Several weeks ago I wrote a blog post regarding Emily Keane, the Sharifa of Ouezzane, an English woman who, in a remarkable story, married one of the most powerful and spiritual men in Morocco. The post can be read here.
Her husband was the Sharif of Ouezzane, Hadj Ahmed Ben Abdeslam, an exalted and powerful religious leader directly descended from the Prophet Mohammed. His religious order formally resided in Ouezzane, a town in northern Morocco on the edge of the Rif mountains, famous for olive and wool production. The Sharif’s former 3 wives continued to live in Ouezzane, and after their marriage in 1873 the Sharif and 23 year old Emily chose to spend most of their time living in Tangier with their 2 sons.
In Tangier the family lived across several homes, including the Zaouia of Ouezzaniyya and the Dâr Damânah. The Dâr Damânah, however, is more than a house; it is a divine agreement, confirmed in a visionary visit from the Prophet Mohammed himself, that ancestral baraka, or sanctity, should continue to pass down through the family of the Grand Sharif from generation to generation. The Prophet decreed that the family’s house should be designated for ever Dar-el-Demana (house of surety), a token of this agreement, and a title the direct descendants bear to this day. It is held in the highest veneration throughout Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, Tripoli, Egypt, Turkey and India.
The Dâr Damânah and family home of the Sharif and Emily is in the Marshan area in Tangier.
Below are extracts from ‘My Life Story, Emily the Shareefa of Wazan’, the remarkable account of Emily Keene’s marriage to the Sharif of Wazzan, Hadj Ahmed Ben Abdeslam, an exalted and powerful religious leader in Morocco directly descended from the Prophet Mohammad, published in 1912.
Arriving in Tangiers aged 21 in 1871, she married the Sharif 2 years later, bore him 2 sons and they divorced 14 years later. They lived mostly in the Dâr Damânah, the zaouia and her own house in Tangiers, as well as occasionally in zaouias in Algeria. His former wives and children from those earlier marriages lived in Ouezzane.
The Sharif of Wazzan, Hadj Ahmed Ben Abdeslam, died in 1891 at the zaouia Wazzâniyyah in Tangiers with Emily by his side.
These extracts provide fascinating insights into both their lives together and society in Morocco at that time, including the beginning of their relationship, the birth of their first born son Moulay Ali ben Abdeslam, who was to succeed his father as the Sharif in 1891, the death and funeral of Lalla Heba, the Sharif’s daughter from a former marriage, their own marital decline, separation and eventual divorce. The unique spiritual and secular role of the Sharif, his relationship with his followers and provision for the poor is described. The Sharifian dynasty and the origins of the town of Ouezzane is explained. Information regarding the creation of the concept of Dâr Damânah, the House of Surety, is also provided. Also some of the common superstitions and cures of the day are considered.
Finally the Sharif’s death and burial, and Emily’s experience of that, is movingly documented.
Emily Keene died in 1944 in Tangiers. A commemoration plate can be found in St Andrews church in Tangiers and she is interred in the cemetery of the Dâr Damânah in the Marshan.
The photographs in between the quotations are of the courtyard garden of Dâr Damânah in Ouezzane, taken in September 2019.