The Ribats in Morocco and their influence in the spread of knowledge and tasawwuf

(from:  al-Imra'a al-Maghribiyya wa't-Tasawwuf (The Moroccan Woman and Tasawwuf in the Eleventh Century) by Mustafa 'Abdu's-Salam al-Mahmah)

The ribat played an important and major role in the awakening and preparation of Moroccan society since it provided a focus for combating illiteracy and inculcating knowledge, a place of worship, defence of the safety of the homeland and fighting injustice and social corruption.

In Morocco, as in other Muslim and Arab countries, the ribat became known with the arrival of Islam. Moroccan society built ribats and then zawiyyas in every area, from the north to south, east to west, making that a defensive belt to protect its soil from all foreign incursions.

Before beginning, we will give a definition of the term ribat, and ar-rabita as well as the purpose of its foundation and an explanation of the structure on which it is based in its religious, economic, and social arrangements.

Ribat is a verbal noun derived from râbata, yurâbitu, meaning "to station and stay in place". The word ribat is derived from the word rabt and it comes in the Qur'an, "Arm yourselves against them with all the firepower and cavalry (ribat) you can muster." (8:60) And the words of Allah, "O you who believe, be steadfast, supreme in steadfastness, be firm (râbitû) on the battlefield, and have fear Allah, so that hopefully you will be successful." (3:200)

It is also derived from the words of the Messenger: "The ribat of the day and night in the way of Allah is better than fasting and praying at night for a month." He said in another hadith, "The actions of every dead person are sealed except for the murabit in the way of Allah. His actions will go on increasing until the Day of Rising. and he will be safe from the trials of the grave." Abu Dawud related it. Ibn 'Abbas said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah say, "There are two eyes which the Fire will not touch: an eye which weeps out of fear of Allah and an eye that keeps watch in the way of Allah."

The Islamic Encyclopaedia has many explanations of the term ribat.

The idea of the ribat moved to North Africa, Andalusia, and Sicily by means of Harthama ibn A'yan, who was the first to found a ribat in North Africa when he fortified the first ribat in 179 AH. The term ribat is used in Spanish in the form rebato, rápita and rávita, which indicates "a sudden attack carried out by a body of horsemen accordance with Muslim tactics." (Islamic Encyclopaedia)

Ar-Râbita means ribât, whether applied to a place of jihad or a place of worship. Some people use "râbita" for the resident army in the ribat and from the word ribat is derived the term murabitun. In the usage of the fuqaha', ribat is applied to two things: the first is the location in which the mujahidun gather to defend the land and repel the enemy attack, and the second designates the place where righteous believers learn worship and remembrance of Allah and study fiqh in the affairs of this world

Imam Abu Hafs al-Bakri defined it, "The people in the ribat are the murabitun who agree on the same goal and corresponding conditions. In this meaning, the ribat is established so that its inhabitant may have the qualities which Allah stated in Surat al-Anfal (8:60)."

Prof. Hasan as-Sa'ih defined it in his book, Defense of Moroccan Culture, as an educational centre, military in respect of its structure which resembles a fortified fortress and educational by the murabitun being taught Islamic culture and instructed in matters of the deen. In the Islamic Encyclopaedia, the ribat is defined as the fortified Muslim zawiyya.

Moroccan society became familiar with the ribat at the Muslim conquest when the conquerors built ribats to which the conquering Muslim armies resorted to protect themselves from sudden attacks. At the same time, they were a place for calling people to Islam. The first Maghribi ribat founded was the "Massa" Ribat in Sus al-Aqsa in the time of 'Uqba ibn Nafi'al-Fihri. Then after that, historians state that Ya'la ibn Mussalin ar-Ragragi built the Shakir Ribat known today as Sidi Shakir (Chakir) on the bank of the Wadi Nfis in the vicinity of Marrakesh. It is the burial site of the Arab mujahid Shakir, one of the companions of 'Uqba ibn Nafi'. After that a number of ribats and rabitas were founded, like the rabita of 'Abdullah ibn Yasin whose followers were called Murabitun and his state the Murabitun state. It is related in al-Istiqsa that when the nobles of Sanhaja gathered around 'Abdullah ibn Yasin, there were about a thousand men who were called the Murabitun because they stayed at their rabita.

The ribats include the al-'Ubbad Ribat, the al-Ghar Ribat, the Safi Ribat, the Taza Ribat, the Sale Ribat, the Ribat al-Fath, the Shalla Ribat, the Ribat an-Nusayr, the Ribat of Tit-n-Fitr, 'Ayn al-Fitr which is located about ten kilometres from al-Jadida and is called Tit, the Ribat of Tinmall in the Great Atlas which was the house of al-Mahdi ibn Tumart, the Ribat of Tanoutan in the land of the Dukkala and the Ribat of Tasmatat, part of the district of Marrakesh and the Ribat of Moulasin, the Ribat of an-Nakur, the Asila Ribat, the Anbudur Ribat outside of Sijilmasa, and the Ribat of Ayysin, etc., (See Kitab at-Tashawwuf.)

Summary of Reports about the Port of Ceuta from Glorious Antiquities states that there were forty-seven ribats and zawiyyas in the city of Ceuta, including zawiyyas and ribats defending the sea to the south and north inside the city and suburbs, and outside of it. The largest and greatest of which was the large building of the famous rabita known as Rabita as-Sayd which the book describes.

A number of points were taken into consideration in the establishment of the ribat:

1. The choice of its foundation should be beside rivers and springs, and pastures and fertile earth in general so that it has ample economic resources, like the Ribat of Shalla, the Ribat of Sale, the Ribat al-Fath, the Ribat Zarhun and the Ribat Sidi Shakir, etc.

2. A location with many inhabitants should be chosen so that there will enough murabitun without emigrations from other regions, like the Ribat of Shakir and the ribat of Tinmall, etc.

3. The site should be distant or elevated, in the peaks of the mountains and deserts, in order to form a movement of change which will combat social corruption in a political system. This is what we notice when we examine to the history of the Murabit and Muwahhid states.

4. The proximity of location, especially by the coast, so that it was near the sea in order to meet the European invasion of the Maghrib. One of its constant goals was to capture Morocco, indeed North Africa in general. For example, we find the Ribat at-Fath, the Ribat of Safi, the Ribat of Asila, the Ribat of Nakur, and the Ribat of Sale. In his book, The Sound Excellent Musnad, Ibn Marzuq describes the task of this type of ribat, "Because the European pirates often brought their ships to these coasts and snatched the people of the countryside to make them slaves in their lands, ribats were founded by Abu'l-Hasan al-Marini extending from Safi in the south to the end of Middle Maghrib and the beginning of Tunis (Ifriqiyya). When the fires were lit at the top, in one night or part of a night, it would cover a distance which took caravans two months to cross. Each fortress had men assigned to keep watch over the sea and when any naval unit appeared in the sea headed for the Muslim coast, the alarm appeared in the watchtower. The coasts were safe in his happy days."

The construction of the ribat was voluntary in the beginning, being regarded by society as a virtuous and desirable action and one for which there was a reward for promoting and spreading Islam.

This is what can be noted in the construction of the mosques in the Muslim conquest of Morocco, and continues until today. Many believers in Moroccan society continue to build mosques with their own money. It is the same with the duty of maintaining them. It is not possible to say that the idea of the ribat vanished with the passage of time and appearance of the zawiyya. Ribats ceased to be established. The conception and method of the ribat remained in the mind of Moroccan society, deriving from its mention in the Qur'an which encourages the establishment of the ribat in any critical time. An example is what was done by the tribe of Timsaman in the days of Rif war when they lit watch-fires on the peaks of mountains to inform the hero 'Abdul-Karim al-Khattabi in Agadir of the Spanish invasion of the Rif. This reminds us of Ibn Marzuq's description of the ribat in the time of the Marinids. It is the same with the ribat of the Moroccan liberation army in the mountains with the aim of fighting colonialism. It is a sort of ribat.

The discussion about the ribat and how it was built it now moves to how people joined it and whether that was compulsory or voluntary.

It appears that membership of the ribat was voluntary. Every missionary (da'iya) or person who encouraged people to join it would receive a reward and a wage from Allah. This is what is described for us the Islamic Encyclopaedia. "When someone builds a ribat at his own expense or fortifies strongholds of existing ribats, that it is a action of piety and taqwa. It is the same for the reward for a man encouraging people to join the line of the ribat for jihad in the way of Islam and to strengthen their garrison The reward is for that which a man initiates.

-The Moroccan ribat was the core of the formation of some Moroccan cities. It is clear that it played a role in the formation of cities, in respect of the economic, social and religious gifts which were devoted to it. It provided a place for emigration, as was the case with Ribat al-Fath and the Ribat of Safi, and for reinforcements. An example is provided in what is mentioned by Professor Hajji in his book, The Dala'iyya Zawiyya, in which he quotes Ibn Hawqal in his book, Al-Masalik wa'l-Mamalik. He said, "The old city of Salé was destroyed at the beginning of the fourth century AH and the people took positions at a ribat near it. About a hundred thousand murabitun may have gathered at this place and their ribat was directed against the Barghawata."

When the Ribat al-Fath was established, there were a small number of murabitun in it. Its inhabitants and murabitun increased after the victory of Philip III and his expulsion of the Arabs from Andalusia. They then travelled to the Ribat al-Fath and the Ribat of Salé. From that time, due to the population increase, the ecology and morphology changed. So the ribat played a role in the foundation of cities and their inhabitation. A type of Moroccan architecture also appeared which has to be considered in relation to Moroccan art. Its architecture, as described by the Islamic Encyclopaedia, "comes from the design of ribats in the walls of fortresses which encircled them. They had rooms for living quarters, depositories for arms and provisions, and a command tower. Architectural changes in that developed according to times and political systems. (See The Islamic Encyclopaedia)

The cause of the previous change was another change. That was a functional change when it began to include a number of posts in its internal organisation. That was the result of the emigration of inhabitants there which resulted in a need for organisation. This is what is observed in the functional organisation or in the division of work which was carried out by al-Mahdi ibn Tumart when he divided his people into groups and assigned each group a post and a quality by which it was described. This is what the author of al-Istiqsa mentioned. These groups included the Ahl ad-Dar, the Ahl Khamsin, the Ahl Sabi'in, and at-Talaba and al-Huffaz and Ahl al-Qaba'il. The Ahl ad-Dar were assigned to menial service. The function of Ahl al-Jama'a was consultation and advice. The Ahl as-Saqa were for boasts. The Ahl Sabi'in and Khamsin, the al-Huffaz and at-Talaba were charged with imparting knowledge and teaching. The rest of the tribes were to repel the enemy. This division continued, but the creation of ribat posts was based on the change and evolution which the ribat saw through the ages. Ibn Marzuq at-Tilimsani described this division, "Each of them, ribat and rabita, had men assigned to keep watch over the sea, and when any naval unit appeared in the sea headed for the Muslim coast, the alarm appeared in the watchtower."

As for the economic aspect of the ribat, its economic resources came from what it was given by the neighbouring society and what the Murabitun could do themselves to obtain their weapons and food. This was the case at the beginning, and examples can be given of this economic form which still exist today. When the Spanish advanced to the region of the Rif in northern Morocco, the hero 'Abdu'l-Karim al-Khattabi undertook to gather the men of the Rif to the ribat in the mountains to resist the enemy. A group of men gathered to him, and every man carried his food, drink and weapons, and bought some weapons from his property. When the colonialists' suppression and torture of the citizens became unbearable, many travelled to the murabitun in the mountains to wait for a favourable opportunity to expel them. Generally every murabit who joined his brothers in the mountains had his weapons, a staff and his clothes.

The second form of the economy of the ribat is represented in the state helping it before it undertook to build and supply them. This form includes what is called the general conscription, like what occurred in the preparation for the battle of Oued al-Makhazin.

As for the social aspect, the ribat had a great and active influence in awakening Moroccan society when it provided many of the men of tasawwuf, mujahidun who struggled against the social system and colonialist incursion. By the way of example, the ideas of the Sufi and mujahid, 'Abdullah ibn Yasin can be seen in his address to his followers:

"Company of Murabitun, today you number about a thousand, and a thousand will not be overcome by less. You are the nobles of your tribes and the leaders of your clans. Allah has put you right and guided you to His Straight Path. You must command the correct and forbid the bad, and strive for Allah as He should be striven for."

One of the mujahidun was Shaykh Abu'l-Hasan ibn 'Uthman ash-Shawi who present at the Battle of Humr near Asila when he fought the colonialists who invaded Morocco. The author of ad-Dawh said about him, "When the people were defeated, Shaykh Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali ibn 'Uthman ash-Shawi an-Nasiri advanced, sword in hand, reciting the Burda of al-Busiri. That was the last we know of him. When the people returned the next day to remove their dead, they did not find any trace of him. They found his tunic with the Christians bearing the mark of his wound."

The Sufi mujahid Abu'l-Mahasin Yusuf al-Fasi was present at the Battle of Oued al-Makhazin. The author of al-Istisqa said that Shaykh Abu'l-Mahasin attended this expedition and endured an excellent affliction in it. In al-Muntaqi al-Maqsur, it says, "This battle, the battle of Oued al-Makhazin, was one of the great expeditions and famous battles which at which a group of the people of Allah were present so that it was the most similar thing to the raid of Badr."

We deduce from our studies of the ribat in Morocco that it played a great and active role in the formation and awakening of society since it provided a lot of mujahidun from the men of tasawwuf to fight against social injustice and colonialist incursion. Alongside this group were great scholars who enriched the Moroccan library with their books on various sciences and knowledges which are considered to be precious treasures.

The Zawiyya

Without a doubt, the appearance of the zawiyya was a result of the a number of factors:

1. The evolution of the internal organisation of the ribat when its precepts developed from jihad, worship and teaching to governmental posts.

2. With the development of political structures, the ribat was changed and transformed in its aim and began to resemble a city as other cities were founded as capitals for adminstration and scholarship, like Fes, Marrakech and Meknes.

3. The stability of political structures, the appearance of cities of scholarship, and the flowering of the scholarly movement there produced other positions in the form of those who graduated from the Qarwayyin University and the al-Andalus Mosque when their top students went to specific regions to complete the message of instruction and reform in the areas where the Shaykh thought there was a need for reinforcement, either to change certain social phenomena into which society had fallen or to combat illiteracy and spread knowledge and tasawwuf. Some of those who graduated simply returned to their birthplaces rather than being sent their shaykh, for example, Abu Bakr ad-Dala'i, Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah al-'Ayyashi, Shaykh 'Abdu'r-Rahman al-Majdhub, etc.

4. Some Sufis retired to places far from people and the city either to save themselves out of fear of suppression of their ideas, or a desire for solitude, and so they established centres for themselves. They had followers from among travellers who passed through that place or from those who lived in the area, or when there was unrest in the cities and people fled to the zawiyya for security from temptation and sedition, or to seek knowledge.

5. Eastern tasawwuf reached the Maghrib as a result of reciprocal visits which led to the change of the ribat similar to what had happened in the east. It changed to a zawiyya or khanqah.

What is the zawiyya? How was it founded and what are its arrangements? What is are positive and negative roles which it plays in society?

Definition of the term zawiyya

The term zawiyya appeared in the Maghrib around the thirteenth century and was synonymous with ribat, i.e. the minaret where the wali retreated and around which his students and murids lived. Ibn Mazruq says, "This zawiyya is the term for what is called ribats, khanqahs and khanaqat in the east."

The Maghribi zawiyya was first known as the Dar al-Karâma, like that which Ya'qub al-Mansur al-Muwahhidi built in Marrakech, and then the name Dar ad-Duyûf was applied to the great zawiyyas which the Marinids built which were founded by Abu 'Inan al-Marini outside of Fez.

The oldest of the zawiyyas as such in the Maghrib were the zawiyyas of Abu Muhammad Salih al-Marjiri in Safi.

Ibn Mazruq defined it, "It is clear that in Morocco we consider the zawiyya to be where wanderers seek shelter and travellers are fed." Daumas defined it, "It, in general, is a religious madrasa and a free house for guests. It has these two qualities like many monasteries in the Middle Ages."

The difference between the ribat and the zawiyya is that the function of the zawiyya in Morocco is to prepare food for the needy and those who come to it while the task of the ribat is military, cultural and scholarly activity.

Zawiyyas were built by Sufis when they took a residence for worship, retreat and spreading tasawwuf among the individuals of society who desired to learn religious knowledges. They used to try to provide food and drink and provide them with a place to spend the night. They encouraged them to build zawiyyas on roads and places where people could stay either temporarily or permanently so that the message of teaching tasawwuf would continue and knowledges would be continue to be taught. In this respect, the author of the book on the Dala'iyya Zawiyya says, "One of the oldest zawiyyas is the zawiyya of Shaykh Abu Muhammad Salih al-Majiri in Safi. His zawiyyas increased until there were forty-six of them, and they spread between the Maghrib and Egypt because this shaykh used to encourage his companions to go on hajj to the Sacred House of Allah and to establish many zawiyyas in the road by which the hajjis travelled so they could take stop there in the stages of their long journey."

The building of the zawiyya by the followers was a voluntary action which falls in the sphere of the activity of some who embraces and loves the founder of the zawiyya, i.e the Shaykh, or out of a desire for reward and gratitude from travellers, or participation in the creation of a madrasa teaching tasawwuf and knowledges. In this manner zawiyyas increased, especially in the eighth century AH (fourteenth AD) and were full of visitors with different inclinations. At certain times authority forced the construction of centres beside them until there were zawiyyas who were rivals in the duties of teaching, as happened under the Marinids.

As for the ecological aspect, the zawiyya had an important effect in creating another type of city. The Islamic Encyclopaedia describes the zawiyya from the architectural aspect as "a room for prayer with a mihrab, a tomb of one of the murabitun or a wali from the sharifs surmounted by a dome, a room set aside for the recitation of Qur'an, a kuttab or a madrasa for the memorisation of the Qur'an, and then private rooms for guests of the zawiyya, travellers and students. Usually adjoined to the zawiyya was a cemetery which included the graves of those who had commanded in their lifetime that they be buried there." There are other descriptions with more details, clarification and more refinement. Professor Hajji described the Dala'iyya zawiyya and the Nasiriyya zawiyya and Professor Dale Eickelman described the Sharqawiyya zawiyya.

The zawiyya helped in the ecology until they developed into large cities as happened sometimes with the creation of suburbs and cities beside them. This is what was happened after the foundation of the Dala'iyya Zawiyya. Professor Hajji says, "After Abu Bakr founded his zawiyya in ad-Dala', he worked to increase buildings around it and built houses, shops and the rest of necessary amenities, and set up homes for students and neighbours so that it became one of the finest cities and had many inhabitants. It was the most famous of them and people came to it from different regions. Scholars and visiting students studied there and received esteem and respect which made them desire to stay there as long as they could. The scholarly assemblies relied on the hospitality of Dala' Mosque and the market of knowledge was held in was extremely effective."

The zawiyya expanded in the eleventh century (seventeenth AD) until it became a quasi-state with a political, economical and cultural system. Its relations were organised internally and there were connections with other countries. One of the examples was the zawiyya of al-Dala'.

As for the economic aspect, the zawiyya relied on its land and agricultural resources. They used those resources to build bridges and necessary amenities and provide food for those who came to it. It developed a system to calculate its property, materials and expenses. Duties had to be imposed on it in order to reduce its takings so that it will not be start a revolution against any political order. It was also a place where property could be deposited because of the respect which the zawiyya enjoyed.

On the social side, the zawiyya participated at various times in awakening Maghribi society by means of teaching different knowledges, including the recitations, tafsir, hadith, tawhid, fiqh of usul, tasawwuf, rhetoric, times, Arabic language, eloquence and adab, which had an effect on the spirit of national pride on the land. This is what the Dala'iyya, 'Ayyashiyya and other zawiyyas did. Some zawiyyas were concerned with spreading knowledge and tasawwuf and encouraging jihad, like the Nasiriyya zawiyya at Tamakrut. It served as a refuge for everyone wronged or seeking protection.

On the political side, the zawiyya played an important role, especially in critical periods of the history of the Maghrib. At certain times, especially in the collapse of a political structure, it acted to preserve stability in the regions bordering it or far from it by means of its religious and educational forms. Sometimes, due to necessity, it would play a direct role in order to save the land and society from exploitation, slavery and injustice. This was what led some of the king to persecute the heads of zawiyyas out of fear of them, to preserve the government, whether in a state of unrest, sedition or stability.

Unfortunately, subsequently some of the zawiyyas co-operated with colonialism before and during the Protectorate and directed Moroccan Muslim tasawwuf in a negative direction. One of the results of its backwardness was a great of legerdemain and superstition which provided colonialism with an opportunity to violate the Maghrib.

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