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Abderrahman, El Majdoub

Dictionary of African Biography

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Abderrahman, El Majdoub (1506–1568),  

Moroccan troubadour poet and Sufi figure, was born in 1506 in the village of Tit near the city of Azemmour. He is also known as al-Shaykh Abu Zayd Abderrahman al-Majdoub Ibn Ayyad Ibn Yaacub Ibn Salama Ibn Khashan al-Sanhaji al-Dukkali and as al-Majdoub; his contemporaries nicknamed him El Majdoub. He moved with his father to Meknès in 1508. His father was a renowned Sufi trained by al-Shaykh Ibrahim Afham al-Zarhuni, a disciple of al-Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq. Zarruq was a North African Sufi who lived through the fifteenth-century Marinid religious turmoil. He called for new interpretations of Islam based on juridical sainthood that stressed religious form. Accordingly, Zarruq asked Sufi authorities of Fez to avoid opportunistic notions of jihad that scapegoat some Muslims in order to increase the accusers’ political status. Abderrahman El Majdoub was influenced indirectly by some of Zarruq’s ideas regarding the nature and role of Sufi authorities in the context of political turmoil and economic decline.

During Zarruq’s period, a Sufi community called the “mad holy people of Fez” had a large influence on society and attracted a large number of common people in the context of the political decline of the Marinid dynasty. These Sufis were known as majdoubs. As holy madmen, it was believed that the capacity of reasoning of the majdoubs is disjointed by their attraction to God. In this state of madness, their routine personality was disrupted, although they were thought to have the capacity to perform miracles in public. Majdoubs were not crazy; they were simply in a state of possession that allowed them to point to the truth. Zarruq was critical of these holy madmen, yet, as a shaykh, he managed to attract some of them as his religious disciples. Al-Shaykh Ibrahim Afham al-Zarhuni, a former majdoub, was one of his famous disciples. As the Iberians began to invade the Moroccan coasts and the Wattasids failed to curb their military conquest, the majdoubs of Fez and Meknès aligned themselves with the emerging Saʿdian dynasty and the Jazzuliya brotherhood. Ali Sanhaji, Abu Rawayin, and Sayyida Amina were some of the majdoubs who led this revolt against the Wattasids, opening the doors for the Saʿdian control of Fez in 1549. It is in this period that Abderrahman El Majdoub would emerge as a famous Sufi intellectual in Meknès. El Majdoub had a strong religious relationship with Amina, who saw him as her spiritual brother. El Majdoub established a new Sufi community that combined Sufi ideas from Zarruq and the holy madmen. However, his movement was more influenced by Jazzuli notions of Sufi authority than Zarruq’s legal reformism. That is, El Majdoub applied the juridical interpretation stressed by Zarruq but rejected his disdain of Sufi sainthood. This social movement would be known as the Tariqa Zarruqiyya al-Majdoubiyya. As a Sufi El Majdoub never lived the life of the holy madmen; instead, he married and had children.

Abderrahman El Majdoub was educated in Meknès before he moved to Fez. There is little information about his intellectual life in Fez. However, while in Fez he attended religious circles organized by Ali Sanhaji, himself a disciple of Zarruq. In Meknès Abu Rawayin, al-Shaykh Ahmad al-Shabih, al-Shaykh Said Ibn Abi Bakr al-Mishnazaʾi, al-Shaykh Abd al-Haq al-Zaliji, and al-Shaykh Sayyidi Umar al-Khatab al-Zarhun Abderrahman were some of his teachers. By looking at the intellectual genealogy of his teachers, it is clear that El Majdoub was influenced largely by Zarruq’s social and intellectual movement through Ali Sanhaji and the Jazzuli brotherhood through Umar al-Khatab al-Zarhuni. In this context and given the religious connections between the al-Zarruqiya and al-Jazzuliyya movements, El Majdoub was a Shadhili.

El Majdoub’s poetry was about political, moral, and social issues. His Diwan Sidi Abderrahman El Majdoub (Collected Poems) provides his mystical views on love, death, emotions, women, science, education, religion, age, etc. El Majdoub is known throughout North Africa and Morocco in particular for his poetry, which was so popular that it became part of the daily proverbs of Moroccan society. He was not only a mystic but a social reformer who lived the life of a troubadour whose main concern was to raise social awareness about the issues that faced his society.


De Premare, A. L. Sidi ʿAbd Er-Rahman El Mejdoub: Mysticisme populaire, société et pouvoir au Maroc au 16è siècle. Paris: Éditions du CNRS, 1985.Find this resource:

    Kugle, Scott. Rebel between Spirit and Law: Ahmad Zarruq, Sainthood, and Authority in Islam. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

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