Shrines of Ouezzane

Sufism imbibes the Moroccan landscape. Few Moroccan cities however are as closely associated to a Sufi tarîqah as Ouezzane (Wazan), pop. 58 000 in 2004, home to the Wazzâniyyah order. While the settlement may be much older, it owes its emergence as an urban and spiritual pole to the work of Moulay ‘Abdallah al-Sharif (1596-1678). Moulay ‘Abdallah belonged to Morocco’s most distinguished mystic lineage, the Idrissids, descendants of Moulay Idris I, founder of its first Muslim dynasty. The Idrissids had already given Morocco such imminent Sufis as Sidi Mezouar (d. 864) and Moulay ‘Abd al-Salam ibn Mashish (d. 1228) when Moulay ‘Abdallah settled in Ouezzane in the mid-17th century. The renowned geographer Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad al-Idrisi (1100-1165), author of the celebrated Book of Roger (written for Roger II, Norman king of Sicily), was also an Idrissid, as was a later Sufi shaykh, Ahmad Ibn Idris (1761-1837), founder of the Idrîsiyyah tarîqah in Yemen and the Hijaz.

The Wazzâniyyah (aka the Tayibiyyah), a branch of the Shadhiliyyah-Jazuliyyah order, has zâwiyahs all over Morocco. The “mother” zâwiya is in Ouezzane city, which occupies the northern slope of Jabal Bouhlal. Ouezzane is known for the “forty-four saints” buried there.

Ouezzane city

City of Ouezzane, showing main shrines. All the shrines are either in cemeteries or incorporate burial grounds.

I have not been able to map all the saints and shrines of Ouezzane as I have not conducted field work there. Those located above are the ones indicated on topographical maps. This downloadable Google Earth (kmz) file will allow the reader to locate them.

The Zâwiyah of Moulay ‘Abdallah occupies a ledge on the slope of Jabal Bouhlal, which rises precipitously to the south of it. It consists of a mausoleum, a prayer hall with a courtyard, and a cemetery.

Ouezzane shrine

Plan of Zâwya neighborhood.

Entrance to the mausoleum of Moulay ‘Abdallah al-Sharif is gained from the narrow street to its north.

Entrance to the mausoleum of Moulay ‘Abdallah (ph. John Shoup)

There is a cemetery containing a large tree attached to the shrine. Next to the cemetery is a small triangular square, Place Bir Anzerane, dominated by another large tree. This tree, a wild variety of olive I was told, serves as a Qur’anic school. I have labeled it the “kuttâb tree” on the plan but I am sure it has a proper name.

View of the kuttâb tree from the street above it. (ph. Eric Ross)

The entrance to the kuttâb tree faces towards the Zâwiyah and the burial ground. (ph. Eric Ross)

Wild olive tree in the courtyard of the kuttâb (Qur’anic school). (ph. Eric Ross)

When I first visited Ouezzane in the summer of 2000 there was another large tree, on the west side of the city’s Istiqlal (Independence) Square, which served as prayer space. Men from the near-by market and shops would assemble beneath it for canonical prayers. At some point between then and 2006 this tree was cut down and a masonry mosque erected in its place. I am truly sorry I did not photograph the tree when I had the chance.

There are still trees associated to some of the city’s shrines, especially those in the large cemetery which occupies the crest of the ridge extending northward below the city.

The western entrances to the Zâwiyah’s prayer hall give onto souks for crafts. The Wazzâniyyah has always patronized crafts and craftspeople, and crafts such as weaving, musical instrument making and tailoring continue to thrive in Ouezzane. Another set of workshops for heavier crafts such as cabinet making and metal work is built into the slope beneath the Zâwiyah to the north. Ouezzane is said to be home to about 5000 craftspeople.

Ouezzane’s Friday Mosque stands at the other end of Zawya neighborhood.  Its octagonal brick minaret is overlaid with green tile and carved stone.

The Friday Mosque gives onto a small square. (ph. Eric Ross)

Detail of tile-work on the minaret. (ph. Eric Ross)

Between the Zâwiyah and the Friday Mosque lies the Dâr Damânah, the “House of Protection” or “of Security,” home to the Sharifs of Ouezzane. In March 2006 my friend John Shoup and I had the pleasure and the honor of visiting the great house, its courtyard garden and its stately reception rooms. This urban palace has been the scene of much history. I regret not having taken pictures of it as well.

The Sharifs of Ouezzane have, historically, exercised real sovereignty over the city. In the late 19th century, and up to the Treaty of Fez when the French and the Spanish carved Morocco up, the Sharifs of Ouezzane held sway over the Jbala and other regions of northern Morocco. Even today the Sharif remains an important moral and political authority in Ouezzane and inhabitants of the city exhibit an uncommon sense of autonomy from the Makhzen.

In the early 20th century, a first-hand account of life at the center of the sharifan family was published in English, namely by Emily Keene, Sharifah of Wazan. Emily Keene (1849-1944), a middle class Anglican girl from London, married Sidi al-Hajj ‘Abdesslam b. Larbi (1834-1892), then Sharif of Ouezzane, in 1872. Thereafter she was Sharifah of Ouezzane, living with her husband and continuing to raise their children in Dâr Damânah after his death. In 1912 she published her memoirs, My Life Story, in London (E. Arnold).

Amazingly, there is a contemporaneous story which parallels that of Emily Keene. Aurélie Picard (1848-1933), a working class Catholic girl from Lorraine, married Sidi Ahmed at-Tijani (1850-1897) Khalif of the Tijâniyyah. She lived in the Tijani Zâwiya in ‘Ayn Madhi, in French Algeria, from their marriage in 1872 until her death. She narrated her life story to a travel writer named Marthe Bassenne, who published Aurélie Tedjani, “Princesse des Sables” in Paris (Plon) in 1925.

Jewish Ouezzane

In order to stimulate economic growth in Ouezzane, Moulay al-Tayib b. Muhammad (Sharif from 1718 to 1768) invited Jewish craftsmen to settle in the town, in a “mellah” next to the market. Thereafter, the Jewish community thrived. Rabbi Amram b. Diwane from Hebron, subject of the previous blog, was one of the rabbis attracted to Ouezzane at the time of Moulay al-Tayib. His shrine in Azjèn shares several important traits with the Muslim shrines of Ouezzane: location in a cemeteries and association to great olive trees.

Today the Mellah no longer has a Jewish resident. The Jewish funduqs (traiding hostels) stand dilapidated from neglect in the heart of the quarter, next to one of the old city’s main commercial streets. Yet the crumbling buildings are respected by both the authorities and residents as they are still the properties of their absent Jewish owners. Ultimately, the rehabilitation of these funduqs will depend on the return of the inheritors of these properties and their willingness to invest in them or to donate them. My hope is that a just peace in Palestine/Israel will make this possible soon.

Mural depicting the Dome of the Rock in Zawya neighborhood. (ph. Eric Ross)


Keene, Emily (1912), My Life Story, London: E. Arnold.

Bassenne, Marthe (1925), Aurélie Tedjani, “Princesse des Sables”, Paris: Plon.

About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
This entry was posted in map work, shrines, Sufism, trees and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Shrines of Ouezzane

  1. Patrick Berger says:

    Très intéressant ce travail.
    La mosquée avec ce minaret “ottonien” date de quand?

    • Je n’ai pas pue établir la date de la construction de la mosquée (et de son minaret). On dit que le quartier Zwaya a été établi par Moulay ‘Abdallah al-Sharif au milieu du XVIIe siècle. Vraisemblablement, la mosquée daterait de la même époque. Il y a, dans le nord du Maroc, plusieurs cas de minarets octogonaux alors qu’ailleurs au pays les minarets sont toujours carré. Un jour j’aimerais effectuer une recherche en bonne et due forme sur cette ville soufie du Maroc.

  2. celine says:


  3. I visited Ouezzane in December 2015 and found the mausoleum of Moulay ‘Abdallah al-Sharif but, as a non-muslim were not allowed to enter. But my friend ( from Chefchaouen) and I were invited back to the house of someone worshipping there and met his wife and family. I am hoping to return to Morocco in April and follow and photograph the shrines from Essaouira north to Tangiers as suggested in your other article. A link to a photograph of the visit to the mausoleum is below. If you would like please upload from the web page or I could find you a higher resolution version if required. Thanks for all the information.

    • I am happy to hear your visit to Ouazzane went so well. I am not on facebook, so cannot see your photo. Please send it as an attachment to I wish you all the best on your next tour of Morocco’s shrines.

      • Dear Eric
        I have just seen your reply. I’ll look out the photos and send them to you. I did find the zawiyas of the 7 Saints of Marakech as you detailed, see them ( and other Moroccan related photos ) here I find the historical and current role of Sufism in Morocco so interesting and, with Gnawa music and the animist faith ( with spirit possession and almost mediaeval belief systems ) operating within an Islamic framework fascinating. I’m returning for 2 months late May to visit Ouazzane, Meknes, Fez, Marrakech and Essaouira for more exploring.
        Best wishes

      • Wonderful. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Pingback: The Sufi Shrines of Ouezzane - Sannyassa

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