The Aissawa (also Aïssâwa and Avestita) is a
religiousand mystical brotherhoodand order founded in Meknès, Moroccoby Muhammad Ben Aïssâ (1465-1526), best know as the "Chaykh Al-Kâmil" (translated as the Perfect sufiMaster). The terms Aïssâwiyya (`Isâwiyya) and Aïssâwa (`Isâwa), came from the name of the founder, designate respectively the brotherhood( tariqa, litt. “way”) and its disciples (fuqarâ, sing. to fakir, litt. “poor”). In the beginning clearly orthodox, the brotherhoodof Aïssâwa became a very complex social phenomenon, in frontier of crownedand the layman, the private and publicspaces and the eruditeand popular culture.
The Aïssâwa are known for their spiritual music characterized by the use of the
oboeghaita (syn. mizmar, zurna), of collective songs of religious psalmsaccompanied by an orchestra of percussions using polyrhythm. Their complex ceremony, which use symbolicdances bringing the participants to extatic trance, take place in the private sphereduring domestic rituals nights ("lîla"-s), and also in the public sphereduring celebrations of nationnals festivals (the "moussem"-s, which are also pilgrimages) and touristic (folk spectacles) or religious festivities ( Ramadan, mawlidor birth of the Prophet) organized by the Moroccan and Algerian States.
In spite of their particularly fortifying music, the Aïssâwa don’t profit from the same passion as the
gnaouanear the Western public. However, like them - or like the Hamadcha with which they are usually confused - the Aïssâwa are always disparaged and placed at the bottom of the confreric hierarchy. Two principal reasons with that :
* 1st reason : there are in the
ritualof the brotherhoodof Aïssâwa some non-islamic elements, which are appeared progressively along the centuries, like exorcismand trancedances.
* 2nd reason: the Aïssâwî disciples were recruited traditionally among the poors populations of the Maghreb, or disadvantaged and marginalized people of the urban areas.
Maghrebcrossed by a conservatismform of modernity (political islamism) and a serious economic crisis, it’s easy to understand that this brotherhoodcrystallizes the tensions and contradictions of maghrebian societies because of the stigmatizing image that the majority opinion returns to her.
The founder of the brotherhood
The founder of the Aïssâwa
brotherhoodremains a somewhat enigmatic character whose genealogyis always prone to controversy. His hagiographysends to us the image of a sufimaster and legendary asceticof a considerable spiritual influence. His mausoleum is today in the Zaouiathat he build himself in Meknès, holy house where today several people come to pray and to participe to mysticaland religiousacts of piety, individual or collective. Muhammad Ben Aïssâ was initiated with the sufismby three masters of the tariqa Shadhiliyya/Jazûliyya : `Abbâs Ahmad Al-Hâritî ( Meknès), Muhammad `Abd Al `Azîz At-Tabbâ' ( Marrakech) and Muhammad as-Saghîr as-Sahlî ( Fès).
doctrineof the Aïssâwa follows the mysticaltradition historically preceding, the tariqa Shadhiliyya/Jazûliyya. Without going into details, this religious teaching, appeared in 15th century in Marrakech, is the most orthodox mysticalmethod appeared in the Maghreb. The Aïssâwî disciples are held to respect the recommendations of their founder : to follow sunni islamand to practice additional psalmslike the long prayer knowns under the name of “Glory to the Eternal” (Al-hizb Subhân Al-Dâ `im). The original Aïssâwa doctrine doesn’t mention extatics and rituals exercices (like musics and dances).
The mother-Zaouia of Meknes
Zaouiaof Meknesis the main spiritual center of Aissawa. It was founded by Muhammad Ben Aïssâ at the end of the 15th century. Construction resumed three centuries later by the sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah. Often renovated by the Ministry for Habousand the Islamic Affairs and maintained by the municipal services, the sacred place possesses a national and transnational confreric network. The site is open to the public every day of the year. It shelters three principal tombs today: the tomb of the founder "Chaykh Al-Kâmil", the tomb of his disciple Abû-ar-Rawâyil and the tomb of the supposed son of the founder, Aïssâ Al-Mehdi.
brotherhoodof Aïssâwa is always active today and its transnational swarming began at the 18th century. In addition to Morocco, the brotherhood is present in an institutional form in Algeria, in Tunisia, in Libya, in Egypt, in Syriaand Iraq. Many disciples live in a way isolated in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, in the Netherlands, in the USAand Canada.
In theory the confreric
networkis led from the mother- Zaouiain Meknèsby the direct biological descendants of Muhammad Ben Aïssâ. At their head there is Sîdî Allal Aïssâwî, teacher, member of the League of Oulémas of Morocco and Senegal, poet and historian.In Morocco, the brotherhood– the musicians, their ritual and their music - currently enjoy a vogue without similar. In this country the basic cell of the religious order is the tâ `ifa (“group”, “team”) which is presented in the shape of a traditional musical orchestra composed by fifty to twenty disciples. Appeared at the 17th century by appointment of the persons in charge for the mother- Zaouia, the groups of musicians are placed under the authority of a "muqaddem" (“delegate”). There are currently orchestras of the brotherhoodin all Morocco, but those are in a number particularly high in the towns of Fèsand Meknès, placed under the authority of the master [http://myspace.com/aissawa Haj Azedine Bettahi] , leader and very famous sufimusician.
Being the leader of the "muqaddem"-s, [http://myspace.com/aissawa Haj Azedine Bettahi] has under his authority the Aïssâwa "muqaddem"-s following:
*Haj Muhammad 'Azzam
*Haj Saïd El Guissy
*Haj Saïd Berrada
*'Abou Lhaz Muhammad
*Muhammad Ben Hammou
*Haj Hussein Lbaghmi
*Haj 'Abdelhak Khaldun
*Muhammad Ben Chabou
*Mohcine Arafa Bricha
*Nabil Ben Slimane
*Mustapha Ben Ouahchia
*Hadj Ali Al Badawi
*Cheikhuna Hakim Meftah Al Bedri All the Aïssâwa groups animate ceremonies mixing
mysticalinvocations, exorcismand collectives dances of trance.
The Aïssâwa trance ritual : origin and symbolism
Morocco, the ceremonies of the Aïssâwa brotherhoodare domesticals rituals nights (called simply “night”, "lila") organized mainly by Imam Shiekh Boulila (Master of the night) at the request of the women sympathizers. In this country, the women currently make the principal customers of the orchestras of the brotherhood. The Aïssâwa being supposed to bring to people the baraka, the reasons to organize a ceremony are varied : celebration of a Muslim festivity, wedding, birth, circumcision, exorcism, search for cure or contact with the divineone by the extase. The ritual is proposed with identical phases by all the Aïssâwa orchestras and includes mysticalrecitations of Sufi litanies, songs of spiritual poems, an exorcismand a collective dance. The ludicaspects of the ceremony are current and asserted by the participants (laughter, songs, dances) just as the extatic body demonstrations (cries, tears). On the level symbolic system, the ceremony represents the initiatoryadvance of the Sufi: an ascending mysticalvoyage towards God and the Prophet with return on ground. The odyssey crosses at the same time the world of the Human beings and that of the demons jinnto culminate in the higher spheres, point of meeting of the human being and the divineone. According to Aïssawa, this ceremony was not established nor even practised by "Chaykh Al-Kâmil". Some of their think that it appeared at the 17th century under the impulse of an Aïssâwî disciple (Sîdî `Abderrahmân Tarî Chentrî) or at the 18th century under the influence of other Moroccan Sufimasters famous for their extatic practices (Sîdî `Ali Ben Hamdûch or Sîdî Al-Darqâwî). More largely, the actual trance ritualof the Aïssâwa brotherhoodseems to have been establishes progressively through the centuries under triple influences : Sufism, animistbeliefs from pre-Islamic age and urban Arab poetry, like Malhun.
In general Aïssâwa Morrocans stand out of deep intellectual and philosophical speculations about
Sufism, they prefer to attach a great importance to the technicaland estheticaspect of their music, litanies, poetries and ritual dances. They like to consider their ceremony as a space of safeguard of various artistic elements, symbolic system, religious and historic of the Moroccan culture.
The professionalisation of the Aïssâwa musicians
Since the beginning of the 1990s appears in
Moroccoa professionalisation of the trade of ritual musician and a marketing of crowned, phenomenon maintained by the rather favorable attitude the authorities with the moonlightingand the parallel economy. In this context the Aïssâwa orchestras allow the Morrocans to stage to the actual difficult socio economic situation. Indeed, these confreric orchestras set up a moonlightingwhich makes it possible to define a collective interest and to solve new forms of assumption of economic and social responsibility. Today it’s by the commercial diffusion of the musical Sufimusics, songs, psalms(during weddings, festivals, commercials recordings etc) and the trade related to crowned( divination, exorcismetc.) that the Aïssâwa members live their social integration. This phenomenon causes, on the one hand, the appearance of new aestheticstandards (adaptation of the mysticals psalmsfrom the point of view of commercial recordings and concerts), and, on the other hand, the loss of the original sufi doctrine. As, it is clear as the professionalisation causes a severe competition between the orchestras which deteriorates the social link between the disciples.
The writings about Aïssâwa
Many past and contemporary researches were interested about Aïssâwa, this
brotherhoodseems to be of particular interest from the point of view of a study of contours of the religiousin a Muslimsociety. The former writings on the brotherhoodare in French and Arabiclanguages. The first Arab writings concerning Aïssâwa are biographicaland hagiographiccollections written between 14th and 16th century by the Moroccan biographers like Al-Ghazali, Ibn `Askar, Al-Fassi, Al-Mahdi and Al-Kettani. These texts, which can be handwritten or printed, inform us on the one hand of the genealogicaland spiritual filiation of the founder of the order, and, on the other hand, the innumerable wonders supposed report to be realized by him for the benefit of his sympathizers. The contemporary Arab authors who studied the subject are Daoui, Al-Malhouni and Aïssâwî, which is the current "mezwâr" of the brotherhoodin person. Those endeavour to put in perspective the Sufiorder in the cultural and religious tradition of Moroccoby the study of the biography of the founder, his spiritual doctrine and the poetic and liturgicaltexts. The first French writings on Aïssâwa appears in the end of the 19th century following the installation of the colonial administration in the Maghreb. The majority of the authors (at the same time anthropologistsand sociologists) of this time are French. There were Pierre-Jacques André, Alfred Bel, René Brunel, Xavier Depont and Octave Coppolani, Emile Dermenghem, Edmond Doutté, George Drague, Roger Tourneau, louis Rinn (chief of the Central Service of the indigenous Affairs to the Government General in Algeria at the end of the 19th century), Louis Massignonand Edouard Michaux-Bellaire. These last three authors were military officers of the Scientific expedition of the Administration of the Indigenous Affairs and their writings are published in the Moroccan Files and the Review of the Muslim World. Among all these French authors, let us note the presence of a Finnish anthropologist, Edward Westermarck, whose various works are devoted to the analysis of the system of belief and ritualin Morocco. Except these authors with the scientific approach, in Moroccoand Algeria(there has not existed, for this time and so far, no study devoted to Aïssâwa in Tunisia), the ritual practices of Aïssâwa draw the attention and disturb considerably the western observers at the beginning of the 19th century. The brotherhoodis evoked here and there in medical works, monographs, schoolbooks, paintings, tests or accounts of voyages. These various writings transmit texts to the always passion style to us where the contempt for this type of religiosity is recurring. The spiritual dimension of the brotherhood of Aïssâwa at that time is never approached, except by Emile Dermenghem in the famous "Le culte des saints dans l'Islam Maghrebin" (Paris, 1951). Let us recall that these texts of then can only very seldom be neutral. By allotting a non-"muslim" and "archaic" seal to some brotherhoods(like Aïssâwa but also Hamadcha and G naoua), these writings legitimate in a way the French prerogatives on the Maghreb.
Contemporary scientific researches
Some authors of religious history (Jeanmaire) and
ethnomusicology(Gilbert Mullet, Andre Boncourt) are interested as of 1950s and until today in Aïssâwa. It is only after the independence of Morocco(1956) and Algeria(1962) that contemporary social sciencesconsider the subject. Very many articles (Belhaj, Daoui, Hanai, Nabti, Andezian) and thesis(Al Malhouni, Boncourt, Lahlou, El Abar, Sagir Janjar, Nabti) or ethnographicmovies have studied the ritualpractices of Aïssawa in Morocco.
New approaches and prospects
About the Aïssâwa brotherhood and
Sufismin Algeria, the great work of Sossie Andezian is essential and impossible to circumvent. In her book "The Significance of Sufism in Algeria in the aftermath of Independence" (2001), Andezian analyzes the processes of réinvention of ritual acts in a context of sociopolitic movements in Algeria. Her reflexion leads to a dynamic vision of the religious and mystical rites while highlighting the evolution of the links that people, marginalized in the religious sphere, maintains with the official and textual religious institutions. Continuing the reflexion of Andezian, Mehdi Nabti conducted an investigation inside the Aïssâwa brotherhood in Morocco. His thesisof doctorate"The Aïssâwa brotherhood in urban area in Morocco. The socials and rituals aspects of modern sufism" appears like a significant contribution to the socio-anthropology on the current Maghreb. Nabti shows the complex modalities of the inscription of the brotherhood in a Moroccan society leaded by an authoritative government (which try timidly to be liberalized), an endemic unemployment, the development of tourismand the progress of political islamism. While immersing himself as ritual musician within the Aïssâwa orchestras, Mehdi Nabti renews the knowledges about sufismand brings invaluable facts on the structure of the brotherhood, the ritual and the diverses logics of affiliation to a religious traditional organization in a modern muslim society. His work, which offers a remarkable iconographic description, musical scores pointing esotericism symbolismand a DVD documentary, is the greatest sum of knowledge which we currently have on the subject. Mehdi Nabti is also the leader a music orchestra - Aïssâwaniyya - with brings togather french jazzmen and Aïssâwa musicians. The band plays in concert all over the world and gives masterclasses.
Al-Ghazali, "Al-Mukhtassâr"Fact|date=January 2008 (1550)
* Ibn 'Assâkir : Dawhat Al-nâchir li mhâssin man kana bi Al-maghrib min machâykh al-garn al'âchir. Ed : 2. Rabat. 1976. (On the excellent virtues of the sheikhs of the Maghreb in the 10th century, translated in French by A. Graulle, 1913)
Abd al-Rahman al-Fasi(1631-1685), "Ibtihaj al-qulub bi khabar al-Shaykh Abi al-Mahasin wa wa shaykhihi al-Majdhub"
* AL-MAHDI, "Mumatî’ al-asmâ"Fact|date=January 2008 (1336)
* Al-Kettani, "Salâwat al-anfâs" (1898)
* DAOUI, "Mawassim Chaykh al-kâmil baïya al-aws wa al-yawn" (1994)
* AL MALHOUNI, "Adwae ‘ala tasawwuf bî al-maghrib : tarîqa al-Aïsssâwiyya mamuzâjan. Min khilâl chi’r al-malhûn, al-hikâya cha‘biya sufiya, al-muradadât chafâhiya, ‘awayd turuqiyyin." (2003)
* AISSAWI AL-CHAYKH AL-KAMIL, "Sîdî Muhammad ben Aïssa. Tarîqa wa zâwiya wa istimrariyya' (2004)
* ANDEZIAN, "Expériences du divin dans l’Algérie contemporaine" (2001)
* ANDRE, "Contribution à l'étude des confréries religieuses musulmanes " (1956)
* BEL, " La religion musulmane en Berbérie : esquisse d'histoire et de sociologie religieuses" (1938)
* BELHAJ, "La possession et les aspects théâtraux chez les Aïssaouas d’Afrique du Nord" (1996)
* BONCOURT, "Rituel et musique chez les 'Isawa citadins du Maroc" (1980)
* BRUNEL, "Essai sur la confrérie religieuse des Aïssaouas au Maroc" (1926)
* DEPONT & COPPOLANI, "Les confréries religieuses musulmanes" (1897)
* DERMENGHEM, "Le Culte des saints dans l’Islam maghrébin" (1954)
** Essai sur la Hadra des Aïssaoua d’Algérie" (1951)
* DOUTTE, "Magie et religion en Afrique du Nord" (1908)
* DRAGUE, "Esquisse d’histoire religieuse au Maroc. Confréries et Zaouias" (1950)
* ELABAR, " Musique, rituels et confrérie au Maroc : les ‘Issâwâ, les Hamâdcha et les Gnawa" (2005)
* JEANMAIRE, "Dionysos" (1951)
* LAHLOU, "Croyances et manifestations religieuses au Maroc : le cas de Meknès" (1986)
* LE TOURNEAU, "Fès avant le protectorat : Étude économique et sociale d'une ville de l’Occident musulman, 1949. La vie quotidienne à Fès en 1900" (1965)
* MASSIGNON, "Enquête sur les corporations musulmanes d’artisans et de commerçants au Maroc" (1925)
* MICHAUX-BELAIRE, "Les confréries religieuses au Maroc" (1927)
* NABTI, "La confrérie des Aïssâwa en milieu urbain. Les pratiques rituelles et sociales du mysticisme contemporain." (2007)
** "Soufisme, métissage culturel et commerce du sacré. Les Aïssâwa marocains dans la modernité" (2007)
** "La lîla des Aïssâwa du Maroc, interprétation symbolique et contribution sociale" (2006)
* RINN, "Marabouts et Khouan, étude sur l’Islam en Algérie" (1884.)
* ROUGET, "La musique et la transe, " (1951)
* SAGHIR JANJAR, "Expérience du sacré chez la confrérie religieuse marocaine des Isawa : contribution à l'étude de quelques aspects socio-culturels de la mystique musulmane", 1984.
* WESTERMARCK, "Les cérémonies du Mariage au Maroc" (1921)
**"Survivances païennes dans la civilisation mahométane" (1935)
* ANDEZIAN, "The Significance of Sufism in Algeria in the aftermath of Independence" (2001)
* ROUGET, "music and trance" (1951)
* TRIMINGHAM, "The Sufi orders in Islam" (1998)
* WESTERMARCK, "Ritual and belief in Morocco" (1926)
* Some of the researches oh Mehdi Nabti about the Aissawa in
Morocco: [http://confrerieaissawa.free.fr/ Aissawa Brotherhood]
* Muhammad "Bel Haj" Ben Guaddane (Aissawa of Meknes) on Myspace [http://myspace.com/aissawa myspace.com/aissawa]
* Aissawaniyya on Myspace [http://myspace.com/aissawaniyya myspace.com/aissawaniyya]
* The official website of the Aïssâwa
brotherhoodin Algeria: [http://www.elaissaouiarzew.org www.elaissaouiarzew.org]
* Aissawa Music Streaming Collection in
Morocco: [http://www.marocaudio.com/index.php?page=1&p=Aissawa at marocaudio.com]
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