One of the great traditions of Islam is what is referred to as “tabaqat” literature. It is essentially biographical material that highlights the lives and qualities of the great sages, scholars, ascetics, and saints of Islam. The earliest biographical literature, such as Ibn S’ad’s Tabaqat, pertains to the lives of the Prophet’s Companions. The benefit of reading such literature is feeling one’s own meager existence when compared with the luminaries of the past; it also rouses ourselves from our heedlessness in order to set out as those before us, who left, for those to follow, their footprints on that ancient and well-trodden path of purification and ensuing illumination. In light of this, I hope to share with my readers certain highlights and qualities I have witnessed and come to know of in the people whom God has blessed me with knowing and benefitting from. The primary purpose here is to let those who have not been afforded such opportunities, but still love to hear the stories of the righteous, experience vicariously their presence. The scholars say, “When the righteous are remembered, grace descends.” That such luminaries still exist is testimony to the continued spiritual power and effectiveness of our Prophet’s teaching, peace and blessings of God be upon him. God has blessed this community with such men and women until the end of time, and even in this dark time of spiritual sloth and vanity they nurture those who come to know and love them. When the pleasures and the pastimes of the ego have blinded so many of us from the path of purity and piety that leads to salvation and sanctification, they reveal themselves as cogent reminders to those who will listen that the world is temporal, fleeting as dissipating before our very eyes and we too shall follow.
The first is that of the great Moroccan sage, scholar, and saint, Sidi Fudul al-Huwari. Though we make no claims about people’s ranks with God – as God alone knows the hearts – rather, we assume their high spiritual station from our good opinion of them based upon their outward noble character and exemplary piety.
Born around the turn of the twentieth century, Sidi Fudul al-Huwari grew up in Fes and served as an imam in the large mosque next to Bab Boujloud, and also taught Ibn Ashir and other basic texts in the Bou Inania Mosque.
In 1978, when he was still quite vibrant and able to teach, I visited him for the first time. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was the beginning of a powerful and wonderful relationship that would last for over twenty years and leave an indelible mark on me that I feel to this day. On that first visit, he explained how, from being a barely literate craftsman, he became an imam and a scholar: One day while still in his teens and busy at his job in a shop, a shaykh, whom he had seen on many occasions walking to the Qarawiyyin, stopped and stood outside his workplace, watching him. Eventually Sidi Fudul realized he was being watched; the shaykh then asked the shop’s keeper if the young man could come with him. The man obliged, and the shaykh took Sidi Fudul to the Qarawiyyin and instructed him to sit in the outer circle and simply listen. The shaykh explained that not much would make sense to him but to be patient. He did this for some time, and, soon enough, the lessons did begin to make sense. After many years of study, Sidi Fudul became a scholar in his own right. The shaykh’s name was Sidi Muhammad bin al-Habib, and Sidi Fudul later became his leading student and a commentator of his diwan of mystical poetry. Sidi Fudul was himself a poet of some note.
On one visit, he gave me the original handwritten manuscripts of his commentaries on his shaykh’s diwan, which I still treasure. He also gave me a teaching license (ijazah) in person, orally, and then later had his student, Maulay Hasan Lamdaghari, send me a written one. Sidi Fudul was given the mantle of his own shaykh and was recognized as a spiritual adept but declined to accept it. He once told me, “I know my limits, and I could never fill the shoes of Shaykh Ibn al-Habib.”
Shaykh Bennani, a great scholar and qadi from Fes, told me, “Sidi Fudul is not one of the great scholars. His outward knowledge, while competent, is not vast like the great scholars, but he knows what most of the great scholars do not. He knows his Lord.” By contemporary standards, however, he is a notable scholar of the later part of the twentieth century. He loved to comment on the Qur’an, and had a special affinity for the Verse of Light, which he commented on countless times, always with new insights. His lectures on Ibn Ashir were some of the most well-attended and popular lectures in Fes among common people.
Sidi Fudul was a beautiful man, who symbolized a Morocco that is fast disappearing. He was a true gentleman, erudite, learned, forbearing, and above all, he was in a constant state of submission to his Lord. He once lamented to me that modern-day Morocco had drifted far from the Islam of their past, and he warned me of the new trends of Islamic revival, which he saw as having more to do with politics than with the spiritual center of Islam. In his earlier life, Sidi Fudul had been active in the politics of Fes, driven not by the utopian fantasies of some modern Islamists but rather by a sense of civic duty. He once said to me, “Calling other Muslims innovators is an innovation.”
Once, late in his life, I visited him when he was in a coma, lying on his bed. He had lost both his hearing and sight at this stage. His daughter, Fatima, at that time in her seventies, was looking after him. We greeted him, and Maulay Hasan said to me, “He cannot hear anymore.”
At that point, Sidi Fudul spoke up: “Give me a moment. I am coming to visit.”
A few minutes later, he asked to be helped to sit upright, and we complied. He then asked for his eyeglasses. Fatima brought them and put them on for him. He suddenly opened his eyes wide, scanned the room, and proclaimed, “Yasin!” He then began to recite Sura Yasin, the thirty-sixth chapter of the Qur’an. We all joined him in the recitation. When we finished, he began to tell us of wonders he had been experiencing in his state. He also conveyed to us that he had exhausted all of the demons and that they had given up on sowing doubt in his heart about his Lord. This memory of my last meeting with Sidi Fudul forever abides in my heart.
Sidi Fudul spent his life acquiring and then teaching the sciences of Islam. He was a well-respected scholar in Fes and present at the gatherings of notables. He had a gentle character, and should your eye fall upon his face, you were reminded of your Lord. His tongue was always moist with the remembrance of God, and he always had time for anyone who needed advice or to know a legal ruling. He had a small spice shop in the market near his house, and he could be found there reciting Qur’an or reading a book of knowledge while waiting for his provision. Shaykh Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki, the great Meccan scholar, whenever he visited Morocco, would always visit Sidi Fudul in his house in Fes. Just as birds of a feather flock together, saints find sanctuary in one another’s company.
Copyright: From the forthcoming book, Meetings with Mountains, by Peter Sanders. www.petersanders.com