Berbers of Morocco - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. All Moroccans, whether Berbers or Arabs, are Sunni (i.e., orthodox and mainstream) Muslims of the Maliki rite, which predominates in North Africa. Their beliefs are exactly the same as those of Sunni Muslims elsewhere. It should be noted, however, that Islam in rural North Africa has traditionally placed a strong emphasis on baraka (lit., "blessing"), the charisma and miracle-working abilities of shurfa' (sing. sharif ), descendants of the Prophet, whose shrines dot the countryside and whose living representatives have traditionally been mediators of conflicts between lineages or sections of lay Berber tribesmen.

Religious Practitioners. In Islam, there is, in theory, no intermediary between man and God, but every Moroccan rural community, whether Berber or Arab, has its fqih or schoolmaster, who teaches the boys to recite the Quran. The fqih, who is contracted by the community on an annual basis, leads the prayers in the mosque and gives the Friday sermon. He also writes charms (from Quranic verses) with a view to curing diseases, although any elements of witchcraft and sorcery that do not involve the use of (Arabic) writing are generally the preserve of women.

Ceremonies. The major ceremonies in the individual life cycle are birth, marriage, and death, with the first haircut and circumcision as additional rites for small boys. Circumcision, although not specifically mentioned in the Quran, is nonetheless practiced by all Muslims. Rifians perform it when boys reach 2 years of age, whereas the Imazighen tend to wait until boys are 5 or 6—they are told by their elders to bear it bravely. There is no female circumcision. The marriage ceremony is the most important, lengthy, and elaborate ritual for both sexes. In addition, everyone observes the normal Muslim religious festivals of the lunar year. During the first ten days of the first month, the 'Ashura is celebrated; in Morocco, children are invariably given toys and other presents at this time of year. The month-long fast of Ramadan, in the ninth month, is followed immediately by the 'Ayd al-Saghir or Small Feast to break the fast. The 'Ayd al-Kabir or Great Feast, when every householder must sacrifice a sheep, occurs in the last month of the year and coincides with the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Arts. The only specialized arts among Berbers are performed by women and consist, among Rifians, of pottery decoration and, among Imazighen in the Middle Atlas, of rug weaving.

Medicine. Traditional healers continue to flourish, but today hospitals and clinics are also much in use.

Death and Afterlife. Death may be attributed either to natural or supernatural causes, and every community has its cemetery. If the deceased is a man, his body is washed and enshrouded by the fqih, and if a woman, by another woman. Anyone who dies in the morning is buried the same afternoon and anyone who dies at night is buried the following morning, in a hole that must be only a spread handspan plus an extra half-thumb length in width. Of overriding importance in the orientation of an Islamic grave is the qibla, the direction of Mecca. In Morocco, the body is therefore placed in the grave more or less on its right side, with its face turned toward Mecca, while the fqih intones an appropriate chapter of the Quran. Only men attend funerals, and among the Imazighen the kinsmen of the deceased give a feast seven days after the death for those who mourned at the burial. In the Rif, a widow gives a feast forty days after her husband's death, which theoretically marks the end of the mourning period. Ideally, it should also correspond to the obligatory ' idda, or three-month period between widowhood, or divorce, and remarriage, in order to determine paternity in case of pregnancy. Anyone who dies during Ramadan will go to paradise immediately, far faster than at any other time of year. The Quran is quite specific on the subject both of paradise, ajinna, and of hell, jahannama ; it also teaches that two invisible recording angels sit on everyone's shoulders, one recording good deeds, the other bad ones.


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