Popular Imagination of Justice in Morocco: The Ritual of Cursing, part 2

By Dr. Mohammed Maarouf*

Inside the shrine, visitors murmur their wishes and curses because they don’t want other people to overhear them. A popular religious saying goes that “people should make their wishes silently so that Allah lubricates their fulfilment.” People do the same for their curses. Still, I tried to listen to what some visitors said in private. One woman was so furious that she nearly cursed in a loud voice. She started circumambulating the coffin of Sidi ‘Abdelaziz, kissing its corners and saying: “O Mulay ‘Abdelaziz! O Mulay Sultan! I have come straight to you and destination is Allah! I call them to your trial! They have wronged me and it is dispersion I wish for them!” Then she said again: “O Mulay ‘Abdelaziz! I want them to be dispersed, particularly, ‘Abdelqader, his wife and daughter.”

As the reader may notice, the supplicant is careful in her curse and protests only about the social injustice she endures from particular people. What we can deduce from this example is that the woman’s belief in the saint’s fulfilment of her curse may alleviate her anger and deter her from taking the initiative herself in attempting to settle the conflict by inflicting injury on the wrongdoer. Her rancour and hostility are ritually discharged at the saint. Her faith (niya) in the saint’s power is enough to let her wait and expect the miracle of revenge.

One of Ben Yeffu’s sons, Sid l-Bdawi fassal d‘awi (judge of complaints), is a centre where people go to make oaths. He is also well known for his immediate response to people’s curses and perjury. At his shrine situated in the fields, people perform their curses in a ritualised form. When wronged, they go to Sid l-Bdawi and sweep it over the wrongdoers. The process is literally called “sweeping the shrine over them” (kay shetbu ‘lihum siyyed). The wronged person takes off his coat or djellaba and starts sweeping the floor of the shrine and cursing the wrongdoer: He wishes that the wrongdoer’s household would be swept like the shrine. He will say: “You have wronged me! I complain about you to this saint! I hope that you come down with an illness for which there is no cure! I hope that you are scattered so that you can never return! Go, my Grandfather and Sid l-Bdawi are cursing you!” Sid l-Bdawi is very well known for punishing those who voluntarily violate their oaths or vows by false swearing. Informants say:

In the past, a man suspected his neighbour to have stolen his rooster. So, he told him that he would complain about it to the qaid. At the time the Makhzen was very oppressive. If one accused someone and reported his allegations to the qaid, a makhzeni would go to the dwelling of the accused person and called him to court. The accused had to feed the makhzeni’s mule and give the makhzeni provisions before going to court. At court he would be fined hard if found guilty. So anyone being accused would implore the plaintiff not to press charges because he knew that he would spend a lot of money. So, the neighbour accused of stealing the rooster was willing to do whatever the man told him. He agreed to make an oath at Sid l-Bdawi. When they went there and the man swore, the rooster crowed in his stomach.

A number of myths are told about Sid l-Bdawi. His authority is established through the myth that jinn hold the trance dance at his shrine every night.

To elaborate on oath-making at shrines, I may cite examples from the past. Until the seventies, the court used to allow people to go to shrines to make oaths (if the plaintiff asked for it). In the region of El Jadida, oaths used to be given at Ben Yeffu or Moulay ‘Abdella. Those who went to Ben Yeffu were sent there by the official court in Khmis Zmemra. Usually, an envoy would go with them to report the act of oath-making to the court. The importance of that ritual was that Ben Yeffu was considered as a mahkama where someone’s vow (‘had) was abiding, and in case of perjury the person under oath might incur the risk of the saint’s reprisal. So, the saint Ben Yeffu like other saints in the region (Mulay ‘Abdellah, for instance) have been used by people for making oaths. The standard formula people would say was as follows: “By Allah the ever great I have not done or taken this thing; otherwise Ben Yeffu may divulge my breach of faith and punish me for it!”

Up to the eighties, the tradition of making oaths at shrines was a common practice. Even some political parties used the ritual as a strategy to secure more votes in their favor. They gave voters gifts before elections, gifts such as embroidered slippers (shrabel) – usually one slipper before and the other after the election results–as they loaded masses of voters – especially women–in trucks and took them to Mulay ‘Abdellah to swear that they would vote for them. That tradition is no longer practiced. But people still carry on swearing at shrines to solve their conflicts with each other, especially newly married couples or couples suffering from violation of confidence.

When we say that, in the past, official courts recognized the ritual of swearing at shrines to have been legitimate, we are not saying that the court deliberately sent people to shrines, simply that courts allowed them to swear there if they asked to. From a judicial perspective, we understand the attitude of the court. It is obvious that it is looking for the most suitable solutions to solve people’s conflicts and settle their quarrels. But the practice of swearing at shrines may have its ideological effect if acknowledged by the official court as legitimate. The power of the saint is institutionalized as true. The official court has the power to reinforce and sustain this truth. When it accepts people’s oath making at shrines, it legitimizes the whole practice and its ideological implication. In this way, the saint’s authority is legitimized, which implicitly encourages the healers to exert more pressure on their followers to submit to their commands.

*Dr. Mohammed Maarouf is with the Department of English Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Chouaib Doukkali University, El Jadida, Morocco