Female Saints in Morocco: Part 1

In the Islamic world, there is a well-known adage that says ‘’if the Orient is the land of prophets, then the Occident is a land where saints lived’’. The saying means by Occident, the land where Arabs thought that the sunset, on the land of the edge of the known world: Morocco. Islam, as the two previous Abrahamic religions, admits sainthood and considers saints as devoted, faithful, and loyal worshipers chosen by God that has been marked with a divine favor as a reward to their loyalty. That’s what Orthodox Sunni Islam says but in Morocco it’s a whole other world. A world that the orthodox qualify as a heretic and blasphemous. The cult of saints in Morocco has been a part of the Islamic beliefs since the Mohametean religion came with the first Arabs. The natives were mostly pagan and when they were converted to Islam, they took their old beliefs with them. That’s what explains some of the practices that we still see in a society done as a part of Islamic religion while that’s not the case. All of this has enlightened some of the origins of the cult of saints in Morocco. The country of more than one thousand saints. Starting by the old city of Chengdu, all the way South, to the Andalusian dove Tetouan in North passing by the white Atlas Mountains, the wind city Essaouira, the red walls Marrakech, old Anfa, prestigious Sale, ancient Fes, and vast Tafilalt. Each region has its protectors and each city or country is devoted to a saint. It’s not just a dead body inhumane but it’s a spirit that lived and symbolized, their stories, their relics, and tombs are more than practices to be healed, be rich, or just to be relieved of some mental torments. The saint is either a man or a woman, but, mostly, the man just that the women who exist aren’t just saints but also symbols of the independence of women in a time when it was hard for a daughter of Eve to talk loudly.

Tragic love: Aicha of Bagdad

It’s quite rare to find a Moroccan who doesn’t know the sanctuary of Lalla Aicha Bahria – Saint Aicha the sea woman- on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean near Azemour. Many stories, many legends, many rituals near this sanctuary. The most known legend and, I qualify it as a poetic version too, says that Aicha is an Arab maiden from Bagdad, she fell in love with Saint Bouchaib when he was in her city studying. He too fell in love with her and asked the parents of Aicha to marry her but for some reason, they refused. Broken, he returned to Azemour but she didn’t surrender. She ran from the Orient, leaving her city, family, and life behind, and took a ship to Azemour. She had only a few kilometers in front of her, only a few hours to meet her love, the destiny has spoken and the ship drowned. The maiden died and her beloved vowed himself to God and took a vow of virginity till the end of his days. Aicha of Bagdad became then a Saint, a saint of love, she who blesses the love between two pure persons.

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