The zaouia/koubba of Sidi Ishaq is located beautifully on the Atlantic coast.  It is a short caleche ride along sandy tracks from the small town of Sidi Ishaq some 3 miles inland.  The caleche park is situated in the centre of the town just off the R301 which dramatically follows the coast as far north as Safi.


The final stage of the journey,  when the koubba can first be seen against the surf and the track drops down to the small sandy delta of the dried up river,  is spectacular.


I can find no information about Sidi Ishaq,  other than the shrine is a part of the Regraga annual pilgrimage throughout the Chiadme region.



Baraka and Saints

The notion of Baraka lay at the foundation of Muslim and Jewish conceptions and perceptions of the sacred.


Medieval devotees sought the baraka of prophets, saints and devotional objects.  All righteous individuals possessed baraka, but only saints through their charisma, devotion, exemplary learning and piety possessed a sufficient degree to render them as objects of ziyara or pious visitation.


Rulers, theologians, students and common people all sought baraka. Seeking baraka was both a private and a public affair. In so doing, devotees engaged the holy and each other at pilgrimage sites. Baraka was also produced from the act of pilgrimage to a shrine with which devotees made physical contact through kissing, rubbing themselves against it, lying on it, or spending the night in its presence. The existence of baraka at a shrine insured miraculous cures for the infirm as it did stability, relief, abundance, prosperity and happiness. Jews, Muslims and Christians engaged in such rituals.


The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s description of a shaykh’s disciple washing his ill master’s garment and then drinking the water serves a powerful example of how baraka functions. After drinking the water, Geertz observes that the disciple, “returned to the sheikh, his eyes aflame, not with illness, for he did not fall sick, but as though he had drunk a powerful wine’.



The word ‘baraka’ means blessing.  In Morocco it is used to describe a mysterious wonder-working force which is looked upon as a blessing from God,  a ‘blessed virtue’.  It may be conveniently translated into English by the word ‘holiness’.


Ethnologist Edward Westermark explains that a person holding an unusual measure of baraka is considered to be a holy man.  The Prophet Muhammed was the person that once held the highest measure of baraka,  which is now transferred through Fatiima to the Sharifs.  Still not all of those in the line can be considered holy.  In addition to this group there are the marabout,  who hold baraka, which they might have acquired while being the servant of one of Mohammed’s descendants.


What they hold of baraka may be inherited by their offsprings.  Other means of acquiring baraka are eg spitting into another person’s mouth,  ie by saliva, or sharing a meal with someone who holds baraka.  The safest means of transfer is by physical contact between the holder and the receiver of baraka.  Finally all methods of obtaining baraka can be used without the holder’s intention to share, ie baraka can be inherited, transferred and stolen.



Westermark’s analysis can be summarised as follows :

Holders of Baraka include :

  • Muhammad
  • The Sharif
  • The marabout
  • The mujahidun ( those who promote Islam – early meanings were devoid of violent connotations )
  • The ascetics and pious ( men and women alike )
  • Their relations and their graves
  • The graves of fictive holy men, even little children, being sinless
  • Older children having read the Qu’ran
  • Mothers of twin boys, going to be circumcised
  • Mentally disordered, ( having baraka but disregarding religious obligations )
  • Places, where holders of baraka rested
  • Spirits that reside at those places
  • Weapons, especially cannons
  • Animals, by contact with holders of baraka
  • Animals, holding baraka as such eg horse, sheep, dove, bee etc )
  • Animal products ( such as honey, milk )
  • Plants and vegetable products ( cereals/bread, olives/oil, herbs,  cures etc )
  • The soil, upon which plants and animals prosper )
  • Rain and sunshine, essential for prosperity
  • Periods ( feasts, Islamic calendar, Ramadan, lailatu’l-qadr etc, phases of vegetation )
  • Actions, considered virtuous or basic in Islam
  • Names with special significance in Islamic history ( Muhammad, Ali etc )
  • Numbers, mainly odd ones ( one for Allah’s tauhid etc )




Acquisition of Baraka :

  • Holding baraka per se
  • By descent
  • Positive action, ie piousness
  • Negative action ie theft


Loss of Baraka  :

  • Contact with ritually unclean ( persons such as disbelievers, menstruating women etc and objects )
  • Unintentional transfer ( baraka being stolen )
  • Contact between baraka and baraka according to some sources




Westermark also states that the borders between the holy and the profane often are not clear.  ‘ A  beneficial power is baraka only if it is looked upon as more or less mysterious, wonder-working, supernatural,  not if it appears ordinary, common, ‘profane’.


Baraka can also exist in formal social transactions.  For example baraka may be expressed through the formula of an invitation for coffee,  where the following salutations exist :  ‘ May baraka be upon you’ and the reply ‘May baraka be upon you as well’.  Following this exchange coffee is served.  To refuse the exchange means to refuse the hospitality, to refuse the baraka, to behave as enemy.  By accepting the invitation, a mutual, partial transfer of baraka occurs,.  In this example baraka is connected with something which symbolises surplus and prosperity ( ie the coffee ) which is a blessing from heaven.


Baraka can increase and reduce, and, for example, is without any effect if the house concerned suffers from bad luck ,  ie one does not offer coffee for 40 days when a member of the family has recently died.



The source of baraka is that force mysterious being the source of good and evil in a sacred dimension where the two forces ( ie sacred tahir and profane najis ) meet,  which causes miracles,  protection and prosperity.  A being or an object which operates in such a way is a holder of baraka.  It has been described as ‘the benevolent influence of the Sacred by a medium of Supernatural force’.




In Arabic, the work baraka refers literally to ‘getting down on your knees’, and refers to camels, especially connected with Arab nomadism.  A reference to the prosperity and multiplicity connoted by baraka can be associated with the Arab word bark, suggesting a herd of camels.  Furthermore the kneeling position of a camel can be associated by being owned and mounted by a rider.


In other languages baraka can simply mean ‘blessing’.



Baraka is spiritual, perceptual and emotive, rather than conceptual. It may be said that baraka is the emanation and perpetuity of holiness in the person of a saint, which manifests itself in objects, or persons with whom he has come into contact posthumously or during his life. In addition to people, its most common receptacles include earth, water, rocks and trees, not to mention architectural forms such as tombs, shrines, mosques and other structures.


Further thoughts on how baraka may be transmitted in four primary ways:
Firstly, it may be transmitted through physical contact, such as touching, hugging and kissing a saint. Its recipient ordinarily does not receive enough of it to transfer it to a third party.
Second, it may be transmitted through the acquisition of knowledge and learning from a saint. Knowledge can be passed on, but not the personal baraka associated with it. Again, this very much depended on time, place, and circumstance.
Third, it can be transmitted through possessing or either directly or indirectly acquiring relics or objects associated with a saint, most commonly a garment such as a thawb, cabä’ a or khirqa which were occasionally worn as headgear. Such objects maintained their baraka as they were passed from one generation to the next, as in the case of the relics of the Prophet Muhammad  –  his hair, nail pairings, sandals, mantle and footprints. The Sufi khirqa was conferred successively from master to disciples.
Finally, it can be acquired through encountering and touching a saint in a dream and receiving his baraka. The latter category is often connected with Sufi initiation rites. Since a dream or vision is a unique occurrence; its baraka is time and place specific.


The baraka of saints
Baraka not only manifested itself in living saints and holy objects, but so too in dead saints and shrines. the author of a fifteenth-century Egyptian pilgrimage guide mentions that in performing pilgrimage (ziyara) to saints’ shrines, the devotee “seeks their aid, requests from them fulfillment of his needs, and positively resolves himself to their baraka.”
He adds:  ‘ If the dead to whom pilgrimage (ziyara) is made is among those whose baraka is sought, then the intercession of God the Exalted is sought through him. Likewise, the visitor seeks the intercession of him whom he sees as dead from those whose barakais sought through the Prophet…. Rather, the visitor begins by seeking the intercession of God the Exalted through the Prophet… since He is the Support in intercession and the ultimate source and enabler of all of this’.
God is the ultimate source of baraka from whom it is sought through the intercession of the Prophet and the saint. Dead and living saints possessed baraka. So holy were some saints that devotees clamoured to obtain the remaining water and lotus fruit with which the corpse of the saint was washed. Articles of saints’ clothing or other personal effects were auctioned off at times. As a rule, those who possessed baraka possessed exemplary learning, knowledge and piety. Rulers, disciples and ordinary devotees sought these men for their baraka. Many an important ruler such as Nur al-Din (r. 541/l 147-,569/l 174) and Salah al- Din (r. 564/ 1 1 69-589/ 1 1 93) visited saints in order to receive their baraka.
Is it apt to characterize baraka as exclusively a saintly force ? There were individuals who defied this ideal of saintliness, piety and religiosity. To possess baraka an individual had to possess charisma. Rulers were
charismatic, yet few actually possessed this sacred quality, or were posthumously endowed with it. One interesting character who lived during the twelfth century was the Damascene saint Shaykh Yusuf al-Qamini
who gained a following among the common people of Damascus.
Yizsuf went around wearing ritually impure garments, urinated in his robes, and did not pray. Yet, this did not prevent a woman from placing her hand on his shoulder in order to obtain baraka. Her critic was chided by the saint in a dream. He was not the only mad saint; to be sure, there were others who roamed the streets and who were inspired to attract people through their spiritual states and their often unintelligible ravings. Rulers were afraid to openly challenge these popular saints,  even though they might have spoken ill of them.
The grandfather of the Aleppan historian al-Yfnini, who was also a Sufi was renowned for his baraka in his lifetime. Shaykh Muhammad’s servant witnessed him in the year 658/ 1 260 as he transferred his baraka to his companion Shaykh ‘Uthmdii in a male bonding ritual of sorts.


Baraka is an emotive and spiritual force perceived through the senses and experienced through the religious psyche. However, not all Muslims agreed that baraka could be obtained from dead saints. Entreating dead
saints in the eyes of Hanbalite theologians was tantamount to heretical innovation and unbelief.
The thirteenth-century theologian Ibn Taymiya who polemicizes against the cult of saints observed that some Muslims visited Christian places and sought baraka from priests.
Christians mainly venerate the relics of their saints. It is not improbable that they passed this practice to  Muslims, namely that this is the tomb of one whom the Muslims extol so that they would agree to venerate him with them. How is it not seeing that they have misguided many ignorant Muslims such that may even began to baptize their children by alleging that it insures longevity for the infant?
The Christians even got them to visit the cathedrals and churches they glorify. Many Muslims even made votive offerings to places which the Christians venerate. By the same measure, many visit churches and seek blessings from their priests, monks and the like.
Baraka was commonly believed to be a quality of intercession. Through following a series of rituals from touching a tomb to touching oneself, the devotee appropriated baraka.



Baraka could cease to manifest itself or be revoked through the destruction of a holy place or pilgrimage site. Sometimes devotees for what- ever reason abandoned places which were thought to possess baraka.
Although baraka is not explicitly mentioned in the writings of Jewish travelers, the fundamental forms of ritual performed by Jews and Muslims at holy places, shrines, tombs, and places of worship such as mosques
by devotees. Sustaining baraka required the performance of ritual at holy places. It was either portable as in relics, devotional objects, or venerable copies of Scripture, or manifest in shrines and other commemorative structures. It was also contained in holy water from sacred wells and springs which Muslims, Jews and Christians bottled up or sacred soil from around tombs, shrines and talismans which they applied to scorpion stings and snake bites or applied to their eyes to cure blindness.
The manifestation of baraka demanded physical and spiritual interaction with the object which embodied it. Supplication, prayer and seeking a cure were tantamount to seeking baraka for through these acts medieval devotees strengthened their faith in God.