- Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith.
- Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
- Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
- Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
- Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.
Personally I am an atheist, although I am not necessarily anti-religion, but I want to acknowledge that my ruminations on religion are about as valid as someone who is colorblind commenting on art. And I'm certainly not an expert on Islam, but I do have some reflections on my limited experiences in Morocco.
Wherever you are in Morocco you are probably within sight of a mosque. The tall minarets punctuate the landscape, and the call to prayer, or azan, is the first sound of dawn. Islam permeates the daily life of a muslim and is inseparable from Moroccan culture. If I had to delineate the most apparent manifestations of this culture I would site humility, compassion and piety. In addition to the mosques, Muslims pray out in the open, or in a small room of their home. The simple act of getting down on all fours and touching one's head to the ground has a salutary effect that is as much physical as spiritual. Try it, and see if it doesn't pull you out of an egocentric orbit.
The Five Pillars of Islam are:
This video was created by the Moroccan students who hosted our Ithaca students and was shared prior to the trip.
Sorry folks. The hotel server crashed last night just as I was dotting my i's on this.
Yesterday two of the classes prepared cultural presentations. The students came dressed in traditional clothes and talked about local customs, food, and historical sites (all in English, by the way), and sang traditional songs. It was pretty amazing, especially since they put it together on their own initiative and on their own time.
As I was watching I kept trying, and failing, to imagine American students doing something similar. It's not that American students lack volition or hospitality, what stumped me was our lack of common culture. The closest I could envision was a presentation on different ethnic origins, but that kind of begs the question since that would entail other country's cultures.
What is American culture? As a nation we can be quite self-righteous, but as a country we are very young with nothing like Morocco's thousands of years of history. We don't really have regional costumes or even a national cuisine (grilled hamburgers?).
As a nation we are diverse, but I wonder if the down-side of the melting pot is a certain cultural homogeneity. And Morocco, which I originally thought of as a sort of mono-culture, continuously reveals layers of richness and diversity of which Moroccan's are very proud.
Here's a clip, see what you think we have to offer in comparison.
Typical arid land dwelling, Atlas Mountains are in the background.
Saturday we traveled 300 km inland to Marrakesh, Morocco's most "intoxicating" city. Along the way the scenery changes from the fertile coastal lands to increasingly arid and rocky soil. Marrakesh is just east of the Atlas mountains, and on the other side is the Sahara.
Just follow the map.
For over a thousand years Marrakesh has been a crossroads for trading, with caravans arriving from Timbuktu and other exotic places. It was purposely built with narrow twisting streets and blind alleys to discourage would be invaders. When we arrived my host, Mohammed, pointed to a large mosque and said, "We meet here at night fall if you get lost. Good luck."
In addition to the winding alleys there is a constant cacophony of hawkers, music, horns, and motorbikes zooming through the streets. As soon as you stop moving purposefully, merchants, beggars and "official guides" zero in on you like the helpless prey that you are. It's pretty impossible to maintain your orientation for long under the circumstances. I lasted for about 3 minutes.
Once you abandon yourself to your fate it gets easier. You can stop trying to remember where (or who) you are and just take in the sights. There are snake charmers, acrobats, belly dancers, healers, vendors of every imaginable food, service, or item (eg. sheep's heads, tooth pulling, and supppposedly magic lamps).
Finally, guided by the call to evening prayers. I made my way to the D'Jamaa el Fna, which is the central square. On the periphery was a cafe where I took a seat and nursed a bottle of water for three hours. Amazingly I managed to spot my host, who looked no less dazed than I. More and more people entered the square as dusk fell. The whole place took on a carnival like air. I'm not sure I'd want to do it every day, but it was definitely a day I'll remember.
Here's a video I made once I reached the relative calm of the square. It starts with the call to prayer. Click here! ---> MARRAKESH. (If you're fast you'll see the sheep's heads being served, and the clip of the hennayat is for my French classmates.)
Moroccans pride themselves on their rich cultural heritage. The area that is now Morocco has long been a crossroads between Europe, sub-saharan Africa, and the Middle East. The Amazigh are probably descended from Phoenicians around 1000 BC. The Phoenicians were conquered by the Carthaginians, who were conquered by the Romans. The Romans were here for about 3 centuries (146 BC to 253 AD - there are still Roman ruins here) until they were chased out by the Vandals. The Vandals fell to the Byzantines, who in turn were overrun by the Arabs (bearing Islam) around 680 AD.
At this point the Amazigh embraced Islam and invaded Spain (around 711 AD) under Moussa Ibn Nusair. There is still a lot of Arab (or Moorish) architectural evidence in Spain. Around 1400 Spain got tired of being occupied by Arabs and chased them back into Morocco. Many Jews moved from Spain to Morocco at this time since the Inquisition was in full swing and not so fun for Jews (or anyone, really). There is still a large Jewish population in Morocco to this day. In 1666 the sultanate was united by the Alaouite Dynasty who have since been the ruling house of Morocco. They consolidated power and chased out the Spanish and Portuguese.
I have only been here a week and have heard at least 20 times that Morocco was the FIRST country to recognize the fledgling United States in 1777. In 1787 the U.S. ratified a formal treaty of Peace and Friendship with Morocco, which is still in effect and is our oldest, unbroken treaty relationship. (There were older ones, but we broke them). Basically the Sultan, Muhamed III, took pity on our puny country because our ships were getting trashed by the Barbary pirates. He said we would be protected in his harbors.
In 1912 France decided to "protect" Morocco, which is a nice way of saying "colonize." We turned a blind eye and Muhamed V was sent packing to exile in Madagascar (another French colony at a convenient remove). If you've seen the movie, "Casablanca," it takes place in early World War II when Morocco was governed by the Vichy French (the ultimate insult). After almost 50 years, and a lot of agitation, the Moroccans regained their independence from France, and here we are today. The current monarch is Mohamed VI, the grandson of the deposed monarch.
Moroccans, despite the fact that we ditched them in their hour of need, love Americans. There are not many Muslim countries that fall into this category. In fact Moroccans seem to like just about everyone and have even forgiven the French. I think that's what happens when your country is thousands of years old and has survived dozens of conquests. Each receding wave of vanquished conquerors has simply added another layer of cultural complexity to the country. It's like a game for them.
As evidence, here's a picture whose components span a thousand years and several cultures: