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.
On a misty November day last week I ventured into the Marshan and without too much difficulty located the Dâr Damânah. In a fabulous setting, it sits in a private drive overlooking the Atlantic ocean and the coast of Spain just 15 miles away.
My principle interest was hopefully to be able to view the grave of Emily. After the Sharif’s death, Emily continued to live in Tangier until her own death in 1944 and, although remembered in St Andrew’s Church in Tangiers she is buried in the private cemetery of the Dâr Damânah amongst graves of former Sharifs including that of her son Moulay Ali ben Abdeslam who succeeded his father in 1891.
With a little trepidation I knocked on the door.
My knock was quickly answered by Mohammed, the grandson of Hadj Ahmed Ben Abdeslam and Emily Keane. He kindly invited me inside where we talked for a while about them and he showed me a book about their lives. He introduced me to his daughter Heba, the same name as Hadj Ahmed Ben Abdeslam’s daughter by a former wife who sadly died young in Ouezzane after giving birth to a still born child. Emily Keane writes about the death of her step-daughter in her fascinating book ‘My Life Story, Emily the Shareefa of Wazan’ ( see below for a link ).
Mohammed, Heba and I speak in a beautiful colonnaded part of the house, where light enters the house through a large aperture in the ceiling.
The family cemetery is nearby and Mohammed unlocks the old door and we enter. One side affords a marvellous view over the ocean, the other 3 sides are walled. Mohammed explains these are graves of his family, all Shariffian, which means descended from the Prophet and of high status in Morocco and across the Islamic world.
Mohammed points out Emily’s grave, white with green edging, and plaques both in English and in Arabic.
Another photograph of Emily’s grave.
A photograph of her son Moulay Ali ben Abdeslam’s grave is below. Mohammed says the Moulay was his father, which I assume means he is in-line to become the Sharif of Ouezzane, though I did not enquire further.
A startling thought occurred to me later; was Mohammed the current Sharif of Ouezzane?
Mohammed and Heba say that journalists in particular are interested in the lives of his grandparents ( Emily and the Sharif ) and they receive regular visits. They very kindly agree to be photographed.
Can I thank Mohammed and Heba for their absolute kindness and patience and for allowing me to see a glimpse into the very private life of the Shariffian family.
I explained I would be making a posting on my website and provided a link with which they were very happy.
A text file of My Life Story, Emily the Shareefa of Wazan can be found here.
More information about Emily Keene can be found here, the story of a family member searching for information about her in 2013. Both Mohammed and Hiba remember the author of this article very well.
A Google map of the location of Dâr Damânah in Tangiers can be found here
My original article about Dâr Damânah, the life of Emily Keane and extracts from her book can be found here