Several years ago when I read the Fez, City of Islam, Titus Burckhardt’s masterpiece on the ancient city in Morocco it left me wanting more of the story of Fez. He captured a compelling sense of serene spirituality which was had to believe existed in the world not long ago in the best part of last century.
So when my chance came to walk the similar streets and pathways of Fez experiencing what Titus Burckhardt must have seen and experienced it, it was not surprising then that I cliched it with both hands..
Our journey began on the morning of Sunday 10/5/15 where the brothers who were travelling gathered themselves in Hyde Zawiyah eagerly awaiting the journey ahead. It was as usual marked by the delays of some, strolling in at leisure at the dismay of others. Adding to the excited chatter and anticipation was the noticeable difference of the calm and cool morning breeze stroking pasty the standing seekers every so often, adding to the eccentric ambiance of the group. Having counted heads and then made the final checks and balances people took saw to get themselves seated in the coach, which had been waiting long before majority of the people had even arrived had arrived at the agreed place of departing. Fez, the city of Islam is by no means a newcomer to the throngs of pilgrims making the sacred journey to its ancient and affluent spiritual centres. The Sufi tradition is the very fabric and bone of the entire county of Morocco the focal point being city of Fez. It is historic, meteoric in its influence on culture and society, intricate in its details with elaborate mosaics which gracefully cover almost every Riad (guest house) and bed and breakfast. The Spanish-moorish style villas standing as singular sentry in sparse areas of houses are the 21st century addition to the early 17th century by gone era of buildings which build up as the city changes from the new to the old Fez. The city is known as the jewel, the Kohinoor, in the crown of Sufi circles. Historically and more importantly Fez has seen a reassurance in establishing itself as the guardian of the classical spiritual teachings of Islam. A claim fez can rightly make, considering the vast number of Saints and sages to have originated from fez.
Flying Manchester took three and a half hours at the end of which we arrived at the in-your-face heat that said welcome to the African heat. Even though it was nearing magrib Andre sun having decided to end it’s shift and rest, the temp was still hitting double figures in mid 20s. Reports are it intensities to a painful 35-38 degrees dutknf the daylight hours. By 10:30pm and touching 11pm we finally made it to the Riad but not without seeing the night life of Fez, not that there was any being an Islamic country. One of the major features was the age old fortress like walls surrounding the city which are one of the main cause for Fez to becoming a UNESCO world heritage site.The city has two old medinas, the larger of which is Fes el Bali. It is believed to be one of the world’s largest car-free urban areas.
The new Fez, being the modern developed part of the city has a greater number of built up areas, street lightening, hustle and bustle of people, the show of cars with its Mac Donald’s and Subways is clearly where the elites, those fortunate to have money, like to go and have a good time. As soon as our air-conditioned couch reached the gateway to the old part of the city of Fez there was as expected the differences which marks out the new and old Fez( Streets littered with uncollected rubbish, cracked curbs, pavements and the lpwer street lightening all were the indicators that the old Fez is old. It is some what a reflection of the ummah in that in search of the worldly life Muslims have left the spiritual side to its bare skeleton becoming far removed from the luxurious soul enriching spiritual live they once had. However, it has it’s advantages, this is the part which brings in thcrowds of people both Muslim seekers and inquisitive non Muslims interested in the Islamic Sufi teachings and architectures. One thing the old Fez proudly boasts of is Its Islamic architectures and history. Not only is it a tourist hotspot but this is where the soul of Fez is. The saints and sages laid to rest centuries before are the scenes of attractions which draws in people. To prove this point further, as we entered the ancient city founded by the great descendant of the Prophet sallahualihiwasalam himself, Mawlay Idris RA two coaches full of tourists entered, eyes and ears eagerly consuming all the foreign details of the city.
In the close of day one and after the long journey, empty stomachs and tired bodies, and having offered our esha, there was only one thing that came next and as a surprise to some- the three course meal – leaving the tired eyes to simply close once the meal was over.