The Moussem of Moulay Idriss

Friday, October 17, 2008 | Fès, Morocco (map)

Brotherhoods from Fes's various quarters processed one after another along the crowded parade route, drumming and singing.
Yesterday marked the annual moussem (festival) in honor of Moulay Idriss II, who's something like the local patron saint here in Fes. The son of the city's founder and a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, Moulay Idriss was also the first ruler to unite the region now known as Morocco. He did so in the early ninth century, with Fes as his capital.

The moussem's main event is a raucous procession which begins outside Bab Boujloud and winds its way along the main route of Tala'a Saghira to the saint's mausoleum at the heart of the medina. It was an exuberant occasion.

All along the street, jubilant Fassis stood on stoops or sat overhead on the storefront roofs, cheering and clapping and singing to the drumbeats.

At the head of the parade, two men led a young bull, who would be the main sacrifice once the
procession reached the mausoleum. A long series of elegantly costumed musical troupes followed, beating drums, blaring long horns from astride regal show horses, clashing cymbals, and dancing their way along the street. Their path through the crowd was so narrow that each time two horses passed abreast, we were all crushed together against the walls behind us, foreigners and Moroccans alike.

Bringing up the rear were a host of others bearing gifts. A team of boys strode by wielding an enormous carpet, while another pair bore a coffin ornately decorated with Qur'anic passages.

To the residents of Fes, the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss is among the city's most sacred spaces. Locals frequent the shrine, seeking the saint's baraka, or blessing.

The mausoleum and the saint to which it is dedicated are so strongly revered, in fact, that the local Islamists supposedly refuse to enter, out of opposition to the popular hero worship which they claim distracts from Islam's singular focus on obedience to God alone. The joy on the faces of everyone present made it clear that the Islamists weren't going to win anyone over to their point of view on this day.

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