The Fire of Desert Folk/Chapter 10
THE ISLAMIC FLAME
AGAIN we were in Fez el-Bali, htot under the rays of the summer sun and burning with the ardor of the Faith. Hafid, paying no heed to the temperature, led us through narrow streets beneath the balconies of homes of the rich, hurried us past all the shops in the suks and revealed clearly through the fire in his own eyes that he was anxious to show us something which had more than a passing interest for him as well.
As we finally came in sight of a high, square minaret, surmounted by a rounded dome and decked with gilded balls, Hafid whispered with unconcealed enthusiasm:
"This is the minaret of the most important mosque and greatest medersa in the city, Kairween. It is our most noted university, possessing the ablest professors in the land and counting the greatest number of students. The other universities have their eminent teachers in certain spheres of learning, but none of them boasts such a faculty as ours, among whom are the highest authorities in every branch of our science. The council of professors is the supreme authority in all religious and scientific disputes, to which even the authorities in Egypt, Turkey and Syria turn for advice. Oh! If only I might join the ranks of the students in Kairween!"
"Perhaps we shall meet one of the professors, as we are visiting the university," I observed.
"Alas, that cannot be, for here the law of horm, forbidding men of another faith to enter its holy precincts, is strictly observed."
However, that favor of Chance which always seems to help me in life did not desert me in Fez, as the proprietor of an antique-shop which we later visited presented me to one of these very professors, who was with him at the time. My knowledge of the souls of Eastern men and some little acquaintance with the various questions of religion succeeded in winning the confidence of the Moslem scholar, so that he not only remained and indulged in a long conversation but also helped me to purchase a very old and beautiful copy of the Koran. To buy a sacred Moslem book is not an easy or an entirely secure performance—but this all occurred some days later.
In the meantime, Hafid, guiding us through labyrinthine streets that encircled the place, gave us an opportunity to survey the walls and to look through the various gates and doors affording vistas of the great Moslem temple and seat of learning. But we could only gaze in and listen to the stories of Hafid and of a very intelligent muezzin, with whom I established a useful credit-balance by the gift of a silver franc, which at once converted him into a talkative rival of Hafid for our favor. His account of the place ran thus:
At the time of the Idrises, Fatma ben Mohammed el-Fehri, a rich and God-fearing woman who belonged to a Berber tribe from Kairwan, erected in 859 a small mosque with a well which exists to the present day. The sister of Fatma, Miriam, built another temple, the mosque El-Andaluse, in the quarter inhabited by Andalusian Moors. Up to the conquest of Maghreb by the Zenata emirs the mosque of Fatma remained in its original state, until in 918 the Zenatas enlarged the building and added greatly to its ornamentation.
Thirty-eight years later the pious Ahmed Abu Beker, the vice-regent and architect of Sultan Abd er-Rahman, Caliph of Andalusia, again made certain important changes in the plan and structure of the mosque, erected the square minaret and placed numerous blue enamel inscriptions in various parts of the edifice. The chroniclers of the Merinides period recorded and thus preserved for future generations the text of the inscriptions of this pious and humble architect, who not only executed this beautiful work, so agreeable unto Allah, but also paid for it with the ransoms which he had received for the Christian slaves and captives that had been brought to the Berber capital. Pointing to the gilded balls above the dome of the minaret, the muezzin then added:
"The holy architect placed on the summit of his minaret the point of the sword of Idris II and on this he fastened a golden apple, set with diamonds, pearls and turquoises, thus gaining for the city the blessing and protection of the spirit of this holy Imam who had founded the town. Then Kairween at the time of Sultan Yusuf ben Abd el-Hakk was again renovated, ornamented with new carvings and enlarged by the addition of extensions such as the chapel where the talismans brought from the Ganges were placed—a golden bird with a scorpion in its beak, which kept rats from the mosque, and a sphere made from an unknown stone, whose presence killed every snake that came in whatsoever manner within the walls of Kairween. In that age this was a very useful talisman, as there were frequent cases of the killing of political or religious adversaries by means of poisonous serpents."
At this point the jealous Hafid interrupted the tale of the muezzin.
"And when the rulers of the Almoravide dynasty began a formidable enlargement and beautification of Kairween, workmen engaged in excavating for the construction of one of the principal gates uncovered an old vault. Thinking that it contained treasure, they broke into it but found that it held only a stone basin of fresh, cool water in which an immense tortoise was living. As the animal's growth throughout the centuries had carried it beyond the width of the incurving brim, the workers found it impossible to remove the tortoise and so sealed up the vault and left it there, where Allah had provided it, in the flowing stream, with all that was requisite for its life. Though partially destroyed by fire, Kairween was later rebuilt and became the last word in its display of art and wealth. Poets composed beautiful verses on the mosque and the medersa, while the Faithful were ever overawed by the richness and splendor of the temple.
"When the Almohades seized the power in Maghreb, the council of Imams and scholars in Fez, uncertain as to what course the victors might follow, spread paper and whitewash over the gilded walls and the ceilings set with enamel and precious stones. But to the great relief of the city, the Almohades sent here their most skilled architects, Abd Allah ben Daoud and Abu Imran Musa, who flanked the principal court with marble tablets, polished as mirrors, constructed a beautiful basin for ritual ablutions, and added lovely fountains and a beautiful marble window with fine tracery and an inscription glorifying our Lord Mahomet"
The old manuscript Rawd el-Kirtas describing just this period in the life of the mosque and the medersa, speaks of two hundred seventy pillars forming sixteen aisles with twenty-one arches each, of the space within the mosque for twenty-three thousand of the Faithful, of seventeen doors leading to the interior of the temple and of the pulpit which was made from rare and artistically carved woods and from which prophets, astrologers and wise ulema addressed the people and their rulers. In the sixteenth century, when Leo Africanus visited and described it, the temple was no less splendid. He noted that many of the sciences were taught within the medersa from the hour of sunrise until after midnight, with only short intervals for prayer, and also that the buildings housed an immense library of twenty thousand volumes, of which only seventeen hundred now remain.
As we wandered round it, we peeped into the forbidden enclosure through the gates, through every possible aperture and even over the wall from the terrace of the Meshabia medersa. In this way we beheld the beautiful entrance leading in from the court where the silver stream of the fountain murmurs its continual blessing. The massive parts of this gate were adorned with stucco reliefs of acanthus leaves and arabesques, most ingenious and delicate, and with brilliantly colored inscriptions in majolica. We could see also the two pavilions with heavy, pyramidal, green roofs with their carved cedar cornices and their supporting columns of creamy, aged marble, under the shadow of which the Faithful were performing their ritual ablutions. Thus the Idrisides, Almoravides, Almohades, Merinides and the sultans from the Saadi family all left something after them that forever attached their names to the walls of Kairween. Above all its beauty, as we saw it, stretched the flaming tent of the sky, while around it in the maze of commercial streets encircling its walls was the noise and movement of the outer world's life.
Kairween attracted me as strongly as Bab el-Maroukh, and I returned to it several times with the half hope that something would occur which would give me the opportunity to penetrate into this temple of the faith and science of Islam. However, nothing happened to cause a breach of the law of horm—that is, an actual breach of it, though in spirit I did transgress it, for I succeeded in learning much that went on within its walls and that is usually withheld from the knowledge of those without the Faith.
It came about through the meeting, mentioned above, with the mullah in the antique-shop, who turned out to be a professor in Kairween. As we sat drinking the heavily sweetened tea and chatting over the lighter subjects that sprang from selecting a beautifully bound copy of the Koran, Hafid, in his role of interpreter to a scholar, and even a Marabout, beamed with happiness and, with the master of the house, kissed the holy man's hand or the hem of his bournous as often as it could be gracefully done.
My new-found friend answered my questions with the information that the university has fifty-two ulema, or teachers, and six hundred tholba, or students, from every part of North Africa. Though most of these are from seventeen to twenty years of age, some much older men also come to the institution to study. As there is no fixed period for a course and no restrictions upon the length of time a student may remain, a thaleb often continues in the institution from fifteen to twenty years and sometimes even longer. With the exception of the rich seekers after knowledge the students dwell together in dark, dirty cells, receive a small daily allowance of bread from the administration and live the life of beggars, almost always hungry and in rags both winter and summer. They work in shops or cafés and with tanners, weavers, carpenters and dyers, struggling with the phantom of death by starvation, which ever hovers round them. This seems to be the inevitable fate of students the world over, yet it does not prevent these beggars from becoming rich in wisdom, as witness Copernicus, Newton, Pasteur, Helmholz and Metchnikoff; or from becoming saints, like Abu Median el-Andalosi of Tlemsen.
In support of the persistence of this idea of student poverty in Fez, Hafid, laughing gaily over the fate of his kind, told us of the visit of a student to a merchant
"Who is knocking?" asked the master of the house.
"It is I, Ibrahim ben Ibn, a student," answered the guest. "I bring a letter from the worthy Sidi's partner."
"Slave," called the master of the house, "quickly bring in a bowl of food—a student has come!"
To enter the university one need only know al-lugha sufficiently to be able to read the Koran. This higher institution will give him the rest of his education, imparting this wisdom in the most primitive way. The professor sits on a slightly raised dais and does all his teaching from memory alone, reciting passages from the Koran and from the law, or shariat. The students listen to the words of the professor and endeavor to memorize them, often loudly repeating the verses after him but never making any notes or using the manuscripts or books which lie decaying in the libraries. Thus everything depends upon the memory and industrious attention of the student.
The first step in tire teaching program deals with the theology of Islam and its traditions as set forth in the Hadith, which is in reality an extra-Koran collection of the words of the Prophet that were recorded in the minds of his contemporaries and handed down to posterity as a compendium of the accounts of his life and of his judgments on the phenomena of earthly existence. Following this the students are instructed in the laws of the Koran and of morality, in rhetoric, in the recitation of the ritual, in the grammar of al-lugha, in religious literature and madih, or sacred poetry, in metaphysics, in logic, in astrology, in the magic appertaining to the name sof Allah and to figures, in the mysterious science of the manufacture of talismans, in the influence of good and bad spirits upon the fate of man, in the principles of medicine, in the history and aims of religious sects and confraternities and in the lives of the saints.
While talking of the sciences taught in Kairween, the professor unconsciously turned the conversation into the channels that most interested him. From his talk I discovered that the learned teachers of the medersa often revert to the century-long dispute between the Sunnites and the Shiites regarding the descendants of Mahomet and the proper succession to the caliphate, that is, the religious and moral direction of the Moslem world. They occupy themselves with critical studies of the Hadith, looking for apochryphal passages. When referring to the well-known works of the Arabian scholars, Avenzoar, Averroës, Aviocenna, Abu'l-Kasim, Rashi and others, he spoke also of the revered magi, Jafar and Hermes el-Monshelleth, whom Edmond Doutté identifies as Hermes Trismegistus of Iflatoun, who was none other than Plato, and of Aristotalis, that is, Aristotle, whose theories formed a part of the system of Moslem science. These learned men of the faculty also study the theosophists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, such as Sohraverdi and Ibn el-Arabi, and read mystic and vulgar poets, among them Omar Khayyám, Hafiz and Omar el-Feridh.
"In what are the scholars of the faculty in Kairween particularly interested at present?" I asked the mullah in a pause.
"Of what nation are you?" he came back at me, question for question. When I began to explain to him the location of Poland, he interrupted with:
"Ah … Ah! That is Russia." My further attempts netted no better result, for the mullah only strengthened his previous assertion.
"That is the same thing, just as it is with us. Berbers of different tribes are always Berbers."
I was on the point of making further efforts at clarification, when the professor again interrupted with a statement that awakened my deepest curiosity.
"Now I shall tell you something which is a bond between you and ourselves," he said with the light of intense interest in his eyes. "A prophet existed, called Abd Allah, whom some maintained to be a true prophet, while others held him as false. Of himself he spoke as an unrevealed Imam, adding that the span of humanity is divided into eight periods, during each one of which a prophet is born, a prophet-messenger of Allah. Six of these periods have already passed and have counted their six prophets, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mahomet Abd Allah proclaimed himself the Messiah of the seventh period. A year ago a letter from the Imams of the Russian Moslems was circulated in Maghreb, in which it was stated that we were to recognize the advent of the eighth period with the coming of the eighth prophet, or Messiah, Lenine, whose spiritual substitute in Africa was Abd el-Krim. This leader is to begin a Holy War that is to separate forever the Faithful from the unbelievers and to divide the earth into two parts, a pure one, where Islam shall flourish, and an impure one, the lands of the rumis (Europeans). It is to be accomplished in seven years and three weeks. Among the ulema of other Moslem countries there are many who accept this message and believe it has a serious and true character, while others, especially among our group here, are of a different mind, as Abd Allah was certainly a heretic and a political adventurer."
"And what do you, Imam, think about the eighth period and the new Messiah?" I asked, as I nonchalantly lighted a cigarette, in order not to betray my emotion and curiosity. The mullah sat thinking profoundly, but, after a long silence, responded:
"I think that the time has come for all peoples to be free, to live their own life according to their particular faith and laws. Such a time has surely come, Sidi."
"I do not understand about what people the worthy scholar is speaking, as a great many nations believe in the Prophet."
The Kairween professor made a long answer to my query, from which I understood that for Islam Moslem nationalism does not exist. It recognizes only Moslems in one or another country with but slight differences in their specific moral laws. There is no such thing as pan-Arabism for an Arab, a Berber or a fellah; but they all foster and recognize a religious patriotism, which, in explosion, becomes a pan-Islamism and then overspreads and envelops the various Islamic peoples inhabiting the vast stretches of the earth from the Pacific and Indian Ocean westward to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. I further gathered that the propaganda for liberation flows into Maghreb from Turkey, Egypt and Tripolitania and also, to my great astonishment, from Paris, though the professor did not indicate the exact sources and perhaps himself knew nothing about these. It was likewise clear to me that my interlocutor was a partisan neither of violent change nor of Holy War, but that he hoped the white race would properly evaluate the situation and come to understand the psychology of Islam and would consequently direct the course of events into other and more tranquil channels. Referring to this he added: "Such thoughts are germinating deeply in the souls of the Faithful, and everybody is waiting to see what the white race will do here, in Egypt, in India and in all those parts of the Moslem world where they look upon us as dying peoples and refuse to recognize in us the powerful fire which lights our spiritual life."
The scholar was terrified at the thought of war, which had already begun in Egypt, in parts of Syria and in Spanish Morocco. He told me that the unrest among the scattered tribes in the south of French Morocco and the revolt in the north cannot be taken to be disconnected phenomena but are instigated and controlled from one or two general centers, for staffs directing the Moslem movement for liberty and superintending the general Holy War are located in Anatolia, Kurdistan, Egypt and the Spanish Rif. The watchwords of pan-Islamism and of political communism become strangely mixed in these staff headquarters, but the agents of both currents work together. Partisans of the Holy War have great hope in Abd el-Krim, who has already distinguished himself in the fighting against the Spaniards. Many Moslem officers who have gone through the military academy for Moslems in Russia are known to be in his army, while agents spreading propaganda against the white race can be met in every corner of the country. Yet these agents restrain the most hot-headed among the fanatical followers of the Prophet from irresponsible and bootless attempts, advising rather the formation of organized units that will be ready for concerted action whenever a general movement may be proclaimed.
All this that the mullah told me in Fez I later verified in other places in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia through talks with natives and colonists. Also I learned accidentally that a Moslem congress took place at Baku on September 8th, 1920, under the aegis of Russia and in the presence of Enver Pasha, in the deliberations of which three delegates from French North Africa, sent by a native organization in Paris, as well as eight delegates from Egypt participated. While I was still north of the Mediterranean, I likewise learned that Amanullah Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan, had accepted the conception of the early prophet, Abd Allah, and had recognized Lenine as the Messiah of the eighth historic period, regarding himself as the Messiah's vice-regent in Asia.
Before he finished, the mullah of Kairween said with real sadness and impressive seriousness:
"The white men have in their Holy Writ the principle of love for their fellow-men, but this has remained only in writing. Verily, what are you doing among yourselves in your own countries? You drown your soil in blood, you perpetrate hideous crimes, you kill the divine spirit in you with your fighting for gold, for luxury and for power over other peoples. Each nation ought to live according to the law which Allah gave to it, a law that resides in the soul. One nation ought to help another and not persecute it. Your faith has drifted far away from the precepts of the Prophet Aïssa, as the strong in your land persecute the weak, the rich dominate the poor and your scholars despise the illiterate. In your country every man is the enemy of every other; every one is compelled by the conditions of life to struggle interminably for existence and therefore each envies the other, seeing in him a competitor, an enemy, a persecutor. Nothing unites you, neither a common faith, rigid morals nor science. These states are as a building made without cement, with no binding power between the individual stones that compose them. You have ravaged one another in a war which has terrified the non-Christian world with its unimaginable crimes, its cruelty and its blind madness. The fabric of your states has been rent asunder, families and societies have been broken up, and you cannot rise up to indulge again in the madness of strife. You came to the colored peoples with words of simulated love—and what have you done? You have regarded and used us not as men but as cattle, necessary to the accomplishment of your aims. You thought that you could do what you wished with us, could take from us our lands and the results of our toil, could change our customs and faith, so as to be able to make of us slaves, without rights and obedient to you, because we were weak, hungry, illiterate and consequently powerless in the face of your science, your machines, your carbines and your cannon. But we also have our science, a spiritual science, while yours is that of the material.
"Now you seek to take from us our moral leader and abolish the caliphate, raising by your action a storm of intrigue and ill will. When we protest, you laugh; but we believe that all which we possess is the gift of Allah. In our Holy Book Allah ordered us to defend the caliphate. The white man believes that the strength of the mailed fist is a sufficient argument to overcome our faithfulness to Islam. Do you think that we are animals and can understand such reasoning only? Do you yourselves understand anything else? What have we to do now? We are waiting for you to change your ideas regarding us, to realize that you must alter your politics and relations toward us. If this does not come about, I am not sure that there is anywhere an individual or an organization throughout the Moslem countries that will have power enough to stay the explosion among the followers of the Prophet"
As the mullah was delivering himself of these strong feelings, I was trying to think where I had heard or read similar arguments. Had not Rabindranath Tagore written the same thoughts? Did not the Indian Moslem delegation voice the same in 1920 when it arrived in London to discuss the question of the caliphate? However my memory may have served me, I heard the argument delivered in unmistakable sincerity there in Fez el-Bali near the old medersa—and the French Staff!
"Since my arrival in Africa," I rejoined to the mullah, "I have nowhere seen persecution of the natives by the local authorities. On the contrary, it seems to me that France has, to a marked degree, a psychological policy that takes into consideration and builds for a future in which the population of the country will be able to share in the Western civilization, adapt its cult to the new life and collaborate with Europe."
"Yes," he answered without more than a moment's thought, "Marshal Lyautey, Governor Steeg and others among the French officials are wise administrators, who do not offend the feelings of the Moslems; but for the previous mistakes of France and of other nations the whole white race will have to pay. It is difficult to keep judgment based on sound reason in a moment of upheaval. You are for us of an alien temperament, as your spirit becomes the slave of the body and the feeling of divine justice has been transformed in you into something that will explain and justify your crimes. Riches have been made the aim of your life, gold your god. You gain wealth by the hands of slaves, forcing them into silence, humility and toil for you alone. Your quarrels, wars and mutual deceits have stripped the mask from the Christian face, your lips have uttered false words of love, and your hands launch deadly arrows and forge chains. You are unwilling to realize that the time has come when the great spirit of liberty moves from one end of the earth to the other, visiting each house, looking into the smallest tent and everywhere calling the people to rise and receive their heritage.
"When the world of the yoked ones shall be free, then it will be decided according to the Divine Law what we are to take from your civilization and how we are to give to it of our spirit. Then the era of peace and happiness will reign throughout the earth."
The scholar had worked himself up to such a pitch of feeling that he abandoned all caution, while our host, the merchant, was momentarily more filled with concern and, as soon as the mullah had left, led me back from the door to the interior of the shop and whispered:
"It was the mullah who spoke. I was silent. Remember well, Sidi, that I was silent throughout it all."
Hafid was also a little afraid and spoke with feeling, as we left the shop:
"You saw that the merchant lowered the blinds and locked the door when the alem began to speak so wildly. He gave vent to evil thoughts, very evil indeed."
"But I presume he spoke only as people here think."
"Not all, sir, not all," he warmly protested, looking almost beseechingly into my eyes.
After this talk among Moorish antiquities and beautiful Koran bindings I was depressed and could not shake off the strong impression which the words of the Moslem scholar had made upon me. I could not fail to recognize the justness of some of the Eastern man's statements, yet at the same time the foreboding of coming events that might again rock all humanity frightened and saddened me. I had the strong conviction that, even if I were a citizen of one of the nations most inimical to France, I could not accuse her, after what I had already seen, of any serious dereliction in her colonization policy in Africa. Perhaps, from the standpoint of the purely material exploitation of the country, the French policy is not energetic enough, a fact that may be explained by many and various reasons, one of which is indubitably the general reluctance of the French peasant to leave his native land. On the other hand, the French have chosen a course well adapted to our stormy times, in that it does not run counter to, nor stir up the antagonism of, the native population and, at the same time, carries with it the best features of European civilization.
Undoubtedly, if the only great question at issue were the agitation stirred up by the attitude toward the caliphate, France would find a way of resolving the dilemma; but there are in play exterior influences which have no direct relationship with the Moslem movement. Chief among these we must place the propaganda of Soviet Russia, who thinks not so much of communism but of fomenting trouble, of a new war and of the way to augment the difficulties of those nations who look upon the Kremlin and its masters with suspicion and distrust.
In North Africa I felt strongly the geographical advance of the anti-European, or general Asiatic, front which has been aligned by Moscow, extending its ramifications through Turkey and Egypt into the lands to the south of the Mediterranean, seeking to reach the Atlantic and aiming thus to encircle Europe not only on the eastbut also round through the south. Do not the European statesmen see and understand this patent fact? Do they not sense the pressing necessity of changing the general European attitude for one of defense and, what is imminently demanded now, of re-establishing their ancient prestige, which has all but disappeared from the minds of the colored peoples?
These colored races are carried along by the spirit of the times, by this wish for freedom from overlordship and for independence, which is being fomented by a wisely directed propaganda, energized and supported by ample capital. These people give no thought to the days when, free and independent, they will be left to the fate of exposure to tribal quarrels, dynastic intrigues, epidemics and hunger without the necessary strength, science, system or technical means to combat them. The colored man does not recognize the fact that absolute liberty today would spell degeneration and death for him, and for Islam the end of its unity—consequently, catastrophe. These nations are blind to the example of China and Russia, who have lost their morals and the guiding and regulating power of faith and are now waiting for the help that is expected from somewhere and about which every one is vaguely dreaming, giving little thought to what may be its source, its basis and its imposed conditions.
However, such is the story of something over a billion colored men with Soviet Russia as their self-appointed leader, a striking phenomenon which every Occidental nation ought to take seriously into account, pondering upon and preparing its defense against an extreme expression of this attitude. I feel that, if the statesmen of Europe would in sober earnestness examine this common problem, a single plan and a single moral front could be elaborated and approved—a general policy which would bring peace to Europe, would calm and sober the colored races, would paralyze the propaganda of Soviet Russia and would offer the best chance of ushering in a general peace on earth, where for centuries the so-called civilized nations have followed mistaken and, as experience has proved, dangerous paths.
Although I have a strong and real sympathy for "the subjugated," I have also my native feeling for Western civilization and, after my experience on two continents which are innately hostile to Christianity and with my intimate knowledge of Russia, gained through lifelong residence, I distinctly see that the "liberty" about which the colored races dream would lead them today only to their destruction. I realize that the old psychology of nationalist policies, this ethnic egoism, in the fundamentals of which one cannot find the forces that will defend and conserve the moral and psychic national characteristics but only those that further and expand nationalistic materialism, is leading a blind Europe to the edge of a precipice. Though I realize this, still, having faith in the creative instinct of the Aryan race, I believe that among all the races it is only the Aryan that can direct the current of the tragic life of humanity into other and less turbulent channels and that, having succeeded in creating a material world organization, it will find within itself sufficient strength and idealism to evolve a moral organization comprising all mankind.
These thoughts shaped themselves in my mind, as we visited with Hafid the different medersas of old Fez—Meshabia, Sahridj, Attarine, Sherratine, Seffarine and finally-Bu Anania. I need not describe all these old buildings, which stand as architectural memorials to longdead masters, with their age-yellow marbles bought and paid for with the ransoms derived from the liberation of Spanish and Italian prisoners; their cedar carvings, black with age; their ceilings and walls, still carrying the gold and brilliant colors of other centuries and their smoothworn, graceful fountains, as there is a great similarity between these features in all the old Moorish architecture. Only a specialist, versed in the historical lore of the land, would be able to elucidate the indications of epochs and periods and read into the changes and additions the spirit of the times in which they were made.
But one feature of them sharply arrested my attention. All of these buildings, strongly constructed with a, view to giving them a duration a-down the centuries, all these monuments of the golden age of Moorish art are now in decay. Although in previous generations the same process was going on, the incoming dynasty, in a spirit of piety or of rivalry with the rulers whom they had supplanted, repaired, strengthened and ornamented the decaying temples and medersas. Today it is all quite different. Even in Morocco life has become very difficult, full of contradictions and influenced by neighboring states and various external conditions. There are no men, no means, no time to conserve properly the houses of prayer, when the army and politics devour everybody and everything. In the meantime the mosques, minarets and medersas are in danger of falling to pieces, and with their decay the Andalusian Moorish art is threatened with extinction not only in Fez but throughout all Morocco. The French dream of maintaining these buildings in repair, having even prepared plans for the restoration of most of them; but this task is even many times more difficult and dangerous than the alteration of the water-system of Fez. Owing to the present-day tendencies among the natives the best and wholly disinterested intentions can bring with their execution quite unexpected and disagreeable results, while Time never withdraws for a day from the battle-front and keeps up an incessant attack upon the works of the Idrisides, Almohades and Merinides.
Our visits to these places consecrated to science and to the Faith gave us the opportunity of making the acquaintance of some tholba, comrades of our Hafid, with whom we rambled about the town, listening to their chatter that continuously disclosed to us new and interesting recesses in the great, conglomerate life of Fez. The great majority of these students live in the medersas, where they have ever before them what still persists of the treasures of the art of their country, while the remaining small minority have lodgings about the town. One can meet among these tholba dreamers, poets, practical men preparing for professions, especially the law, and ascetics, who spend their days in prayer, in exercises in concentration and in study. From these are drawn the future ulema, Imams and, sometimes, even Marabouts. It is not unusual for a student, on leaving the university, to purchase the key of his cell against the time when he may wish to return to his Alma Mater and retire for a time within its sanctuary to rest from the noise and difficulties of life, to meditate and thus to restore order to his harassed thoughts and feelings.
Being like their brothers the world over, the Fez students occasionally create disturbances, take part in revolutionary movements and protests and, besides breaking the far-from-luxurious course of their ordinary lives with occasional feasts, have their own societies, usually formed on the affiliating lines of the tribal extraction of the individuals or because of membership in, or leanings towards, some religious confraternity. Only the ascetics are "wild," that is, "independent," and remain without the ordinary organized and social life of their fellow-students.
Among all the student feasts, that held on the birthday of Mahomet is by far the most popular. On this day the tholba from all the institutions congregate at the tomb of Sidi Harazem, outside the gate of Bab Futuh, and here elect for the day an omnipotent sultan, who has the power to appoint all sorts of dignitaries. Following long and sacred tradition each post is disposed of by auction, the returns from which often form very considerable sums.
Once raised to his high post, the thaleb sultan spends his day quite in accordance with the customs and etiquette of the court of the real sultan and consequently makes his royal entry into the town on horseback, protected from the rays of the sun by the ceremonial parasol of state and surrounded by a splendid retinue, counting even its women slaves. He goes to the mosque to pray for the happiness of his people and then holds open court to pass judgment upon the avaricious Fazi merchants whom his ofﬁcers of the law may have arrested and brought to his tribunal, where he levies the liberal ﬁnes which alone can bring immunity from the jokes and chicanery of the ephemeral rulers of the town.
After evening prayer the great seneschal of the court announces to the sultan the opening of the banquet, on which all the money derived from the auction and collected as ransoms is expended. The feast goes gaily forward near ﬁres built along the river bank and to the accompaniment of slave dances. Harassed though he be by the conventional ceremonies and duties of court regime, the sultan has always, however, time to institute certain changes and reforms in the student-life, sometimes nothing more drastic, it must be admitted, than the promulgation of an edict on the repainting of the tholba's cells or on the increase of the daily bread-ration granted by the authorities of the medersas to the students. During this one day of power the law of the students runs unrestricted throughout the whole town, acknowledged and tolerated even by the Bashaw of Fez, as he knows that at midnight the dynasty of the sultan of a day will crumble and disappear without a trace, save for the memory of an unusual commotion in the streets and for heaps of mutton-bones and other broken meats of the feast.