksar of Igoulmimen, place of the carnival, contains one of the oldest mellahs of the region of Tafilalet, which region was an important center of Jewish life.
  34.  Levy, André, & Antonela Capelle-Pogăcean. “Pélerins-Voyageurs En Patrie Diasporique : Les Retours Des Juifs Au Maroc.” Critique Internationale, no. 47, 2010, pp. 61–76. JSTOR,
  35.  Bitton, Simone. ‘’Ziyara’’, documentary film, France, December 1, 2021.
  37.  Stern, Jean. ‘’ Au nom de tous les saints du Maroc’’, Orient XXI, December 3, 2021.,5211
  38. Ibid.
  39.  Benmakhlouf, Mehdi. ‘’« House of One » : un lieu de culte partagé entre chrétiens, juifs et musulmans à Berlin’’, National Geographic, March 3, 2021.
  40.  De Voragine, Jacobus (c.1228-1298). Legenda aurea, first volume, in the French translation of Jean de Vignay (c.1285-c.1350), illuminated manuscript on vellum.
  41.  Dakhama, Hicham. “La présentation de soi au pèlerinage de Rabbi Yahya Lakhdar (Maroc)”, op. cit.
  42.  Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’Sefrou: Moroccan City of Religious Symbiosis Between Islam and Judaism’’, Eurasia Review, March 8, 2020.
  43.  Toshavim (Hebrew: תושבים, “residents”) is a generic reference to non-Sephardic Jews who inhabited lands in which the Jews expelled from Spain in 15th century settled (“Megorashim“, “expellees”). The indigenous Jews in the area of North Africa known as Maghreb are also referred to as Maghrebim (Maghrebi Jews). In particular, the term “Toshavim” was applied to the indigenous Jews of Morocco.
  44.  Megorashim (Hebrew: מגורשים “expelled”) is a term used to refer to Jews from the Iberian Peninsula who arrived in North Africa as a result of the anti-Jewish persecutions of 1391 and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. These migrants were distinct from pre-existing North African Jews called Toshavim. The Toshavim had been present in North Africa since ancient times, spoke the local languages (Arabic or Berber), and had traditions that were influenced by Maghrebi Islam. The Megorashim influenced North African Judaism, incorporating traditions from Spain. They eventually merged with the Toshavim, so that it is now difficult to distinguish between the two groups. The Jews of North Africa are often referred to as Sephardi, a term that emphasizes their Iberian roots and Iberian traditions.
  45.  Rosen, Lawrence. “Muslim-Jewish Relations in a Moroccan City.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, 1972, pp. 435–49. JSTOR,
  46.  Anglade, Eric. ‘’The lost destiny of Jews from South East Morocco’’, Sud-Est Maroc, December 24, 2020.
  47.  Hachkar, Kamal. Tinghir Jérusalem: Les échos du Mellah. Documentary, 1h 26min, 2013. Produced by: Films d’un Jour, 2M and Berbère Télévision. ‘’Kamal Hachkar explores the 2000-year-old Mellah in his family’s village of Tinghir, Morocco, and follows the trail of the town’s once substantial Jewish population to its emigres and descendants in Israel. In the film, he weaves back and forth between his city’s old Jewish quarter and Israel, where he meets Sephardic Jews who still hold tight to their Moroccan identity. Presents the story of a long-term collaboration between Jews and Muslims that eventually fell apart. As Hachkar tries to understand exactly what happened, he simultaneously seeks a better way forward.’’
  48. Zafrani, Haïm. Deux Mille Ans de vie juive au Maroc. Op. cit. Moroccan Judaism maintains close links with universal Jewish thought and its various modes of expression, and has a special relationship with classical and traditional Hebrew literature. Moreover, this Judaism is also the product of the Moroccan soil where it has lived for two millennia. In this space of convergence and dialogue, a complex multipolar Jewish-Moroccan personality has developed, whose consciousness and memory are developed on various levels: at the level of history, when one looks at one’s destiny and origins, at the names of places and people; at the level of the cultural landscape, when one questions the multiple contributions of the Hebrew, Arab, Berber and Castilian civilizations, the intellectual production and literary creation; at the level of the social imagination, marked by the seal of religion and mysticism which, at the most solemn moments of existence, are both associated in the ritual to give to the ceremonies both their universal dimension and their local measure. This new edition includes updates and an afterword that replaces the epilogue of the previous editions and that sheds new light on the history of this fragmented community, whose memory still resounds in the uprooted souls of the emigrants, in their cries and writings, in their music and songs, in their celebrations of family and religious feasts, in their pilgrimages.
  49.  Assouline, David ; Luc Decaster & Mehdi Lallaoui. Entre paraZdis perdu et terre promise.Paris : Mémoires Vives Production [prod.], 1997. Broadcast in 1997 on ARTE in ‘’Les mercredis de l’histoire,’’ this film tells the contemporary history of the Jews of Morocco through the story of those of Sefrou, their ancestral life together with the Berbers and Arabs, then their exodus. This film can allow new generations to discover or better know a history, which deserves truth and lucidity as much as nuance and benevolence, so often obscured or falsified by the propagators of hate.

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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